BYU New Testament Commentary Conference

4th Annual BYU New Testament Commentary Conference:

New Mormon Ideas about Mark and Hebrews

Friday, July 29

9:00 am to 3:00 pm

Hinckley Center Assembly Hall, Brigham Young University

Public welcome, Admission free


The Epistle to the Hebrews

9:00 Welcome, Invocation, and Introductions

9:10 Michael Rhodes, “Thoughts on the Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews”

9:45 Joshua M. Matson, “‘Whoso Readeth It, Let Him Understand’: The Use of Extra-Canonical Jewish Traditions in Hebrews”

10:05 Q&A on the Authorship of Hebrews

10:15 Richard Draper, “‘Now Since the Children Share Flesh and Blood, [Christ] also, in Just the Same Way, Shared Their Humanity’: The Low Christology of the Lord as Viewed in Hebrews 1–2”

10:50 Avram R. Shannon, “‘I Have Sworn’: Ancient Exegesis and the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood”

11:10 Ben Spackman, “Joseph Smith, JST Hebrews 9:15-20, and Covenant Curses”

11:30 Nathaniel Pribil and Chris Brockman, “The Many Uses of Hebrews by LDS Leaders”

11:50 Q&A on Main Themes of Hebrews

12:00 Lunch Break



The Gospel of Mark

1:00 Reconvene

1:10 Julie M. Smith, “The Purpose of Parables: A Closer Look at Mark 4:10-13”

1:45 Andrea Brunken, “The Messianic Secret in the Book of Mark”

2:05 Philip Abbott, “The Markan Sandwich of Mark 5: A Reflection of Christ”

2:25 Andy Mickelson, “‘[He] Fled from Them Naked’: Uncovering the Significance of Mark 14:51-52”

2:45 Q&A on LDS Interests and Perplexities in Mark

2:55 Closing and Benediction

46 comments for “BYU New Testament Commentary Conference

  1. It will be videotaped and made available about a month after the conference. No online streaming.

  2. OK, I’m just going to come out and say it: the BYU New Testament Commentary series seems so weird to me. It is called the BYU commentary series but where are all the BYU New Testament professors? If it is BYU’s commentary on the New Testament, why are most of the presenters grad students? Why have Richard Draper and Michael Rhodes written on Revelation, 1 Corinthians, and now Hebrews? Aren’t there other professors at BYU who could also contribute? If you look at the steering committee on the BYU NTC website, there isn’t a single BYU New Testament professor on it. There is probably a very good reason for all this, but from the outside the whole thing seems strange.

  3. The comments from last year address some of these questions.

    I haven’t looked at the website recently, but to my knowledge there are at least two BYU New Testament professors on the committee.

    “If it is BYU’s commentary on the New Testament, why are most of the presenters grad students?” Largely because it’s a conference related to the summer seminar and its participants.

  4. #5 and #6: Yes, current BYU New Testament faculty Eric Huntsman and Andrew Skinner have been on the project for years. Brent Schmidt is on the Religion faculty at BYU Idaho. And while John Welch isn’t a New Testament professor, he has a degree in Greek and has published peer-reviewed scripture studies for decades.

  5. Anon (#6), thanks for the link! Several of the comments addressed exactly what I was wondering. After reading that thread, from an outsider’s perspective the project looks to me like a very exclusive group of people who either don’t want or can’t get contributions from other LDS scholars of the New Testament, including those at BYU, but still name their project as though to represent all of BYU and by extension all LDS. But that is just from the commenters on the thread and there may be a very different story that isn’t being told. Again, the whole thing just seems strange to me.

    Jennifer (#7), ah I see that you are right about Eric Huntsman and Andrew Skinner teaching New Testament at BYU. I guess I am wondering whether teaching New Testament at BYU=scholar of New Testament. Lots of people teach New Testament at BYU but are not engaged in New Testament scholarship. But there are others that are. Have either of them been active in publishing on New Testament things outside of the BYU/LDS context? I couldn’t really find anything on Eric Huntsman’s CV linked to his faculty page and Andrew Skinner’s page only lists a few of his publications and they either don’t deal the New Testament or are BYU/LDS related publications. For Brent Schmidt, per the BYU NTC page, I see nothing on the New Testament outside of BYU/LDS stuff. Per his BYU NTC page, John Welch does have a few publications on the New Testament in non BYU/LDS related venues. So I guess in some ways this really is a BYU New Testament commentary, as in it is pretty insular to the BYU/LDS world but in other ways it isn’t, as in almost none of the professors at BYU who engage in New Testament scholarship outside of the BYU/LDS world are involved.

  6. So, Julie . . . are you making those cookies? :) Hopefully, I’ll be there and able to meet you. Looking forward to it.

  7. jimharper, my understanding is that the commentaries don’t count towards tenure, which limits who can be involved. If true, that strikes me as an odd ruling.

