Reformation Study Bible (2015 edition, ESV)

694400_1_box (1)Let me begin with the written content in the Reformation Study Bible (2015 edition, ESV).  The essence and flavor that arises out of this study bible are not only reflective of the Reformation era, but it is also clearly Reformed in theology and doctrine.  The study notes (or apparatus on the bottom), the introductions for each of the biblical books, the theological notes weaved throughout the study bible, and the topical articles placed at the end of the bible, are all beautifully set.  From cover to cover, I can say that the RSB is an attractive bible.  The symbol of the burning bush stands out and makes a statement.

Some of the theological notes are from the General Editor, Dr. R.C. Sproul, who is a passionate and effective teacher in the Reformed tradition (and from whom I’ve learned much from via audio/video/books).  The contributors to the RSB (2015) are respected theologians.  The editors: Associate, Old Testament, and New Testament and contributors have made a great effort in making the Reformation Study Bible a success. I think it’ll make a lasting impression and will be a go-to bible for this generation of Reformed-minded students of the Word.

I hadn’t used any previous editions of a Reformed study bible, but as I started reading more, I gradually became more impressed with the notes.  As I perused through some of the theological notes, I looked for a few anchoring points of Reformed theology. One example: under “Perseverance of the Saints” states: “The doctrine of perseverance does not rest on our ability to persevere, even if we are regenerate. Rather, it rests on the promise of God to preserve us,” and is followed by quoting Philippians 1:6 (p.1994). This is clearly covenantal interpretation so if you love covenant theology, you’ll love this bible for its Reformed-minded commentary and notes (image below: sorry for the poor picture quality I took with my phone)

Another example: under “Effectual Calling” (otherwise known as irresistible grace) states: “Before the inward effectual call of God is received, no person is inclined to come to Him… We see, then, that faith itself is a gift from God, having been given in the effectual call of the Holy Spirit…. Effectual calling is irresistible in the sense that God sovereignly brings about its desired result” (p.2146).

Some of the topical articles in the back and apparatus are not necessarily relevant only to the Reformed-minded, but can also be accepted by traditional evangelicals. The insert of various creeds, confessions and catechisms are definitely Reformed (e.g., Heidelberg, Belgic, Dort, Westminster) with the exception of London Baptist Confession (which is Calvinist).  Well, for those who want a quick-reference to the confessions and Westminster catechisms, it’s conveniently placed near the back of the bible.  In my opinion, I might ask if they’re really necessary, or are they there just to make a statement: “that this is indeed a Reformed study bible!” You decide but I think it might be the latter reason.  Most lay-people will rarely refer to them except for the odd times they want a quick reference (so it’s great for pastors and theological hacks and nerds, like me) 😉

The study notes (or apparatus at the bottom of the pages) are plentiful. I like how the study notes are interlinked to the theological notes. For example, the note for Rom. 3:23 links to the theological note on “Human Depravity”; and the note for Rom. 3:29 links to the theological note on “Predestination”. This makes it useful for the reader to locate expanded thoughts for deeper theological reflection.

Regarding the apparatus/study notes, much of it were from previous editions of the Reformation and Geneva study bibles. There are some updates and additions (however, I cannot compare because I don’t have previous editions).  This 2015 edition has over 1.1 million words in commentary, which has increased from the 760,000 words from the previous 2005 edition.  In the book introductions, what I personally find interesting to read in particular are literary features, Christ’s salvation, and special issues.  Book introductions in study bibles these days are a quicker-fix reference than the long-reads of biblical commentaries (It’s good for lay-people, but for pastors, it’s never a replacement for updated biblical commentaries).  The color-filled maps are very good.  It’s printed on high-gloss paper and is very attractive.

The cross-references in the margins are located a little too close to the inner margins in-between the pages. You’ll need a magnifying glass if you want to read it.  The narrower cross-reference margins leaves more room for the biblical text though so it might have been a give-and-take decision.  It’s a minor issue for me though. Personally, I don’t use the cross-references much anyway.

First on the ESV translation. The ESV has become a very popular translation in the last ten years, and will rival the NIV. Reformed and Calvinist evangelicals tend to flock to the ESV, and I think it’ll be here to stay for at least the next generation of bible readers.  It will also come out in the NKJV later in the fall of 2015.  If I may put this idea out there… just a thought: if Reformation Trust and Ligonier should desires to expand its influence, then why not also include the NIV, NLT and NASB translations?  Including readers of other translations will also expand the readership of the RSB.  I believe Christians need more access to solid, historic, Evangelical theology. Much of today’s evangelicals have access to fluff, and not enough substance.  Good commentary can strengthen traditional Evangelical theology in the minds and hearts of its readers.

