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Spring 1989 · Vol. 18 No. 1 · pp. 83–85 

Book Review


Eugene F. Roop. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1987.

Reviewed by Ken Esau

When the author of Ecclesiastes wrote the words, “Of making many books there is no end,” he might well have been predicting the proliferation of commentaries on the book of Genesis. In a recent Christian mail order catalogue there are over twenty different commentaries available solely on Genesis, more than on any other book of the Old Testament. The question then must be whether another one is necessary. Eugene F. Roop in Genesis, Believers Church Bible Commentary, has prepared a commentary on Genesis which walks a road less travelled. A careful reading of the work leads to the conclusion that something is different about this volume—not all has been said before. For that reason, we make room for Roop’s Genesis.

The Believers Church Bible Commentary series, according to the ‘Series Forward,’ was published for a specific purpose. The audience is “all who seek to understand more fully the original message of Scripture and its meaning for today—Sunday school teachers, members of Bible study groups, students, pastors, or other seekers” (9). This broad audience, along with the suggestion that critical issues “have not been avoided, but neither have they been moved into the foreground as a debate among scholars” (9), presents the ultimate challenge of the series. In order to fulfill the stated objectives {84} of the entire series, Roop has used a very readable style of writing which would not intimidate the majority of lay people. His treatment of critical issues is often relegated to the back of the book where a series of ‘essays’ in fine print summarize the status of the current critical debate.

Roop is a literary analyst. The methodology in each section follows the same strict pattern. He identifies the unit of analysis, provides a brief structural outline and explanatory notes, and finally places the text in both the larger biblical and church life contexts. Throughout the work the reader is reminded to give attention to the form of the writing and to elicit meanings from the text of Scripture from that perspective. There is, then, a careful attention to literary detail. Yet, Roop is not primarily concerned with dissecting the text into disparate elements or with questions of historical accuracy. In reference to the Flood ‘stories,’ for example, Roop suggests the following:

Again the task here will not involve careful study of the history of the novella . . . . Rather, we want to encounter the narrative as Scripture in story form (237).

The historical/archaeological questions are given less weight than the literary element. Occasionally Roop mentions the presence of ‘versions of the story,’ which have led to variations in the present form:

It seems likely that in some versions of the story Rachel was still alive and Benjamin not yet born at the start of this story (242).

While this understanding of an editor picking and choosing versions of stories may be common among the scholarly community, it may not be readily accepted by many Sunday school teachers or Bible Study group leaders.

Does this work achieve its objectives? It takes the most recent research methodologies in Pentateuchal studies and attempts to use those insights to communicate to all Bible readers. For that it is to be highly commended. The explanatory notes are filled with short statements of insight which encourage the reader to read on. There is none of the plodding, characteristic of many commentaries. It reads more like a narrative work itself than like a study aid. There are, however, significant questions raised, hinted at, or implied which because of the brevity of the work can never be dealt with. {85} Throughout, the reader is uncertain as to where Roop stands on many of the historical questions. Also unclear is the extent of his commitment to the literary method which provides broad literary license to the exegete.

There are, however, many strengths to the approach used in this commentary. It examines the text in logical units rather than dissecting it into tiny chunks. It attempts to look at the larger picture and stresses practicality, though some may argue that Roop has not been practical enough. The sections on application to the life of the church follow the same pattern of brevity characteristic throughout, and thus just start the process of application.

The greatest strength of this work is also its greatest weakness. It has implemented the latest in scholarly research and hence would interest the scholar. At the same time it has implemented the language and format of the layman and thus attracts that segment. The difficulty is that it leaves neither group entirely satisfied. The scholar is constantly intellectually aroused and then disappointed when the discussion is prematurely halted. The lay person is led to see the text in new ways but wonders about the assumptions behind the methodology. Although Sunday school teachers and Bible study groups represent a heterogeneous mixture, many would appreciate the new insights into the text but may feel uncomfortable with the terms used (e.g., poem, saga, hymn, version of the story). The implications for their understanding of biblical authority could become a hurdle in the communication process.

Overall, Eugene Roop has prepared an excellent work which goes a long way to bridge the chasm between recent biblical scholarship and the lay person. The strengths are numerous. The weaknesses seem to result as inevitable byproducts of the summary format which maintains a very readable style but which must sacrifice details. The unique contribution of Roop must be recognized and room found for this volume on the ‘must read’ shelf.

Ken Esau is a student at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California.

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