  8. jimharper. The MI Journal of Ancient Studies published several reviews of the Revelation volume. They were quite critical in various ways. I believe there are changes being made between the early electronic versions and the print volumes (of which only Luke is out so far). I interviewed Draper about that and he was quite gracious about those criticisms and said they were taking some of them into account in their work. I had heard about the tenure thing Kevin mentions which is not only odd, but harmful to the project and the scholars. Sure, the Revelation volume isn’t Beale or Koester, but its far superior to what we’ve had aimed at the LDS market before. Same with Luke. The plan is that (like the Anchor Bible and others) as new volumes become available they’ll surpass what currently exists. The AB Revelation prior to Koester’s recent volume is “unique” and not well thought of at all. Koester’s new contribution is very impressive. Ronald Hendel of Berkeley is supposed to be updating the new AB Genesis (which is long overdue). If BYU hits the mark here (especially with follow-up volumes as they become written), all of us can be grateful, but this is an excellent beginning that I’ve been looking forward to for years–warts and all.

  9. While Koester’s Anchor Bible commentary is pretty pricey, I’d note his Revelation and the End of All Things is only $9.99 for the Kindle version.

  10. Kevin Barney (#10),

    Fascinating bit about the tenure stuff. So who is making this decision? Is it the dean of Religion at BYU? That would explain why so few New Testament professors from Religion are involved. Does it go higher than that to whoever makes final decisions on tenure and promotions across the university? If that is the case, maybe that puts the steering committee in a very awkward place since they call their project the BYU New Testament Commentary but those at BYU who determine what is/isn’t legitimate scholarship, those who actually run BYU up top, don’t place much or any value on the project. That would seem like a soft disapproval of the project. And yet the project is allowed to call itself the BYU New Testament Commentary. There must be a lot more to this story because this math doesn’t add up so well.

    Terry H (#11),

    Do you have a link to the reviews you mention because I would like to read them! You say that that they were quite critical. Do you agree with them? Also, in what capacity or for what site/outlet/publication did you interview Bro. Draper? Is there a transcript or link for your interview?!

  11. jimharper. The interviews are on radio in St. George. I have a couple recorded, but they’re not posted. Working on that. I’ve got Julie on there somewhere as well. I’m a dinosaur, so I don’t link very well, but I’ll try here As for my agreement, I agree in some areas and disagree in others, but you should read them for yourself. Each of the three authors at the roundtable has valid concerns. Of course, I think some of them are a bit to “politically correct” or “sensitive” as I like to call it. I like my commentaries a bit more plain-spoken in some respects. Of the three that are out, I’d place Luke first, Corinthians second and Revelations third. I’d like to see more diversity in the authorship of the volumes, particularly with regard to Hebrews (where I’ll be microscoping the Melchizedek material). However, unlike Julie, who is paying the price by actually contributing, I’m hesitant to cast too many stones until I’m willing to do the same. That’s why most of these projects are done by professors who are paid for their scholarship.

    Clark. Same old same old. I hope they put it on the Kindle. Anchor has put some of them on Kindle already in case you didn’t know. Ben S. talks about them on Logos, which is electronic so that might be an option for you. I’m still a dinosaur, as I mentioned above.

  12. The Logos version is only $40. I just have a hard time justifying that right now.

  13. I did a review of an early draft of the Corinthians volume. At the outset of that review I had some reactions to the prior reviews of the Revelation volume, which I copy below:

    Prior Critiques of the Project in General and the Revelation Volume in Particular

    I am familiar with the three articles relating to the project in general and the Revelation volume in particular published in Studies in the Bible and Antiquity 6 (2014). I thought I would begin by offering some reactions to these essays:

    1. Philip L. Barlow, “The BYU New Testament Commentary: ‘It Doth Not Yet Appear What It Shall Be,’” 67-86. (I should be clear first of all that my reaction is based solely on a review of the 1 Corinthians volume; I have not seen either the Revelation or Luke volumes.) To me the purpose of the series seems clear: It is to provide an exegetical commentary series directed specifically to Latter-day Saints. If I have misunderstood the intention and it is really aimed primarily at advancing the scholarly ball within the non-LDS academy (perhaps to have sessions devoted to it at SBL, for instance), then what has been produced is completely inadequate for that purpose. But if I am correct in my understanding of the intent, I think what has been produced is well geared to accomplish that end.

    When Phil asks on what version the series will be based, I believe that question has now been answered: the King James Version (KJV) and a new Rendition prepared by the authors. I think this is an excellent approach. Inasmuch as the KJV has become the official Bible of Mormonism, there is simply no way to avoid it, but it has become increasingly incomprehensible to average English readers over time, and so to try to present a meaningful commentary without a new translation would simply not have worked in my view. Whatever the politics involved in calling the new translation a “Rendition,” the important thing is that it is in fact a responsible modern translation of the Greek text of the letter, and that to my mind is essential.

    Phil suggests as a modest proposal modeling the commentary series on the Interpreter’s Bible, with its two translations in parallel columns at the top, scholarly, exegetical commentary in the middle, and devotional material at the bottom. That is in essence how this commentary is in fact framed except for the absence of a devotional material section, which frankly I don’t think is necessary. I personally do not generally find the quotations from LDS sources to be a distraction within the exegetical commentary; such quotations are mainly used in a supplemental way to support the point already being made in the commentary.