RSBhardcoverNow onto some of the physical aspects. When I took the Reformation Study Bible out of the box, I flipped through many of its pages just to take in the all-around aesthetics of it.  I like how the layout appears on the page. I examined the binding and it is definitely Smyth-sewn because it allows you to lay it down flat on the table (unlike cheap glued bindings which don’t allow for this).  Also, when you look down the top or bottom of the binding, you can notice the separation of sections of paper. If the pages were only held together by glue, you would not notice any separation of sections. So this Smyth-sewn pages is a good thing because it’ll be more durable. Moreover, it is also glued for extra strength. I have hardcover so I cannot comment on how the leather is, but it does feel like a sturdy bible that will last.  Most bibles produced today only use cheap glued-binding but this one will be much longer-lasting.  I have to say that this was a good job on this one.  I wouldn’t buy a study bible without Smyth-binding, especially with it being over 2,560 pages thick (which is now expanded from the previous edition of 1,968 pages).

The font size good for me.  It might even be a little bigger than some other study bibles, it doesn’t seem as readable. Perhaps this is due to the contrast of ink-on-the-page.  However, I do see a few places that could be improved for future batches off the press. From a contrast level, the ink could be kicked-up a notch or two. I pulled out six other study bibles just to compare the ink contrast-on-page, and this one had the least contrast. What is most legible are the chapter numbers. The bible paper itself feels thinner than other study bibles. It has about 2550 pages. The paper is not as crisp as the ESV Study Bible’s so it took me more time and care to turn each of the pages. If the ink was any darker, it might bleed through to the other side of the pages. The print itself is definitely on the lighter side, but for my eyes it’s sufficient. Having a desk lamp near to it will definitely help.

This is a study bible that would appeal to many Calvinist-minded and covenant-minded readers and those who desire the traditional evangelical perspective. It will be loved by Reformed-minded and evangelical Presbyterians. I really like this edition. The caliber of this study bible is very good. I would say the Reformation Study Bible (2015 ed., ESV) is up there along with the ESV Study Bible and Concordia’s Lutheran Study Bible (ESV) as my top-three personal choice.  Good job on the Reformation Study Bible.

Thanks to Ashley G. at Reformation Trust Publishing for sending me a copy for review.

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Is the New Testament reliable?

Is the New and Old Testament reliable?  This is a question that some Christians is challenged with but are not sure how to respond because we don’t have the tools for a defense of the bible and theological apologetics.  To begin, here are some links to debates between Craig Evans (Acadia) and Bart Ehrman (UNC). They are just some of many New Testament scholars who can debate this issue critically.

Criag Evans vs Bart Ehrman  debate (Jan. 19, 2012) (Night 1; Night 2); (and an earlier debate from 2011) (here). (More may be added later).

Oldest book in Europe (St. Cuthbert’s gospel) found in a coffin

[from UK’s Daily Mail ]

Europe’s oldest book: St Cuthbert’s gospel which survived pillaging Vikings and lay in his coffin for centuries is sold for £9m

The St Cuthbert Gospel (formerly known as the Stonyhurst Gospel) is the oldest intact European book. Made in the late-7th century, the manuscript contains a copy of the Gospel of St John, and was apparently placed in the coffin of St Cuthbert (c. 635–687)

  • The seventh century St Cuthbert Gospel is on show at the London library
  • Book is a copy of the Gospel of St John
  • It was buried alongside St Cuthbert, an early English Christian leader, on the island of Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumberland in around AD698
  • Coffin was moved off island to escape Viking raiders and taken to Durham
  • Book was found when the coffin was opened at Durham Cathedral in 1104
  • Its original red leather binding survives today
  • Now bought by the British Library for £9million

The digitized manuscripts can be found here.

Does a genuine shell cordovan bible exist?

What do dress shoes have to do with bibles?  Not much except for the misnomer of “cordovan”.  I was wondering if genuine shell cordovan leather bibles really exist.  To date, I have found none.  To ask this is almost like asking if water exists on the moon.  It might but it hasn’t been discovered and/or confirmed.

Today, we have confusion about what is truly cordovan.  There are bibles that have “cordovan” in its name but it only refers to the color of the bible.  Cordovan is mostly being incorrectly used by many to describe the color of the leather (as they do with shoe wax polish).  This is because the natural color of cordovan is burgundy.   Some bible bloggers have blogged about it (here) but even the cordovan they’re talking about is not genuine shell cordovan. Then why are publishers not using the proper term of “burgundy”? Perhaps to add some value to their bibles?  Probably.  But one must be clear; “burgundy” does not equal genuine shell “cordovan”.

