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The TOTC series
reprinted from the Spring 2006 edition of Essentials


   The Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (TOTC) has been greatly used by evangelical pastors and Bible students for over forty years. While there are many more commentaries available today, the TOTC series remains the first port of call for many who simply want to look up a particular verse or passage without reading 20 pages on it.   Lindsay Wilson is the vice-principal of Ridley College and lecturer in OT. He's been known, on the odd occasion, to preach from the NT.


   In recent times I have reflected on the series as a whole, as I was part of a discussion last year in England about the need for revision of some volumes. The aim of the series is to place itself between what can be gained from a one-volume commentary (such as the New Bible Commentary), and the more detailed series like Word, NICOT or Apollos. The new author's guidelines ask "that they are built upon rigorous scholarship, but be presented in a way that makes that scholarship accessible for those who use the volumes produced."
   The TOTC is different from the very useful Bible Speaks Today (BST) series, in that it aims to focus on the exegesis of the text rooted in its historical context. The BST looks instead to how the message of the Bible continues to be relevant for modern Christians. Thus, issues of application are not normally found in the TOTC volumes, but a clear explanation of a Bible passage will usually begin to suggest areas of application.  
  One drawback of some of the older volumes of the TOTC series is that they have concentrated so much on the meaning of individual verses that they do not pay enough attention to the argument of the passage as a whole. This will be remedied in the new TOTC volumes as authors are asked to include a section on the message of a passage in addition to the usual comments on the context and the text. The new guidelines suggest that "the comment should assist readers to understand the text as a whole and not as a collection of discrete verses." As a result the newer commentaries will be longer than their predecessors (e.g. Motyer's Isaiah volume is over 400 pages, while Kidner on Genesis only has 224).  
  To what extent are they useful in ministry? Their strength is that they focus on what the text means, rather than what every other commentator has been saying about the text. Thus, they are still good to turn to first (after you have worked hard on the text yourself - without a commentary!) while you are still trying to work out the meaning of the individual verses. Some have stood the test of time well. I particularly like Frank Andersen's volume on Job (though he has said he thinks it needs updating) because he combines useful comments on the details with a clear grasp of the developing ideas of the book. Others now seem a bit brief (e.g. Genesis, Exodus, Proverbs, Jeremiah).  
  They are useful too because they are reliably evangelical, which is not always true of some other 'evangelical' series (e.g. Word Biblical Commentaries). The authors seem less concerned to say something 'new' to fellow scholars, and tend rather to see their role as giving sensible instruction to keen believers and pastors. This is a helpful emphasis.  
  My conclusion: the Tyndale commentaries are still useful in explaining the text, and are about to get even better.  

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