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In order to simplify my blogging, I am shutting down the Bible Bookshelf Blog. Any further thoughts I have on topics related to the Bible will be shared at my personal blog at CoryHowell.net.
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I know this will not mean a whole lot to many people, but the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) used to have a great site called Tagged Tanakh, where you could interact with the text of the JPS Tanakh, and share notes on passages with other users. This article from MyJewishLearning.com gives you a little glimpse of what the site looked like, and what kind of potential it had as a great way for people to share their ideas on the Hebrew Bible. As the article's author says, "Imagine Facebook where all your friends are religious experts."
Sadly, several years ago (around 2011, I think), I began to notice that there was very little activity on the site. I began to make inquiries, and sent the JPS Facebook Page a message, asking if Tagged Tanakh was still a thing. They informed me that they were discontinuing the site. However, the website remained on the Internet for several years; just as recently as a few days ago, one could look up passages in the Tanakh, and comment on things (even though there was almost no one else using the site). Today, though, I tried to login to Tagged Tanakh, and I got a 404 Error message. So, apparently, after all these years, someone finally decided to kill the project for good.
The good news is this: a few years ago, when I was making inquiries into the status of Tagged Tanakh, I got an email back from one of the people who had been involved in creating the site, and he informed me about a newer website called Sefaria.org, that was somewhat similar to the concept of Tagged Tanakh. When I first checked out Sefaria, the main down side of that site was that they only had the rights to use the old 1917 version of the JPS Holy Scriptures, but they recently were given the rights to the 1985 JPS Tanakh, and they have many other classic Jewish texts on their site as well.
So anyway, I'm kind of sad that Tagged Tanakh is no more, but it was fun while it lasted. And at least I've got Sefaria to keep me busy, if I want to study the Hebrew Bible.
UPDATE: The day after I wrote this post, I did manage to log into Tagged Tanakh, so apparently the site isn't completely dead. Still, I may be the only person checking in to the site these days...
[From the Babylon Bee website: Apostle Paul's King James Bible Up for Auction]
U.S.—A new eBay listing confirmed Tuesday that the Apostle Paul’s leather-bound edition of the King James Bible—the only translation he was known to use—is at long last up for auction.
The $10 million reserve was quickly exceeded as excited Christians from around the world began frantically driving up the price in hopes of owning a little piece of church history.
“Here’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to read the very same archaic English that the Apostle Paul did in his daily personal studies,” the auction listing reads. “You can own the majestic text of the 1611 Authorized Version used by the church fathers to found the Christian church. Free economy shipping, no returns.”
The owner of the historic heirloom also stated that the Bible is in used but good condition, with all of Scofield’s study notes still clearly visible at the bottom of the page.
Recently, on the Bible Versions Discussion/Dialogue group on Facebook, we've been having a pretty lively conversation about study Bibles, the ones we like and the ones we don't like. That got me thinking about some of my favorite study Bibles, the ones I use the most. Before I list my Top Five, as well as my reasons for liking them, i would like to share some of my thoughts on study Bibles in general. Even though I often use them as a tool, I realize that there are some inherent difficulties in relying too much on study Bibles.
First, there is the matter of bias. I'm not going to pretend that the five Bibles I'm listing below don't have any sort of bias. Every study Bible has some sort of bias, as far as I can tell. The challenge comes in recognizing that bias. Second, although the commentary and notes in a study Bible can (and should) help shed light on the biblical text, the commentary is not inspired. Nothing bothers me more in a Bible study or Sunday School class than when someone says, "Well, the note in my Bible says..." and then the discussion stops, as if that settles the matter. Finally, I feel that the notes in a study Bible should never overshadow the biblical text itself. While I appreciate a study Bible that's loaded with information, that information should ideally point the reader back to the text.
On with the list! Here are my top five study Bibles...
#5. The ESV Study BIble
Even though the ESV is not my favorite translation, there's no denying the strengths of this study Bible. It's certainly one of the biggest study Bibles on the market, coming in at an impressive 2,751 pages (plus maps)! I've often read of the ESV Study Bible's "Reformed/Calvinist bias," and there are certainly some spots where that is evident, but overall, there is a LOT of information in this Bible that is extremely useful. I think, when the ESV Study Bible came out, it really raised the bar on how much publishers could stuff into one Bible. Also, the online edition of this Bible is very well done.