Not many actually know about shell cordovan, and to most people, it really doesn’t make any difference to them.  It is not from the cow.  Genuine shell cordovan is the most coveted material in men’s leather shoes.  It is leather from the hide (butt) of the horse and not just any skin off the horse type of leather.  Such genuine shell cordovan leather (by Horween, USA) is used in the manufacture of men’s dress shoes, like Alden’s and Allen Edmonds in the U.S., plus others in the UK and Europe.  These shoes can cost upwards of US$550-600.   Gulp.  Click here to see the manufacturing process of true cordovan.

Since the cost of shell cordovan leather shoes is sky-high, it would be safe to say that are no bible manufacturers in existence today that would want to use this valuable material on its bible covers.  They would never sell (unless the buyer sees such value in the “word of God”.   I have yet to see one on these on the bookshelves of a bible bookstore.  What might be the cost of such a bible?  I dare not say.  Any guesses out there?

Here are some bibles (Amazon.com, CBD) that incorrectly uses “cordovan” in its name but upon closer examination of the leather, the natural grains give it away.  It’s really fine calfskin (nice calfskin for sure…would love to have one on my bookshelf) but it’s still not genuine shell cordovan. Does one exists out there? If so, send me a pic.

HCSB Study Bible by Holman

I wish to thank the precious people at LifeWay for sending me a copy of the HCSB Study Bible to review.

Broadman & Holman has entered the study bible market with the new HCSB Study Bible in 2010.  This is a very good study bible.  As a perused through the HCSB Study Bible, I was taken in by its use of color in highlighting of subheadings, study notes, and cross reference verses.  It uses an orangy-tan color to give it that old rustic papyrus look—a tasteful use of color. The various colors give good contrast makes it easier to locate verses.  What makes most other reference bibles inconvenient and difficult to use is when the cross references look like “one big blur” of numbers and verses.  The HCSB-SB’s blue contrasting of verse numbers makes it much easier to locate the verse you are reading.  The solid horizontal yellow bar that highlights the alternate and literal translations acts as a natural page divider.  This breaks the page up so the reader can quickly find the bible text above and the study notes below.  I like this.

The font size of the bible text is reasonable and not too small and is similar to Times New Roman.  The study notes font size is a smaller type of Arial is readable.  The bolded text of key words is good too because it breaks up the “one big blur” factor.  The tan-brown subheadings is easy to read and helps the reader to locate the topic of the biblical text.  In the paper department, the bible paper used is not too thin, which is good. Some study bible paper is so thin that they can tear easily if you’re not careful. The paper in this one is a decent weight.  For a bible that has 2280 pages, it is on the heavier side but it’s not difficult to carry around.

The construction of the HCSB Study Bible is very good because the binding is Smyth-sewn rather than glued so I expect this bible will last a long time. All of the glued bibles are cheap to make and begin to fall apart after the glue dries up.  How can you tell if a bible’s binding is Smyth-sewn or glued?  Lay it flat and if the pages stay flat, then it is likely Smyth-sewn.  A more sure way to tell is by examining the edge of the binding from either the top or bottom view, if you see sections of pages folded into many sections, these sections are sewn together.  If you see some glue, it’s just to tighten it up but not to hold the page together.  However, if all the pages look like they are individually glued directly to the glue (similar to paperbacks), and you don’t see any small sections of folded pages, then you can be sure it’s a cheap glue job.

The text uses a two-column layout.  This is fine for me.  Some people prefer a single-column layout but I’m fine with two-columns.  What is important for me is that the inner biblical quotations (intertextual quotes from other books of the bible) are indented. This helps the reader to know when a passage or verse is being quoted by another biblical writer.  For example, the writer of Hebrews quoted Psalm 95:7-11 in Hebrews 3:7-11.  The quote text from Psalm 95 is bolded in Hebrews. This is a good feature I really like about the HCSB-SB.  I think it is important when you are doing a study or exegeting a passage of text.  A careful exegete-reader wants to easily determine where the inner biblical text originates from.  Moreover, given the good visibility of cross-references, the reader can quickly locate the inner-biblical text.

Another feature that is useful for the exegete-reader is the word study of key words or family of words showing the spelling, pronunciation, and meaning of the 175 Hebrew key words and 133 Greek key words.  It also explains the definition and expands upon how the word is used in other instances in the bible.  If you like AMG Publishers Key Word Study Bible but you’re too lazy to flip pages to really use it to its potential, then you might like this handy feature.

