The normally-placid world of Bible scholarship has been rocked by the pulping of three commentaries by a well known Australian author.
Peter O’Brien, the former head of the Department of New Testament at Sydney’s Moore Theological College from 1974 to 2001, as well as the college’s vice-principal from 1985 to 2000, wrote three New Testament commentaries published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. between 1991 and 2010, and all have been withdrawn from publication following an investigation into complaints made against the books. Eternity understands that the complaints were not made by any of the authors cited by O’Brien.
Upon being presented with the findings, O’Brien said, “In the New Testament commentaries that I have written, although I have never deliberately misused the work of others, nevertheless I now see that my work processes at times have been faulty and have generated clear-cut, but unintentional, plagiarism. For this I apologise without reservation.”
“His colleagues hold him in the highest respect, and this discovery should not be seen to mar the landmark works he has produced.”
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In a press release, Eerdmans say, “Eerdmans editors compared the text of The Letter to the Hebrews (Pillar New Testament Commentary, 2010) with various secondary sources and submitted findings to external experts for verification. Summing up the findings, Editor-in-chief James Ernest said, ‘Our own editors and our outside consultants agreed that what we found on the pages of this commentary runs afoul of commonly accepted standards with regard to the utilisation and documentation of secondary sources. We agreed that the book could not be retained in print.’”
Rev Dr David Peterson, a senior research fellow and lecturer in New Testament at Moore College, told Eternity, “Like many other friends and colleagues, I am shocked to hear about what has happened to Peter O’Brien. Peter first influenced me as a student to pursue careful study of the New Testament. He then inspired me to follow in his footsteps and engage in doctoral study, lecturing, and publication. For almost fifty years I have admired his personal integrity and scholarly acumen.
“Peter has acted with grace and humility since it was brought to his attention that, in some cases, he has not attributed material as he should have to other writers, even though he references them elsewhere in the same books. Peter describes this as unintentional. His colleagues hold him in the highest respect, and this discovery should not be seen to mar the landmark works he has produced.
“The earliest of Peter’s three commentaries has been in print for twenty-five years and the most recent for six years. In all that time no one has suggested the slightest irregularity. Scholars from a variety of theological persuasions who have reviewed the commentaries in reputable journals across the world did not perceive any difficulties in this area,” says Peterson.
The publishing house says they received allegations of plagiarism in O’Brien’s commentary The Letter to the Hebrews in July 2016 and immediately launched an investigation. As a result of that investigation, Eerdmans has withdrawn the book and two other commentaries on Philippians and Ephesians, also by O’Brien.
President and publisher Anita Eerdmans said: “Eerdmans is steadfastly committed to the highest ethical standards in academic and business practice, and we apologise to all who are negatively affected by this situation. Our Bible commentary series, among the best of their kind, are authored and edited by the field’s top scholars. The strong measures we are taking in this case are meant to underscore our firm belief that our commentary program is, and must remain, solid.”