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My Continuing War on Study Bibles

Well, maybe not a war. I don’t really hate Bibles with study notes, and even recommend their use for appropriate purposes. They’re great for giving you background information, pointing out connections, and so forth. When they tell you what the text says, they are not so great. At a minimum, use more than one, and use Bibles from different perspectives.

I’ve written a number of posts including one comparing introductions to the book of Luke. To get more, just put “study bible” (including the quotes) in the search box at the upper right.

In any case, my particular annoyance today is with the NLT Study Bible, and particular it’s coverage of the Proverbs 31 woman. The lectionary this week includes Proverbs 31:10-31. Now there are many ways of looking at this passage. On my lectionary notes blog, which I rarely update, I made a few comments on the passage.

The problem I have here is that the notes are simply flat. They make no mention of how anyone could have any other view of how the passage should be read. It begins: “Proverbs ends with a powerful poem celebrating the virtuous wife.”

It then mentions that this is an acrostic, a fine thing to note, but the question is just why did Hebrew poetry use acrostics. Was it to make the poem easier to remember? As someone who memorizes scripture from time to time, even in the original languages, I’m not certain that’s an adequate explanation. Perhaps we should start with the way in which thought structure is a core part of Hebrew poetry.

I know that a study Bible has limited space. The problem is that a reader goes from text to notes and decides that the notes must contain the true meaning of the text. They bypass the hard work of interpretation and they miss out on all the possibilities.

What would I want to see in such a note?

1) The note on the structure, with some additional options as to why this might be an acrostic

2) Some comment on why the editor chose to end his collection of proverbs with this particular passage

3) Explanation of some of the background, such as what went on at the city gate, and so forth.

I find this particular note lacking in all of this.

I do want to add that this shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of just the NLT Study Bible. Many others have similar problems. This is just the one I was reading this morning. Nonetheless, in contrast, I read the notes in the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, which covers points 1 & 2 that I list above, resulting in what I would regard as a much more useful note. The Jewish Study Bible manages to cover all three.

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