I’m always on the look out for tools to help me in my pastoral studies, so when I was offered a copy of Accordance’s new Interpretation bundle for review 1 I jumped at the offer. Since I received my review copy last week I’ve had an opportunity to use the materials for two of my sermons, giving me a sense of what the series has to offer.
A look at the Bundle
The Bundle is currently on sale for $699 2, but it can be purchased in segments. It consists of three main items.
Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching
This 43 volume package is currently on sale 3 for an introductory price of $549 4. It can also be purchased as two separate modules. The Old Testament is on sale for $359 5, and the New Testament is currently $239 6. The volumes for Esther and Hebrews are not yet present in the Accordance modules, but are included in the purchase price and will be made available when they are released.
Interpretation Bible Studies Bundle
This is a 19 volume set covering different sections of each Testament. It’s currently on sale for $99.90 7.
Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in Church
A 7 book module with books meant to be read in a group setting. These cover a nice range of topics, including the use of prophesy, parables, and dealing with biblical violence. Two books from this module are not currently available, Canon and Creed and The Ten Commandments, but are included in the purchase price and will be made available at a later date.
This package is currently on sale for $99.90 8.
Understandably, this review cannot hope to be a comprehensive examination of every aspect of these volumes. The sheer amount of material in the commentary series alone makes this impractical.
My review will touch on highlights and weaknesses 9 of the materials as a whole, their integration with Accordance, and how I think they may best be used in a pastoral workflow.
I’m never certain what to expect when I begin to explore a new reference resource, but the Interpretation series has struck me as a remarkable addition in this crowed space. While there several aspects of these resources I enjoy, there is one which is my absolute favorite.
All three packages in the bundle have been designed to be read, rather than data-mined, and it shows. While this would be expected from the Resources modules, as they are books meant for group reading, both the Commentary and Studies modules seem to be written with reading in mind.
Many commentaries are written to peel back every layer of the text, from points of the linguistic interest up to cultural setting, with expansive depth. While there is value in this approach, it lends itself to data mining — simply honing in on the small segment relevant to the researcher while ignoring all else. The Interpretation commentary, on the other hand, chooses accessibility over volume. The volumes I’ve dealt with, John and Philippians, broke the text into sections rather than verses. This gave the commentary the feel of a well-researched paper or article on the passages I was studying.
Studies are also written with reading in mind, but to deal with larger chunks of material than the Commentary articles. Each study also includes both sidebar call outs on different topics relevant to the text at hand and “Want to know more?” suggestions for further study. Functionally, the articles in the Studies module are a “beefed up” version of the material one might find in a decent study bible.
As stated above, it should be expected for the Resources module to be readable. Yet I was quite pleased with how the different books I explored were structured and written. I ended up reading the most of the Introduction to Violence in Scripture and much of the first chapter in Reading Parables, and enjoyed how each author laid the groundwork for their topic. In fact, I found myself wondering how I’d be able to use these books in a reading group at Central Baptist. The volume I am most interested in is Canon and Creed, and I am now eagerly awaiting its release.
I’m always hesitant to speak of a series’ weakness, because these are often based on a user’s preference. When I the points below are weaknesses I mean, “A weakness for my workflow.” Your needs might be much different than mine, and what I call a “weakness” you might consider a strength.
While I am not nearly as strong with my Greek and Hebrew 10 as I was earlier in my Pastoral call I do still translate every passage I use for a sermon. This practice is mostly done for my own benefit, but it does impact what I look for in a commentary. I want it to deal with the details of Greek and Hebrew so I’ll be able to grow in my understanding of these languages.
In my encounters with the Interpretation commentary thus far, however, Greek and Hebrew do not appear. This isn’t to say they are not referenced, as they most certainly are, but the scope of the commentary isn’t meant to handle every nuance of ancient language grammar. Nerds like myself might prefer a bit more exploration of the original language, even if it’s only in footnotes.
No Unified Structure
This point is a bit of an over-statement. The Studies volumes do have an over arching structure to them which is meant to unify the series, but the commentaries do not. While each author is going to have their own emphasis on their material, this lack of structural uniformity is somewhat disappointing.
