The Lutheran Study Bible special pricing deadline is October 31: Get one!

I didn’t get a review copy of  The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB) but I know that I will be very impressed with it when I get my own copy.  Yesterday, our bible study group put in an order for a case of these babies before the October 31 special pricing deadline.   The regular hardback is 3½ pounds and large print is a whopping 5½ pounds.  I prefer large print but am I going to lug a 5½ pound bible to bible study? No way. So I ordered the regular font sized hardback edition without the frills, just a basic hardcover that I can use for bible study on Thursday evenings.

Why would a person want to use The Lutheran Study Bible?  There are 12 reasons if you’re Lutheran.  But if you’re not Lutheran, I don’t really know why except to educate yourself in some good old Lutheran theology.  It’s good…really! In the past, I know Lutherans haven’t exactly been high profile bible publishers and translators but I think this edition will be a first for Lutherans putting out a very high quality study bible so I applaud Concordia for taking this initiative.  I was impressed with the sampler so I’m looking forward to finally getting my own copy just for its Lutheran content written by Lutheran contributors.  Note, that I’m not in it for the translation (ESV);  I’m in it for the uniquely Lutheran perspective, and its emphasis on rightly dividing law and gospel, which is lacking in much of our theologies today.

In the past, the small Lutheran voice in the culture of faith have been drowned out in the cacophony of evangelical voices in airwaves and popular Christian media.  And sadly, I think The Lutheran Study Bible will also likely be lost in the plethora of evangelical-based study bibles and translations, but that’s okay.  If you’re Lutheran, don’t let that deter you from investing in one.  I honestly believe that if  TLSB had the opportunity to really display its qualities, I’m sure it would stand out as a bright gem amongst other gems of study bibles. It easily holds its own against the ESV, NLT, and T/NIV study bibles and it might even out-do them. I still need to get a copy in my hands before saying anything more.   I admit–the reality is that if you’re not Lutheran, you probably won’t get one.

But okay, enough bragging up for the Lutheran Study Bible.  Get one for yourself, especially if you’re Lutheran.

Wesley Study Bible by Abingdon

The Wesley Study Bible: NRSV
Publisher: Abingdon Press, 2009
ISBN-10: 0687645034
ISBN-13: 978-0687645039

I wish to thank the good people at Abingdon Press for sending me this review copy.

The first thing I noticed about the Wesley Study Bible was the abundance of study notes.  The study notes seem to be geared toward the average reader of the bible, which makes it very accessible to the average person.  One is not required to have a theological education to make sense of the study notes.  I would also like to point out that occasionally some of the study notes also contain what John Wesley believed and practiced. So it is not just the Wesleyan core terms (which I will say more on) that make the study bible Wesleyan.  However, personally I would like to see even more of Wesley’s commentary.  Why not?  It’s a Wesley Study Bible.

The other thing I noticed were the boxes containing explanations of Wesleyan core terms, and there are more than 200 of these terms. A small handful of these terms include: Christian Conferencing, Circuit Rider, Conviction of Sin, Convincing Grace, Evil Tempers, Free Will, Grace and Works, Holiness of Heart, Itineracy, Means of Grace, Offices of Christ, Sanctifying Grace, Social Holiness, etc.  I think this is one of the most useful features of this bible because they open up some of the terminology related to the Wesleyan tradition.   I would consider this an educational feature of the study bible and it is most fitting.  One such Wesleyan Core Term, “Prevenient Grace”, states:

Wesley followed the idea of prevenient grace (pre-venire, to come before)—that God’s action, not ours, is the beginning of the process of salvation, followed by the necessity of our response.  Wesley believed that God’s universal offer of salvation was analogous to natural conscience whereby everybody knows the difference between good and evil.  However, Wesley said that such a discerning ability was not natural but the result of God’s enlightenment in every person’s mind.  Thus, we are enabled by God to respond freely in one of two ways—respond positively and accept this distinction between good and evil, realizing that we must repent of our sinful ways, or respond negatively, reject such knowledge, and continue in our sinful ways.

I am glad to see this because many people who may call themselves Wesleyans or Methodists may not even understand the meaning of such terminologies.  I sure didn’t but I’m not Wesleyan or Methodist either; however, it gave me a good reason to learn.  Some study bibles based on specific theological traditions do not have much content about what the founding personalities believed and practiced.  As a Wesleyan-Methodist study bible, I am glad to see notes on what John Wesley believed.