#4. The HCSB Study Bible
A few things make this study Bible more attractive for me than the ESV SB: first, I like the HCSB as a translation better than the ESV; second, it's more lavishly illustrated, with a beautiful visual layout; and finally, the Word Studies in Hebrew and Greek are a great feature that the ESV SB lacks. The edition of the HCSB Study Bible in my collection is a nice (by my standards) leather-bound copy with two placeholder ribbons, and thumb indexing. There's supposedly a bit of a "Baptist bias" to the notes, but I don't think I've ever noticed too much that would bother me in that regard. This is a great study Bible that I use a lot. (The recent CSB Study Bible, which is an updated version of this Bible, isn't quite as good, in my opinion.)
#3. The HarperCollins Study Bible
This was one of the first study Bibles I ever purchased, one that I found in a used bookstore almost two decades ago. It's been my most used study Bible ever since. Even though I've discovered other study Bibles that I think are better, there is no Bible in my collection that is more marked up and highlighted. I still use it on a regular basis. The copy I have used the most is the first edition that came out; I've since bought the Revised Edition, but I've never used that version nearly as much as my paperback first edition. This is a text-based study Bible, so it lacks the kind of visual apparatus that one finds in the Bibles I've already mentioned. It's certainly a lot more "liberal" in its bias than the ESV or the HCSB, which is to be expected, considering its use of the New Revised Standard Version as its text. The notes tend to be of a literary nature, which can be a useful perspective. And it contains the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon, so that's handy. This will always be one of my favorite study Bibles.
#2. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible
Not to be confused with the very popular NIV Study Bible, which is also published by Zondervan (and is a very decent study Bible in its own right), this study Bible came out just a few years ago. Edited by D.A. Carson, this one gives the ESV a run for its money, and for my money, is even better. Despite the fact that I'm not a huge fan of the 2011 version of the NIV, this study Bible is excellent. Carson's approach seems to be to consider the entire Bible in context, as much as possible. My Large Print Edition (which isn't really that large, but much easier for me to read than the standard print version) is even longer than the ESV Study Bible mentioned above, coming in at over 2,800 pages. The illustrations are excellent, as are the notes and introductions to the different books. There are all kinds of excellent articles, and if there is an evangelical bias present, it doesn't seem to be as evident as some other study Bibles. Over the past couple years, this has become one of my absolute favorites.
#1. NIV Faithlife Study Bible
This Bible only recently came out in print, but it has quickly become my absolute favorite study Bible! I've been familiar for a few years with Logos Bible Software's Faithlife Study Bible, which has previously only been available in electronic form, and usually linked to Logos's Lexham English Bible (about which I've written on this blog before). But Zondervan and Logos have now teamed to combine the excellent notes from the Faithlife Study Bible with the very popular NIV text, and the result is a spectacular study Bible. This Bible has the best visual layout I've ever seen, combined with notes of exceptionally high quality, from a variety of theological viewpoints. The marketing for this study Bible presents the concept of encouraging readers to stay curious about God's Word, and I think that's the great strength of this Bible. The notes and commentary encourage the reader to delve into the text to make his own decisions about what it says. I appreciate any study Bible that admits up front that it doesn't have a single answer about everything. I've only had this study Bible for a short while, but it has become my go-to Bible. If Logos ever decides to release a print version that features the LEB instead of the NIV, I would get one in a heartbeat! This Bible is highly recommended for anyone looking for a great study Bible. They have an online "sampler" that give a good glimpse of the inside of this version: it's what led me to purchase it in the first place. And the price is right: the hardcover edition was only about thirty bucks...a tremendous deal.
Well, first a disclaimer: I received a free copy of this Study Bible from the publisher, in exchange for publishing a review of the book. However, I was under no obligation to give an exclusively positive review. That being said...this one earned a positive review!
I have, in the past, reviewed several different Bibles that are oriented towards kids: some of them have been directed towards youth in general, others towards either boys or girls. I usually find them somewhat disappointing in their emphasis of pictures and cuteness over biblical content. The girls' Bibles have a lot of pink and purple, and "girly" art, while the boys' Bibles focus on blue as a theme color, while emphasizing the "action" of the Bible. This Kids' Visual Study Bible is very different. This is a Bible I would enthusiastically recommend for kids of a proficient reading age. Hands down, this is the best Study Bible for kids I've ever seen! Nothing else I've seen in kids' Bibles comes close, in my opinion.
The first thing I noticed is a big thing for me. So many Bibles oriented towards children make all of the cutesy sidebar content the visual focus: not this one! In the Kids' Visual Study Bible, there is plenty of visually appealing material, but the biblical text is central: the notes and pictures are presented in sidebars that are clearly secondary to the text. I'll take some pictures to demonstrate...
