A review of the new Genesis Commentary by R.R. Reno

—Reviewed by Gerhard Pfandl, PhD, associate director, Biblical Research Institute, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.


by R. R. Reno, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010.

This Genesis commentary cannot be classed as ordinary, for this volume was not written by a biblical scholar, as is usually the case, but by a theologian, and it only deals with a number of selected texts or passages. In many chapters, the author comments on only one verse. Thus, out of the 1,533 verses in the book of Genesis, only 189 verses received any comments in this volume.

R. R. Reno teaches theological ethics at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Not only did he author this volume, but he also holds the position of general editor of the series. In his introduction, he explains that this “series of biblical commentaries was born out of the conviction that dogma clarifies rather than obscures” the biblical text (11). Hence he wrote this theological commentary on the assumption that the Nicene Creed “provides the proper basis for the interpretation of the Bible as Christian Scripture” (12). The editors, we are told, “did not hold the commentators to any particular hermeneutical” method (13). Therefore, “the commentary series is tentative and exploratory” and “deliberately ecumenical in scope” (13).

When it comes to Genesis 1:1, for example, the author quite happily endorses evolution because he read the text theologically, not historically. “In the beginning” is not a temporal statement but rather a statement of origin and source . By combining Genesis 1:1 with John 1:1 and 1 Corinthians 8:6, which he sees as a direct commentary on Genesis 1:1, he views Christ as the Beginning, “for in him all things were created” (Col. 1:16, RSV). Therefore, “the world has a beginning by and in the divine Word, and we best orient ourselves to reality when we focus on Christ” (36).

The theological approach allows him to be eclectic in his interpretation. “No single rule or principle,” he says, “guides my judgment about what makes for a telling verse, and as a result I do not follow a consistent method or pattern of exegesis” (21). Thus, on the one hand, he accepts the results of the historicalcritical method with Genesis 1 being a priestly document (34) from the sixth century b.c. and Genesis 2 coming from the hand of the Yahwist author (79) from the tenth century b.c. On the other hand, he sees the two Creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 as complementary and not contradictory (22); he accepts the biblical teaching that the serpent is Satan, a fallen angel (81), who led Eve and Adam into sin (82); and he emphasizes that only through Christ can we be freed from sin. “It is here and now that we do the work of Satan, and it is here and now that we encounter Christ, who has the power to free us from the thrall of our own past choices, from the primordial choice of Adam and Eve, and from the original wickedness of Satan” (85). The author sees the whole book of Genesis as a promise-driven, future-oriented text that finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

The reason for this inclusive attitude centers on his commitment to the Christian faith, demonstrated in his use of the Nicene Creed and the writings of the church fathers as theological guideposts. The commentary is saturated with references to the writings of the church fathers, the Jewish apocryphal writings, and the Jewish commentator Rashi (1040–1105). Nevertheless, Reno provides many interesting and valuable insights into the texts, and the connections between the book of Genesis and the New Testament are, by and large, very helpful. For example, the shift from the universal view (Creation, global flood) to the particular view of the history of one family (Abraham and his descendants) comprises for Reno the “clearest way in which the Old Testament prefigures the fulfillment of the divine plan in Jesus Christ” (139). Whether he wrestles with God over Sodom and Gomorrah or becomes willing to sacrifice his son, Abraham’s story prepares us for the claim that salvation rests on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Genesis 12:1, therefore, is for Reno “the beginning of the gospel” (139).

In spite of its accommodation of critical scholarship, this volume provides helpful insights for preachers, teachers, and students, and demonstrates the continuing intellectual and practical viability of a theological interpretation of the Bible.

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—Reviewed by Gerhard Pfandl, PhD, associate director, Biblical Research Institute, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

March 2011

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