We are very excited to share with you this interview we did with Jonathan Kline, the grandson of Meredith G. Kline! Jonathan talks about his grandfather’s posthumously published book Genesis: A New Commentary, which was written just after the late scholar finished his magnum opus, Kingdom Prologue, and distills his mature views on the book of Genesis and, indeed, on Scripture as a whole.
1. In the introduction you write that this commentary feels like you are sitting down with him in his home with the radio buzzing in the background and you’re just having a conversation with him. Is there a specific memory that this book reminds you of?
In the early 2000s, when I was in seminary, I asked my grandfather if he could give me an overview of his ideas about covenant theology. On a couple of afternoons, we sat down at his house (which was in the woods, with a beautiful view of a lake), and he gave me a condensed, personalized version of the material he taught in his well-known seminary course on covenant theology. The ideas we discussed on those occasions are ones he develops in detail in his book Kingdom Prologue. He discusses many of them in what I think is a more accessible form in Genesis: A New Commentary, which is one of the appealing features of this book.
2. Your grandfather’s great strength as a teacher and writer was his ability to pull together all the details and provide a beautiful picture of the organic whole of Scripture. How does this book continue in that stream?
Since this book is a verse-by-verse commentary on Genesis, it obviously contains a lot of details. Throughout, however, my grandfather always emphasizes not only the importance of the narrative details in their own contexts but also their role in the story of redemption (which is often one of foreshadowing later developments). For example, he notes that Lot’s departure to Sodom “now left Abraham to be the exclusive recipient of the covenant promises and sole paternal source of the covenant family, a role in which he was a prototype of the Messiah, the second Adam” (p. 58). Later, my grandfather observes in connection with Isaac’s blessing on Jacob that the “full realization of all these blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant would be attained only through the messianic descendant of Jacob, the true Israel, in the antitypical kingdom of the new kingdom” (p. 97). I came across these examples simply by opening to two pages in the book at random, which reflects the fact that this kind of “zooming out” to see the big picture is a common feature in this book.
3. Who, in your opinion, is this book is for?
Any Christian could benefit from reading this book, since, as I just mentioned, it helps readers understand the details of the book of Genesis and also provides a christological and canonical (i.e., “whole Bible”) framework for interpreting these details. The book will probably appeal particularly to folks who have an interest in covenant theology, especially as formulated in the Reformed tradition. Any pastor who wishes to preach from the Old Testament can also benefit from reading this book, since it shows how one can find Christ-centered, biblical-theological messages in the Old Testament. Finally, anyone who has ever tried to read my grandfather’s magnum opus, Kingdom Prologue (which by all admissions is not easy reading), should find that Genesis: A New Commentary provides a quicker and more accessible path through the material found in Kingdom Prologue.
4. For first-time readers of your grandfather’s work, what can they expect? For long-time readers, how does this work fit with other works that he has done?
My grandfather is well known for packing a lot of information into a small compass. For example, here is how he introduces the flood narrative found in Gen 6–9: “The narrative of re-creation through deluge reflects in many respects the literary form of the original creation account. It has seven sections, distinguished by differing themes, that overlap chronologically. The opening triad deals with de-creation and the entrance of the ark-kingdom into the judgment; the center section, with the judgment crisis; and the closing triad, with the re-emergence of the ark-kingdom in re-creation” (p. 33). There’s a lot here! Anyone who is acquainted with my grandfather’s other writings will be familiar with the typological hermeneutic found here, his emphasis on literary structures as a key to meaning, his special use of the phrase “judgment crisis,” and his penchant for hyphenating words (like “ark-kingdom”) in order to pack a whole constellation of connotations into one expression. For first-time readers, the presence of these elements may take getting used to, but it’s well worth the time spent doing so; after a little while of reading these kinds of passages from the commentary, you start to see the big picture come together.
5. Many are aware of his commentary on Genesis in the New Bible Commentary in 1970. How is this work significantly different?
My grandfather wrote Genesis: A New Commentary in the mid-1990s, that is, a quarter of a century after he wrote the Genesis notes for the New Bible Commentary and, significantly, after he had worked out his mature views on biblical theology. In his famous seminary course on Old Testament hermeneutics, he used the book of Genesis as a launching-off point for discussing the entirety of redemptive history and for exposing his students to his often paradigm-changing perspectives on the beauty and coherence of the biblical story. Kingdom Prologue grew out of that course, and after my grandfather spent the 1980s hammering out the ideas found in that book, he wrote Genesis: A New Commentary. This commentary distills much of the important material in Kingdom Prologue and also contains much more discussion than that book does of the latter two-thirds of the book of Genesis.
6. What was something you learned in the process of editing this work?
When he comments on the story of the Tower of Babel found in Gen 11:1–9, my grandfather observes that this episode “is not an account of the first differentation of speech after the flood, but of a special local instance of such, effected supernaturally” (p. 48). As evidence for this, he cites Gen 10:5, 20, and 31, which refer to people groups listed according to “their clans and languages.” In other words, Gen 10 refers to various groups that spoke their own languages, and then we come to Gen 11, which speaks of God confusing the language of some people in the land of Shinar. The common interpretation of Gen 11 is that it is an etiology (origin story) about the beginnings of human language. But Gen 10 makes it clear that before the time period described in this story there were all sorts of groups that spoke different languages. What this means is that when Gen 11 says that the whole “earth” (Hebrew eretz) spoke one language, the word “earth” cannot refer to everyone on the planet, or even everyone in the known ancient world; rather, the word must mean something like the whole “land” (of Shinar), another perfectly normal and abundantly attested meaning of this Hebrew word. This example shows that taking the biblical text seriously and paying attention to its many details and the interrelationships of its parts sometimes prompts us to rethink traditional or unreflective interpretations. Examples like this are a hallmark of my grandfather’s work and one of the things that makes reading his writings so fun and exciting.
7. Is Hendrickson publishing anything else by your grandfather in the future?
In the fall of 2017, Hendrickson will be publishing a book called Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline, a collection of sixteen of his most seminal articles that were written over a period of about forty years. I will be providing an introduction for that book, my father (Meredith M. Kline) will write a biographical sketch of his dad, and respected Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman (who studied with my grandfather) will write a foreword. The book is organized according to large rubrics like “creation,” “covenant, law, and the state,” and “resurrection and the consummation.” The book aims to give readers a sense of both the breadth and the depth of my grandfather’s work and provides an entrée into some of his most interesting ideas. In addition, the articles that will be included in this book were chosen because they showcase the combination of academic and pastoral sensitivies that lay at the heart of all of my grandfather’s work.
Jonathan G. Kline (PhD, Harvard University) is an Associate Editor at Hendrickson Publishers and the author of Allusive Soundplay in the Hebrew Bible and co-author of Biblical Aramaic: A Reader & Handbook.
Meredith G. Kline (1922-2007) was a professor of Old Testament for fifty-five years, teaching at four seminaries: Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary California. He was also an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
For more information about Genesis: A New Commentary, visit our website.