Genesis Bible Commentary: Interview with James McKeown

McKeown Genesis

James McKeown was Vice Principal of Belfast Bible College and lecturer in Old Testament for over 20 years. He left Belfast Bible College in 2009 in order to spend more time writing and teaching in Church settings. At present he teaches Old Testament Historical Books and Advanced Hebrew at Union Theological College and supervises postgraduate students. For the last 4 years James has been a lecturer in the Irish Studies Program of John Brown University, Arkansas.

His interests include the Hebrew language and its application to understanding the Old Testament. He has written a number of articles on Old Testament studies. James is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a member of the Board of the Institute of Theology, Queen’s University Belfast.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Genesis?

As a lecturer in Old Testament and Hebrew at Belfast Bible College, I had taught Genesis for over 20 years. The most important aspect of my preparation related to the questions that students asked during lectures. This made me aware of the areas that needed clarification.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

This commentary provides a resource for people who are studying the Scriptures. While the Hebrew language is printed for those who will benefit from it, each word is also transliterated and translated. Thus the commentary is suitable for anyone willing to take time to study seriously. The theological section of the book, gives a good overview of Genesis and hopefully will be helpful for those preparing sermons or bible studies.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Genesis?

As part of the Two Horizons series, this book has two main sections. There is a commentary based on the Hebrew text and then there is a theological section that discusses the main themes and the key theological teaching of Genesis.

Readers will be aware that Genesis 1-11 has been interpreted in many different ways and there are lots of books that seek to persuade the reader that one particular interpretation is correct. This is not the purpose of this book. Various approaches are outlined and their strengths and weaknesses are discussed. I believe that it is important for readers to be informed about the views that others hold.

This book will be useful for those who want to examine the evidence available, particularly from the Hebrew text of Genesis, and then to come to an informed decision about some of the controversial issues. The book will not be useful for those who have their minds made up and don’t want to know what the other views are.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

Every passage in Genesis has a powerful message that is just as relevant today as when it was first written. To pick just one passage that is memorable is very difficult. However, the story of Hagar is particularly memorable. I was surprised by the cruelty. According to the Genesis narrative, Abraham and Sarah, never used her name. She was just a slave girl, one of their possessions. However, she is called by name in the narrative and it is God who addresses her personally and promises future blessing. I am thrilled to read this story of how our God loved someone who was alone, badly treated and unloved.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

spiral galaxy

spiral galaxy

Genesis is a book of beginnings. In this commentary, I have tried to develop a biblical theology and show how the themes in Genesis flow through the entire Bible, both Old Testament and New. I am sure that when the risen Christ taught from the Scriptures the things concerning Himself, he would have begun with Genesis.

Genesis shows how human beings chose to disobey God and it also shows that God Himself was affected by this disobedience. I quote from the commentary, “God’s observation of the evil multiplying among human beings on earth has a dramatic effect: God is grieved and His heart is filled with pain” (p. 51). God’s love and compassion are fully revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ but this compassion is also clearly seen in the book of Genesis.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Genesis?

The Word Biblical commentaries on Genesis by Gordon Wenham, are detailed and tackle many technical issues that a shorter commentary cannot deal with.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I have also written a commentary on Ruth which was a very interesting experience. It is also in the Two Horizons series. At present I am busy preparing lectures for the autumn semester. I am a member of the adjunct faculties of Union Theological College (Belfast) and John Brown University (Arkansas). However, I don’t teach in Arkansas, but many of their students come to study in Belfast each year.

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