Each book introduction includes circumstances of writing (authorship, background); message and purpose; contribution to the bible; timeline; structure; and outline.
•    There are 18+ hand-drawn color illustrations, plus many more color photos in various places throughout the bible.
•    20 charts, plus many more charts placed throughout.
•    62 maps, plus 8 full-page maps on thick paper in the back of the bible.  In the maps and illustration category, I would say that it is even better than the other major study bibles.

The contributors to the study notes are some of the top evangelical scholars.  These include Ed Blum, Robert Yarbrough, Andreas Kostenberger, Duane Garrett, Walter Kaiser, Tremper Longman III, Carl Anderson, plus many more.  The essays are also contributed by some of the top evangelical scholars George Guthrie, Robert H. Stein,  Mark E. Dever, Daniel B. Wallace, Craig Blomberg, Craig Evans, plus more.

The contributors to the study notes are evangelical first and they seem to be largely from a Baptistic background.  That is very obvious in looking at the list of contributors of the study notes and essays.  I get a very strong impression that the study notes of this study bible are primarily written by Baptists, and secondarily by evangelicals.  If you are Baptist, and prefer a baptistic theology, then this study bible is for you.  Dr. Edwin A. Blum is the general editor of the HCSB, and is the executive editor of the HCSB Study Bible, is not Baptist, but the overall tone of this study bible is still Baptist and conservative evangelical—either dispensationalist and Calvinist.

Will the majority of contributors being Baptists be a barrier for this study bible?  I don’t think so. Most evangelicals are familiar with baptistic theology and we receive Baptists like any other evangelical Christian. On the other hand, if Broadman & Holman wanted the broadest appeal for the HCSB-SB, they might want to broaden their scope of contributors.  There are many other evangelicals other than Baptists, e.g., Wesleyan, Alliance, Pentecostal, Holiness, Nazarene, Ev. Presbyterian, Free Methodist, Mennonite Brethren, Evangelical Free, plus many more.

This is an excellent study bible.  I definitely put this study bible up there in the same league with the ESV Study Bible and NLT Study Bible [added: and Concordia’s Lutheran Study Bible].  Broadman & Holman did a very fine job putting this together.  I am sure this will become one of the premier study bibles as people begin to take more notice of it.

Were the tongues “distributed” or “divided” in Acts 2:3?

When I first read in Acts 2:3 about how the early Christians received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues (or glossolalia), I learned it from the KJV’s rendering of “cloven tongues”.  However, this is not necessarily an accurate picture of what may have happened in Acts 2:3.  Different translations differ in how they portray the appearance of the flame of Pentecost. This may also impact our theology of the charismata.

How is it rendered in the original Greek?  It uses διαμερίζω (“diamerizō”, divide, part, cloven). The word diamerizō may be defined in several ways: literally in distribution or in appearance, and also, figuratively in dissension.  We can rule out the third: dissension. This leaves us with either distribution or appearance.

Greek: καὶ ὤφθησαν αὐτοῖς διαμεριζόμεναι γλῶσσαι ὡσεὶ πυρὸς καὶ ἐκάθισεν ἐφ᾽ ἕνα ἕκαστον αὐτῶν,

The NRSV, ESV, CSB and KJV all seem to portray flames (or tongues of fire) being “divided” (in the sense of being split in half), and resting over their heads. (Notice first picture below on the left with the divided flames).  The NRSV/ESV/CSB renderings interpret diamerizō in such a way that it leads the readers to view the flame as the object of the matter.  As a result, the reader will focus on the physical appearance of the flame, rather than, the action of the flame.

ESV: And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
CSB: And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them.

NRSV: Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

When I read the New English Translation (NET), I noticed that the flame is not “divided” (in the sense of not being split in half), but rather, it is “distributed” and “spread out” amongst the people.   Notice NET’s rendering of “spreading out”  projects an action of distribution, rather than, a static image of physical appearance. The word diamerizō may be interpreted as being distributary or dispersionary, which is also in line with the Spirit’s nature of distributing gifts or charismata. This helps the reader to perceive tongues in a more active sense (like fire in a raging forest fire).

NET:  And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them.

The Revised English Bible (REB) use of the word “distributed” also portrays an image of tongues of flames being distributed in the  dispersionary sense.  This rendering of diamerizō is dynamic too.

REB: And there appeared to them flames like tongues of fire distributed among them and coming to rest on each one.

