C. John Collins has written an insightful commentary on the first four chapters of Genesis. The book, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, is an attempt to approach the foundational chapters of the foundational book of the Bible (which is the foundational book for Western civilization). The author follows what he calls a “discourse-oriented literary hermeneutic” that serves to answer some of the questions that higher criticism has leveled against the OT. Discourse analysis means he pays careful attention to the ancient text as an act of communication and how the text accomplishes its communicative purposes. Literary analysis means he recognizes that all authors “use aesthetic devices to a greater or lesser extent, both to make their works interesting and to help the audience focus attention on the main communicative concerns” (p. 9). This is not the same as the postmodern reader-response school of interpretation that can give the reader license to mold the text’s meaning like a wax nose. Collins also gives attention to historical and expositional issues, all for the purpose of interpreting and expositing Genesis for the benefit of the Church and for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Although not a technical commentary, the author does use Hebrew and Greek, but he provides accessible transliterations and translations whenever original languages are referenced. But it is also not a popular-level commentary (at least in the first two-thirds of the book), evidenced by his frequent citations of scholarly commentaries, monographs, and journal articles. Nevertheless, this commentary is a meaty diet of the issues cut into bite-sized chunks for anyone with a college education to easily digest.
After dividing Genesis 1-4 into four pericopes (literary sections) and methodically commenting on the text, the author addresses typical preliminary questions of textual sources, unity of the text, and authorship (chapter 8). Finally, Collins deals with larger questions in the last three chapters: (9) The Communicative Purpose of Genesis 1-4; (10) Genesis 1-4, History and Science, and (11) Seeing the World through the Eyes of Genesis 1-4. These chapters amount to essays that demonstrate the relevance and vital importance of Genesis 1-4 as a foundational text of Christian theology and worldview formation.
Although limited to only a small section (chapters 1-4) of the larger book of Genesis, this commentary is an excellent resource for students, pastors, teachers, and curious Christians for an informed and nuanced understanding of Genesis and the rest of the Bible as Christian scripture. Hopefully there will be forthcoming a more complete commentary on all fifty chapters of Genesis from Collins. Until then, this will have to do.