There are also nearly 200 Life Application Topics.  These are useful for the practical side of living out of one’s Christian faith.  It runs along similar lines as the Life Application Bible.  Here’s an example from one such topic on pride:

Pride is arrogance and conceit and manifests itself when we delude ourselves into thinking we operate under our own power.  We assume and live as if the world revolves around us instead of our will and way revolving around God.  Pride was the downfall of the first man or woman in the Gen account.  Pride always comes before a fall!  On the other hand, humility looks to God admitting we don’t have all the answers or solutions, but we submit to God’s will and way knowing God knows best.  This is wisdom, and the wise always find joy and lasting fulfillment with God and others.

This Life Application Topic feature further reinforces this bible as a practical study bible. The average persons or readers of the bible who desires to live out one’s faith in society will find this feature helpful in applying scriptural principles to daily living.  There are also nineteen colorful maps in the back of the bible.

The Wesley Study Bible is based on the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation of the bible.  It is one of the best, if not the best, formal equivalent translations available today.  I rely on this translation because it is very accurate and reliable.  It will certainly not be outdated for a long time.   It is also the first translation of choice in many United Methodist churches.

The general editors are Joel B. Green, Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and Will H. Willimon, Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church who is also an outstanding preacher.  As I turned the pages near the front of the bible to see the editorial board and contributors, I noticed that the people on the editorial board and contributors were from a mix of mainline United Methodists and evangelicals of the Wesleyan and Nazarene traditions.  I believe this makes the Wesley Study Bible one of the most diverse within the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition.  I do not think other study bibles based on specific theological traditions have been able to pull together contributors from a broad spectrum of theological worldviews, but this one manages to do so, which is admirable indeed.

I recommend the Wesley Study Bible to all interested bible readers who want to study the written word of God and receive input from a Wesleyan-Methodist viewpoint.  The very helpful features will deepen one’s theological understanding, and help one apply biblical principles into their lives.  I’m sure you will enjoy the Wesley Study Bible and find it a valuable resource.

It can be purchase online from Cokesbury, Amazon or ChristianBook.com.

Lutheran Study Bible: NRSV by Augsburg Fortress

Lutheran Study Bible: NRSV
Publisher:
Augsburg Fortress
ISBN:  9780806680590

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.

ESV Study Bible and the ESV translation

Thank you Michele Bennett of Crossway Publishing for sending me a review copy.

In this rather lengthy post, I will speak about what I have found to be the main features of the ESV Study Bible, and then in the second half of this post, I will give my opinion about the ESV translation itself. I know there have already been numerous other bibliobloggers in the blogosphere blogging about the ESV Study Bible (ESVSB). I will finally add mine opinion of the it here today.

1. The features of the ESV Study Bible:

The more I read the ESV Study Bible, the more I like it. If you’re looking for a good study bible, the ESV Study Bible is definitely one of the best available. The study notes and the overall feel of it will make it one of the all-time great study bibles. With over 20,000 study notes and 50 articles, it is a heavy-duty study bible, and it also looks and feels like one too. With 2,750 pages, it is one of the thickest study bibles out there, if not the thickest. The ESV Study Bible is the biggest of them all. It is also the most comprehensive I’ve seen. The quantity and quality of study notes is comparable to its two major rivals, the T/NIV and NLT study bibles. The introductions for each book are excellent. They are scholarly and are based on up-to-date scholarship. The contributing scholars for the ESV Study Bible are top-notch evangelical scholars. The wide variety of scholars from many denominations makes this study bible ecumenical. The scholars who have contributed the study notes, articles, and the ESV translation itself, are from a variety of denominational seminaries, theological schools, and universities. They come from a variety of denominational backgrounds: Baptist, Reformed, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican, Pentecostal, and many and various evangelical seminaries (their names can be seen here).

In my opinion, the big name on the editorial oversight committee is J.I. Packer, the Theological Editor. The other names on this committee are C. John Collins, the Old Testament Editor, and Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Editor. The editorial committee is covenantal in theology. It is not surprise me that this committee leans more toward covenantal in theology. Well, the majority of the readership of the ESV translation is covenantal or reformed; so why not? Will dispensationalists find this study bible overly covenantal? I don’t think so. There are some dispensationalists on the list of study note contributors but they are the minority. In recent years, I have found that my own theology moving from an Arminian dispensational outlook to more of a covenantal one. So now, I can appreciate both theological views. I can say that it is not as covenantal or reformed as the ESV Reformation Study Bible. So if you’re a dispensationalist, you’ll still like this study bible and appreciate its value.