    2. D. Jill Kirby, “Between Exegesis and Homiletics: Examining the Genres at Play in an LDS Commentary,” 87-115. (I happen to know Jill; she is an excellent New Testament scholar.) I notice that a number of Jill’s critiques of the Revelation volume have already been addressed in the 1 Corinthians volume, which I think is a very good thing. For instance, I note at p. 91 the concern expressed with bringing the JST directly into the Rendition. I thought that was a terrible approach and was prepared to argue vociferously against it, but I was very glad to see that that practice has not been followed in this volume. I was aware that Michael had prepared a Greek retroversion of JS-M (see ), which seemed to suggest an assumption that all JST revisions are necessarily reflective of original text, something that not even Bob Matthews claimed. In the 1 Corinthians volume the Rendition is a solid translation of the Greek text with no attempt to incorporate the JST (the JST variants are commented on separately). My argument against bringing the JST directly into the text itself can be seen in my review of Don Parry’s Harmonizing Isaiah here: (see pages 379-85).

    At p. 94 Jill suggests the use of inclusive language, and I note that in the 1 Corinthians volume Richard and Michael translate adelphoi expansively as “brothers and sisters,” which was exactly the example Jill gave. I fully support this usage.

    At p. 96 Jill claims that the scholarly works consulted by Richard and Michael were to some extent quite dated. I have not noticed that in the 1 Corinthians volume. So far as I could tell the scholarly works they most frequently consulted were up to date and represent the state of the art.

    At p. 98 Jill complains about the author of Revelation being stated to be John the Apostle by simple assertion, even though it is a complicated question. I would have had a similar problem with that. To some extent I think that there is not as much in the way of specifically LDS faith commitments in 1 Corinthians as compared with Revelation, so it is perhaps easier for the authors here to avoid problems such as that one.

    3. Grant Underwood, “Some Reflections on the Revelation of John in Mormon Thought: Past, Present, and Future,” 116-26. Grant’s comments were framed by his assumption that the commentary was intended first and foremost to speak to the broader scholarly community. If that were the intention, then I fully agree that this commentary volume does not even come close to accomplishing that. (For instance, if it really were geared for non-LDS scholars, there should be an explanation as part of the Introduction concerning the quotations of numerous Mormon loci [such as a general indication of just who these people are, that they are laymen and that their authority is in general more ecclesiastical than scholarly].) My working assumption, however, is that the primary audience for this commentary is in fact Latter-day Saints themselves, which is a very different thing, and in which event this commentary volume does indeed work in my view.

    The authors do not really engage LDS sources, but simply quote them, mostly in a supplemental fashion to whatever point is being made. This kind of treatment is common in LDS treatments of scripture, and arguably what the intended audience expects, especially from a work with the imprimatur of BYU. But to the extent I am wrong in my assumption that this is meant to be an in-house commentary only, then a more rigorous engagement (and even, horrors! occasional disagreement) with prior Mormon sources would probably become a necessity.

    Grant’s comments beginning at p. 119 on the tendency to speak of and for Latter-day Saints as a uniform collective, and to understand all scripture as univocal, is indeed an important critique with which I agree. While I don’t think this comes up in the 1 Corinthians volume as much as it did in the Revelation volume, it does come up on occasion as I will mention in my comments.

  14. Kevin. This is why we are glad you make the time and effort. I totally agree. I do wish there was a bit more engagement (pro and con) with the LDS sources even with the target audience being LDS rather than SBL and others.

  15. Clark Goble. PS: While the Koester volume is excellent, my favorite is still G. K. Beale’s version. FYI, in Jan of 2015, he released a shorter version with David Campbell and (ready?) its available on Kindle. Check it out.

  16. Folks, the bottom line here is that the BYUNTC is second rate and derivative. It will remain so until the authors are LDS scholars with original work peer reviewed and published in the professional world outside of the LDS community’s educational system. There is simply no other crucible in which genuinely original insights can be created, honed, and carried across an entire text. Also missing and badly wanted is an initial volume in which various methodological issues, intended audience, voice and so forth are thrashed out and critiqued.

    The critiques offered in the MI round table were those of people who know what it takes to produce first rate work, and in their judgment the shortcomings were not cosmetic but a reflection of fundamental lack of academic preparation and unfamiliarity with the appropriate evidence and methods. This naturally follows from the fact that the authors are BYU professors but not NT scholars, as Phil Barlow plainly pointed out. There was absolutely no reason to publish those works in their flawed form, and there is no reason to read them now. If you want a commentary, cut out the middle man and go straight to the best of the commentaries by Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or independent authors. The LDS world has not yet put forth the study and faith needed to provide comparable sustained insight.

    It should also be noted that those volumes were peer-reviewed by BYU professors, which indicates that their publication was not an “early edition” or whatever. The “provisional” qualities of the work was discovered after they were reviewed by outside professionals. If BYU and its supporters wish to participate in the R1 world, standing with the likes of Baylor or Notre Dame, this sort of thing must end.