Notice how the text is right in the center of the open book? Sidebar material is presented nice and legibly, but the eye naturally gravitates toward the biblical text. Some of the sidebars are a little more involved such as this "Big Ideas in Proverbs" box:
Meanwhile, even in the more involved sidebar material, the content is concise and visually simple and direct. Too many children's Bibles have large articles for the kids to read, that tend to interrupt the text too much for my taste. In the Kids' Visual Study Bible, even larger information boxes tend to be really fact-oriented, thus drawing the reader back to the text. This "David, a Man of War" box is a good example:
The introductory material for each book of the Bible is helpful but concise, limited to one page for each introduction. Basically, each book introduction distills the content of that book down to a simple outline, along with information about who wrote the book, why they wrote it, who is was written for, etc. The Introduction to Mark will give you a good idea of what these pages look like:
This Bible is lavishly illustrated, with hundreds of beautifully done color illustrations, in addition to the host of sidebar info which I've already mentioned. The font is a little small for my aging eyes, but should be easily readable by the young eyes for whom it is intended. There's a placemarking ribbon in the middle of the book, and several nice looking full-color maps in the back.
As far as the translation goes, I think the 2011 New International Version is a pretty good choice: it's not dumbed down for young readers, but the dynamic equivalence of the version should work perfectly for late elementary school students, and all students in middle school and up. My daughter, who is going into fifth grade next year, will have absolutely no problem reading and understanding this Bible.
As I said above, I am usually a bit disappointed in recently published children's Bibles, so the Kids' Visual Study Bible was a welcome surprise! I would highly recommend this Bible to anyone who has children in middle school, as it's easily one of the best Bibles for that age I've ever seen. (The publisher's recommended age is 8-12, and I think that's right on.) This is a Bible that honors the text, while still providing plenty of supplemental interest to enhance the child's experience of that text. Hats off to Zondervan for a really fine product that restores my faith in Bible publishing for kids!
It's been awhile since I blogged regularly on this site, but I'd like to remedy that. From here on out, I'm going to shoot for once a week. I may have to skip the occasional week, if things get really busy with my church job, or if my family takes a vacation, but I think once a week is an attainable goal. After all, I have plenty of Bibles in my collection to write about. My total number of volumes in my collection currently comes to...302 volumes. In fact, I recently added a couple Study Bibles that I'm really enjoying, which I'll describe below...
First is the Faithlife Study Bible, which is a joint project between Zondervan and Logos Bible Software. Logos has taken their excellent Faithlife Study Bible, which is usually paired with their Lexham English Bible, and combined the notes with the ever popular NIV translation. The result is a very nicely laid out Study Bible, with excellent notes and some really nice graphics. This image of Noah's Ark is a good example of the quality of the graphics:
Really great stuff. I bought the hardcover edition at a very reasonable price ($31.99), through a promotion on Bible Gateway. They have some lovely looking imitation leather covers that are fairly reasonable as well (less than $50).
The other Study Bible I purchased recently was the CSB Study Bible from Holman Bible Publishers. I have long been a fan of their HCSB Study Bible, but I hadn't exactly been excited when the updated CSB came out a few months ago. But I finally started digging into the CSB a little more, and despite some of my reservations, I decided that there was a lot to recommend in the CSB. So I got the hardcover edition of the CSB Study Bible. This one, too, was quite reasonably priced ($32.40 on Amazon), and I'm pretty satisfied with it. I don't know if it's quite as nicely laid out as the HSCB Study Bible was: for example, they've condensed the two-column notes at the bottom of each page down to a three-column format, which is a bit of a small print size for my old eyes (good thing my progressive lenses have been doing well for me). But still, the content of the Bible is great, and I'm getting more into the CSB than I had done when I was reading my cheap paperback outreach copy (which I got for free, to be fair).
That's it for today's blog post. I may be updating the look of the site pretty soon, as I'm thinking the faux wood theme is looking a bit stodgy. So stay tuned for further developments! Thanks for reading.
Most people who know anything about currently popular English Bible versions have at least heard of, say, the NIV or the ESV. They may have even heard of the CEB, the NLT, or the HCSB. They may have a copy of the Eugene Peterson's The Message. But there is one English version out there online, that gives all of these more popular versions a good run for their money, and that's the Lexham English Bible (LEB). The LEB was produced by Logos Bible Software, which is one of the giants of Bible software, along with Accordance and BibleWorks. The LEB is fairly literal, that is, it uses formal equivalence as its translation philosophy. As the LEB Preface says, "It was produced with the specific purpose of being used alongside the original language text of the Bible."