In the ESV panel discussion, Dr. J.I. Packer, the theological editor, spoke about the ESV Study Bible being a useful tool for catechesis (or oral instruction). I have wondered what makes it a good tool for catechesis. If someone could enlighten me on this one, I would appreciate it.

One thing that separates the ESV Study Bible from the rest of the other study bibles is the physical quality of the bible itself. It has a very good quality binding because it is Smyth-sewn rather than glued. This makes it much longer-lasting, and it allows the bible to lay flat when you’re at the beginning of Genesis or at the end of Revelation. Most study bibles out there only use the cheap glue binding, including the NTL Study Bible, NIV Study Bible, New Oxford Annotated Bible, and HarperCollins SB. The ESV Study Bible, however, is Smyth-sewn and reinforced with some glue to make it more durable. So kudos to Crossway for providing a good quality binding. I think Crossway has really improved on the quality of some of its bibles. One pet-peeve I have about bibles is that when you open up the bible, and the pages at the seam crinkle-up. The pages near the seam in this bible seem to crinkle, and I don’t know why. Open one up and you’ll see for yourself. Maybe someone can explain to me why this happens?

The layout is very attractive. It is easy on the eyes. Personally, I like the lines that separate the header, the study notes, and the side columns. I find this easier on the eyes and it gives the appearance of a clean-cut layout. Crossway has also provided quality high-opacity French bible paper and a very nice print job. I like the dark arial font for the study notes and the dark serif font for the biblical text. It provides a good contrast and it makes it easier to read. The font size is also a good size. I don’t have to use a magnifying glass to read it. I also like the single column format. I was accustomed to double columns but I have slowly become accustomed to reading wide single columns. Moreover, the abundance of white space around the text makes it easier and quicker to read, especially if you’re a speed reader (which I’m not).

This is one of the only bibles I’ve seen with so many full-color maps and illustrations within the pages of the bible texts. No other bible has come close to what the ESV Study Bible has done in providing relevant maps that are in such magnificent colors and detail. It has certainly set the bar in this area. Not only are these color maps placed in each of the book introductions, but they are also placed within the pages of the main texts to provide the readers with an historical place where the story was situated. The regions, nations and cities are concurrent to the period of time when the characters and stories took place. It’s really well done.

I have to say that I’m a cross reference user and prefer bibles that have cross references. I don’t know about most people, but when I do indepth study into the text, I actually use cross references to find relevant and comparable scripture verses. I have found that the cross references are in the ESVSB is sufficient and comparable to other bibles; plus there is a concordance in the back.

The numerous theological articles in the back of the bible reflect an evangelical perspective. They are quite readable, even for beginner Christians. It’s a nice addition. Perhaps these theological-biblical articles were what J.I. Packer was referring to when he spoke about the ESV Study Bible being a useful tool for catechesis? Also, in the past, I’ve wondered what it was like during the time period in between the OT and NT. Some historical and scholarly articles are appropriately placed in between the Old Testament and the New Testament to explain in a compact fashion: the time between the testaments; the Roman Empire and the Greco-Roman world; Jewish groups at the time of the NT.

2. The ESV translation:

As far as the translation itself goes, I see the ESV translation becoming ever more popular in the future. It is popular in covenantal Baptist and Reformed churches, but it is also becoming more widely used in Lutheran congregations. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) has switched their new hymnal from the NIV to the ESV translation. For some Lutherans, the previous switch from the RSV to the NIV, and now to the ESV, is sort of a return to the Tyndale RSV-style language. For those who are used to the old RSV, they will find the ESV an easy transition. I don’t think Crossway wants to market the ESV as an ‘updated RSV’ but it really is kind of like an ‘updated RSV’ since much of the text is identical to the old RSV. In fact, maybe Crossway could have renamed it the RSV2? The difference between the two is in its updated and conservative biblical scholarship, and easier to read punctuations and some modernized grammar. Overall, it still reads very much like the RSV. When I was reading from the ESV aloud, many thought I was reading from the RSV. In certain passages, the difference between the ESV and RSV is only slight. There is even less of a difference between the KJV and NKJV.