  17. To follow-up on AI’s points:

    How deep a bench do we LDS have when it comes to Biblical scholars, who have a PhD in Biblical Studies with a dissertation on a Biblical Topic? I vaguely remember David Bokovoy pointing out that he was one of a handful of LDS scholars with PhD in Hebrew Bible (as opposed to the broader “Ancient Near Eastern Studies”), another being David Wright, who was sadly banished from the church in the 1990s. How many LDS scholars actually have PhDs specifically in New Testament Studies, with a dissertation that focused on the New Testament? I think it’s a pretty small list, and I would like to be corrected if I’m wrong. In either case, there can’t be too many faculty actively engaging in historical-critical biblical studies (as I believe that Dr. Bokovoy said that his pursuit of this area was one reason why he wasn’t offered a position at BYU).

    Sadly, I don’t think there’s any way LDS can adequately compete in biblical scholarship with Protestant and Catholic scholars. Many of them go to special bible colleges (“seminaries”) where they focus on the bible for four years, BEFORE entering graduate work. Then they go get their masters, often at seminaries where LDS can’t even enter (because they have to sign a statement that they believe in various Christian creeds). Only after all that do they go on for their PhD, after which they face a job market where they might be hired by either a University or, more commonly, a seminary. Contrast this with LDS scholars–who can’t get jobs at biblical seminaries by virtue of being LDS, and who can’t get jobs at BYU if they want to remain active biblical scholars (who must necessarily interact with the historical-critical method in a serious way, even if they don’t adopt it)…they’re only option are positions in university religious studies departments, which are few and far between.

    But there’s an even deeper problem – scholarly insights don’t really matter in LDS culture. They don’t get incorporated into manuals, and don’t really get talked about. If they differ at all from what General Authorities say, guess what? Scholarship goes out the window. Scholarship is only accepted in LDS culture to the extent it confirms our pre-existing beliefs or supports comments made by general authorities. Talk about confirmation bias. And how many of our general authorities have *any* training whatsoever in the Bible – even a single class that uses mainstream textbooks on the Hebrew Bible or New Testament (vs. the catholic Pope Benedict, who was a NT scholar, or the Lutheran’s Krister Stendahl, or the Anglican’s NT Wright)? One can attend LDS Sunday school for one’s entire life without being exposed to a fraction of the information one gets from a single survey course on the Bible at the college level.

    The situation is far different in Protestant culture, where the Bible is the ultimate authority and source of truth. All that time Protestants spend on learning Greek, tracing the genealogies of biblical manuscripts, and learning about ancient culture is so that one can try to understand the truth, as represented in the Bible. Here in LDS land, there’s no point to all this–truth is what gets said most often by General Authorities, no matter what the evidence from the ancient world (or science) shows.

    As such, the BYUNTC is at once a welcome development and huge risk. If it causes LDS culture to interact with the impressive scholarship on the Bible being produced by non-LDS scholars, then it will be a huge success. On the other hand, if it cements pre-existing biases, takes on the form of real scholarship without its substance, or adds to the complacency our culture has about having all the truth, then it will have been a failure.

    Good luck, Julie and others!

  18. Al. I couldn’t disagree more with your statement, “There was absolutely no reason to publish those works in their flawed form, and there is no reason to read them now.” One benefit about these books is pointed out by Another comment, “If it causes LDS culture to interact with the impressive scholarship on the Bible being produced by non-LDS scholars, then it will be a huge success.” Of course, there is the “other hand”. The project certainly has its challenges and many of the criticisms pointed out by Al, Another comment and others are valid. I’m particularly disappointed in whatever has prevented younger scholars from participating. Its odd that FARMS (that bastion of apologetic-dom in some eyes) has published Bokovoy’s work, but BYU doesn’t. Not sure that’s completely accurate. One of my biggest criticisms at the beginning was the list of contributors. I felt it was too BYU oriented, but that may also be based on other factors.

    Bottom line–this project, warts and all, is important. I think those who read it will engage with some of the best non-LDS scholarship. Granted, these aren’t original first-line works, but we have to crawl before we can walk, then run, then sprint. I view these projects as springboards to bigger and better things. Look how long it took our scholars to get published by Oxford, Yale, Cambridge, I see more to come and this is a great beginning.

  19. Hi Terry,

    I appreciate your comment. Here are a few more thoughts?

    If getting LDS culture to engage with excellent Biblical scholarship is important, why not encourage people just to read the excellent scholarship itself? Why not have people read Raymond Brown or NT Wright in their own words, rather than filtering their thoughts through the lens of Jack Welch etc.? Or why not have LDS manuals just cite these brilliant scholars? Or reference their works in Sunday School or the pulpit?

