Friday, December 26, 2008


I received my hardback copy of the Orthodox Study Bible (OSB) in June 2008, having ordered it from in January. Was it worth the wait?

In a word, no. I had hoped for a modern translation of the Greek Old Testament in English with the books in their proper order and all the parts in place. In their “Introduction to the Orthodox Study Bible,” the editors note that “in Orthodoxy’s 200 year history in North America, no English translation of the LXX has ever been produced by the Church.” From what I have seen to date, that statement may still be true: this translation abounds with errors, at least in Genesis and Exodus, as the table near the bottom of this page will demonstrate. When I began to compare the OSB Old Testament with the Greek, I suspected I would end up quibbling about a few passages on the grounds that the patristic understanding had not been taken into account, but end up recommending the work. I didn’t consider the possibility that the editors would permit so many plain mistakes to be published.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


We received our case of 12 Orthodox Study Bibles this past week. By purchasing twelve, you can get them at the substantially reduced price of $30 apiece. Since some have criticized the price of one copy ($50, hardcover), if you have the opportunity to purchase this Bible in bulk, the price ceases to be such an issue. Further, I noticed that Amazon will begin selling the Bible in June (I think) for $31.47 (you can preorder now).

Several long-time Orthodox bloggers have been harshly critical of the OSB. I read their critiques, and while I understand some of their concern, I feel — as I have already stated — that a good part of their criticism simply goes overboard. There are, I’m sure, valid points made by the OSB’s detractors. However, when the criticism becomes so detailed that even a case of poor syntax on the cover or an abbreviation of a patristic source in an index which turns out to be an unused source becomes fodder for “blog-venting,” I just think time is being spent in less than helpful ways.

That said, two of the primary detractors I’ve read also happen to be two Orthodox brothers whom I deeply respect, and whose blogs I frequent. I’ve no doubt that both of them are more advanced in their Orthodoxy than am I — by leaps and bounds — and that they likely understand problems with texts and translations and the such better than I do. One of them is a priest from what I understand, and I certainly intend no disrespect toward him in my more positive take on this Bible; the other is a kind man who is quite an OT scholar, whose writings and reviews are, quite simply, way over my head. So, take my thoughts on this Bible as simply the initial impression of a layman with no academic credentials and who has been Orthodox for only a short time.

The cover of this Bible is fair. I like the icon of Christ on the dustcover, but the dustcover also seems a bit cluttered (the picture at left is not exactly accurate; the real cover is more cluttered). I think I’ll take mine off soon enough, especially since the actual binding is very appealing, being a nice burgundy with gold imprinting. “The Orthodox Study Bible” along with a Russian style cross appears on the front, with a similar spine. The actual cover is very simple and tastefully done.

The actual construction of the Bible seems okay to me. I always (on all Bibles) wish they came with heavier pages that were less translucent. Of course, that would result in a very heavy and thick Bible. The typeface is readable enough, not the best I’ve ever encountered but certainly not the worst, either. The footnotes at the bottom of each page (generally comprising the bottom 1/5 to almost 1/2 of the page, though rarely more than 1/3) are easy to navigate and decipher. Some bloggers have complained that when Patristic sources are referenced, there are no actual references to specific sources, just to the name of the Church Father. Yeah, that is a bit unfortunate, but given the intentions of this Bible, I’m not sure that this is absolutely necessary. Most Christians reading this Bible either won’t have the time or money or desire to look up all references. The Orthodox who do desire this generally can find that through other means (at least I’ve found this to be the case with myself). However, I would be glad to find that the editors considered giving some more reference specifics in future editions of this Bible (I can’t see that this would be too overly difficult to remedy).

{Added note, 4/9/08 — I just looked at an old copy of the NT/Psalms Orthodox Study Bible. It was a red letter version with center column references. I’m pretty ambivalent toward both of those features. BUT, the NT/Psalms version had much better typeface. I don’t know why they changed that. The new Bible is much thinner paper with more bleed through, and a less readable font, which makes for a somewhat uncomfortable reading experience, to me. I’m really a sucker for beauty in a book, and the quality of font and paper ranks high on my list of priorities… which is why I am so fond of the books published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, which you can get HERE at excellent prices and with superb customer service). Oh well… I wish the publisher had stayed with the old font and paper. Maybe in future editions.}

The introductions to each book are quite short, and I did not find them to be all that helpful. They are the bare minimum, and as long as someone is not depending on this one book for complete introductions, they are just fine.

On the footnotes again: At times, they are very helpful in pointing out things I had not considered before, and in helping me to see what various Fathers said about the texts. However, on the whole, they are quite brief in most cases. Many verses have no notes at all. I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me would rather have less footnotes and just better text spacing, and part of me would rather have more copious footnotes. I guess the editors had to make a balance between the two. Myself not being the one who put all the work into this Bible, I can’t really fault them for their selection. All of us have various opinions on how it should be done, but these folks are the ones who put the work into it.

I really do like the section of the footnotes that points out when various texts are read during the year, i.e., the seasons of the year or Sundays, etc., when the section is read. For those of us who are new to Orthodoxy, it helps us to connect what we are reading with the life of the Church. Very nice addition to the notes.

I certainly would not rely on just the footnotes to understand the biblical text. But, I feel certain the editors of this Bible would say the same thing. The OSB is not meant as a replacement to the Liturgy, or the Lectionary, or the Fathers, or the Councils, or the Prayers, etc. (as some commentators seem to think it was intended). It’s an aid, and while the footnotes are occasionally very helpful, and usually at least somewhat helpful, they certainly are not the highpoint of this Bible, to me.

I will say this: to any Protestants or converts to Orthodoxy, this Bible will not seem as complex and complete as some of the bigger Protestant “Study Bibles” (such as the NIV Study Bible by Zondervan). But, I also think some of those larger study Bibles in the Protestant world are way over done, with so much information that they almost do appear to be a complete “religion in a book” type of deal.

