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My Continuing War on Study Bibles

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.

Using the NLTSB, NISB and NOAB: Exodus 15:1-21

Using the NLTSB, NISB and NOAB: Exodus 15:1-21

I’m continuing looking at the NLT Study Bible (NLTSB) in comparison with the New Interpreter’s Study Bible (NISB), which I have also acquired recently. Today I’m going to add a comparison to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB). Note that I am still working from the second edition.

I think many Methodist ministers or ministerial candidates may be looking into the NISB as an alternative to the NOAB, and thus far my impression is that this is a good direction to go in terms of having a Bible that lays out useful sermon material for you efficiently.

This time I’m covering Exodus 15:1-21, also a lectionary passage this week. I will try to complete this comparison on this week’s lectionary passages by looking at Matthew 18:21-35. The actual lectionary passage is only Exodus 15:1b-12, 20-21, but I am making my comparison for the entire block of text.

Quantity of discussion. The NLTSB continues to surprise me by having the most words, over 800 this time in notes on this passage. (I am using an average line length for each edition and multiplying lines to get these approximations.) That compares to the NISB at just over 400 and the NOAB at just over 320. I don’t think any of them are wasting words, so there is more discussion in the NLTSB.

In addition, the NLTSB has an excursus titled The Exodus as History which presents an essentially conservative view of the historicity of the passage. This discussion is not part of the 800 words, and it is not matched in either of the other works. Each of those does discuss historicy in general in various essays, they simply don’t do it as part of this passage.

Themes. The NLTSB focuses on the power of God, his care for the Israelites, and the faith and trust that would result from these action. This theme goes well with the excursus on historicity. Both the NISB and the NOAB emphasize the literary relationship between this song and ancient near eastern literature about the battle of various gods against the sea, and to the idea of gods dwelling on mountains.

The NOAB is more specific, but provides less explanation than does the NISB. The NLTSB avoids this mythological connection altogether and emphasizes the uniqueness of Israel’s religion in the ancient near east. The excursus (The Exodus as History) includes this: “The most reasonable explanation for the distinctiveness of Israel’s understanding is that, as the Bible describes, God broke into their experience and showed himself to them in events that have been recorded as history.”

General Impression. The NOAB is extremely abbreviated and data oriented, a kind of “just the facts” approach, though along with much of secular Bible scholarship it focuses on the similarities between Israel’s religion and literature rather than the distinctive points. The NISB lessens this focus and looks a bit more at the implications. The NLTSB provides a moderately evangelical explanation of the data.

Obviously none of these will replace a good commentary, but they do each present some unique value for someone preparing a sermon or Sunday School lesson.

NLT Study Bible – Initial Reaction

NLT Study Bible – Initial Reaction

I intended to get started on my response to the NLT Study Bible (Bible Nlt) written a bit earlier, but several things have kept me from getting started.

I’m going to write two posts today and tomorrow. This first one is simply a quick, preliminary reaction to this new study edition based on the NLT 2nd edition. The second will compare the introductory information to the gospel of Luke with that of several other study Bibles I use regularly.

I need to note first that this is an evangelical study Bible and I am not an evangelical. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to like it, of course. The basic combination of scholarship involved and the quality text of the NLT makes this a useful Bible whether you are evangelical or not. Thus far, I have found it to be the best I have seen to get a quick view of the evangelical understanding of a book or passage. Names like Tremper Longman III, Philip W. Comfort, and George H. Guthrie are just three names that caught my eye. Contributors such as those suggest that this will be a useful resource.

I am, as almost always, disappointed with some of the marketing style claims. Lines like “revolutionary breakthrough in study Bibles” or the slogal “The Truth Made CLEAR” don’t resonate well with me. But these are elements of the cover, and they are common to the marketing material. The NLT is good and this study Bible is good, but I wouldn’t go as far as “revolutionary.”

And indeed some of the major concerns I have with any study Bible, as well as the marketing language (indirectly) are addressed starting on page A17 (How the Study the Bible with the NLT Study Bible), where we find:

No feature of the NLT STudy Bible is more important than Scripture, the text of the Bible itself.

I wish all users of study Bibles would recognize that fact. Too often Sunday School class or study group members read the notes in their study Bibles as the one interpretation of the text, and don’t bother to think about how that note might have been derived. Now if I could just get them to read this “How To”!

In addition, this same section suggests reading the Biblical text first, and “. . . leav[ing] the notes and other features for later.” This entire section is outstanding, and one hopes that all Bible students who use this Bible edition will read it and follow its advice, including this note:

Please do not treat the NLT Study Bible study notes and other features as the full and final word on any topic of passage. (p. A19)

I’m going to get into more specific features in my next post, in which I will compare and contrast the NLT Study Bible five other editions, but overall my impression is a very useful edition. My teaching work is mostly in United Methodist churches, though not exclusively, and focuses on the educated lay person. I have lacked a single edition that I can unreservedly recommend for evangelical Bible students, one that gives them an overview of scholarly information available, but doesn’t fall into either excessively technical language or oversimplify. At the same time such an edition should refrain from providing the one true interpretation of a text without adequate support. Tall order, no?

Thus far, I think this one will do. My wife is using it as well and giving me her input. She is an educated person and has done a good deal of Bible study, but has not pursued this study academically or professionally. She finds it more useful than The Learning Bible, one that is quite helpful to beginning Bible students in my experience. Thus far, she thinks its language is clear and it addresses topics that are of interest to her. I’m going to urge her to blog some about it herself.

I’m embedding the video provided by Tyndale House on the features, rather than reciting them myself. I will then go into specifics one post at a time.