Even though some have debated the accuracy of between the ESV and the TNIV, there is really not much to debate about because the ESV is still a very accurate and scholarly translation. If we want to debate the accuracy of the ESV, we will also have to debate the accuracy of the RSV. Some may accuse the ESV being a step back from the RSV, but I don’t think so. I acknowledge that the RSV is one of the best translations ever translated into the English language and in many ways, the ESV has improved over its predecessor. Personally, I really like the NRSV, TNIV and NLT translations because they are gender-inclusive and highly accurate. The ESV is also gender-inclusive, but to only to an extent. That’s the criticism. The level of gender-inclusivity in the ESV is somewhere in-between the TNIV/NRSV (which fully use gender-inclusive language) and NIV/RSV (which mainly use masculine language). We can come to two possible conclusions concerning this issue of moderate use of gender-inclusive language:

1/ It is inconsistent; or
2/ It is ‘playing it safe’ and not ‘going over-board’.

Personally, I think both points of view are legitimate. Personally, I do prefer gender-inclusive language because it fits the context of the audience to whom the writers were originally writing to. However, technically speaking, the gender of the pronouns (i.e., he, him, his) are mostly masculine because that’s how gender was used in Greek writing.

The ESV translation is already a very successful translation but I believe it will become even more popular. In the near future, it will become head-to-head rivals with the NIV and NLT. I predict that the ESV will become one of the great modern translations of all time. I am not just saying that but I really believe it. Crossway has put together great study bible with a great translation to go along with it. Good job Crossway!

The NLT Study Bible by Tyndale House

Three weeks ago, I received in the mail an advanced copy of the NLT Study Bible (NLTSB) from Tyndale House Publishers to review and have finally gotten around to writing this review. The NLTSB is scheduled for official release on September 15, 2008 and I’m sure many people will be impressed by it. I have found it to be an excellent study bible. Any time now in August, the NLT Study Bible website will be launching a fully searchable online version of the study bible with a free 30-day trial.

The slogan Tyndale has given the NLTSB is The Truth Made Clear. I do not think that this quickened sense of clarity in the bible’s truth is necessarily all attributable to the tools in this study bible. Even though the tools in the NLTSB are top-notch, this study bible can compete almost head-to-head in understandability with other study bibles. What really makes this slogan ring true, I believe, is the readability of the New Living Translation itself. The NLT is the most easy-to-read English bible translation available today. Most people will find it more readable than the TNIV, ESV and NRSV because it takes the dynamic approach in translation philosophy. Perhaps its increasing demand for such a translation is an indication that what readers want is a simple, easy-to-understand translation. But, different strokes for different folks. If I may, back in March 2007 I stated that the NLT had the potential to “breakout of its current status of alternate translation to the NIV” and that it also had “the potential to compete head-to-head with the NIV as the first bible of choice.” Today, based on CBA’s unit sales for September 2008, the NLT translation has surpassed the NIV in unit sales and will likely improve upon this trend. So kudos to the NLT and Tyndale on your big gains in readership! Based on the current demand for the NLT translation and based on the NLTSB’s own merits as a high quality study bible, I believe it would be safe to predict that the NLT Study Bible will become one of the most popular study bibles in the next decade to come.

I think people will like the NLTSB for many reasons, and I state my reasons them here below. One thing that impresses me about the NLTSB is its up-to-date biblical scholarship. This is evident throughout the pages of its study notes and book introductions. Over 48 scholars and editors have contributed to this bible. Its contributors are reknown evangelical theologians from a variety of seminaries and theological departments of universities.

The historical-critical stream within evangelical biblical scholarship seems to be more evident in the NLTSB. If you are familiar with the dating of Isaiah, you might chuckle at how the introduction to Isaiah attempts to satisfy all views:

The book of Isaiah addresses three different historical situations, two of them beyond the prophet`s own lifetime. As a result, some critical scholars have argued that the prophet Isaiah could not have written the entire book, a view that has prevailed since the mid-1800s. However, if we assume the reality of God`s inspiration, predictive prophecy is a reality, so it should not present a problem that parts of the book address what was in the future for Isaiah. Furthermore, the book displays a remarkable literary unity (p.1106).

This comment on the authorship of Isaiah carefully tries not to alienate those who adhere to the older view that it was the prophet Isaiah who wrote the entire book of Isaiah.

A literary approach to biblical scholarship is also evident in the pages of the NLTSB. It speaks of literary genres, imagery, patterns, etc. Although the NLTSB is not trying to become like the ESV Literary Study Bible, it has not neglected the increasingly significant literary aspect within modern biblical scholarship.