I like the full color icons. Some don’t. I do. I suppose that’s a matter of various tastes, so I hardly see the point in arguing over whether they chose the best icons in all cases.

I like the “Introducing the Orthodox Church” section at the beginning, and was especially glad to see Bp Kallistos Ware’s “How to Read the Bible” at the end. For those who berated this study bible, thinking that it would lead to reading the Bible “only personally” and “outside of the Liturgy”, I think it suffices to see that Bp Kallistos’ section reminds us that the Bible must be read “in the Church.”

I also appreciate having the Lectionary at the back. I’ve heard some say that it is perhaps not complete; I don’t know enough to know. But, the few days I’ve compared with the GOARCH calendar seem to be the same. I’m happy to have this addition, as I don’t have to run to a calendar or website to get the readings. I also thought the Glossary was decent, though I’ve only briefly looked at it. For whatever reason, I often look to see how someone defines “Tradition,” and I was thrilled to see that, in this Glossary, “Tradition” is not defined as “the rest of the faith not part of the Bible,” but was the “life of the Holy Spirit in the Church,” with the Scriptures themselves being at the core of that Tradition, that life. Very nice.

There is a very brief section of morning and evening prayers, including of course the Trisagion prayers, the Creed, a few morning and evening prayers and intercessory prayers. Most people who do pray frequently will have these memorized in short order, but they are helpful to have for people new to Orthodoxy who may have this as their only Orthodox book for a time.
The best aspect of this Bible, to me, is the scope of the text. It is the entire Orthodox Bible, including the OT which is either translated from the Septuagint or at least modified where the Septuagine calls for it (the Septuagint being the Bible of Christ and the early Church). I have the NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint, from Oxford), and it is nice, but it is also quite unwieldy for a non-academic. I appreciate having the entire text of Scripture in on Bible, in a translation that is readable and, from what I understand, at least fairly accurate (though no doubt all translations have problems here and there).

Regarding a few criticisms I’ve heard. Much has been made by some over the “packaging” of this Bible. By that I’m referring to the blurbs on the dustcover and the very idea of a “study bible” itself. I’ll admit I am not too impressed with what is said on the dustcover. It seems a bit trendy at times, and at other times just a bit overstating. As one blogger noted, the Orthodox have had resources to study Scripture for a long time, and a few of the statements on the dustcover almost sound as if this Bible is the first source to do such.

However, I wonder who even wrote the blurbs for the dustcover. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was done or at least edited by people at Thomas Nelson. And, it’s not all that bad, really! To make it that bad, one has to assume the worst about most of the things written on it, and I would hope that Orthodox would refrain from that type of judgmentalism. “Love hopes all things, bears all things.”

Secondly, what about “study bibles” in general? I have mixed emotions. Part of me would have been almost happier with just the text, on better paper, with more ornate binding, and just a few of the resources like the lectionary and a glossary and index. But, it’s not my project, and I’m very thankful to those who prepared it. They are men, like all of us, and they can make mistakes; I bet they’d be quick to admit that. But, like Fr. Soroka said here earlier, I think we ought to commend them on trying to do something good for the Church, and where those worthy can critique in love, let that be done constructively.

In a way, all commentaries are “study bibles.” St. John Chrysostom, in effect, wrote a very lengthy study bible. Blessed Theodoret’s commentaries on the Gospels are, in effect, a “Gospels study bible.” Granted these commentaries are much more exhaustive and more truly patristic, but I don’t understand the wholesale rejection of “study bibles” just because “Protestants came up with them.” And, the making of a study bible does not inherently imply that the creators of it no longer recommend that we “study” the Bible through reading the Fathers and attending the services of the Church.

I do hope that converts to Orthodoxy will not use this Bible to replace better sources, such as St. John Chrysostom’s texts, sets like Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, and the various Fathers’ writings. I hope that none will think they no longer need their priest, or the bishop, or the Church and Her Tradition. I can only speak for myself here, but reading from this Bible has done anything but that. It has actually excited me to pull out some of those Fathers to read them in their entirety, and to make sure I am faithfully attending the Liturgy and all services I can, so that I can hear the treasure of the Scriptures proclaimed in the midst of the Eucharistic assembly, the Church of God.

I think the message from the editors, early in the Bible, is well put: “The prayer of the editors and contributors of The Orthodox Study Bible is that it presents an understandable Bible text and commentary to (1) English-speaking Orthodox Christians the world over and to (2) non-Orthodox readers interested in learning more about the faith of the historic Orthodox Church.” (side note: I really think this aim of the editors is the central aim of this Bible, not the flashy blurbs on the dustcover).

Over all, I am glad to have acquired this Bible. I’m doubtful that it will replace my Oxford RSV as my normal reading Bible, but I think I’ll use it considerably. And I have little doubt that many Orthodox will find their reading of the Scriptures renewed through this resource. If that happens, I can hardly understand why the OSB is a bad thing. Thank you to those who labored on this resource; I know one or two of them and have found them to be genuine Orthodox Christians who are desirous to follow Christ and serve His One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Church.

Well, that’s it… the for what it’s worth review of a non-credentialed lay person.


Friday, April 4, 2008


It may well be objected that my attempt to judge the Orthodox Study Bible by its cover was a rather superficial exercise. I'm quite willing to grant this, and will attempt to remedy this in this and subsequent posts. I have, in fact, since opened the OSB and discovered, much to my surprise, that the dust jacket does not in fact do the OSB justice. It is, in fact, much worse than advertised.

The cover promises the reader that the OSB will allow him to "become more conversant about [sic] the ancient roots of Christianity" while expanding his "Bible knowledge with commentary from Christian teachers of the first millennium." While the Orthodox reader may wonder about this fetish for antiquity as the source of true doctrine, it's still not a bad set of promises.