    Who are the younger LDS scholars with PhDs in New Testament studies? Where’s the “New Testament bench?” Bokovoy is actually not credentialed in NT; he was trained in OT. There’s no problem with that, per se, but it’s a different field. As much as I like some of the contributors as people, it’s troubling that many of them either lack PhD’s entirely, or have degrees in the wrong fields (e.g., law). And lest I be accused of academic snobbery, I will point out that *they* are the ones choosing to use the imprimatur of an academic institution in their title. They should follow the same sort of academic standards that exist generally in the field. If they chose to name their commentary something less academic (“The Zion NT Commentary”), then their lack of credentials wouldn’t be as much of an issue.

    How can we LDS be taken seriously when the premier LDS NT Commentary is written by a group of amateurs? Sorry to be harsh. But as smart as Jack Welch is, he’s simply not a NT scholar, and the same goes for many of the other contributors. For $20, you can buy a commentary by one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Gospel of _____. Why encourage people to buy an ostensibly-scholarly-book written by LDS NON-NT-scholars, when you can have the real thing so easily?

    Kent Brown’s work on Luke cites a very limited # of secondary sources (Barlow says it’s less than 2 dozen). Just for a comparison, Craig Keener’s Commentary on John (from an Evangelical perspective) cites 4,000 different secondary sources and 20,000 references from ancient literature. It’s not that we LDS aren’t in the same league; we’re not even in the same time zone!

    Methodology – Is there one? What happens when the best scholarship available contradicts some of our pet beliefs, or contradicts our favorite General Authorities? Who gets thrown under the bus? If the series simply omits the points of tension between mormon theology and NT scholarship, then what of academic integrity? If the series gives primacy to statements by general authorities over the work of scholars, by virtue of the former being “guided by the spirit,” then why engage with scholarship at all, rather than just being “guided by the Spirit” or having the General Authorities write the series? Why come up with a new rendition, if the JST is really inspired? If we LDS are so special, and the Protestant and Catholic brand of truth so corrupted as to require a restoration, then why the heavens are we relying on Protestant and Catholic scholars for *our* commentary? (If their water well be dirty, then why drink from it? And if not dirty, then why not drink from it directly, freely, and frequently?)

  20. On the issue of methodology –

    We LDS claim that the Bible (and Christianity) were so corrupted beyond repair as to require a Restoration. If my memory serves correctly, the Book of Mormon is supposed to be the thing that restores the truths lost or taken from the Bible, isn’t it? Accordingly, why not just use the Book of Mormon to fill in the gaps and corrupted parts of the Bible?

    Or, in the event that you think it’s not just the Book of Mormon, but also the D&C, Pearl of Great Price (and perhaps statements by the Prophet or First Presidency) that replace the “plain and precious” truths lost from the Bible – then why not also use their statements to fill the gaps? Or use the JST?

    It seems like these things would be the logical things to do – not relying on the BDAG Greek Lexicon that was created by Protestants to retranslate the Bible! This would be a uniquely Mormon commentary true to our narrative of apostasy and restoration–entirely useless to the outside world, but at least logically consistent with our theology.

  21. So who would be on this “bench” if you could have your draft picks, Al and Another comment? Another comment, what else do you know about how the contributors were chosen and others left out? Was it really the case that *all* of the younger, qualified folks begged off, as Kevin Barney suggested?

  22. Another comment. Perhaps you’re not aware that the Maxwell Institute has been doing precisely that for some time now. Blair Hodges puts together podcasts with long interviews with biblical scholars (a recent one had N.T.Wright on). I do precisely what you suggest on my radio book reviews which have been on air in St. George for the last 22 years. at 6:55 a.m and 450 p.m. Monday through Friday. I often refer readers to more serious non-LDS scholarship (including the Hermeneia volumes). Obviously, the majority of members are not interested in such things, but we can continue to encourage.

    Your questions regarding NT PhDs who are LDS are well-taken, but I’m sure they are there. For years the Nibley Fellowships (or scholarships or whatever they’re called) have been contributing to the field. In fairness to them, there’s not much for them to do in the LDS scholarly community, particularly when their tenure requirements have them put the years of time and energy into something else.

    I have talked about Keener on my program. I have several of his volumes (2 Johns, Matthew, 1 Acts (out of 4) and a Historical Jesus) and I can safely say that the number of quotations and citations doesn’t always guarantee quality. He is good, but suffers too much from what the LDS community might call “Mike Quinn footnote disease”. Citation is important but there is such a thing as overkill.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but I sense a bit of sarcasm (or at least a touch of ironic acidity) in your comments about inspiration and simply doing an LDS commentary using the standard works and JST. Actually, isn’t that what Elder McConkie did in the Doctrinal New Testament Commentary? We also already have loads of those and I think you’d agree that our standard Gospel Doctrine manuals fill that bill perfectly; yet are of limited value for some of us. I agree with your methodology criticisms to an extent, but see below.