The amount of study notes in the NLTSB is quite immense. It competes with the NIV Study Bible. The study notes discusses not only the facts but also what the message means to the reader. So perhaps I should also attribute the contents of the study notes toward the fulfillment of the NLTSB’s slogan The Truth Made Clear. The size of the NLTSB amounts to a massive 2486 pages (not including the colorful maps in the back). The expanded notes bring out insightful details into words, people, themes, and topics.

The feature of Hebrew and Greek word studies is an invaluable feature, especially to those preparing bible studies and for pastors preparing sermons. It follows Strong’s numbering system and uses the transliteration instead of the Greek spelling so as to not exclude ordinary people cannot read or understand biblical Greek. Tyndale has done a great job because it keeps in mind the interests of ordinary people whom they know are non-readers of the original biblical languages. Here is an example of a Greek word study on repentance:

metanoia (3341): repentance. This noun means the action or condition of change, especially of behaviour and opinions. In the NT it usually refers to changing from a sinful state to a righteous standard. Repentance is not merely regret about something, it is a change of perspective that results in changed actions. See Mark 1:4; Luke 3:8; 5:32; 24:47; Acts 11:18; 20:21; Rom 2:4; 2 Tim 2:25; Heb 6:1; 2 Pet 3:9.

The introductions of each book includes the historical setting, maps, outline, timeline, summary, authorship, date and other historical issues, meaning and message. As much as I appreciate the historical setting, the timeline in each introduction also allows me as a reader to have a better idea when the events in a particular letter or book occurred. Many ordinary readers like me can appreciate such timelines because it helps me place the text in its proper chronological context. Note, there is also a master timeline at the beginning of the NLTSB. An outline in each introduction is also a helpful tool. Although I would have appreciated a more detailed outline for each book, the basic outline provided here manages to suffice my need for visual aids. Moreover, many other study bibles do not even provide an outline for each book. The visual aids of timelines, charts and maps scattered throughout these pages are extremely helpful. As far as I’m concerned, these visual aid tools should be in all study bibles because they help the reader simplify potentially complex things. Furthermore, I have found that the maps within the NLTSB is more numerous than in most study bibles. I have always loved maps because they help visual learners like myself visualize where the events took place.

Personally, I also like reference bibles. The cross-reference system is a very helpful feature that I use all the time in bible study. It think this feature is often under-rated and under-used by many people. Another feature in the NLTSB that is very useful is the parallel passages (e.g., Lk 28-36; Mt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-10). I like them because I like to do critical comparisons of parallel passages. This feature will save me time having to search through the Harmony of the Four Gospels and cross-references. I have seen this feature in only a few bibles so I am glad to see this in the NLTSB.

Most of the articles in the NLTSB are quite brief. These include the introductions to the OT and NT; introduction to the four gospels; chronology of the life of Jesus; the introduction to the time after the apostles; and the historical background of the intertestamental period. My favourite and briefest article is the Historical Background of the Intertestamental Period. I have always been curious about the period between the OT and the NT. This article nicely ties the two together. It fills in the gap explaining the periods of the Persian Empire, Greek rule, Egyptian rule of Ptolemies, Syrian rule of the Seleucids, the self-rule under the Maccabees or Hasmonean dynasty, and the Roman rule. This section is appropriately placed in between the OT and NT.

As for reference helps, there is a comprehensive subject index and a dictionary-concordance in the back of the study bible. The NLTSB has done a fairly good job with this because it is sufficiently large enough. The bible that I feel that has done the all-time best job at this is the topical index found in Nelson’s New Open Bible. If Tyndale can develop something like that, it would be even better.

The NLT Study Bible not only has up-to-date scholarship, but it remains firmly grounded in a piety that many evangelicals love and appreciate. Some study bibles that neglect Christian piety, and approach the biblical text from a purely scholarly/critical point-of-view are not designed for ordinary people but only for a narrow stream in the academic world. In contrast, I would consider piety in the NLTSB as a feature. Its scholarly contributors speak with strong pious convictions about our Christian faith, and its study notes are geared help the average bible-reader or seeker to understand the bible and learn about what God is seeking from his people. This makes the NLT Study Bible very accessible to a broad range of people who wish to nurture their faith. This is an excellent study bible I highly recommend it as a faith-building tool.

Finally, I wish to thank Laura Bartlett of Tyndale for sending me an advanced copy of the NLT Study Bible to review.

