The genius of this work is that it mines the Bible for insights into contemporary church issues.
I usually read an entire book before I write about it. But, “The Paulist Biblical Commentary” would take one week of doing nothing else to finish its 1,654 pages with double columns.
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Paul McMahon, its project manager and acquisitions director of Paulist Press, has already read it twice. He and three other employees each drove a car to transport just 48 copies of the huge tome to Boston College for a special conference, “The Bible in the Life of the Church,” last month.
It is also the 10th anniversary of the college’s School of Theology and Ministry, formed by the merger of Weston School of Theology and BC’s Theological Institute. Two of its professors are among the six general editors of the PBC, “the first pastoral commentary on the Bible,” according to the Rev. Mark-David Janus, publisher of Mahwah-based Paulist Press.
Unlike traditional commentaries, which analyze each word of the Bible, the PBC “focuses on the pastoral meaning of the text,” said Janus, who has led Paulist for nine years.
Five years in the making, the PBC employed more than 70 authors, one-third of them women, “to open the door to the study of Sacred Scriptures for a new generation of believers,” Joseph Cardinal Tobin, archbishop of Newark, wrote in his foreword for the book.
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As archbishop where the publisher is located, Tobin would typically issue a “nihil obstat,” or imprimatur, and his was glowing.
Only released last month, the PBC has already sold 1,500 copies and Janus expects this to be a 15-year project. It is too bulky to ever become a paperback – it weighs seven pounds – and a DVD is impractical.
The genius of this work is that it mines the Bible for insights into contemporary church issues. For example, on prophets, Jersey City native Sister Carol Dempsey writes: “A feminist and liberationist perspective addresses issues of patriarchy, hierarchy and gender.”
At the conference, five sessions were attended by over 400 people over two days and featured some of the most prominent Scripture scholars in the English-speaking world. Most well-known was Jesuit Rev. Richard Clifford, professor emeritus in the STM with 49 years of teaching behind him. He was one of the PBC general editors along with fellow Jesuit the Rev. Thomas Stegman, the school’s dean and moderator of the program.
Even if she were not identified as a Dominican Sister of Caldwell, I could have told that Dempsey was born in Jersey City – we have the same accent. She is now a professor at the University of Portland, Oregon, and one of the PBC’s general editors. She shared about the many years she worshiped at Our Lady of Sorrows, Jersey City, where she also played the guitar.
Graduate students worked the conference and I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by Hoboken resident Charlie Bates, whom I had interviewed for a story on Mustard Seed in Hoboken years ago. Since then, he has graduated from St. Peter’s Prep and Villanova and is finishing a Master’s. He hopes to work on organizational development — hospitality and personal relations — in a parish setting.
“I am interested in developing best practices for parish life,” said Bates, who expects to finish in December 2019.
Luke Timothy Johnson wants people to see the relevance of the Bible today, not as some ancient text.
In his keynote, “Scripture in the Life of the Church,” he said that so much of Bible scholarship explores what the world was like at the time the Scriptures came into being.”
But, it’s more pressing to consider, he said, “the world that Scripture produces,” that is imagining how the Bible can impact the world today. The Bible speaks to us now, he said, and we need to discern “what God is doing now.”
Since same sex relations in the Bible are culturally conditioned, I asked him if a same sex theology could be justified by Scripture.
“Yes,” said the Candler School of Theology professor emeritus. “The Bible is always authoritative; it’s just not normative.”
That’s an example of how the PBC offers insights and foundations for issues challenging the church today. Now I am more inspired to take the time to read the PBC to open up secrets of the Scriptures that can fashion a new Catholic church for the 21st century.
The Rev. Alexander Santora is the pastor of Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph, 400 Willow Ave., Hoboken, 07030, FAX: 201-659-5833; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @padrehoboken.
“The Paulist Biblical Commentary,” edited by Jose Enrique Aguilar Chiu; Richard J. Clifford, S.J.; Carol J. Dempsey, O.P.; Eileen M. Schuller, O.S.U.; Thomas D. Stegman, S.J.; Ronald D. Witherup, P.S.S. Paulist Press. $149.95.
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