The South Asia Bible Commentary (SABC), a second installment in the Zondervan series that began with the Africa Bible Commentary (2006), traces its origin back to a meeting of Langham Scholars in Kolkata in 2007 which was convened by Christopher Wright, International Director of the Langham Partnership. This creative, single-volume, whole-Bible commentary bears evidence that its contents are rooted in the soil of South Asia and represents the fruit of the labor of scholar-practitioners who work that soil. Special concerns addressed include: God among other Gods, Gurus and Godmen, Indigenous Music and Worship, Rituals and Festivals. The volume contains the collective insight of over 90 contributors (45 different authors providing commentary and others offering pertinent, applicational articles in the context of the commentary) who not only originate from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka but also reside and minister in that context (with only one exception known to the reviewer). This cadre is drawn from a wide range of denominational backgrounds, ensuring the book’s appeal to a broader South Asian and global evangelical audience.
The vision of the editors and advisors of the SABC was to provide, in their own words:
a one-volume commentary, written and edited by biblical scholars from South Asia, on all the books of the Bible. The commentary upholds the divine inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture. Its general aim is to interpret the word of God so as to speak relevantly to South Asian realities today. It seeks to equip Christian leaders at the grassroots level—pastors, students and lay leaders—who under the guidance of the Holy Spirit can be instrumental in the establishment and nurture of a vibrant church in this region (p. vi).
Further, the directive to the contributors was to “explain the meaning of the text, relate the meaning to the context and apply it to wider life and ministry” (p. vi).
For the reader who may be wary of any collaborative effort that appears to be ecumenical (which was the initial impression of this reviewer upon scanning the list of contributors, their respective church affiliations, and academic/theological credentials), the SABC begins with a clear statement of the evangelical hermeneutical approach that is employed by the contributors. The article on “Biblical Interpretation” (pp. 3–4) gives the reader confidence that what follows is written from a conservative, evangelical perspective. The author acknowledges the dynamics of divine-human authorship of the Bible as well as the difference and similarity between the “then” and the “now.” Moreover, he affirms that the goal of interpretation is application, that Scripture should interpret Scripture and that the Holy Spirit is both the divine Author and the divine Guide for interpretation of the Scriptures.
The commentary is based on the New International Version (2011) and is similar in its approach to The Bible Knowledge Commentary (John Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 2 vols. [Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983, 1985]). Specifically, evidence of careful exegetical work is unfolded in an expositional, verse-by-verse commentary on each book of the Bible. And like The Bible Knowledge Commentary, the treatment for each book begins with helpful introductory information. Entries include a brief overview (often a single paragraph) and short discourse on the relevance of the book to the South Asian audience. Most introductions highlight matters of provenance, structure, and themes or theological emphases. Other components may include discussion of the purpose, context, background, or the biblical-theological connections between OT and NT. Each introduction concludes with a detailed outline of the book.
Following the outline offered in the introduction, the exposition of the text in each of the biblical books includes a summary explanation on the larger literary units (marked by the first-order outline level) before delving into the verse-by-verse commentary. The running commentary then incorporates phrases from the NIV in italicized text (with parenthetical verse references to guide the reader). This exposition also includes discussions of application relevant to the South Asian context.
However, unlike the BKC, this commentary is interspersed with ninety-one strategically placed articles on application. Contrary to the common practice of “discovering” applications and theological formulations that are fanciful, these applications are clearly derived from the biblical text. Some essays may be of more interest to the non-South Asian reader who is seeking biblical insight from the local perspective (e.g., Astrology, Bible and Science, Creation and the Environment, HIV and AIDS, Human Trafficking, Persecution, Prosperity Theology, Role of a Pastor, Suffering, The Bible and Gender, Witchcraft and Demons, Yoga and Meditation). Other essays may be of more interest to the South Asian reader (e.g., Avatar and Incarnation, Christian Bhakti, Dalits, Karma and Fatalism, Pilgrimages and Holy Places, South Asian Responses to Christ, The Church in South Asia). Also providing valuable insights are additional overview articles which are placed prior to the major literary divisions in the Bible (Introduction to the Old Testament, Pentateuch, Historical Books, Hebrew Poetry, Prophetic Literature, the Intertestamental Period, the New Testament, the Gospels, the Letters, and the Apocalyptic Literature).
As with any multi-authored commentary, there is some variance in the quality and expertise reflected in the individual contributions, but the overall quality of the volume is a testament to the careful and painstaking work of a committed editorial team. The only other criticism that might be mentioned is that the font size is too small, especially with the abbreviations that are in small caps (e.g., ot, nt, niv).
This resource will be of value to native and expatriate residents of South Asia, to members of the South Asian Diaspora, and to those seeking a South Asian perspective on biblical interpretation and matters of Christian faith and practice. This volume ought to be included in the libraries of students of the Word, pastors, and biblical/ministerial training centers in the region. Furthermore, this tool would be a fine addition to the library of anyone who desires to consult an evangelical exposition of the biblical text for assistance in faithful preaching and teaching of the Word.