Listed in the Doctrinal Standards of the United Methodist Book of Discipline is John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament. The Discipline says that the Explanatory Notes are currently in print through Schmul Publishing Company’s 1975 edition. I was skeptical of this, because I had been told that it was out of print. However, through searching Schmul’s website, I discovered that it is in print. You can order a copy of it by going here.
I was pleased to discover that the book is at least currently in print, yet there still seems to be a discrepancy between what United Methodists say about Wesley’s Explanatory Notes (that it is part of our doctrinal standards, giving Wesley’s Notes an authoritative status in interpreting the New Testament) and what United Methodists actually do with Wesley’s Explanatory Notes (basically ignore it, Schmul’s website confirms that there was a period of time that the Explanatory Notes were a part of our doctrinal standards and were not in print…).
Because of my research interest in Wesley Studies, and because of my desire to take seriously the process towards becoming an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, a few years ago I decided to try to track down a copy of the Explanatory Notes. I am not sure if Schmul’s edition was in print then, but if it was none of the ways that I searched for it on the internet brought it to my attention. I had trouble finding a copy anywhere, finally finding one on ebay. I was very surprised that it was so difficult for a United Methodist pastor to even find a copy of what is considered to be part of our doctrine.
Since buying the book, I haven’t really done a whole lot with it. I looked up several passages I was preaching on in Lamont and referred to it occasionally in a sermon. Saturday, I decided to start using it as my devotional reading. My plan is to read one chapter a day with Wesley’s notes. I am interested to see what the tenor and quality of the notes are, but my primary purpose is going to be using it as a devotional resource, which is what seems to be Wesley’s goal in writing the Explanatory Notes.
In the meantime, do you have any experience with the Explanatory Notes. I have also been wondering if anyone with a background in New Testament has recently looked at Wesley’s Notes and written anything about it. I think this is a very interesting area of research, please mention any articles or books you might be aware of treating the contemporary relevance of the Explanatory Notes for biblical scholarship, or the usefulness of the Explanatory Notes in studying the New Testament in the comments of this post.
Ultimately, the questions seems to me to be: Should something be a part of our doctrinal standards if (at best) we don’t even use it, and perhaps (at worst) don’t even really know what it says? I still hear people reference Wesley’s sermons, the Articles of Religion, and the General Rules, but the only time I can remember someone else talking about the Explanatory Notes was in my UM polity class in seminary, where it was just being mentioned because it was part of the doctrinal standards.
Andrew Conard said:
Kevin – You so inspired me by your post as to go out and purchase a copy myself. Only then did I do an internet search and find the entire text at Google Book Search – http://books.google.com/books?id=LVgHAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover. It looks as if it is the complete text online, but not in an excellent readable format. Still, for distribution…
Gary Holdeman said:
Kevin; I have had a copy for years! I found a late 1800’s leather bound matched set of Wesley’s notes and Watson’s “Theological Institutes”. (Both for $5.00!) I remember just a few years ago the candidates coming through the Board of Ordained Ministry didn’t know what the General Rules were. So it was included in a question for candidates.
There was a period of time in our UM History where Wesley was almost totally ignored. Some scholars, notably Albert Outler and others, began to rediscover Wesley and now he is popular again!
The Book of Discipline still states in the historical section that those books are our “standards”. Wouldn’t it be great if Boards of Ordained Ministry began requiring reading of Wesley’s 52 Standard sermons, Explanatory Notes, The Book of Discipline (including the Articles of Religion), and even selected parts of Wesley’s Works etc. during the probationary process! It might do a great deal to re-awaken our Methodist heritage and understanding!
Keep in touch! If they are going to work hard at completing Wesley’s Works edition….I might just sign up! Are they going to put them on CD?
Kevin Watson said:
Andrew – Thanks for the link to the Explanatory Notes on Google Books. I am glad to hear of another way it is available.
Gary – $5, what a steal! With a name like Watson, the “Theological Institutes” must be great. As you now, I am thankful that Wesleyan theology is receiving renewed focus in our denomination. I agree with you completely that it would be terrific if BOMs required reading Wesley.
As for your question about Wesley’s Works, I am currently doing research for Dr. Ted Campbell for the next volume of Wesley’s letters for the Bicentennial Edition. I am not exactly sure what the time frame is, but I think they are hoping to begin getting some new volumes out in the next few years. The Wesley Works CD that Abingdon puts out does have the complete Jackson edition and it has (I think) the Journals and Sermons from the Bicentennial ed. (I am not sure if it has more, but I know some of the Bicentennial edition is on the CD too.)
Thanks to both of you for your comments.
Craig L. Adams said:
Wesley’s Explanatory Notes have been readily available as free add-ons to Bible Study programs for a long time. I have owned an edition of the Explanatory Notes on the New Testament (printed by Baker Book House) for many years, but the Explanatory Notes on the Old Testament I know only in digital form.
Both Clarke’s Commentary & Wesley’s Explanatory Notes are available as add-ons to the Accordance Bible Study program for Macintosh: http://www.accordancebible.com/
They are also available in some of the CD Libraries produced by Ages Software: http://www.ageslibrary.com/
Check out especially the Wesleyan Heritage Collection: http://www.ageslibrary.com/ages_wesleyan_heritage_collection_1.html
Craig L. Adams said:
AFTERTHOUGHT: And, search @ http://www.ccel.org/
The Explanatory Notes are there, too.
Kevin Watson said:
Craig, thanks for the links!
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