The OSB contains, in its opening pages, a list of source abbreviations. One can see at once that things are off to a bad start. Although the cover makes repeated promise to limit sources to "Christian teachers of the first millennium," one finds St Gregory Palamas and St Seraphim of Sarov listed among the authors cited. While they, of course, are welcome, they lived well after the editors' self-imposed cut-off date: St Gregory reposed in the fourteenth century and St Seraphim in the nineteenth. Even odder is the fact that, although listed, St Seraphim is, in fact, nowhere cited in the entire volume. One then notices the inclusion of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Thordoret, both of whom were condemned at the Second Ecumenical Council. These are not the sort of "ancient roots" one should be looking for. The identity of certain of the listed authorities is also confusing. One can safely assume that Eusebius is that of Caesarea, but he could likewise be Eusebius of Nicodemia or Samosota. Or who is "Nicetas"? Probably St Niceta of Remesiana, but possibly also Nicetas Acominatos or Nicetas Stethatos.

In order to answer these questions one looks for the bibliography to find which works are being cited. But there is no bibliography! One simply has no way of following up any of the citations. What then, really, is the point? Where and how can one, for instance, look up an interesting quotation from St Maximus the Conessor?

On to the Patristic commentary itself. There is extremely little of it. The vast majority of study notes do not come from the Fathers at all; more often than not, they simply give a sort of play-by-play of the Biblical text, like notes in a junior reader edition of Hamlet. One can turn page after page after page without finding a single mention of the Fathers and, when one does chance upon one, it is normally a very brief paraphrase rather than a direct quotation. Moreover, whatever quoted passages from the Fathers that are to be found are rarely more than a single sentence long. Now, it is understandable that Patristic commentary on, say, the Book of Nehemiah may be scarce. But what is really shocking is to see the almost complete absence of Patristic commentary on the Gospels, apart from a very occasional reference to St John Chrysostom. This simply boggles the mind.

Given the questionable authority of a number of the "Fathers" cited as sources, the scarce number of study notes in which the Fathers are cited (let alone quoted) at all, the almost complete absence of Patristic commentary on the New Testament, and the complete and utter absence of a bibliography or any other other sort of key by which one could trace passages back to their sources, I simply can't see how the editors of the OSB could, in good conscience, claim that they are bringing "to one volume the words of Scripture and the understanding of those words from the earliest days of the Christian era," unless they feel that they can express that understanding better than the primary sources themselves.

In subsequent posts I hope to comment on the OSB's disastrous Trinitarian theology and its entirely Protestant approach to the study and authority of Holy Scripture.

If my comments may seem harsh it is because the OSB could have been better, and should have been better. As I've mentioned before, if the OSB had managed to package an Orthodox approach to Scripture within the limits of a Protestant-style study bible, I'd be much more gentle in my criticism. That the OSB should prove to be so deeply foreign not only to the ethos of Orthodox Christianity, but to its doctrine and teaching as well is simply unforgivable.



There may well be deficiencies in the articles in the OSB, but so far, no one has pointed out one that was heretical. It may not be perfect, but I think the way the OSB has produced an Orthodox Translation of the Septuagint imperfectly is better than the way everyone before them has not done it at all. There may be cases in which they have not brought out all the nuances of the Greek in the Septuagint in favor of leaving the NKJV text as it was… but in those cases in which the LXX and the Hebrew Masoretic text are in essential unity, I would argue that we should be more concerned with bringing out the nuances of the Hebrew. Only when there is a real textual divergence should we feel free to disregard the Hebrew and start worrying about the nuances of the Greek… because at the end of the day, the LXX is still a translation of the Hebrew, and when we are confident that the LXX and the Hebrew essentially agree, there is no good reason to not translate the Hebrew text.

- Fr. John Whiteford of St. Jonah Orthodox Church, Spring, TX, responding to Kevin Edgecomb's review at

Thursday, April 3, 2008


I recently bought the Orthodox Study Bible and I have to say that I am less than pleased with it. This Bible could have been done so much better, but was not.

First, the Septuagint text used is Alfred Rahlf's Septuaginta and NOT the Zoe Brotherhood or Apostloki Diakonia texts cross-referenced with the Septuagint readings found in the Liturgical texts to check for any divergence or variations.

Second, the text is NOT a translation, but a slight emendation just changing certain key portions from the Hebrew reading to the Greek reading, but that is not proper as you are left with a mess and miss-mash of a text that is not truly an translation of the Septuagint as used and preserved in the Orthodox Church.

For example please see the mis-translations of Genesis 3:15, Genesis 4:8 (The WHOLE phrase is missing!), Exodus Chapter 3 with the Divine name (The Existing One?) & Psalm 22 just to name a few. Also, the OSB omits 4th Maccabees. Why? Place it in an appendix. 4th Macabees has greatly influenced Orthodox (especially Greek) piety for centuries. Why omit such an important book?

If one looks at the NETS translation (which also has 4th Macc. thank God), which is truly excellent, you get to see the mistranslations and sloppy work that was truly done on the OSB. I was so looking forward to this translation, but now I can't wait to go back to my RSV with the Expanded Apocrypha that is a much better translation.

Third, what happend with the New Testament? It is not the official ecclesiastical text from Constantinople. This could not be fixed. In fact, we were told that the New Testament WAS going to be harmonized with the Patriarchal text, just like we were told that 4th Macc. was going to be translated and included, but this was never done. Why?

All in all this is NOT an Orthodox Study Bible and it was done too quickly by people who were truly going too fast. I believe this is why many in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese were raising concerns and even left the project because a good translation was NOT being done.

- Peter A. Papoutsis, translator of The Holy Orthodox Bible, posted at


My Orthodox brothers Felix Culpa and Esteban will both be commenting on the Orthodox Study Bible in coming days. I recommend you to check their blogs for their insightful critiques. I think this will be the last post of mine dealing more than in passing with the new Orthodox Study Bible. I’ve noted a few more problems with this Bible, two of which are “deal breakers” which, for me, means it will join its predecessor and various other study Bibles to collect dust. This is unfortunate, as some of the translated texts are done quite well. The problem is that not all of them are, and that the presentation in this volume inadequately reflects the nobility of the subject matter. Let us cut to the chase!