    Your comment about Jack Welch (and other contributors) is a little strong. Even though he’s a J.D., Welch has earned the right over many years to be included in SBL collections. He has put in the time and effort to become a contributor to various panels at the annual SBL conferences. One of the latest is his contribution to The Didache: A Missing Piece of the Puzzle in Early Christianity, SBL, 2015. Welch’s article is “From the Sermon on the Mount to the Didache” pp.335-363. Frankly, I expect his contribution to the BYUNT Commentary series to be one of the strongest. So what if he doesn’t have a Ph.D. I judge the quality of the work, not necessarily the credentials of the author. As pointed out in the MI reviews, though, sometimes the lack of training shows. When it does, then it certainly weakens the effort. The failure of the administration to give this series proper support to allow young scholars to contribute without detriment to their careers is a big problem here and hampers the series. What does that all really mean? It could be a lot better, but as I’ve indicated above, I agree with Kevin Barney in #16. It depends on what the purpose is. I prefer to view the glass as being half full.

  23. The plain fact is that all the best NT scholarship done by Latter-day Saints is done by exactly no one associated with this project. Almost no one at BYU contributes to the outside world of biblical studies, so maybe the BYUNTC moniker is, in fact, appropriate in its insularity.

  24. I.G. First sentence is almost true. Second sentence is not. See the article I mention to Jack Welch, along with his other work, particularly “The Sermon and the Temple” published by Ashgrove. In addition, check out the article from Trinity Journal several years ago called “Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It”.

    A couple of recent examples (one NT and one OT). NT: Christian Oxyrhynchus: Texts, Documents, and Sources by Lincoln Blumell (A Nibley Fellowship recipient but absent from the project) and Thomas Wayment (BYU Prof, but conspicuously absent from the project). OT: David Rolph Seely is completing the second volume of the AB Deuteronomy following the death of Moshe Weinfeld. Seely says that its still Weinfeld’s book, but the fact that a BYU Prof is completing the project cannot be overlooked.

  25. OK, so after looking up Profs Blumell and Wayment I learn that they are associate and full professors respectively. These aren’t young pre-tenure scholars. These are mid career people with legitimate chops! Something isn’t adding up. Also I just have to believe there are more New Testament scholars in the LDS world.

  26. JimHarper,

    I don’t have any special insight into the process of selecting the contributors. I’m skeptical that more than a handful (or even a handful) of LDS, tenure-track faculty exist in the specific field of New Testament studies (with exegesis as their focus), and who actively publish in non-LDS academic journals relating to the New Testament. I would love for someone to point them out to me and prove me wrong (really – I would).


  27. Not to be a kill-joy, but there’s a specific field called “New Testament” that is different than, say, “Old Testament” or “Early Christianity” or “Patristics” or “Ancient Near Eastern Studies” (kinda like physics vs. chemistry vs. biochemistry). Lincoln Blumell does Early Christianity, David Seeley does OT, and yes, it appears Thomas Wayment does NT.

    Hooray – we’ve found one NT-trained, NT scholar who is LDS in a Church of 15 million. Any others?

  28. TerryH (#28): The first sentence (of my comment #27) is exactly true. The second sentence, which you will note is qualified by an “almost”, is also true, as you help me point out. Welch, with his zero degrees in New Testament, is trying but floundering, and is not taken seriously in the field, I’m sorry to say.

    The others you mention are part of the “almost”. But still: Blumell is not, strictly speaking, a scholar of New Testament, even though he does produce rigorous scholarship on Late Antique papyri, (and wants nothing to do with BYUNTC, last I heard). Wayment is a scholar of NT, though he also hews closer to the safe zones of text criticism. And he wants nothing to do with the project. Seely, who hasn’t published in the field in quite a while (decades?), is indeed finishing Weinfeld’s commentary, God willing, which would make the first BYU contribution to the OT field in a long time. And there are others we could mention, like Matt Grey, a first-rate archaeologist of late antiquity who occasionally publishes on New Testament stuff, who also wants nothing to do with JW’s project. But let’s remember, these are less than a handful of people, out of a *whole department* of “Ancient Scripture” with thirty-four (34!) faculty by my count.

    Welch has made the “BYU”NTC series and conferences in his image: preferring people who have marginal, master’s level training over scholars active in the field.

  29. Terry H (#28)

    Your passion for this project kind of amazes me. It has been widely critiqued by outside experts and abandoned by RelEd professors, who are probably its “natural” source and audience. When they don’t want it, why does it move you to protect it?

  30. I.G. You’re obviously privy to information that others are not (or do not use) for whatever reason. There are academic politics going on here for sure. The real question is why (if true) such scholars don’t want to be involved. If the incentive isn’t there from the administration, that’s a problem. In fact, the contributors (or lack thereof) is one of my personal problems with the series. Frankly, I am disappointed that Draper and Rhodes are doing 3 of the volumes (and in addition, they’re the first ones done). Where other contributors are, I have no idea. I, however, don’t view it as being like the more scholarly commentaries. The audience is everything. Having talked to Welch, though, I think you are overly harsh on him making it in “his image”. As for him “trying but floundering”, that is kind of open to interpretation. If the SBL includes him in their presentations, it means that they’re taking him seriously as a peer. He may not be a Charlesworth, a Nickelsburg or N.T.Wright, but those are rare and exceptional scholars. At least he’s in there swinging away. The BYU Dept of Ancient Scripture (especially the NT people) are certainly making a statement by their absence. The question is, why? what do they have to gain from skipping this?

