Craig S. Keener. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. 2nd ed. Downers Grove: IVP, 2014.
The first edition, which has sold over 600,000 copies, released twenty years ago in 1993, and the second edition slightly revises it. (Keener’s foreword and acknowledgments to the second edition doesn’t specify what he has revised in the second edition, and I haven’t compared the two editions to spot changes.)
D. A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey observes that Keener’s commentary “does not so much comment on the entire text as offer comment on those parts of the text he judges to be best elucidated by referring to ‘background’ material—or, more precisely, such texts become the springboard for elucidating that background material (which may be textual, archaeological, social, and so forth).”
Keener’s volume is helpful to some degree, but my main frustration with it is that he doesn’t footnote his “background” connections. I think it makes the volume much less useful overall. But Keener anticipates that objection by writing this in the second edition:
I did not write the book (in contrast to many of my other books) for scholars, who have access to many primary sources, or even for those pastors who had many commentaries providing more background detail. Many of my fellow biblical scholars have, however, expressed regret that this work does not provide scholarly documentation they could follow up. This lack is unfortunate, but given the book’s size and its primary audience, the editorial decision was made not to bog it down with documentation, which would have been extensive. I have added some more references for this edition, but only very sparingly. (p. 9)
He expands on pp. 19–20 with a section titled “A Popular, Not a Scholarly, Commentary”:
Scholars may be disappointed that the text of this work is not documented or nuanced the way a scholarly work would be, but should keep in mind that this book is not written primarily for scholars, who already have access to much of this information elsewhere. For much of the New Testament, I have already provided the most relevant of my sources in more detailed commentaries. But a concise and handy reference work in one volume can place much relevant information at the fingertips of busy pastors and other Bible readers who have fewer resources and less time available.
Scholars like to document and investigate all angles of a question, nuancing their language carefully and guarding against attacks by those holding other interpretations of the same texts. I follow this procedure in some of my other works, but this approach is not possible in a work of this length. Scholars also like to include all available data, which the same limitation also prohibits here. To be useful for most pastors’ preaching and most other Christians’ Bible study, this work’s language needs to be plain and concise.
I have generally ignored scholarly questions that do not deal directly with the issue central to this book, the ancient context of the New Testament. It is important for the purpose of this book to ask what the text as it stands means; it is not important to ask about the sources behind the text and their editing, and I have dealt with those issues only where absolutely necessary.
Fair enough. But I still wish he documented it! Perhaps IVP could team up with Logos Bible Software to produce an electronic version with footnotes.
In any case, Keener is a well-respected NT scholar who has devoted a massive amount of time and work to this project. Hats off to him.