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The Story Behind Word Biblical Themes

On a Friday afternoon in the fall of 2019, Joshua Kessler, Zondervan Academic Marketing Director, was looking through a shipment of books that had arrived at the offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Zondervan Academic had recently taken over responsibility of a catalog of backlist academic titles previously published by Thomas Nelson. While Joshua was familiarizing himself with some of the titles, he noticed a few books that looked like commentaries in the Word Biblical Commentary series. The book covers had blue and green bands of color and the iconic title fonts, but they were much smaller and the coloring was just different enough that it grabbed his attention.

When he opened one up, he noticed it wasn’t a commentary at all, but something else.

What he had found was the little-known and mostly forgotten Word Biblical Themes series. These volumes were written by the same authors who had written the corresponding commentaries—but the content was different. They didn’t follow the text verse-by-verse, like a commentary, but instead distilled the key themes from the book. It seemed as though the commentary authors had finished their commentaries; then, took a step back to describe the big picture of the book.

Four decades of history

To understand how these volumes in the Word Biblical Themes found their way into a shipment of books to Grand Rapids, we need to go back four decades.

In the late-1970s and early-1980s, Word Publishing began acquiring and publishing volumes in their new commentary series, the Word Biblical Commentary, and its accompanying series, the Word Biblical Themes.

Thomas Nelson acquired Word Publishing in 1992 and took over the Word Biblical Commentary. Twenty years later, in 2012, Thomas Nelson was acquired by Zondervan’s parent company, and the Word Biblical Commentary moved under the Zondervan Academic imprint shortly after. The Zondervan Academic team began selling the Word Biblical Commentary at the 2013 annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature in Baltimore, Maryland. Since then, we at Zondervan Academic have invested heavily in the series. We have acquired new volumes and revised editions since 2013, with many more slated for publication in the coming decade.

Since the first volumes were published in the 1980s and early 1990s, the Word Biblical Commentary has become one of the world’s leading commentary series. However, somewhere along the way, as the commentary thrived, the Word Biblical Themes series was forgotten.

As far as we can tell, Word Publishing stopped issuing new volumes after the first fifteen were published—and then those fifteen went out of print, possibly because the commentary had not yet achieved the reputation is now has, or because the economics of publishing in the late 1980s and early 1990s made them harder to sell.

Why we are re-publishing Word Biblical Themes

After some detective work—and encouragement from our publisher, Stanley Gundry—we got to work locating all the out of print volumes. The Zondervan Academic editorial team and a few outside reviewers took a close look and were enthusiastic.

But would the market agree? After all, the series went out of print in the early 1990s. Were things different now?

We knew the obstacles that forced the series out of print in the early 1990s were no longer relevant. Back then, not as many people knew about the Word Biblical Commentary series—and fewer knew about the Word Biblical Themes series.

But now, in 2020, the Word Biblical Commentary series and its contributors have a strong, established reputation, and we knew there would be demand for the accompanying volumes.

The economics of publishing have also changed in three important ways since the early 1990s: the cost of publishing high-quality softcover editions has dropped; it’s now possible to distribute these volumes digitally; and the life of books like these can be extended through print-on-demand technologies.

After considering all these factors, we decided to bring the Word Biblical Themes back into print.

If you have benefited from the Word Biblical Commentary series in your ministry, in your preaching, or in your academic work, we think you’re going to love Word Biblical Themes.

We are pleased to re-release the set in print and digital editions on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. This set includes the following volumes:

  1. Exodus by John I. Durham
  2. Joshua by Trent C. Butler
  3. 1 and 2 Kings by T. R. Hobbs
  4. 1 and 2 Chronicles by Roddy L. Braun
  5. Psalms by Leslie C. Allen
  6. Isaiah by John D. W. Watts
  7. Daniel by John Goldingay
  8. Hosea-Jonah by Douglas Stuart
  9. Micah-Malachi by Ralph L. Smith
  10. John by George R. Beasley-Murray
  11. 1 and 2 Corinthians by Ralph P. Martin
  12. Philippians by Gerald F. Hawthorne
  13. 1 and 2 Thessalonians by Leon Morris
  14. 1 Peter by J. Ramsey Michaels
  15. 2 Peter and Jude by Richard J. Bauckham

Take a look at this sample from 2 Peter and Jude.

How to get Word Biblical Themes

There are three ways to get this set:

  1. From Logos Bible Software (and soon, Olive Tree Bible Software)
  2. In print from Zondervan Academic, ChristianBook, Amazon, and elsewhere.
  3. In other digital formats, including Kindle.
Word Biblical Themes Collection Leslie C. Allen, Richard J. Bauckham, George R. Beasley-Murray, Roddy L. Braun, Trent C. Butler, John I. Durham, John Goldingay, Gerald F. Hawthorne, T. R. Hobbs, Ralph P. Martin, J. Ramsey Michaels, Leon Morris, Ralph L. Smith, Douglas Stuart
A companion series to the acclaimed Word Biblical Commentary. Finding the great themes of the books of the Bible is essential to the study of God's Word and to ...
Softcover Set
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