    Al. Perhaps I can explain my passion. For the last 22 years I have done a daily book review on the radio in St. George. I interview authors all the time, including some top historians (not just LDS either). My purpose in doing this work (and its a lot of work every day) is to promote literacy, books, education and reading. I do all kinds of books. My audience is primarily LDS and extremely conservative (as am I). That doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate being introduced to other viewpoints. I have talked about N.T. Wright for years. I have talked about the Hermeneia and a lot of other books. Brill, Mohr Siebeck, Oxford, Yale, Harvard and the mainstream publishers have dealt with me for books and interviews for years. I believe that everyone has a level of improvement they can get from reading. I have a client who doesn’t read well at all. Before he died, he started reading David Ridge’s Book of Mormon made easier. Frankly, I don’t bother with that book, but it has a place for people who need it. I get that and support it. I believe the BYU NT Commentaries are the best types of these works to come along aimed at the LDS market ever! I like the Kofford series ( as well as longer commentaries. My goal is to introduce interested listeners to something they haven’t thought of before. That opens the doors. My own interest in serious biblical scholarship started kind of small and has really expanded. Is this series flawed? Absolutely. As I say above, my biggest disappointment is the apparent absence of the best LDS scholars. Why is that? I haven’t a clue. There are probably a lot of reasons. Lack of administrative support is probably high up there. Perhaps its personality conflicts. Like that’s never happened before in the academic arena. Can more be done? Absolutely. Will it? hopefully. That’s the point. I view these as beginnings and am optimistic that they’ll lead to something better. I think these commentaries, flaws and all, are way better than their competitors on the shelves at DB. For that reason, I’m a big supporter. I also appreciate the extremely critical reviews in the MI Journal among others, even when I disagree with some of their more “sensitive” complaints. If they make changes to the series, its all to the good. Just look at the fact that BYU itself (through the MI) published them. That ought to tell you something. These kind of works take years to make. Nickelsburg spent 50 years on the 2 Hermeneia volumes on 1 Enoch. Is it definitive? Not quite. There are still areas to explore. However, these authors are to be commended for their sacrifice and efforts. They are also to be criticized when they deserve it. The fact that such criticisms exist doesn’t make the whole project worthless. Perhaps I’m just getting the impression that if they can’t compete with the AB or the ICC or the Hermeneia, they shouldn’t try. My attitude has always been that Latter Day Saint scholars are far more able to deal with Old Testament scholarship rather than New. But then again . .. what do I know?

  31. I.G. Noto (and anyone else) –

    Could you just go ahead and name some of the “best” LDS NT scholars? Or heck – be as expansive as you want – a list of 30 people is just fine! My concern is that there a very small list of *any* LDS, NT-trained, NT scholars with doctorates that publish in the field. Anywhere. So far one–one–name has been put forward that meets the bill.

  32. #35Another Comment:

    There are now six LDS NT scholars with PhDs who publish/work outside of the LDS community and the bench gets deeper every year. However, they tend to keep a low profile around here, so whether or not they chose to identify themselves is up to them. None are involved with the BYUNTC project.

    #34 TerryH

    In introducing your audience to good biblical commentaries, you do the Lord’s work. No question about it.

    If the flaws in the BYUNTC were those common to all projects but present to a greater degree, it would simply be a matter of editing — and you have also noted the lack of this activity. Two things, however, are more serious because they introduce potential vulnerabilities in readers. The first is omitting unfavorable evidence and/or misrepresenting methodologies to eliminate otherwise viable readings that do not cohere with the LDS tradition. The second is that the LDS community has not yet worked out how it intends to deal with situations where the “plain reading” of a text does not cohere with the wider LDS tradition in some fashion. This is why a first, introductory volume is so important — and why it isn’t yet written.

    Finally, you have referred repeatedly to “sensitive” criticisms with something of a negative reaction. I wonder about this reaction in a church that is driven by missionary work. In the last General Conference, it was reported that the annual growth rate was 1.7%. This implies that church membership is actually shrinking in the US, Canada, and Europe. Given this, more care in crafting an appealing formulation of the church’s message is something to be desired. Perhaps what looks like sensitivity from the perspective of a conservative in St. George is simply prudence and courtesy elsewhere. I am sure that the authors and editors of these volumes do not intend to make missionary work more difficult, but the potential is there and so they must exercise vigilance to hear themselves as all members of their potential audience might do. Reviewers with a perspective shaped by living and working outside of Utah are far best able to help in this regard.

  33. Al, I think the problems you point out is why this is an inherently problematic project for BYU to produce. That is a good commentary really should deal with various ways to read a passage. That’d ideally mean some that are faithful and some that are not.

    That said, what’s wrong with BYU doing a more limited yet faithful commentary akin to the numerous commentaries on the Book of Mormon Deseret Books sells? While I’d love a more academic one, there are just a ton of problems with that. Not the least of which is plainly grappling with the theological issues in the texts. There’s no good place to hash out those debates right now. BYU Studies comes closest but isn’t really doing that too much (and has it’s own issues again due to its connection to BYU). It’s hard to fathom writing an academic commentary before those are worked out unless it is a more personal effort to start the discussion going.

