Lutheran Study Bible: NRSV
Publisher: Augsburg Fortress
I wish to thank the good people at Augsburg Fortress for sending me this copy to review.
The Lutheran Study Bible: NRSV is the first study bible published by Augsburg Fortress. This was a fruit of the Book of Faith Initiative in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which is designed to encourage members of the church to dig deeper into the bible. Through this initiative, Augsburg Fortress has inadvertently entered the study bible market. I don’t think it was meant to compete with the upcoming Lutheran Study Bible, which is soon to be released in October by Concordia Publishing House. These are entirely two different study bibles and are based on different translations.
The NRSV is the translation that is most widely used in the ELCA. As a result, it was the obvious choice for the Lutheran Study Bible. The NRSV is one of my favorite translations because it is very accurate, dependable, and uses gender inclusive language.
Upon my opening of the bible, the first thing I noticed was that the study notes were situated on the side of the page instead of the traditional place at the bottom. I found this easy to locate the study notes because I could just look horizontally and right next to the passage is the corresponding notes. There doesn’t seem to be an abundance of study notes but since this is Augsburg’s first study bible, it’s a good start already. Perhaps the next edition in the future will be more notes. It also surprised me to find that some of the articles were located in between the books of Nahum and Habakkuk. It would be so much easier to locate them if they were all placed at the beginning of the bible, including the subject guide and the bible reading plan.
Added to this critique would be my recommendation to either increase the font size of the biblical text from a 10 point font to an 11 point font, or to change the font to something easier to read, but preferably both. Keep the study notes located on the side. It’s a great approach to layout. I also like the single-column layout because it is much easier to read than a two-column layout.
On a note of personal preference, I prefer something other than baby blue for the chapter headings and cover. A darker and more visible color would be easier on the eyes. But since this is also the theme color of the Book of Faith initiative, I guess I could go for that, but I say: “Buck the theme color and go against the grain!” Give it a nice richer and fuller color in the future. I’d also like to note the nice art work at the beginning of each book. That’s a nice addition.
The forty-nine contributors of the study notes with individual book introductions are Lutheran scholars almost entirely from the ELCA. However, as a Lutheran, I’d also like to see some commentary by Martin Luther himself. If that were to be included in the future editions, it would really make it a ‘Lutheran Study Bible.’ So add some more of Luther.
The study notes use four icons to indicate:
• World of the Bible: people, places, events and artifacts;
• Bible Concepts: ideas and theological insights;
• Lutheran Perspectives: asks a question about a bible verse or passage from a uniquely Lutheran theological perspective;
• Faith Reflection: asks a question to cause one to think about and discuss the meaning of the text.
The other main feature of this study bible is all the articles throughout the bible. All the contributors are ELCA scholars and pastors. I will comment in more detail what I think about my four favourite articles below. However, regarding the other five articles, they range from okay to good. Moreover, there is some overlap between these other articles. I appreciate their scholarly background, however, I found some of the contributors to the articles being overly-defensive about the Lutheran perspective, which need not be.
Among my top favourites are the Old and New Testament Overview and Section Introductions. The two articles written by Walter C. Bouzard (O.T.) and Arland J. Hultgren (N.T.) provide a top-notch scholarly perspective on the Old and New Testaments.
Bouzard provides the reader with a simple explanation of JEPD. He also describes God’s involvement in the life of Israel as a picture, in stating: “virtually all agree that the Penteteuch is made up of multiple literary strands. Thus, the Penteteuch is like a mosaic created of many colored stones or pieces of glass.” I also like his explanation of the Penteteuch:
“Jews refer to these books as the Torah, a word that is too narrowly translated as ‘law,’ as in the ‘books of the law.’ That translation is unfortunate, because torah cannot be summed up in the single word law. Torah also includes ideas like direction, instruction, and teaching. Moreover, thinking of the content of the Penteteuch only as law is not helpful. It is true that many of the chapters in these books are filled with legal material, but they include much more than that. Between Genesis and Deuteronomy we find stories, poems, genealogies, folk tales, and other types of literature” (p. 45).
Hultgren takes a stand on the authenticity of Paul’s authorship for at least seven of the thirteen epistles that have been traditionally seen as authored by Paul. Of these are: Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. I like his admittance to Paul’s use of secretaries or scribes to help write his letters. I have always thought that this was done by Paul in writing his epistles. Some scholars don’t admit to this. To not consider this as a real possibility denies the circumstances of Paul’s days. Regarding the other six epistles, Hultgren states:
“The other six letters attributed to Paul may not have been written or dictated by him in a literal sense. Many scholars believe that their authors were associates of Paul who felt authorized to speak for him and who may have continued to speak and write in his name for some years after his death. This would explain why these six letters are so different from the other seven letters of Paul in vocabulary and style….and why some major concepts found in the seven letters certainly written by Paul are missing from these six” (p. 1850).
My third favourite article is the Introduction to the Bible, written by Hans Dahl, discusses how the bible came to be, beginning from an oral tradition and leading up to the culmination of various manuscripts over centuries, and eventually forming the canon. I like how Dahl leaves room for the various interpretations of the inspiration of Scripture: “…the Bible does not explain how this inspiration occurred. Some believe the Bible’s words were communicated directly by God to its authors, and the authors wrote them down as if listening to recording. Others argue that the message of the Bible is what God inspired, but the actual words were the work of the authors. Still others believe the authors themselves were inspired by God, but not necessarily the words” (p. 20).
This leaves room for the learner to make up their minds for themselves, which is what I like. Dahl also mentions that Martin Luther wrestled with four books—Jude, James, Hebrews, and Revelation—which were included in the canon. I also like his mention of Luther’s idea of a canon within a canon.
“Luther also promoted the idea that the Bible contains a “canon within a canon.” He recognized that within the biblical canon there are books, such as the letters of Paul and the Gospel of John, that hold greater authority than others because they convey more clearly who Christ is and what Christ came to do” (p. 23).
My fourth favourite article is the Small Catechism: A Simple Guide for the Book of Faith written by Timothy J. Wengert (who is also co-translator of the Book of Concord). Wengert ably explains the doctrine of law and gospel par excellence.
“The law—in addition to providing good order in this world and its institutions and restraining evil—breaks down, strips bare, destroys, terrifies, and puts to death by unmasking our lust for control of God and salvation. The gospel, as God’s answer to our human predicament, builds up, clothes in righteousness, creates, comforts, and brings new life by announcing God’s unconditional promise.”
Wengert explains that our human condition is not that we ought to feel guilty, but rather, we are guilty and ashamed by our sins. Our weaknesses in our sinful condition trap us into manufacturing the proper spiritual feelings. He states:
“The Holy Spirit (not the preacher, teacher, or reader) then takes those very truths and does what only God can do—destroys the unbelieving Old Creature and creates the New Creature of faith by revealing the truth about God: that God is gracious and merciful” (p. 1531).
When the Holy Spirit does the work, it removes any possibility of glory due to our our human efforts. We are left without any choice but to give God all the praise and glory.
I recommend the Lutheran Study Bible for any Lutheran pastors, lay leaders, and learners who are searching the Scriptures and desire to reflect more deeply upon Lutheran perspectives as they read the Holy Scriptures. This first edition of the Lutheran Study Bible: NRSV is wonderful. I am sure Augsburg Fortress will see that many Lutherans will also be highly appreciative of this.