On Tobit. There are two texts of Tobit, the short text as found in the majority of manuscripts (Hanhart’s GI, found in Codices Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and others, as well as represented in Jerome’s Vulgate translation), and the long text (Hanhart’s GII, found in Codex Sinaiticus with lacunae, and a few fragments otherwise, but well-represented in the Old Latin translation). The GII text is universally recognized to the be the older of the two, with GI representing a later reworking of the text. In such a case, the presentation of both versions or the longer alone (perhaps with an indication of which passages are lacking in the shorter version) would be preferable. While it is known that the text of Codex Alexandrinus is the Old Testament in favor on Mount Athos, and so the shorter version of Tobit will be preferred there, there is no canonical statement finding for either ancient text. The fuller text does tell the story better, however, and for that reason alone it might be preferred. But it appears that the Revised Standard Version was the boilerplate in the books called anaginōskomena (”readable”) among the Orthodox and “apocrypha” generally, and the RSV used the shorter text. Again, the NETS actually provides translations of both texts in parallel, as it does for the case of all such divergent texts in the Septuagint tradition: in Iesous (Joshua), Judges, Esther (giving the Old Greek and the Alpha text, which is a bonus!), Tobit (the GII and GI texts), Sousanna, Daniel, Bel and the Dragon (all three have both Old Greek and Theodotion). The approach of NETS is preferable.

Regarding the notes in the OSB, I thought I’d take a look at something which would naturally have occurred to a good editor: to make certain that the points made in the articles about various texts were also included in the notes to those texts. Here too the OSB makes a failing grade. Take, for example, the article “Types of Mary in the Old Testament.” Firstly, why just “Mary” and not a properly Orthodox reference to the Champion of the Faithful like “The Virgin Mary Theotokos”? How about even “Mary, Mother of God”? Oh, that’s right, I forgot that this OSB is actually directed at Protestants, not Orthodox, so we couldn’t possibly call her what we actually call her in what is supposed to be our own Bible! Secondly, of the eighteen Scriptural references given in the article, ten are not represented in the notes to those texts. That is, at those points in the notes, where a reader is most likely to be looking for information on how the Orthodox Church reads the verse, there is no notice that these various ten verses are read to reflect the Theotokos. Even aside from this, and it really is unforgivable, Isaiah 7 and 9 are not included in the article! How can the primary prophecy of the Theotokos in Isaiah 7.14, recognized even in the Gospels, not be included in an article on the subject? That’s laughable! Likewise, there are many other references which were not included. The author of the article could simply have sat down with an annotated copy of the services for the Church’s Feasts, like The Festal Menaion put together by Bishop Kallistos, and made a list of all the Scripture readings and allusions therein and made sure the editor would ensure appropriate commentary in the notes for each. This would’ve taken mere minutes, not hours or days. In addition to this shortcoming in this particular article, there is another shortcoming, a more literal one: the text of no article fills the page dedicated to it. It appears that the font of the articles was changed along the line somewhere so that it is smaller and no longer fills the page. This is sloppy. The extra space could’ve been used to better the articles.

Randomly flipping through the OSB, I found that a number of notes are problematic in historical or factual matters. A note to Isaiah 22.1-5 indicates “Jerusalem fell to the Assyrians.” This is not the case. A note to 2 Kingdoms 15.7-12 (the text of 15.7 begins “Four years later…”) reads “After four years (the LXX has “forty”)….” So, this quite apparently answers our question as to whether this is a translation of the Septuagint or not. Clearly it is not! It is guided by other motivations, which allowed some of the translators to adjust their text toward the Hebrew. This is not in itself a bad idea, but it is not what the Old Testaement of the OSB (or rather the “St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint™” [sic and barf]) proclaims itself to be. The note to Judith 1.1 places the entire book in the wrong light: “This opening verse is anachronistic in that the father of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebopolassar, destroyed Nineveh in about 607 BC.” Aside from the error that Nineveh was not destroyed in “about 607″ but 612 BC, with no “about” about it, and the oddly spelled Nebopolassar rather than the standard Nabopolassar, this misses the entire point of the book in its parabolic masking of various historical characters with names drawn from the rest of the Old Testament, of which Judith is a part. Nineveh represents Seleucia, and Nebuchadnezzar the Seleucid king, and so on. Reading this as a straight historical account is as much a mistake as reading it as an entirely allegorical one. Bad form! A relatively good note appears at Daniel 5.2: “St. Jerome remarks that ‘vice always glories in defiling what is noble.’ He sees in Belshazzar’s blatant misuse of the holy vessels a type of the misuse and twisting of Scripture by heretics for the purpose of drawing others into false doctrine and worship.” Now that is on the right track, at least. Yet there is no way to find out where St Jerome elaborates on this, as there is no reference to his undoubtedly pithy statement on the matter. It would perhaps have been preferable to leave out the vast number of inane notes in preference for more substantial patristic quotations which included references to the works (at the very least!) in which they appear. But I tire of this.

There are some very good translations in the OSB Old Testament. Isaiah and Job are quite well done, as is Jeremiah. I haven’t delved too much into others, as this edition is not conducive to reading. Most of the Prophets suffer from the serious drawback that their texts are not presented (I kid you not) in poetic scansion. The lines are all run together as though everything in them were prose. And the density of this font in combination with the close line spacing and the thin paper (with its subsequent bleedthrough) makes for very uncomfortable reading indeed. For me, this is one of the “deal breakers” I mentioned above. For whatever reason the verses weren’t presented in poetic format, the verdict is the same: poorly done indeed!
Add to this the occasion that the very complicated issues of verse numbering in various books have received the least useful solution in this OSB: that of creating a versification unused by anyone else, and probably not even by all the annotators in the volume! This is the other “deal breaker” I mentioned. This is wholly unacceptable and unjustifiable. A better solution, again, is presented in the NETS: the versification of the standard editions is retained, and the versification of the Hebrew text is indicated in small raised parentheses.