    I can also see the problems for scholars on working on such projects. Those hoping to be accepted in wider academics have to worry about the stigma on working on a project that isn’t fully academic. Those at BYU probably worry about consequences of writing something some judge as controversial (even if it doesn’t seem as such at the time). There are lots of dangers with few upsides. Throw in the surprising feature of it not counting towards tenure and it’s amazing anyone is working on it.

    The project itself seems like a great idea, if only to start more serious discussion. But it seems like it’ll at best be either a first step or more likely a variation on the types of commentaries already available at Deseret Books.

  34. BTW – regarding growth rate, my sense is that this is an issue due to changes in the age of missionaries and the bump due to the huge increase in missionaries when the change was made. I’d argued for that [url=]earlier this year[/url]

  35. Clark, Terry H,

    I appreciate your comments, see the project in a new light, and look forward to the publication of more of the volumes!

  36. Can I go off topic a bit? First, do the various commenters have an opinion on John Shelby Sprong? How well regarded, or not well, is he? Where would he be slotted in the various “rankings” discussed above?

    Second, I’m open to suggestions on the best available commentary on Isaiah. I’ll certainly be consulting Koester next time I hit Revelation but at this point I’ll “run into” Isaiah before I hit Revelation. To be clear, I am very much open to both LDS and non-LDS sources, but am looking for something better than what I might find on the shelves at my local Deseret Book.

  37. David. Margaret Barker has a fascinating entry in the Eerdmans’ Commentary on the Bible. If I remember, its about 48 pages. The new Hermeneia volume by J.J.M. Roberts is out, but it only covers First Isiah, 1-39. I speak to the others very much. I think the entry in the AB is a bit dated. You could also try Brevard Childs. If you want to go really technical, the ICC is fairly current. Oswalt is an evangelical with an easier writing style. Frankly, you have the check the authors credentials a bit. By that, I don’t mean their degree as much as their religious affiliation and the commentary series (if there is one). There are Lutheran scholars (usually the Germans, heavily represented in the Hermeneia with a few notable exceptions [like Nickelsburg on 1 Enoch); Catholic scholars, evangelical scholars, more liberal scholars and the English have a different take than most Europeans. When I first started looking at these, I believed that one single commentary was better than any other, but now, I have to pick and choose a bit from each.

    When it comes to Revelations, I like Beale’s the best. He has just introduced a simplified version of his NIGTC volume. I HIGHLY recommend it. Its also available on Kindle [Clark :) ]. As Clark pointed out above, Koester’s got a shorter paperback that’s not really a commentary in the traditional sense. If you have to choose, I’d choose Beale over Koester, although I like Koester’s. I especially appreciate Beale’s use of the Old Testament and the temple. Beale also is the co-editor of the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament with D.A.Carson. This book is very under-publicized, but it highly useful.

    If you’re trying to evalutate commentarys, there’s Tremper Longman III’s Old Testament Commentary survey (available on Kindle) and there’s a New Testament one as well. I don’t necessarily agree with all the rankings, but its pretty thorough and gives you a good idea of which commentary (or series) has the types of things you want in terms of technicality, readability, etc. I’m not particularly enthused with the commentaries that are aimed at pastors and preaching. For my purposes, they’re less useful.

  38. PS. Ben S has a couple of excellent posts on T&S which refer people to lists of such things on both the Old and the New Testaments which I forgot to mention.

  39. “This implies that church membership is actually shrinking in the US, Canada, and Europe.”

    According to Mormon Newsroom and The Wayback Machine, the most recent US Church membership totals in reverse chronological order have been



  40. I’ve found different commentaries bring out different things. Making a run to a library with a good variety of commentaries (like BYU has) is usually best. You can then search out more narrow literature based upon what you’re interested in.

    One thing I’ve often wished though was someone in the field laying out the different camps, their main assumptions and positions. N. T. Wright has done this at times relative to his own studies which as a non-expert I’ve found very helpful.

  41. N. W. Clerk, to be fair that’s official records and includes the world. However studies have found Mormons by and large grow at the same rate as the US population. While the latest ARIS survey isn’t out I’d be shocked if we vary much from our 1.4% of the population. Since the population is growing so too is the Mormon population.

    Canada is a tad trickier given that most of the Mormons live in Alberta and Ontario but that we make up a relatively tiny percent of the population. My understanding is that Canadian relative percentages are down about 6% in Canada over 10 years. But that’s in large part due to a lot of immigration in Canada. Absolute numbers have increased but not by a great deal. According to a Stats Canada study similar to the ARIS self identification study in the US the Mormon population was 101,805 in 2001 and 105,365 in 2011. For more info see my old blog post on the topic.

    For Europe I don’t really know. Given how secular Europe is I’d not be surprised to see numbers dropping there. My understanding is that what religiosity increases there comes primarily from immigration.

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