Note: I am participating in a blog tour for the release of this Bible on my Participatory Bible Study blog. Please go there for more information on the Mosaic Bible giveaway. There are more details on the tour at the HolyBibleMosaic.com site.
I was very excited to receive a copy of The Mosaic Bible from the folks at Tyndale House, because I had great hopes for this devotional and study Bible.
It’s very hard to get me excited about study Bibles, because I see so much abuse. I can cover most of that abuse under two headings:
Readers who treat study notes as equal to or sometimes superior to the text itself. Nobody actually says this, but they often act as though they believe it.
Study Bibles with notes that are so narrowly based as to slant one’s Bible reading in favor of a particular tradition. Now I don’t expect Bible editors to cover all perspectives, but when the view of a particular tradition or even of an individual theologian is stated authoritatively in the notes as the one interpretation, it’s possible for the inexperienced reader to become confused.
With that, enter The Mosaic Bible. I must admit to starting with a bit of bias. I have a strong appreciation for the NLT, and that is the chosen Biblical text. That text is particularly appropriate to a Bible that aims primarily at devotional or liturgical study and reading. The clarity of the translation text is too often neglected in liturgical use. Yes, we want accuracy. Yes, we want a decent literary sound for the scripture reading. But in addition, clarity is particularly important in public reading. The NLT is quite good in that area.
But from that good foundation, it is possible still to construct a Bible edition that detracts from the excellent text. That is not the case here.
Most importantly, in my view, the study and devotional notes are separated from the Biblical text. Instead of breaking up the flow of the Biblical text, thus suggesting that they are almost part of it, the notes and meditations are placed in the front of the Bible and then crossreferenced from the text.
Of almost equal importance is the variety of materials included. The claim of the preface is that this Bible is intended “… to provide a way to encounter Christ on every continent and in every cenury of Christian history.” And it does precisely that. We have readings ranging from the 1 Clement and the Didache to writers of today, and they come from different tradition streams as well as different geographical locations.
In teaching on how to study the Bible for laypeople, I emphasize sharing. By sharing I mean not just telling others what you have learned, but also listening to the broader community, in time, in space, and in tradition, so as to hear possible corrections of your own eccentricities. Often people come and ask me where they can find such things. Of course there are numerous reference sources one can use, but many are not easily accessible outside of an academic environment.
I can now recommend using this Bible for a year as a way to introduce yourself to the variety of resources and authors that are available. It will provide you with places to start in many areas.
I attend a more liturgical church, and hear preaching from the lectionary. But I didn’t grow up with that. The church year was pretty much a mystery to me. The Mosaic Bible divides its notes into 53 weekly readings (the extra week helps deal with different dates for certain church days), each of which includes four scriptures patterned after the lectionary (Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, Gospel), and at least one additional suggested reading. In addition, there is an introductory note on the topic, readings, a medition, a prayer, and some white space to use in taking notes.
The obvious approach to this Bible is either liturgical or devotional. Follow the Christian year with this Bible, do the readings, and watch your devotional life grow, or alternatively, use them in church liturgy. I am a strong advocate of more scripture reading in our worship services. We have little tolerance for listening to substantial passages of scripture, but I would suggest we would do well to develop a spiritual discipline of just plain listening to scripture.
With the crossreferences, however, you can choose instead to follow your own plan of reading, and use this Bible as a supplement. Clearly marked references indicate what scriptures are used in the weekly studies, so you can use them in reverse as well. The Bible text portion of the book will serve quite well as a Bible you can carry to church with you, or use for other reading and study.
Having listed all these strengths, let me note a couple of weaknesses. The difficulty with the word “weakness” is that it needs to be interpreted with reference to a goal. I think this Bible accomplishes what the editors set out in the introduction or “Mosaic User’s Guide.” Nonetheless I think I need to point out what the Bible is not.
First, it is not a technical study Bible. The introductions to the Bible books are basic, not detailed. The notes are not about historical background or technicalities of language, but are instead devotional (this is, of course a strength as well). You will not find discussion of historical-critical questions. For example, the introduction to Genesis gives the date of writing as “Uncertain, perhaps 1450-1410 BC.” You could generate decades of arguments over that, but you won’t find any of them here.
Second, it is not a guide to any particular tradition. It is not surprising that often Catholics would like a Catholic study Bible, protestants a protestant Bible, evangelicals an evangelical Bible, Methodists a Methodist Bible (sort of!), and so forth. Those groups overlap, of course. This Bible isn’t designed to address the most controversial issues, at least as I read it. It is, instead, to take elements from all the traditions that point to Christ as the center.
Before I make a final point about the Bible I want to expand on that point. I don’t think we are used to christocentric study notes. Some evangelical study Bibles point to prophecy and fulfillment. Those interested in historical interpretation look more at an isolated meaning at a particular place and time. But as the scriptures of the Christian faith, the books of the Bible can and should be read as centering around the one greatest revelation, Jesus the incarnate Son of God.
I do not intend to deny historical-critical methodologies. I use them myself. But that is just one way of looking at the Bible—important, but not exclusive. It contributes to our other understandings. But if we see Jesus as the primary revelation of God, then I think we must look at the rest of God’s action in the world through that lens. This Bible will help you look at the whole in that fashion.
My final point has to do with book design. It’s easy to criticize book design formt he cheap seats. I handed this to my wife and she said it wouldn’t work for her, largely because of the print size. Be aware that the print is small. At the same time, I’m not sure how one would change the design to satisfy everyone. If the print were substantially larger, the whole volume would become too large to carry.
Book design is a collection of compromises. So a compromise must be struck, and I’m personally not unhappy with the result. For me, the text is large enough, though I need my reading glasses, while the book remains small enough for me to carry to church or a small group study.
Overall, I give this Bible five out of five stars, and thank Tyndale House for the opportunity to review it.
(Please see my previous post for an announcement of the Mosaic Bible giveaway. This review has also been crossposted to the Energion.com Book Blog.)