Believers Church Bible Commentary Celebrates 20th Volume in 20 Years

On Nov. 17, more than two dozen writers and editors working with the Believers Church Bible Commentary met for dinner to celebrate the publication of 20 volumes in 20 years. The dinner was held in Washington, D.C., at the conclusion of a workshop for writers and prior to the Society of Biblical Literature meeting that began the next day.

In 1986 the first commentary in the series, “Jeremiah,” was published. With the recent publication of “Psalms,” the project has averaged one new volume per year for the past 20 years.

The series originated when a Bible commentary series in Papua New Guinea, caused Mennonite publisher Ben Cutrell to ask, “Might the Mennonites in North America do something similar?” Since then several Anabaptist denominations including the Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Church USA, the Brethren in Christ, and the Brethren Church have partnered to develop a commentary series that asks writers to represent the best of current scholarship while writing primarily for the church. The series is written for Sunday school teachers, pastors, and others who teach in a congregation. An editorial council of scholars representing each of these church groups meets annually.

The commentary’s editorial council has stated its desire to complete the New Testament volumes within 10 years and the Old Testament volumes within 14 years.

At the celebration, David W. Baker of the Brethren Church spoke about the significance of “Jeremiah” as the first in the series, and about author Elmer A. Martens and his contribution to the project as Old Testament editor. Martens responded with words of thanksgiving for God’s leading and blessing on the project. Willard M. Swartley, who served for several years as New Testament editor, spoke of the combination of suffering and glory as writers and editors go about their work. He mentioned the hard work put into each volume, the pain of individual writing as well as writing within a hermeneutical community, and finally the glory of the published volume.

Nineteen scholars met at the writers workshop, which brought together those who had already written commentaries published in the series and those who are working on upcoming volumes. The workshop featured the personal experiences of commentary writers–how they went about the process of research, writing, and rewriting. Several reflected on the challenge of finding the right balance between technical or historical-critical background and contemporary appropriation in ways that communicate compellingly.

Another challenge writers have faced is being relevant without writing things that become quickly dated. Two key features of the series, which have begun to show up in other commentary series, are the sections, “The Text in Biblical Context” and “The Text in the Life of the Church.” A third challenge has been finding the right balance between how the text has functioned in the life of the church and how it might function in the life of the church. The commentaries have been received well so far in critical reviews.

The Believers Church Bible Commentary series began 20 years ago with the publication of Elmer Martens’ “Jeremiah” (1986). Martens served for many years as Old Testament editor. Douglas B. Miller of Tabor College is the current Old Testament editor; Loren Johns of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary is the current New Testament editor.

Commentaries already published include “Genesis” by Eugene F. Roop (1987), which has been translated also into Russian; “Exodus” by Waldemar Janzen (2000); “Judges,” by Terry L. Brensinger (1999); “Ruth, Jonah, Esther” by Eugene F. Roop (2002); “Psalms” by James H. Waltner (2006); “Proverbs” by John W. Miller (2004); “Jeremiah” by Elmer A. Martens (1986); “Ezekiel” by Millard C. Lind (1996); “Daniel” by Paul M. Lederach (1994); “Hosea, Amos” by Allen R. Guenther (1998); “Matthew” by Richard B. Gardner (1991); “Mark” by Timothy J. Geddert (2001); “Acts” by Chalmer E. Faw (1993); “Romans” by John E. Toews (2004); “2 Corinthians” by V. George Shillington (1998); “Ephesians” by Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld (2002); “Colossians, Philemon” by Ernest D. Martin (1993); “1 and 2 Thessalonians” by Jacob W. Elias (1995); “12 Peter, Jude” by Erland Waltner and J. Daryl Charles (1999); and “Revelation” by John R. Yeatts (2003).

The series is available through Brethren Press, call 800-441-3712 or go to


The Church of the Brethren Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board. Paul M. Zehr and Loren L. Johns contributed this article. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To receive Newsline by e-mail go to Submit news to the editor at For more Church of the Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.


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