Tuesday 9 January 2007

Study Bibles

As part of my drive to become the oldest person in history to acquire a recognised qualification in theology (maybe I exaggerate slightly) it's been necessary to acquire a decent Study Bible, one that supports the text with the kind of notes and information that provides context and throws light on some of the more obscure references. While I already had a variety of translations, nothing quite met those criteria.

I looked first at the Zondervan NIV Study Bible which is supposed to be the most popular. The notes on the dust-cover say it all, evangelical and conservative. If that's your poison, you could do a lot worse, but I got the feeling the contributors were looking through rose colored spectacles. Where does the scholarship end and the apologetics begin? I gave it a miss, along with the TNIV (gender-neutral text but same notes.)

In dithered for a while over the The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Although it uses the NRSV and has gone through three editions so far, it's showing its age a bit, and the notes are a little thin on the ground. It still has a great reputation, but I'm prepared to wait for a 4th edition that (hopefully) brings it up to speed with what the others offer.

In the end, in a classic case of overkill, I ended up going for three very different options.

The Jewish Study Bible. (Oxford, 2004)
That might seem an unusual choice, but it's definitely a fresh perspective, and why settle for something that will do no more than just tell you what you expected it to? The translation is JPS's Tanakh which is outstanding, and the supporting essays, maps and notes are excellent (just don't expect a New Testament.)

The Catholic Study Bible (2nd edition) (Oxford, 2006)
The translation used is the New American Bible, which is very readable, and it boasts some great contributors, including John J. Collins, Luke Timothy Johnson and Pheme Perkins. The Reading Guides provide a brilliant introduction to the individual books of the Bible.

The HarperCollins Study Bible. (HarperCollins, 2006)
This is the major competition to the New Oxford Annotated. Included are all the books in the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox canons. Like the Oxford it also uses the NRSV (which happily is the required translation at the University of Otago), but from what I've seen it offers better value. The contributors come from a wide range of backgrounds, and the Society of Biblical Literature has lent its name to the project. It'll probably get the most use of the three, and is already my "default" choice.

That barely scratches the surface when it comes to what's available, but a lot of the Study Bibles on the shelves of Christian bookshops are, to put it gently, so heavenly-minded that they're of no earthly use. A good Study Bible serves to drive a few pitons into the rock face to help the reader make basic connections without having to drag out commentaries and handbooks every time, and doesn't hide the difficult texts behind a veil of comforting platitudes. And yes, you can pick up a KJV edition if you really want to (the one I thumbed through was endorsed by Jerry Falwell, so I put it back pretty quick!)

(This is the first post in an occasional series on "building a library.")


Anonymous said...

Try the Transline Translation. Might be hard to get now, but you will be surprised. (N.T. only)

Unknown said...

I also agree that the TransLine is amazing and worth the great effort to obtain it. I own it and consider it to be the best NT period. It is all pith and no fluff.

Another study bible you might try would be The Companion Bible by EW Bullinger. The cons are that the typeface is a real pain to read, and it is KJV. The pros are that there are insights in it you will never find in any other bible (not even close). Also Bullinger does try to correct for KJV's failings. EW Bullinger was a world renowned linguist in his day. His work is still greatly valued by modern linguists.

Douglas Becker said...

I too highly recommend The Companion Bible by E. W. Bullinger.

It is the favorite darling of the Christian Churches of God, primarily because his commentaries support the heresies of Wade Ewart Cox -- and you can certainly see the value in that: Lots of weird stuff no self-respecting Christian could begin to support.

Douglas Becker said...

For the serious, nothing can beat free from the Rick Ross website where you can download a couple dozen Bible versions and quite a number of comentaries, all integrated into a single software product.

Some copyrighted works are for sale, but for a modest price.

There are an unbelievable number of features, including maps. It's all free, except for some items which are not.

There are even NASA photos which clearly show the fruit of two different ways of life: The diligent Israelis whose land is clearly shown in verdant green, whereas, the Arab states show desert lands right at the political borders.

For those who really want value, using the downloads from is certainly worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Gavin, for the helpful advice. Any good study Bibles that use the Revised English Bible (REB)version?

Anonymous said...

I would also like to suggest the following

The Nag Hammadi Library by James M. Robinson

A large clay jar containing 12 codices plus 8 leaves was found in Egypt in 1945. The clay jar had been buried in the Egyptian desert sometime in the fourth century. The codices and leaves hold 42 separate tractates. Most of these books (tractates) had never been seen in modern times! They are unique discoveries much like the Dead Sea Scrolls. The original copies had long since been destroyed by Orthodox Christianity.