On the LEB's website, you can see a comparison chart with a few other major versions (NIV, ESV, KJV, and NASB95). Of course, these comparison charts always need to be taken with a grain of salt, as they always highlight the strengths of the version being showcased by that version's publisher. Still, it gives you a good idea of the LEB's style. The chart only contains New Testament verses, though, so allow me to point out some features in the Old Testament that I find interesting in the LEB.
The LEB, much like the HCSB did before it was revised, uses "Yahweh," rather than the more traditional "LORD," for occurrences of the name of God (YHWH). In fact, the LEB uses this convention far more consistently than the HCSB ever did. For example, the opening verse of the famous 23rd Psalm reads this way in the LEB: "Yahweh is my shepherd; I will not lack for anything." Of course, some readers find the use of "Yahweh" a bit jarring, or at least unfamiliar, and so I realize this will not be a draw for some.
Like the KJV (and the NKJV) did, the LEB also uses the convention of italics to show words that aren't in the original text, which have been added to improve the English word order or flow. So this phrase from the first line of Genesis, "darkness was over the face of the deep," shows clearly that the word "was" was added to the text. Many readers will appreciate this convention, especially when they are involved in studying the original Greek and Hebrew texts.
I suspect the LEB is better suited to private study than public reading, precisely because it is designed to be used in conjunction with study of the original languages. Word order is closer to the source language, so it may often sound a bit odd when read aloud. As I mentioned above, though, this is by design. You can easily learn more about the translation by checking out their website, lexhamenglishbible.com. The LEB is also available for free online at biblia.com, along with several other better known versions. Finally, you can also compare the LEB to many other versions at BibleGateway.com. If you are interested in a formally equivalent (fairly literal) English Bible, the LEB is well worth your attention!
Once upon a time, there was an English Bible translation called the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), published by Holman Bible Publishers. The translation had several interesting features, including the frequent use of "Yahweh" in Old Testament passages in place of the traditional "LORD," and more frequent use of "Messiah" instead of "Christ" to render the Greek word χριστος (Christos). The translation committee of the HCSB favored a style of translation that they called "optimal equivalence," which essentially meant that the HCSB (somewhat like the more popular NIV) was a "mediating" translation, somewhere midway between formal and dynamic equivalence.
Last year, Lifeway Christian Resources, the company who owns Holman Bible Publishers, announced that they would be releasing an updated version of the HCSB, with its title simplified to Christian Standard Bible (CSB). Lifeway is currently in the middle of releasing print editions of the CSB, but you can read the entire thing online at csbible.com. Meanwhile, the HCSB is still available for the time being on several Bible websites, including Bible Gateway and MyWSB.com.
At this time, I have only browsed through the CSB a little, so I won't attempt a complete review of the version here. A couple things that strike me right off the bat are that they eliminated the use of "Yahweh" in the OT, in favor of the more traditional "LORD." The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) are more traditional sounding in their word order: the HCSB's "The poor in spirit are blessed..." has become "Blessed are the poor in spirit..." in the CSB. Overall, the CSB seems to be pretty similar to the NIV now, which causes me to wonder what the point of the update was, if they were just going to make it more similar to versions that were already popular.
Anyway, I shall attempt to dig more deeply into the new CSB, and perhaps compare it to its predecessor, the HCSB. Meanwhile, Lifeway has published a chart that compares the CSB to other versions. Although it is admittedly biased towards the CSB, the chart gives the reader a sample of some of the CSB's distinguishing features.
A couple years back, I was intrigued by a project that showed up on Kickstarter called Bibliotheca. The designer of the project described in a very well produced video his concept for a multi-volume reader's edition of the Bible, that he thought could change the way readers approached the Bible. The video is well worth watching, and can be found on the official Bibliotheca website. I was impressed by the idea, and decided to fund it.
As it turned out, the Bibliotheca project, which had a fundraising goal of $37,000, ended up raising $1.4 million! And this is where things began to get tricky. With a much higher demand than he ever imagined, Adam Lewis Greene (the creator of Bibliotheca) decided to really make it a very special publication. He offered people who had signed up for the entire 4-volume Bible to add the Apocrypha and a slipcase for no additional charge; he decided to edit his base text of the ASV more extensively; and he had to do a whole lot more work on setting up the whole process of editing, printing, distribution, etc.
