Those who read this blog regularly are probably already aware that I have mixed emotions about study Bibles. I would say “love-hate relationship” but none of my feelings about study Bibles attains the level of “love.”
Via Sun and Shield I found a review on First Things of The Green Bible. I recommend reading the review. I have not purchased, nor have I read, the Green Bible, and I don’t plan to. None of my comments here are based on anything specific written in the notes to that Bible. It is to the very idea that I object, not this particular implementation.
Now let me state for the record that I am not offended by the idea of discovering reasons for taking care of the earth properly in your Bible. I think that much of that is covered under the theology of creation, if one pays attention.
No, my problem is more general. Think of it this way. Supposing someone took one of my books, sliced it up, and then inserted comments about some particular theme everywhere. Let’s say, for example, that these comments had to do with the ecology. I support recycling. I support reducing carbon emissions. I think we’re doing too little. But that’s not really my field of study, so there would be a few sentences here and there, just like the ones in this paragraph that indicate what I believe. So instead of focusing on the topic I intended the book to focus on, the new book, whilst being anchored by text I had written, would be focused on something that was quite incidental to the earlier work.
How would I react? Easy question. I’d say, “Go write your own book.”
The Bible is different in many, many ways from one of my books. It is a collection, it is ancient, it comes from a different culture than mine, and it is regarded as sacred, which nobody has or likely will do with mine. There are reasons to apply commentary to the Bible. But when that commentary is interspersed with the Bible text, it becomes easy to confuse the reader and slant the result toward a particular topic. That’s as true of The American Patriot’s Bible: The Word of God and the Shaping of America
as it is of The Green Bible. It doesn’t matter which of them is more compatible with my own views (The Green Bible, for what it’s worth). Both Bibles are offensive to me.
Some may not believe that anyone would be confused. Surely they know the difference between the Biblical text and the commentary. But I have found in Bible studies that when people use study Bibles they very often take the notes as the true word of God, while spending little time on the text. Even more frequently they take the theme of a passage from the introduction and notes rather than, again, reading the text itself.
Simply the fact that a single theme is taken and emphasized throughout is enough to introduce unbalance. I believe that’s a substantial problem.
My suggestion to people who want to emphasize that the Bible is green as green can be, or that every word of scripture supports American patriotism? Write your own book!
There is good reason to have study Bibles, but I think those who write notes for such Bibles have a great responsibility to point back to the text. Thus providing background information, interpretational options, and structural notes can be very helpful. The problem comes in when the notes begin to direct the study and its emphasis.