When I first opened the commentary module I was preparing my sermon on John 11:1-45, which was the lectionary reading for that week of Lent 11. Much to my joy, Gerard Sloyan included a blurb a the beginning of his comments on this passage which highlighted it’s use in the Lectionary.
The Fifth Sunday of Lent in Year A (1) features 11:1–53 in the Lutheran Lectionary; (1–16), 17–45 is provided in The Common Lectionary and 1–44 (or 1–45) in the remaining three, with shorter edited versions proposed by the Catholic and the Lutheran 12.”
This impressed me! Even if one doesn’t follow a lectionary for preaching, it can be helpful to explore how other Christian traditions perceive a passage in reference to the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
I had hoped this would have been a feature which crossed every volume in the commentary series, but it was not. While Fred B. Craddock’s volume on Philippians is excellent, there was no such blub identifying my passage as a lectionary reading. I was somewhat bummed.
“Want to know more?” Sections Don’t Link Anywhere
While the titles listed for further exploration in the Studies module are a terrific addition, it feels odd for the listings not to hyperlink anywhere. Instead the titles need to be copied and pasted in a site to search for the title 13.
The reason for this is practical, Accordance doesn’t have a license to create modules for those other titles, and so links 14 would have to go to another site. Still, for people who have grown accustomed to tapping or clicking on a title in order to explore the option of purchase the absence is glaring. Granted this is an extremely minor quibble, but points like this stick out to me.
Mobile Notes? Nope.
Materials like the Interpretation series cry out for notes to be added as a way of reflecting the reader’s thoughts as they experience the text. Unfortunately adding notes to non-Bible texts is not yet possible on Accordance Mobile, which is where I see the Studies and Resources modules being the most helpful. I hope this feature is added soon, as it will make all Resources and Studies modules much more helpful for group study.
What the? Flip!
While the readability of these resources is perhaps their greatest strength, scrolling through lengthy texts is not an enjoyable reading experience.
The Resources volumes, in particular, all but demand to be able to read through a page flip instead of the endless scroll. Sadly, we are still waiting for this feature to be included in Accordance mobile. It’s absence is keeping these materials from truly shining.
I find myself intrigued by these The Interpretation materials. As I stated above, the Resources volumes would be a wonderful tool for a reading group. But the sheer readability of all three portions of this bundle have made me ponder how I’d use them in my everyday study.
As they seem to be designed less as a verse-by-verse reference, and more as a series of articles on the Biblical text, I envision the best use of the Interpretation materials to occur long before a pastor’s weekly “It’s Friday, and a Sermon for Sunday needs to be coming! 15” moment 16 With a little discipline a pastor, or Bible study leader, could lay out a series and read the appropriate Interpretation materials in advance. This would help to generate good questions from the text, as well as be a focusing lens when other materials are researched during sermon preparation.
In my own workflow, I’d find it most beneficial read through the Interpretation volumes weeks or months before a particular sermon series began. This would give the material time to bounce around in my head as I move to translate, comment on, and appropriately apply the text to everyday life for a sermon.
Whether you are looking for an accessible 17 commentary or are interested in study materials which can jumpstart your own explorations, The Interpretation series from Westminster John Knox Press is an excellent addition to any Accordance user’s library.
- This is full disclosure, I did receive this review copy for free. ↩
- Regularly $999. ↩
- all sale prices are, of course, “at the time of this review.” ↩
- Regular price is $799. ↩
- Regularly $529. ↩
- Regularly $349. ↩
- Regularly $189. ↩
- Regularly $199. ↩
- From my point of view, anyway. ↩
- Especially Hebrew, sigh. ↩
- In Lent and Advent I tend to follow the lectionary readings. I feel it adds depth to worship. ↩
Sloyan, Gerard. John. IBC. Accordance electronic edition, version 1.0. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988.
- Or manually typed, but who does that. ↩
- Not to mention revenue. ↩
- Apologies to Tony Campolo. ↩
- Yes, this is a huge exaggeration, roll with it. ↩
- …but well-researched… ↩