Readers will need to follow the progress of the other Orthodox Septuagint translation projects in order to eventually obtain a decent Orthodox translation of the Church’s Old Testament. The OSB is not that. In the meantime, I would continue to recommend the NETS. While it may not be a perfect translation, and it is an academic translation geared toward usefulness as a tool in better understanding the underlying Greek texts, it is still of a higher consistent quality than is the OSB. If a reader wants to read a contemporary English translation of the Septuagint, then the NETS edition is the one to read.

- Kevin P. Edgecomb, posted at

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


I just wanted to know has anyone noticed the mistranslations in the first few chapters of Genesis in the Orthodox Study Bible? If i'm wrong, which I hope I am, please let me know. The mistranslations that I noticed are:

Genesis 3:15 & Genesis 4:8

I especially noticed that Genesis 4:8 is omitting a specific passage found in the Septuagint where Cain tells Able "Let's go out to the field." This phrase is missing from the Orthodox Study Bible, but is clearly present in the Septuagint. What's going on?

Peter A. Papoutsis [translator of the Holy Orthodox Bible]


I noticed this kind of thing also (and others on the internet have as well). The OSB is NOT a translation of the LXX as advertised. It is an LXX/MT hybrid. I don't know if they simply haphazardly worked on it, are outright lying, or both, but it is not what it advertises itself to be: an OT from the LXX.

I thought I was going to finally get a single volume Bible with an LXX OT to butresse the NT, but I'm going to have to wait longer. I'm a little angry over it and feel more than a little cheated by them.

- posted on the LXX · Septuagint and Old Greek Studies discussion group at

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Here is a link to an excellent article entitled, "The Orthodox Study Bible and Orthodox Identity in North America," by Matthew Francis, published in The Canadian Journal of Orthodox Christianity, Vol. II, No. 2, Summer 2007:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


After so long a time, we now have, within the space of a year, two complete English translations of the Septuagint, the Old Testament of the early Church, and still the Old Testament for Orthodox Christians. One is a scholarly edition, the New English Translation of the Septuagint, published by Oxford University Press and typically referred to as NETS ($19.80 at Amazon; thanks Iyov!). I’ve written about this translation previously. Now there is also the St Athanasius Academy Septuagint, the trademarked (!) name of the Old Testament included in the new Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World published by Thomas Nelson Publishers (the New Testament translation included is the New King James Version, which was likewise the “boilerplate” used as a guide to the translation of the Septuagint, in a role analogous to that of the NRSV for NETS). The OSB is available in both a hardback and a “genuine leather” edition, and least expensively from Amazon (hardback only is available for pre-order; available now in hardback and “leather” from Conciliar Press). As I’ve already described the NETS, I’ll now briefly review the new Orthodox Study Bible (henceforth OSB) and proceed to a comparison of these two welcome translations.

First, as is patently indicated by its title, the OSB is a study Bible intended primarily for an English-reading Eastern Orthodox Christian audience and other English readers with an interest in Orthodoxy. At the bottom of each page are notes of varying lengths, though tending toward brevity, rather like those of the Oxford Annotated Bibles. There are various single-page study articles interspersed throughout both Testaments, covering subjects like Ancestral Sin, Sacrifice, The Tabernacle, Types of Mary in the Old Testament, and so on. There are likewise a number of different full-color pages including reproductions of various icons, which the Orthodox are well-known for. A number of different articles and helps are likewise included: Acknowledgments, Special Recognition, an introduction, a page listing the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Old Testaments, a page of abbreviations of patristic authors and materials used in the notes, “Overview of the Books of the Bible” by Bishop Basil (Essey) of Wichita and Mid-America, “Introducing the Orthodox Church,” “The Bible: God’s Revelation to Man” by Bishop Joseph (al-Zehlaoui) of Los Angeles and the West, “How to Read the Bible” by Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, a “Lectionary” which is not precisely the actual liturgical lectionary of the Eastern Orthodox Church but is intended for a devotional reading schedule, a glossary of terms and phrases used in the notes, pages of morning and evening prayers, indices to the annotations and study articles, the traditional list of The Seventy Apostles (see Luke 10), and a set of full-color maps. Throughout the OSB, each book of the two Testaments is given an introductory section including Author, Date, Major Theme, Background, and Outline. All this indicates therefore a volume of satisfying heft, and of a great variety of resources typical of study Bible of our day and age.

I have not delved deeply into the OSB yet, but can give some initial impressions. First, there are various pearls of patristic wisdom strewn about in the notes, with attribution only by abbreviated name, not by work. There could have been more, which would rather have been appreciated, of course, but at the very least citations should have been included, whether for a quotation or for the more vague sorts of allusions worded by the annotators. Otherwise, the notes are fairly consistent in following a Christocentric interpretation in the Old Testament, the traditional Orthodox approach which makes for such rich hymnography. When, however, they drift into mere summary of the sections above, they are rather jejune and entirely unnecessary.

The icons are a mixed bag of quality. There are some beautiful ones: a the Three Holy Youths in the Furnace from a mural at Vatopaidi Monastery, Mount Athos dated 1312; The Transfiguration by Photi Kontoglu; and St John the Forerunner by Father Gregory (surname not given). The rest are of varying quality, some being quite sentimentalizing, some veering toward mere painting. A consistenly better collection of icons could have been presented, as our holy icons are treasures of the Church and there are hundreds of recognized works written in great sanctity and also recognized to be of great artistic value. This was also a complaint of the icons included in the first Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms. Astonishingly, all of the icons presented in that earlier volume, several of which received complaints regarding their quality, were included in this volume, along with a few others.

My copy is the “genuine leather” edition, with gilt-edged pages. Apparently these days, “genuine leather” means what used to be called “bonded leather.” The cover of this one feels more like cardboard, of much lesser quality than even the first OSB, which wasn’t of great quality at all. And the binding is glued, not stitched, which is truly unfortunate (and cheap). In combination with this, the margins are miserly, so that the text veers into the gutter (where the pages meet in the middle of the open book). The print is, however, comfortably large, though the line spacing seems a bit cramped. Each page is two-columned, fully justified (that is, both sides of the text block meet the edges of the columns). I would have this OSB rebound with a better quality cover, but the glued binding and small margins would result in it being unusable, as the gutter problem would grow even worse once sewn. Nice. There is only one register (the bound-in ribbon bookmark) unlike the old OSB which included two. The page edge gilding is the spray-on kind that is already leaving little flecks of gold everywhere. So, as an example of bookbinding, I would not rate the OSB well.

