New Interpretation editor inherits a remarkable legacy

Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA, and Westminster John Knox Press announce the appointment of Union faculty member Samuel E. Balentine as the new editor of the book series Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church.

Launched with publication of its first volume in 2009, the Resources series builds on the foundation laid nearly seven decades ago by the founding of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology. The quarterly journal has been published by Union Theological Seminary since 1947. Resources also continues the vision of the widely used Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching, published between 1982 and 2003.

The three Interpretation enterprises have transformed biblical studies by bringing the resources of the best biblical and theological scholarship into the pulpits and pews of congregations. Their influence has extended across the Atlantic to Europe and beyond.

Balentine, who came to UPSem in 2004 and is Professor of Old Testament and Director of Graduate Studies, regards his appointment as a way of continuing the distinguished legacy of longtime Interpretation editors James Luther Mays and Patrick Miller. “They are the creators of the vision and I am the steward,” he says. “I’m deeply honored and grateful for their trust in me to sustain their vision and build on it.”

Mays, who is now 93, taught Old Testament and Hebrew at Union for 34 years and served as editor of the Interpretation journal from 1963 to 1983. It was Mays whose vision led to the launch of the Interpretation commentary series in the late 1970s.

“When I was in the pastorate,” Mays says, “I was constantly frustrated by resources because they didn’t seem to help with the complete process of interpretation.” For example, many commentaries offered notes by various scholars on linguistic and historical background but stopped short of proposing a reading of the text as Scripture. “Developing commentary that proposed an interpretation that incorporated exegetical work and theological reflection became a kind of pilgrimage for me,” Mays says.

Miller was a student of Mays’ at Union and describes him as a mentor: “He’s why I’m in biblical studies.” In 1966, Miller joined Mays on the faculty at Union. As Old Testament editor for the Interpretation journal, Miller quickly caught Mays’ vision for a commentary series. He says the vision for Interpretation “grew out of our experiences as pastors needing regularly to have the text interpreted for a community of faith in a way that spoke to the life of that community and made the text accessible.”

By combining exegetical and homiletical insights into one unified exposition of the text, Miller says, Interpretation provided valuable tools for pastors and Bible study leaders. The commentaries broke new ground by connecting biblical and theological studies. The editors reached out to preachers and theologians as well as biblical scholars to write volumes in the series.

The Interpretation approach was not entirely new. Mays considers The Layman’s Bible Commentary, published between 1945 and 1964 by John Knox Press and edited by Union professors Balmer Kelly and Donald G. Miller, to be “a forerunner to what we have done” with Interpretation.

Mays arrived at Union in 1957, just in time to write the last volume in the LBC series—on Numbers and Leviticus. “Those were the two books that nobody else wanted to do,” he recalls with a chuckle.

Miller left Union in 1984 to join the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary, where he taught until retiring in 2005. But he continued to collaborate with Mays on Interpretation. When the last of the Bible commentaries rolled off the press in 2003, he and Mays were already laying the groundwork for the new Resources series, which they envisioned as a more topical or thematic approach to biblical study. Miller became editor and Mays consulting editor for the Resources series.

Miller wrote one of the first volumes in the new series, on the Ten Commandments. Books have also been published on the sacraments, canon and creed, and violence in Scripture. Topics for upcoming volumes include the Sermon on the Mount, parables, creation, prophecy, miracle stories, women in the Bible, and non-canonical texts.

As Balentine steps into the editor’s chair, Miller now joins Mays as a consulting editor for Resources. Balentine is the author of eight books, including a commentary on Leviticus in the Interpretation series. He also served as editor of the Interpretation journal for 10 years. Prior to coming to UPSem, he served on the faculty of Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond.

Balentine’s editorial team for Resources includes Richard Hays and Ellen Davis, who are both on the faculty of Duke Divinity School. He says he looks forward to collaborating with them on what has become “a massive undertaking” over the past seven decades—the creation of “an ever-expanding library of resources for the church.”