The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Jun 8, 2017

Which academic journals in biblical studies give the best peer-review feedback? (A subjective, personal account)

Within the past few months, I've highlighted peer-reviewed journals, including what I feel are the top 50 or so for biblical studies. Peer-review has been going on for at least 150 years (see this fascinating article in Physics Today on "What it was like to be peer-reviewed in the 1860s"), and remains essential for the encouraging of cutting-edge research.

For the best journals, blind peer review is key. This means that a paper is sent anonymously to peer-reviewers, without the author knowing who they are and vice versa. This virtually eliminates favoritism, and in theory allows authors to make unbiased decisions based on the quality of the article and its contribution to scholarship. 

Blind peer-review often provides the opportunity for the scholars (or their grad assistants, in some cases!) to give feedback--feedback that may even lead to the article being improved and published in another journal despite being initially rejected (this has happened to me). For us minor-leaguers, such feedback is incredibly valuable, and even bona fide scholars would do well to take notice (for a fascinating account of how Albert Einstein himself would have benefitted from peer-review feedback, see this article in Physics Today).

Now, as a service to the educational community, I'm giving you my own perspective on which journals in biblical studies give the best feedback. This will be based solely on my personal experience (and only includes journals I've submitted papers to), and may not be totally fair to some journals (e.g., if I only submitted a paper one time, 8 years ago). So keep that in mind.  I welcome personal reports from other fledging writers like myself.

Also, for the record, I've submitted a paper a total of 19 times (some of those are the same paper submitted to a different journal after rejection), and 6 of those times the paper has been accepted for publication. So basically I'm batting .316. Not sure if that's good, bad, or totally average! I have yet to be published in a clear tier-1 journal, though I have a couple of high tier-2 journals.

Note: in none of these cases should this be taken as a criticism of the journals under discussion (or "sour grapes" on my part). They have good reasons for rejecting the papers they do. Having said that, there is some subjectivity in journals, as evidence by the fact that in two cases I have had papers rejected by one journal and then published by another journal on an equal tier. Still, I gladly acknowledge that I am not a real scholar, and no doubt sometimes my writing is just not up to the level of the journals I'm submitting to. Also, obviously a journal has the right to not offer feedback, if the editors so desire. My point is simply to help those budding scholars that wish to improve their writing via feedback.

Now, here we go: To start us out, I will acknowledge Tyndale Bulletin as the greatest journal for feedback, in my humble-but-correct opinion. I have yet to be published there (it's a career goal of mine), but each time I've submitted a paper I've received feed back that helped improve it. One of those rejected papers is about to come out in another tier-2 journal, and it was no doubt improved via the feedback I received from the first reviewers in TynB. So Tyndale Bulletin is the clear winner, in my opinion. 

From tier-1 journals, Journal of Biblical Literature is the winner. The feedback was extensive, clear, relevant, courteous, and filled two whole pages (I received a "revise and resubmit" from them: still not sure if I'll do that or revise for another journal). In contrast, New Testament Studies gave me a short paragraph, basically "your writing and research were good, but the reviewers were unconvinced by your thesis." Novum Testamentum gave no feedback, only rejection. Those are the only three tier-1 journals I've had the guts to submit a paper to.

Trinity Journal is a bit of a mystery to me. The first two times I submitted a paper I received some feedback from their committee (even though the paper was rejected); the latest submission (which is being published elsewhere), for all practical purposes I received no feedback. Still, it's a prestigious enough evangelical journal that I'll probably try again some day, but only if I feel my paper is a really good fit. Also, "review by committee" is a bit tough to get by unscathed (and TJ only publishes twice a year, which probably makes it tougher to get published by them. Kudos to those who have!)

If TJ is my "unlucky" journal so far, Bulletin for Biblical Research is my "lucky" journal. Both papers I've submitted to them have been published, and both times with very good, constructive feedback which, without a doubt, made the paper better. Frankly, for young aspiring scholars, I would recommend BBR as one of the best journals to submit your initial paper to (as long as its more in the realm of NT/OT studies than theology per se).

Let me start this next paragraph with a disclaimer: JETS is one of the two top evangelical journals (the other being TynB), and well-worth trying to publish in. Having said that, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society has given me virtually no feedback, regardless of being accepted or rejected (I've had one paper published with them, not counting my rejoinder to a response to my article, and two papers rejected); however, I've seen indication that this might be changing for the better. Similarly, Westminster Theological Journal, in my sole attempt, gave me no feedback, although it's obviously a journal worth publishing in.

I have never received what I would consider "mean" feedback. However, Journal of Theological Interpretation gave me probably the toughest feedback I've encountered; I think I seriously misunderstood what sort of paper would be a good fit with them, so this is not to cast them in a negative light, but it was definitely hard to swallow! (Also, I clearly adopted a too casual style; I need to watch out for that).

Filelogia Neotestamentaria published a paper of mine, but did not give feedback (this was about 6 years ago, though). I submitted a paper to Word&World in a student competition about 7 years ago; it was rejected, with no feedback, but I did get a free year's subscription! 

Bibliotheca Sacra, obviously a very prestigious journal worth publishing in, is also somewhat of a mystery to me. I submitted a paper that directly dealt with a topic covered before in the journal, yet significantly expanded the discussion, and was told the paper was not a good fit for the journal, with no other feedback. They did, however, encourage me to submit again to the journal in the future. I honestly don't know what to make of that: does this mean they liked my writing but not my topic? Or is that simply what they say to all writers that show at least a minimum competency in writing? Regardless, I'll probably submit again sometime, but only after making sure my article is a really good fit. (And Kudos to my friend, you know who you are, who has a forthcoming paper with BibSac!)

The Bible Translator, which accepted a paper of mine within the past few months (after two revisions), gave excellent feedback. In fact, one of the two reviewers actually suggested an avenue of research that I had not considered before, and this immensely improved my paper. Kudos and thanks to BT's anonymous peer-reviewers!

Finally, I had the privilege of publishing a paper in Science & Christian Belief (put out by the Victoria Institute), and received excellent feedback (interestingly, one of the reviewers was clearly a scientist, and the other was clearly a philosopher). I spent about 12 hours revising that paper for publication, but it was worth it! (Note: I had to try to change my spelling to British spelling for S&CB; not sure how successful I was!)

So there you have it: my own limited experience on which journals have provided helpful feedback. Now, dear young doctoral student or fledgling scholar, go out and submit your papers! (And feel free to share your experiences in the comments, so long as you are courteous and fair, with no "sour grapes")

1 comment:

  1. I agree; I received the most helpful feedback from Tyndale Bulletin!