The use of the New King James Version in the New Testament is still an issue. For the amount of time this translation was in process (roughly ten years since I first started following it), an entire New Testament translation based on Constantinople’s Ecclesiastical text could have been easily produced. Instead, we have this translation based on the hybrid Textus Receptus, and Byzantine readings noted in the translation as readings of the “M-Text” and readings from the Nestle-Aland/UBS text noted as the “NU-Text.” With all the effort put into producing the Septuagint translation, a little more to produce a translation of the Ecclesiastical text would have been appreciated. As it stands, therefore, this “Orthodox Study Bible” is only half Orthodox: in the Old Testament only. A few quotations of Church Fathers in the notes doesn’t fix the NT.

The order of the books follows the traditional Orthodox order, except in mysteriously placing the Prayer of Manasseh not after the Psalms, where the Odes would normally be, but as the last column on the last page of 2 Chronicles, where it appears to be a part of chapter 36. Then there is the confusion of the two Ezra books and Nehemiah. In the Septuagint, it is usually the case (as in NETS; also see here) that there is 1 Esdras, the alternate partial Chronicles/Ezra-Nehemiah book, and then the Hebrew Ezra and Nehemiah books are combined as 2 Esdras, with 23 chapters. The OSB inexplicably has 1 Ezra (the 1 Esdras above), 2 Ezra (Hebrew Ezra), and Nehemiah. Though I do recall this as an option among Greek treatments of the titles of these books, it’s not as common as the other. In Daniel there is a serious problem with the page headers. At the beginning of Daniel is, as is proper, the book of Susanna, and at the end, Bel and the Serpent. Unfortunately, the page headers take the verse of Susanna as the chapter of Daniel, so the header on page 1237, the second page of Susanna/Daniel, reads “Daniel 41″ and the next page “Daniel 42.” At the end of the book, page 1261 has the header “Daniel 21″ and the next page “Daniel 22.”

So, the OSB appears to be at the very least a step in the right direction, and I do expect myself to warm to it to a certain degree, but its shortcomings are real and inexcusable. I know quite a number of people worked on this Bible for a long time. It should have been better. It could have been better. Why is it not better?

Now I’d like to look at the two Septuagint translations in comparison. The NETS is, of course, a scholarly effort of great erudition, designed for use as an academic tool. The OSB is designed for use as devotional reading. For this reason, the OSB doesn’t include translations of the variant texts in Joshua, Judges, Esther, and Daniel, for instance, but rather opts for what is (more or less) the Ecclesiastical text. As I mentioned above, the OSB used the NKJV as a base for its translation, just as the NETS used the NRSV. In this first comparison, therefore, I’ve chosen Sirach 44.1-5, as something not contaminated by boilerplate usage of the NKJV.

OSB Sirach 4.1-5:Let us now praise honored men and our fathers. The Lord established His great glory And majesty from the beginning through them. There were those who ruled in their kingdoms And were men renowned for their power, Giving counsel through their understanding And proclaiming prophecies. There were leaders of the people by their counsels And understanding of learning for the people, Wise in their words of instruction.

NETS Sirach 44.1-5 Let us now praise famous men and our fathers by descent. The Lord created much glory, his majesty from eternity. When they ruled in their kingdoms, men also became noteworthy through power; when they counseled with their intelligence, when they announced through their prophecies, when they led the people by deliberations and with understanding of a people’s scribal art—wise words there are in their instruction.

Notice how the OSB simply does not flow, and only really makes sense after having read the NETS version. This is caused by relying too strictly on a very literal translation method. See how with very little change, the NETS flows so much better. What, for instance, is “understanding of learning for the people” in the OSB supposed to connote? The Greek is και συνεσει γραμματειας λαου, which is much better rendered by NETS as “understanding of a people’s scribal art.” The issue in the OSB appears to lie in the RSV being used as a base text in this instance (”understanding of learning for the people”) rather than the more clear NRSV (”knowledge of the people’s lore”), which is informed not merely by Greek Sirach, but the Hebrew fragments, the key phrase here being חכמי שיח בספרתם. NETS is the best of the set on this front.
Now we’ll go to an old favorite, Psalm 22 (23 in the Masoretic and English numbering tradition), and see what the OSB and NETS have done. I provide the Greek text first, so you can compare for yourselves.

Greek Psalm 22 (23) Κύριος ποιμαίνει με, καὶ οὐδέν με ὑστερήσει.εἰς τόπον χλόης, ἐκεῖ με κατεσκήνωσεν,ἐπὶ ὕδατος ἀναπαύσεωςἐξέθρεψέν με,τὴν ψυχήν μου ἐπέστρεψεν.ὡδήγησέν με ἐπὶ τρίβους δικαιοσύνηςἕνεκεν τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ.ἐὰν γὰρ καὶ πορευθῶ ἐν μέσῳ σκιᾶς θανάτου,οὐ φοβηθήσομαι κακά,ὅτι σὺ μετ’ ἐμοῦ εἶ·ἡ ῥάβδος σου καὶ ἡ βακτηρία σου, αὐταί με παρεκάλεσαν.ἡτοίμασας ἐνώπιόν μου τράπεζαν ἐξ ἐναντίας τῶν θλιβόν των με·ἐλίπανας ἐν ἐλαίῳ τὴν κεφαλήν μου,καὶ τὸ ποτήριόν σου μεθύσκον ὡς κράτιστον.καὶ τὸ ἔλεός σου καταδιώξεταί με πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ζωῆς μου,καὶ τὸ κατοικεῖν με ἐν οἴκῳ κυρίου εἰς μακρότητα ἡμερῶν.