The books were translated from Coptic by an international team of scholars.

The most important thing about these books is that they did not go thought the filter of Nicea. They were never edited by the good folks at Nicea and they escaped the book burnings that characterized the rise of Orthodoxy.

Anonymous said...

Goatherders come and goatherders go but their word keeps on being translated, transliterated, interpolated, extrapolated, revised, revamped, improved and retranslated - over and over and over ad nauseam.

The strange thing is, it all comes out the same - no one has a clue what it means or how to properly interpret it. Gee Whiz, ya reckon that might be the cause of 34,800 cults, sects and denominations of Christendom?

However, I've come to a conclusion that absolutely all atheists agree with - it's all bullshit.

Anonymous said...

As we all know, the Bible has not been updated for over 2,000 years. A friend on another forum recommended the Urantia Book. It is indeed quite interesting.

Since we were practically required to be anti-Catholic as good upstanding Armstrongites, we were denied the pleasures of the deuterocanonical books present in the Catholic Bible. To catch up on my reading, I aquired a New American Bible, and have enjoyed reading the so-called Apocrypha.

I must comment that I really don't think much of the HIV Bible, though.


Anonymous said...

May I suggest something more interesting? Learn to read video codecs!
For your pleasure I present>

jorgheinz said...

Fred Coulter is my benchmark.


Anonymous said...

"They were never edited by the good folks at Nicea and they escaped the book burnings that characterized the rise of Orthodoxy."

Sorry friend, but Dan Brown's book is a work of fiction. Try getting your history from some legitimate sources. No sacred books were edited or expunged or tampered with at the Council of Nicaea, which didn't address the biblical canon at all. Also, there were no book burnings associated with the rise of Orthodoxy.

I own The Nag Hammadi Library, and when you read those texts it's pretty obvious why Gnosticism died out and why those texts were buried in a hole in the ground like the religious dung they are. Still, as historical artifacts they are priceless treasures, and it's a great blessing they survived to our day, if for no other reason than to show just how sick and twisted or just downright foolish human religion can get. On the other hand, there should be more than enough modern examples to be able to teach us that lesson even without the help of texts from a long-dead religion.

Anonymous said...

From "The Gnostic Gospels" by Elaine Paiges

On page 75...
"Pope Leo the Great (c. 447) condemned such writings as the Acts of John as 'a hotbed of manifold perversity,' which 'should not only be forbidden, but entirely destroyed and burned with fire'. But because these heretical circles continued to copy and hide this text, the second Nicene Council, three hundred years later, had to repeat the judgment, directing that 'No one is to copy [this book]: not only so, but we consider that it deserves to be consigned to the fire.'"

On page 120...
"The scholar Frederik Wisse has suggested that the monks who lived at the monastery of St. Pachomius, within sight of the cliff where the texts were fond, may have included the Nag Hammadi texts within their devotional library. But in 367 when Athanasisus, the powerful Archbishop of Alexandria, sent an order to purge all 'apocryphal books' with 'heretical' tendencies, one (or several) of the monks may have hidden the precious manuscripts in the jar and buried it on the cliff of the Jabal al-Tarif, where Muhammad 'Ali found it 1600 years later."

Would you like me to go on?

Anonymous said...

Also check out

Anonymous said...

One new help I am impressed with is the "Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Bibilical History and Culture." It is an NIV base, but the Archaelogy associated with the pages can bring some of what you study to life.

I do too like the Companion Bible, although many if not all of the notes are based on the Sinai Manuscript and may, according to some, be somewhat spurious. There are times where Bullinger did change some of the KJV for some reason, unless he was using an earlier version for his basic Bible.

I used to own the Expositors Bible Commentary, a very large multi-volume set. I decided to sell it when I read in more than one place where there was an odd usage of the word hupostasis or hypostasis. Apparently the hypostasis of Theology did not square the word when used in the Greek of the day.

The Jaimeson Fawcett and Brown Commentary is pretty good, it uses the revised version for its Greek.

Berry's Interlinear is a great tool to compare the Textus Receptus to other interlinears that use the Nestle's or other text types.

Anonymous said...

What! no mention of Mystery of Ages?. I just am completely shocked that none of you commenting here could overlook such a fine bible work as such.
PCG will undoubtably have something to say about this. After all it is the bible they use.