Brand new: NRSV Discipleship Study Bible by WJK Press


If you frequent the New Epistles blog, you know that I feel the NRSV is one of the best formal equivalent translations today, along with the ESV. In 2008, Westminster John Knox Press (WJKP) has now come out with the NRSV Discipleship Study Bible with Apocrypha. It is supposed to be the first NRSV study bible published in five years. This study bible tries to tie together an understanding of the biblical texts and life application. This is unique for an NRSV bible, and mainline Christians who are attracted to the NRSV translation may find this a novelty.

WJK Press is not known as a bible publisher, and to my knowledge, this is the only bible currently being published by WJK Press so kudos to WJKP. According to WJK’s description:

The annotations in this study Bible give particular emphasis to discerning scriptural guidance for living together in community. Such living encompasses but is not limited to personal piety. The biblical text has an inescapable social dimension and this study Bible demonstrates attentiveness to the public and communal meanings and implications of the biblical text, including the social justice and social witness dimensions of Scripture.

The Discipleship Study Bible will provide:

• a focus on discipleship that is based on the scholarship and inclusive language of the NRSV.
• a concentration on social justice – acts of Christian care and concern for all God’s people and God’s entire world.
• a concentration on personal piety – Christian acts of personal response to Scripture.

The Discipleship Study Bible will include:

• the complete text of the NRSV, including the Aprocrypha
• extensive introduction and annotations for each biblical book, including the Apocrypha, from a group of distinguished biblical scholars.
• essential historical, sociocultural, literary, and theological issues valuable in understanding each biblical book.
• annotations for each biblical book that address the whole range of the Christian life — spiritual and social, personal and communal.
• a concise chronology of events and literature in and surrounding Ancient Israel and Early Christianity.
• a concise concordance.
• color maps.

Most NRSV study bibles out there try to concentrate on the biblical text from a critical perspective. This one is different because it comments on Christian living and personal piety. It will definitely not be anywhere close to being similar to a combination of a Life Application Study Bible and an NRSV HarperCollins SB or NOAB. However, it does bring to the reader’s attention some of the social justice issues familiar to liberal mainline churches, e.g., socio-political, economic and environmental. With the study notes, its page count comes in at 2198 pages, which is quite considerable.

Most conservative readers may likely not go for this type of study bible but if you are a mainline or evangelical who is concerned about some of these social issues, it would certainly be a bible worth looking at. For personal piety and Christian living, not many bibles out there can beat the Life Application Study Bible; however, the NRSV Discipleship Study Bible may have the corner on social justice issues.

Serendipity Bible: very helpful for small group study

I have been using the Serendipity Bible in my personal and small group studies quite frequently. I have found it to be a very valuable resource because it has been making it easier for me to lead bible studies with questions straight out of the same bible without flipping through pages and booklets. It asks the readers engaging questions to help leaders guide small groups into meaningful conversation about the passage. In each of the lessons, there are meaningful questions to engage the reader to think about how the passage relates to their own lives. This is a bible power-packed with 30,000 questions organized into 200 relational bible study lessons, which are also organized into 60 Felt Needs courses and 16 topical study courses (see PDF). It is primarily geared to leaders who lead group bible studies, but it is just as appropriate for personal study. In my personal opinion, it does not seem to be as widely used as it should be, so I thought I’d inform small group leaders out there about this great resource. I would recommend it to any bible study leader or those considering starting up a small group study, and also for those who want to go deeper in personal study. You will not go wrong with making an investment in this bible. It began with the New International Version (NIV) translation but now includes the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). It has been published by Serendipity House for 20 years and has been owned by Lifeway since 2002. It is available in both a hardcover and bonded leather.

Even though it is primarily marketed to the evangelical market, it is just as invaluable to evangelicals in mainline churches who use the weekly lectionary and hold regular bible studies. There are studies in Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospel lessons for each of the lectionary readings of the week—from years A to C. In Lutheran circles, the Lutheran Men in Mission Ministry (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) has asked Serendipity to publish a version of this bible. It is called Master Builders Bible for Men (NIV) and is available through Augsburg Fortress. It is almost virtually the same in content except for the cover. Our men’s bible studies have been giving it away for free to all the men who attend our men’s breakfast on Saturday mornings. It’s a great way to encourage and enable regular devotional bible reading. It is so well-liked that I have seen women using this bible that’s labelled for men”. In the past, it was also available in New American Bible (NAB), however, I do not know if it is still available today. The Catholic version was marketed as the NAB Catholic Serendipity Bible by Zondervan.