OSB Psalm 22 (23) The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of deathI will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord to the end of my days.

NETS Psalm 22 (23) The Lord shepherds me, and I shall lack nothing. In a verdant place, there he made me encamp; by water of rest he reared me; my soul he restored. He led me into paths of righteousnessfor his name’s sake. For even if I walk in the midst of death’s shadow, I will not fear evil, because you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comforted me. You prepared a table before me over against those that afflict me; you anointed my head with oil, and your cup was supremely intoxicating. And your mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life, and my residing in the Lord’s house is for length of days.

First one notices, shockingly, that the OSB does not translate the Greek at all. It is, in fact, the precise text of the New King James Version for Psalm 23, a translation of the Hebrew psalm, of course. The only alteration toward the Septuagint is at the very end, and even there it is quite wrong: “to the end of my days.” εἰς μακρότητα ἡμερῶν does not mean “to the end of my days” but rather, as NETS rightly has it “for length of days,” a circumlocution for “forever.” The intention seems to be “not to rock the boat” by providing a translation that is too different from what people are accustomed to, even when the (supposedly!) underlying text of the Septuagint is quite different than the Hebrew. As some monarch somewhere has sometime undoubtedly said, “We are not pleased.”

So, for me, NETS will remain my English Septuagint of choice, and it will remain the English Septuagint that I recommend to others, without reservation and with whole-hearted, honest enthusiasm. I’m not particularly fond of “study Bibles” in any case. I am particularly not fond of those claiming to be something they aren’t (in this case a complete translation of the Septuagint), and with a supposedly sanctifying veneer of Orthodoxy about them. Don’t get me wrong: I love Orthodoxy, entirely and wholly; it is my life. But slapping the word Orthodox onto a Bible which is insufficiently representative of the richness and beauty of the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, even at the level of its own language, does absolutely nothing for me, and in fact makes me rather angry. This Orthodox Study Bible could have been better and should have been better. Why was it not better?

- Kevin P. Edgecomb, posted at

Friday, March 14, 2008


The Orthodox Study Bible (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1993) makes a very good initial impression. The bindings are handsome, the Bible is nicely printed, and it is graced by a number of full-color icons scattered through the book. It uses the increasingly popular New King James Version (NKJV) for the text. On the whole this version is an acceptable modernization of the King James Version (KJV), while retaining some of the literary quality of the latter. An additional advantage of the NKJV is that it indicates the Majority Text readings, since these generally correspond even more fully to the Church's text than do the KJV readings. However, it is disappointing that the Study Bible reproduces the whole textual apparatus of the NKJV, including many of the doubtful decisions of modern non-Orthodox biblical scholarship; it would have been preferable for them to have corrected the text to agree with that of the Church and then to present only that text, since the whole matter of textual criticism is complex and primarily serves to cause doubts and questions in the minds of non-technical readers of the Scriptures. While the NKJV is a generally acceptable text for the New Testament, its use for the Psalter is completely unacceptable. It is very unfortunate that the Study Bible uses a Protestant version of the Psalter in what claims to be a Bible for Orthodox Christians, following even the Protestant numbering of the psalms, rather than that of the Church. Several translations of the psalms from the Orthodox Church's Septuagint version into English have appeared in the last 20 years, and it surely would have been possible for the publishers to have arranged to use one of these if they truly wanted to offer an Orthodox text of the Bible to their readers.

When one actually starts to read the comments and notes attached to the Study Bible one quickly becomes very disappointed to see that a major opportunity has been lost. The comments on the text are on the whole quite simplistic and shallow, often doing nothing more than paraphrasing the verse to which they refer. Only very rarely do they quote from the Fathers to draw out the fuller meaning of the text, although a good collection of such quotations would have been the best possible Orthodox commentary on the Scriptures.

The early Church understood that the doctrines of the faith (viewed as facts and rational propositions) could not really be grasped until a person had attained some degree of moral purity. This is the reason for the extended catechumenate, during which the candidate had to reform his life and bring it into line with the Church's demands. Only near the end of this period was the content of the Faith presented, when the candidate was sufficiently purified to be able to receive it and make sense of it. To have presented it earlier would have reduced it to only empty factual knowledge with no meaning for one's life. One of the most unfortunate features of the Study Bible is that it confines itself only to this factual knowledge and does not even use those passages of Scripture which have a moral content to inculcate such purity in its readers. It rarely draws any but the most trite moral conclusions from the texts, while the Fathers consistently apply them primarily in a moral way, rather than as historical or factual artifacts.

As one reads the notes to the text, a false, non-Orthodox tone becomes uncomfortably apparent. The editors constantly refer to the way things are done in the "Orthodox Church," the teaching of the "Orthodox Church," etc. By always qualifying "Church" in this way, they distance themselves and write as they are outsiders or as if they are writing for outsiders. When Orthodox people describe the services, readings, practices, and doctrines of the Church, they just call it the "Church." Similarly, if you look at a Roman Catholic Bible (e.g. the Jerusalem Bible), it refers to the "Church's teaching" or says that "the Church reads this passage..." and so on. The only reason to qualify "Church" all the time, as the Study Bible does, is to distinguish it from other religious bodies. But the result of this constant qualification is that the reader does not feel he is reading a Bible prepared by Orthodox Christians for Orthodox Christians. The feeling is rather that this Bible is designed to introduce the non-Orthodox to Orthodoxy, or else that non-Orthodox wrote the notes in it. There is not anything inherently wrong in the idea of writing notes on a Bible to help convince non-Orthodox of the truth of Orthodoxy (assuming the notes accurately reflect the true views and positions of Orthodoxy, which is by no means always the case in the Study Bible), but it would be better to advertise the Bible as such, perhaps calling it the Orthodox Evangelism Bible, rather than to present it as if it is designed to help Orthodox Christians grow deeper in their understanding and practice of the faith.

