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Finally, A Commentary by South Asian Scholars for South Asian Readers
Several years ago an American friend worked with pastors in Ukraine, offering ministry encouragement and strategic insights. At his first meeting he was greeted by a baseball diamond diagram popularized by an American book helping churches supercharge their ministry. They were using it to help guide their Eastern European churches.
He thought the baseball analogy was contextually out of place. Instead of importing American ministry strategies, he encouraged these leaders to create contextual ones for their indigenous ministries.
The same could be said for Bible commentaries.
Biblical insights from Western commentaries can be helpful elsewhere. Yet non-Western churches need resources to explain the Bible, relate its meaning to specific contexts, and apply Scripture to their life and ministry. Now we have such a resource for South Asia.
The new South Asia Bible Commentary is a resource by South Asian scholars for South Asian readers. Originally the brainchild of fourteen Langham scholars from India and Christopher Wright, SABC is focused on “building a bridge between biblical teaching and life in modern South Asia.”
SABC is faithful to the Scriptures; clear and simple, explaining the Bible text in understandable language; and relevant to the religious and social cultures of South Asia, both in its application and in articles addressing Asian issues from a biblical perspective.
Biblical Insights from South Asian Scholars
Perhaps the best way to explain SABC is to demonstrate it. Exploring Genesis and Romans reveals how its promise of being a faithful, clear, and relevant commentary is deftly executed.
Consider its explanation of Genesis 1:1-2:25:
Every culture has its own story of the creation of the world. Some in South Asia claim the universe emanated from the ultimate reality, known as Brahman, just as sparks arise from fire…It makes sense to conclude that the inspired account in the Bible is intended to correct the defects of other earlier explanations of the source of the universe. (13)
Notice how the commentary pairs biblical insights with cultural context. In commenting on God’s act of rest SABC argues, “This does not mean that God was tired after his creative activity or that he alienated himself from his creation, as the Hindu god of creation is said to have done when he left his creation to be sustained by another god.” (15)
We find the same kind of insights in Romans. Referencing belief in 1:16 SABC explains, “The type of believing referred to here is comparable to the South Asian concept of bhakti. It involves both intellectual acceptance of what Jesus did on the cross and total devotion to him.” (1516)
The commentary also contrasts the popular teachings of South Asian spiritual teachers (e.g. Swami Vivekananda and Dr. Radhakrishnan) with Paul’s to explain 3:13–18:
They prefer to see people as sparks of the divine and agree with those who claim that people are essentially good. The Bible agrees that we all have a spark of God in us in that we are all made in his image, but it also stresses the reality that all have sinned. None of us is good. We all need forgiveness, which is available only through accepting Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. (1521)
Contextual Relevance for South Asians
One of the unique benefits of this commentary is its contextualization. We find this in the commentary’s broader exegetical endeavor. It’s especially evident in a special call-out section in each book’s introduction, appropriately titled “Relevance to South Asia.”
Consider how SABC relates Genesis to South Asian life:
Genesis still speaks to us today. We, like the Israelites of old, have to acknowledge anew that “the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below” and that “there is no other” (Deut 4:39). We also have to consider what Genesis has to say about our ethics. Are our attitudes towards creation, the environment, stewardship, labour, power, authority and human development in line with God’s standards? (11)
And then Romans, where SABC expounds the glory of the gospel:
In South Asia many religions and gurus claim to offer salvation. Some exalt in this plurality and claim that we have no ground for insisting that Christ is the only way of salvation. In this letter, Paul explains why he disagrees with that view. He insists that there is no way we can earn our salvation by following any other system, even the system of laws that God gave to the Jews. We are saved only by faith in what God has done through Jesus Christ. If there were any other way to be saved, God would not have had to send his only Son to die on the cross. (1512)
South Asia Bible Commentary truly is a commentary of, by, and for the people of South Asia. Ajith Fernando is right: by exploring it yourself “you will be fed by the biblical scholarship found in this book and inspired to theological, cultural, ministerial and personal application through the integrative writing found here.”
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