The NLT, however, completely avoids making any interpretation regarding the appearance or distribution of the flame, all though it tends to focus on its appearance rather than action. Perhaps its translators didn’t know how to properly render diamerizō.

NLT  :  Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them.

The TNIV could be interpreted either way.

TNIV: They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

I tend to prefer the NET bible’s rendering because it allows for γλῶσσα (“glōssa”) to be interpreted as a language that is dynamic and is actively spread out or distributed to others, rather than a tongue of flame being a static object.   The REB is my second choice.

Holy Bible: Mosaic and the blog tour winner today

Congratulations to Mr. Juan Martinez who is the winner of the Holy Bible: Mosaic contest on New Epistles .  I will be mailing out to you a certificate for a copy of the Holy Bible: Mosaic redeemable at your local Christian bookstore, compliments of Tyndale Publishing House.   Mr. Juan Martinez asked a great question: “When I have read previous books with historic Christian artwork, I have been puzzled to find inappropriate artwork such as demonic beings or undressed angels and ugly pictures of Jesus. Is this found frequently inside the Mosaic?”  Well Juan, I checked and didn’t see any demonic pictures of Jesus–nothing even close to being inappropriate, in my opinion. They are mostly very beautiful and colorful.

_________________________

I also have several other questions  regarding the Holy Bible: Mosaic that I hope can be answered by someone from Tyndale or one of the contributors.  My originally assigned guest on this blog tour was not able to answer my questions because they were more of an insider’s editorial type of question.  So I’ll leave this up to someone from Tyndale.

Question #1: The Holy Bible: Mosaic includes a one-year lectionary of readings that follow this church-year.  Throughout history, there have been one-year lectionaries developed by Catholics, including adaptations by Anglicans and Lutherans (i.e., Revised Common Lectionary).  Was this lectionary one of the historic one-year lectionaries, or if it this lectionary of readings was designed by Creedo Communications, who are the developers of this bible?

Question #2:  I find some of these themes very good—some more challenging than others (e.g., mastering virtues; God in community; global church community; fasting; wealth; possessions; authenticity; blame; service; diversity; righteous judgment).  How were these themes chosen?  By the editors or by the contributor?

Question #3:  It was mentioned that the contributors were from a diverse background.  This is another reason why it is called the Holy Bible: Mosaic.  How many countries and cultures are the contributors from?

Question #4:  The artwork is one of the best features of this bible.  It reminds me of some of those older bibles with artwork depicting biblical stories.  They range from ancient to modern-contemporary.  How did the artwork get picked for the Mosaic bible?

The Lutheran Study Bible special pricing deadline is October 31: Get one!

I didn’t get a review copy of  The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB) but I know that I will be very impressed with it when I get my own copy.  Yesterday, our bible study group put in an order for a case of these babies before the October 31 special pricing deadline.   The regular hardback is 3½ pounds and large print is a whopping 5½ pounds.  I prefer large print but am I going to lug a 5½ pound bible to bible study? No way. So I ordered the regular font sized hardback edition without the frills, just a basic hardcover that I can use for bible study on Thursday evenings.

Why would a person want to use The Lutheran Study Bible?  There are 12 reasons if you’re Lutheran.  But if you’re not Lutheran, I don’t really know why except to educate yourself in some good old Lutheran theology.  It’s good…really! In the past, I know Lutherans haven’t exactly been high profile bible publishers and translators but I think this edition will be a first for Lutherans putting out a very high quality study bible so I applaud Concordia for taking this initiative.  I was impressed with the sampler so I’m looking forward to finally getting my own copy just for its Lutheran content written by Lutheran contributors.  Note, that I’m not in it for the translation (ESV);  I’m in it for the uniquely Lutheran perspective, and its emphasis on rightly dividing law and gospel, which is lacking in much of our theologies today.

In the past, the small Lutheran voice in the culture of faith have been drowned out in the cacophony of evangelical voices in airwaves and popular Christian media.  And sadly, I think The Lutheran Study Bible will also likely be lost in the plethora of evangelical-based study bibles and translations, but that’s okay.  If you’re Lutheran, don’t let that deter you from investing in one.  I honestly believe that if  TLSB had the opportunity to really display its qualities, I’m sure it would stand out as a bright gem amongst other gems of study bibles. It easily holds its own against the ESV, NLT, and T/NIV study bibles and it might even out-do them. I still need to get a copy in my hands before saying anything more.   I admit–the reality is that if you’re not Lutheran, you probably won’t get one.

But okay, enough bragging up for the Lutheran Study Bible.  Get one for yourself, especially if you’re Lutheran.