By Jonathan Underwood
Standard Publishing’s logo includes a worthy phrase, “Bringing the Word to Life.” It describes in a nutshell the mission of Standard Publishing from the beginning, when Isaac Errett was selected in 1865 to be editor of a new periodical intended to raise the standard for “the restoration of New Testament Christianity, its doctrine, its ordinances, and its fruits.”
Errett and his partners were convinced the Bible spoke to the needs of the day. Like their predecessors in the Restoration Movement, they believed understanding the Bible’s message would eliminate sectarianism in the church.
Standard Publishing has produced many fine products in pursuit of that goal, but no other stands out like the Standard Lesson Commentary. For sheer longevity, the lesson commentary stands alone, published annually since 1954. And no other product hits the top of the Christian Booksellers Association best-seller chart with the frequency of the Standard Lesson Commentary.
The Standard Lesson Commentary is one of a church’s best tools for promoting biblical literacy. It is based on the Uniform Lesson series, also known as the International Sunday School Lessons.
The Uniform Lessons date back to April 1872, when, at the Fifth National Sunday School Convention in Indianapolis, it was proposed that a uniform plan of Bible study be developed that would unite churches in studying the Scriptures. A committee was named to develop the uniform plan, and it developed a plan aimed at studying the whole Bible in seven years.
By the time of the Sixth National Convention/First International Convention, held in Baltimore in 1875, the Lesson Committee was able to report widespread acceptance of the Uniform Series. Standard Publishing was one of the publishers to have adopted it, using the lesson plan as the basis for the Standard Eclectic Bible Lesson Commentary. Isaac Errett, founder and editor of Christian Standard, was named to the Lesson Committee at the Fourth International Convention in Louisville in 1884. He continued as an active participant until his death in 1888.
The “Standard Bible Lessons” continued to be carried in both quarterly and annual products. The Standard Eclectic Bible Lesson Commentary continued for several years, at some point the name changing to the Standard Sunday School Commentary. This writer could find no record of its continuing past 1908, however. Meanwhile, quarterly teacher books continued without interruption from 1898, though with a variety of names. In 1944 the name Bible Teacher and Leader was put on the quarterly teacher’s book, and that name continues on the King James edition of the teacher book today.
By the mid-20th century, denominations were exerting stringent control on their member congregations. This included curriculum selection, so churches were required to use the quarterly curriculum produced by their own denominational publishing houses. But they did allow their congregations to use outside supplemental resources.
At least partly for that reason, Standard Publishing began in 1954 to bind its Bible Teacher and Leader into an annual Standard Lesson Commentary. Thus, it became a partner with Bible-loving teachers in a variety of denominations, available as a supplemental resource to every Uniform Lesson user. Even though required to use their denominations’ versions of the Uniform Series, teachers in a variety of fellowships were free to tap the wealth of information and biblical scholarship available in the Standard Lesson Commentary. Ever since, the Standard Lesson Commentary has been bringing the Bible to life for hundreds of thousands of Sunday school teachers and their students!
Today the Uniform Series is developed by several representatives of denominational and independent publishing houses, including Standard Publishing. One goal of the Uniform Series is to have churches in many places and representing many fellowships studying the same text each week. Imagine the opportunities for breaking down denominational divisions when one can discuss with a coworker from another group the lesson text from the previous Sunday. If that coworker also studied the Uniform Lesson text, the discussion has common ground.
The Uniform Series aims to study the whole Bible in a six-year cycle. Each cycle is completely new, though many similarities will certainly exist between one cycle and the next. Through the printed texts, the background texts, and the daily Bible readings, each cycle almost always includes every book of the Bible. (But not every verse of every book of the Bible. To do that in six years would require covering some 100 verses per week!)
The printed texts comprise a worthy survey of the Bible in the six-year span. “Worthy” for adults, that is. Many people believe the developmental needs of growing children require something other than a six-year scope and sequence. Standard Publishing agrees, and for that reason our children’s and youth curricula do not follow the Uniform Series.
The Uniform Series also develops its syllabus topically. That is, each quarter (a three-month unit of study) deals with a specific theme or idea. This allows promotion of the series as issues-oriented studies rather than simply “a study of the book(s) of _____.” The topics are drawn from a variety of biblical books so that the goal of studying through the Bible in six years is still realized, though seldom is one book the source of an entire quarter of study.
Standard Lesson Commentary
While many publishers print curriculum based on the Uniform Series, for adults none surpasses the Standard Lesson Commentary in popularity. An edition based on the New International Version of the Bible is the more popular edition among Christian churches and churches of Christ. However, the King James edition remains, by far, the more popular overall. Standard Publishing offers this resource in a variety of formats to fit the need of every teacher: in large-print, via computer (Standard Lesson eCommentary) and on the Kindle and iPhone.
The Standard Lesson Commentary is best known for its verse-by-verse exposition of the Scripture. This has been and remains its dominant feature, the reason so many users of other Uniform Series curricula find it a helpful supplement.
But there is more than Bible commentary in the Standard Lesson Commentary. Each lesson also includes five thought-provoking discussion questions. With each question is a list of talking points, Scripture references or concepts designed to stimulate discussion. Each lesson also includes an “Involvement Learning” lesson plan with a link to a free downloadable student involvement page. It’s easy to see how the user of the Standard Lesson Commentary is equipped for teaching in a variety of styles including lecture, group discussion, activity learning, or an eclectic mix of all three.
Users of the Standard Lesson Commentary find a wealth of additional resources in the Standard Lesson Quarterly line as well: quarterly teacher and student books, visual and reproducible resources, PowerPoint presentations, take-home products, and devotion books based on the daily Bible readings.
It’s an impressive arsenal in the war on biblical illiteracy!
Learn more about Standard Lesson Commentary and the wide array of related resources and teacher tools at www.standardlesson.com.
Jonathan Underwood is senior editor of Standard Lesson Commentary.