Africa Bible Commentary
Editor: Tokunboh Adeyemo
Publisher: Zondervan Books
Book Review by Derek Foster, Lecturer in Biblical Studies and Theology, Redcliffe College.
While reviewing the Africa Bible Commentary two lasting memories come to mind. The first was of my being stymied by the question, ‘Where did your ancestor come from?’. Not something that my missions training had prepared me for! I was stuck for a response. My western mind had no way of relating to what was a basic element of the worldview of the culture that I was working amongst. This incident has remained with me as I have attempted to alert students training for cross-cultural mission to the necessity of developing strategies for hearing Scripture speak in contexts different from their own. It is so enriching that we here at Redcliffe College have in-put from students who come from non-western backgrounds to guide us in this task. Perhaps this can help you to understand how thrilling it is for me to have to hand a commentary written by those whose roots are so different from mine. Yusufu Turaki’s article ‘The Role of the Ancestors’ (p.480) would have given me a good handle for framing a response to my questioner. And herein lies a particular strength of this commentary – it has a range of perceptive, supporting articles that develop themes raised by the commentators’ insights on the text.
I think that there is a further point to be made and that brings me to the second of my lasting memories. I was sitting on the floor in a pastor’s home in a remote Indonesian village and saw on a little shelf the only three books in the house: a hymn book, a Bible and a copy of the Indonesian translation of the New Bible Commentary. At one level it was encouraging to know that there was some kind of resource for the pastor in his sermon preparation and his personal study of Scripture. On another level I was aware, even as a callow young missionary, that good as the NBC was, it was an Indonesian presentation of western words set in western worldviews. So here’s a further explanation of my excited response to reading through the Africa Bible Commentary. At last, here’s accessible evangelical scholarship crafted by Africans for Africa. [One waits of course to see a similar single volume commentary that will speak to issues and worldviews in other regions.]
Setting my personal responses aside there are some further points to make about this commentary. It is necessary to understand that there are commentaries emerging in the global south that are written from non-evangelical and even theologically pluralistic points of view. The ABC is to be recommended not only for its conservative scholarship but also for its thoroughness. Given the confines of a one volume commentary it signals its awareness of difficulties as well as offering practical insights into contemporary issues – this last not something that the NBC ever really attempted. I would cite the attention given to the story of King David’s assault on Bathsheba (p.392) and its reading as a study of male domination and violence. It echoes responses to this passage that I have heard both in Indonesia and in the Philippines. One welcomes the fact that such issues are not being left to the attention of liberal scholarship and its inadequate responses and solutions to institutional evils.
Throughout the ABC the writers are aware that they are writing in the context of African traditional religions and time is taken to clarify distinctions between the local understanding of something like ‘sacrifice’ and biblical teaching – after all resemblances can be deceptive (p.1502f). Readers are helped to develop a critical insight into their own communities and how Scripture speaks within them, transforming them. Kwame Bediako explains this aim in his preface to the ABC:
We should not focus on extracting principles from the Bible and applying these to culture. Scripture is not a book existing independently of us. Scripture is the living testimony to what God has done and continues to do, and we are part of that testimony . . . . The application of Scripture to our cultures is a gradual process of coming together, of life touching life. Our particular culture encounters the activity of God in building up a community of his people throughout history, a community that now includes us and our particular traditions, history and culture. We will gradually come to share in a family likeness that is not measured by ethnic particularity but by nothing less than Christ himself (Eph. 4:13) [p.4].
I use this commentary as a class text recognising that although it ‘does not delve into critical and exegetical details’ (a rather modest disclaimer, p.x), it is nevertheless a signpost on one cultural journey for God’s people, offering steps that we all need to follow into our reading of the Bible.
As a closing thought, I return to that pastor’s house. He was able to get hold of his well-used commentary through the generous commitment of believers from both home and overseas. I wonder if some who read this review might be a part of ensuring that copies of this commentary reach the shelves of those who would not otherwise be able to afford it.
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