There’s a set of books on my shelf that have long intrigued me, or at least they did several years ago when I had time to read most of them: the Daily Study Bible (Revised Edition, 1975-76), a 17-volume series of New Testament commentaries written by Scottish theologian William Barclay. From Wikipedia:
Despite the series name, these commentaries do not set a program of regular study. Rather, they go verse by verse through Barclay’s own translation of the New Testament, listing and examining every possible interpretation known to Barclay and providing all the background information he considered possibly relevant, all in layman’s terms.
Barclay called himself a “liberal evangelical” and denied accepted doctrines like the inerrancy of scripture or even the deity of Jesus Christ. He regularly rejects supernatural explanations of Jesus’ miracles, as summarized in “The Enigmatic William Barclay“, an article in the Christian Courier:
He argued that the Savior did not multiply the loaves and fishes literally; Jesus merely motivated the thronging people to share their food with one another. He opined that Christ did not actually walk upon the Sea of Galilee; it was just that, from the disciples’ vantage point, it appeared that he did—as he walked in the shallow water near the beach. Further, he said, the Lord did not really intend for Peter to cast his fishing hook into the sea in order to obtain a coin from a fish’s mouth; rather, he meant for the apostle to use his fishing skill to raise the funds for the temple tax. So went the Barclay “spin.”
It is startling to come across these positions in his commentaries, yet he wrote with such ease and accessibility that one is tempted to pass over such indiscretions and revel in the depth of historical and illustrative knowledge cast on the scriptures. The sheer number of citations and illustrations sprinkled liberally in each dissection of scripture is astounding and illuminating.
But like Oswald Chambers, the point of his commentary was application, not just knowledge and passion. Barclay’s writing educates you, excites you and challenges you to put feet on your faith.
It’s hard to ask for more from a teacher, even if he’s a heretic.