Of course, the more expansive project led to some pretty significant delays, and over the past couple years, you could read all kinds of complaints on Adam's Kickstarter page from people who thought he had dropped the ball by accepting the money and not delivering the finished project according to his original schedule. The rest of us merely waited patiently, and kept following the updates throughout the process, until the exciting news arrived just a few days ago: Bibliotheca was finished and ready to ship. Which leads me to yesterday...when my copy of Bibliotheca finally arrived!
This won't be a complete review by any means, but just some of my first impressions. First of all, when I opened the box, I was excited to see this sheet of cardboard:
After I took out the aforementioned piece of cardboard, my first impression of the volumes themselves was that I really liked the different gradations of grey for each volume (from a very dark grey in the first volume of the Old Testament to a light grey, that almost looks white in comparison, for the New Testament). I can't help thinking this may be symbolic: the darkness of before creation gradually giving way to the light of Christ.
Opening up the New Testament I was impressed by the little card inside the front cover that said "Bibliotheca: the first printing of the first edition." The paper quality is lovely, the sewn binding lays nice and flat, and the typeface is clear and readable.
I feel bad that I've shirked my duty here a bit over the past few months! This summer (and early Fall) there was actually some fairly big Bible news for about a month. In case you never heard about it, the powers that be at Crossway Publishing, the company that publishes the English Standard Version, ruffled some feathers in the Christian publishing industry. Even people who don't usually follow Bible version news (like myself and the members of my Facebook Bible Versions Group) ended up hearing about this story. Allow me to recap...
In August 2016, Crossway made an announcement that they had decided to make the most recent update of the ESV text "permanent." In their words,
Beginning in the summer of 2016, the text of the ESV Bible will remain unchanged in all future editions printed and published by Crossway—in much the same way that the King James Version (KJV) has remained unchanged ever since the final KJV text was established almost 250 years ago (in 1769). This decision was made unanimously by the Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee. All future Crossway editions of the ESV, therefore, will contain the Permanent Text of the ESV Bible—unchanged throughout the life of the copyright, in perpetuity.
Giving further clarification, the publishers explained exactly what had been updated in this Permanent Text Edition of the ESV:
The number of changes in the new ESV Permanent Text is limited to 52 words (out of more than 775,000 total words in ESV Bible) found in 29 verses (out of more than 31,000 verses in the ESV). The guiding principle for creating the ESV Permanent Text was to make only a very limited number of final changes to the ESV text, where such changes represented a substantial improvement in the precision, accuracy, and understanding of the ESV.
This clarification seemed to be the issue that drew the most fire from critics around Christendom. A few weeks after the announcement, articles covering the story began to circulate around the Internet, many of them quite critical of a philosophy which many seemed to find somewhat (or very) curious. Some of these articles took a bit of a sarcastic tone, for example, this one from popular Christian website, Christianity Today entitled "After Tweaking 29 Verses, Bible Translation Becomes Unchanging Word of God." The article opened with these words: "A popular Bible translation is now literally the unchanging Word of God." Other critics said things like "...this decision betrays a wrong understanding or lack of understanding of how languages work" or "this whole enterprise smacks of incredible arrogance."
Apparently Crossway didn't take too long to get the message. Less than two months after their initial announcement, they released a statement that effectively reversed their earlier decision. (You can read Crossway's new position here.) The publishers expressed no small regret over their controversial position:
We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake. We apologize for this and for any concern this has caused for readers of the ESV, and we want to explain what we now believe to be the way forward. Our desire, above all, is to do what is right before the Lord.
To give Crossway credit, they seemed a lot more responsive to criticism than Zondervan had been several years earlier, after backlash they received from the publication of Today's New International Version. Zondervan spent years (and a lot of money), attempting to convince Bible buyers that the TNIV was the greatest translation they had ever done. After several years, they finally killed the TNIV, and did the 2011 update of the NIV, which ended up retaining many of the controversial changes that had caused all the negative press in the first place. Most comments I've seen on the ESV statements by Crossway, even if they are critical of the back and forth decisions, tend to commend the publishers for seeing "the error of their ways."
Who knew Bible publishing could be so exciting? (Well, it's always been exciting to me, but this is one of the rare occasions when the media seem to have gotten into the game.) I would love to hear thoughts from readers of this blog. What do you think of Crossway's decisions on the ESV Permanent Text Edition? Let me know. Thanks for reading!