Another example of the non-Orthodox tone of much of the commentary in the Study Bible is the way the Savior and the Saints are referred to. While there are instances in which Orthodox refer to the Lord as simply "Jesus," they are rare. Especially in the early Church (cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch's letters), the Lord is almost always referred to by His name and one or more titles (e.g., "Jesus Christ," "our Lord Jesus Christ," etc.). Even St. Paul usually refers to Him in this way. The Gospels do not, since they are presenting history, rather than reflections drawn from that history. But Orthodox Christians do not speak of the Lord in this unadorned way, so it strikes a false note to find the Study Bible referring to Him as "Jesus" most of the time. Similarly, in English (although less so in Greek or Russian) it sounds very odd to Orthodox ears to refer to the saints without using their title. Thus, Orthodox Christians usually speak of "St. Paul," not of "Paul." The same may be said about the note concerning the Theotokos on page 135. The editors address her as "Mary." Again, this is a small point, but it does offend Orthodox ears and adds to the feeling the authors of the notes in the Study Bible are not writing from within the Orthodox community, but rather are outsiders trying to interpret an Orthodoxy they only understand theoretically, but which they have not yet learned really to live.

A further example of the editors' viewpoint being from outside the Church is their decision to abbreviate the Morning and Evening Prayers printed in the back of the Study Bible by leaving out any prayers to the Theotokos or the saints. It seems almost inconceivable that Orthodox Christians would not at least include the Prayer "O Theotokos and Virgin, rejoice" and a prayer to their patron saint as part of their daily prayers; but these prayers are missing. While this omission undoubtedly will make the Study Bible more congenial to Protestant readers, it seriously distorts the actual teaching and practice of the Orthodox Church.

Throughout the Study Bible there is a surprising emphasis on the concept of "justification," including a whole article devoted to this topic in Romans 5. A number of notes scattered throughout the Study Bible refer to "justification," usually specifying that it is "by faith" (e.g. Mark 10:28; Acts 10:35; Romans 3:20, 5: 1; Galatians 2:16-4:31, 2:17; etc.). The article and notes are not particularly offensive, but the concept and term "justification" play almost no role in Orthodox theology, where "justification" is commonly not even distinguished from "sanctification," but both are seen as a united and inseparable part of the Christian's process of spiritual development. Certainly, its role is minor compared to the major position it occupies in Protestant thinking. Thus, the index to Timothy [now Bishop Kallistos] Ware's The Orthodox Church does not include the term, nor is it found in a number of Orthodox theological dictionaries (e.g., Polny Pravoslavnyy Bogoslovskiy Entsiklopicheskiy Slovar [Complete Orthodox Theological Encyclopedic Dictionary], reprinted in Russia in 1992 from a pre-Revolutionary edition; Dictionary of Orthodox Theology, George H. Demetrakopoulos, New York, 1964). Once again, while the treatment is not "wrong" from an Orthodox standpoint, the very discussion and term sound strange to Orthodox ears.

There are other notes in which a non-Orthodox viewpoint comes across. Examples are:

a) The note on Acts 3:1 refers to "Advent," which is a term and period which does not exist in Orthodoxy. In the Western liturgical churches (Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran) "Advent" is the name given to the four Sundays preceding Christmas. Orthodoxy does not observe these Sundays, but it does have a six-week fast preceding the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.

b) Mark 2:20. This note defends fasting, but from a rather Protestant viewpoint. It is written to persuade Protestant readers that fasting is acceptable for a Christian, not to encourage Orthodox to discover the spiritual benefits of fasting.

c) The note on "fasting" in the glossary (p. 798) mis-defines the Apostles Fast, incorrectly saying that it is the two weeks before June 29. This fast is actually of variable length, starting on the Monday after All Saints Sunday and continuing until the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The fact that the author of the notes does not know how long the fast lasts can only raise doubts about the extent to which the Faith is being lived.

Finally, there are notes which are simply unacceptable to any true Orthodox Christian, since they are omissions or distortions of vital Orthodox teachings.

a) Matthew 14:14-2 1. In discussing the feeding of the five thousand, the editors somewhat grudgingly say that the feeding of the four thousand (reported in Matthew 15:32-39) " PROBABLY not a duplicate report of the first miracle." Thereby, the editors are challenging the authenticity and reliability of the Gospels, since the same Gospel reports the two miracles separately and since the Lord Himself refers to both of them as separate events (Matthew 16:9-
10). To raise even a question about whether these are separate events is to call into question the Lord's veracity and the reliability of the Gospels—surely not an Orthodox attitude toward either.

b) Mark 9:38-40. The note says, "Sectarianism and triumphalism (the attitude that one creed is superior to all others) are forbidden, for God's working transcends our limited perceptions. One is either for or against (v.40) Christ, but it is not always ours to know who is on which side." Does this mean that the creed of the First and Second Ecumenical Councils (the Symbol of Faith) is no better than any other creed (e.g., the Lutherans' Augsburg Confession)? Any Orthodox Christian who does not think that the Church's creed is superior to all others places himself outside the Church. Furthermore, while we may not always know where a person's heart is, we can see that those who willfully promulgate false creeds are working against our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The attitude in this note is simply foreign to any healthy Orthodox Christian.

c) Mark 10:30. The Lord promises that those who give up family and possessions will receive them back a hundredfold, but the note calls this into question, saying that this is "not an absolute promise: countless saints and martyrs were not so rewarded." Here the authors betray their carnal viewpoint. The Fathers apply this passage to the whole Christian community, saying that those who give up earthly family and possessions receive new fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, homes and lands in the CHURCH, but not in the carnal sense of getting more personal possessions. It is bad enough that the authors' viewpoint is carnal, their error is compounded by the fact that they openly disagree with the Lord and question the accuracy of His promise.

d) Acts 13:3. The note supports multiple ordination. This practice has been forbidden in the Orthodox Church for many centuries, so there is no reason whatsoever to mention it, unless it is to justify the extreme irregularity of performing such ordinations when the so-called "Evangelical Orthodox" were received into the Antiochian Church.

e) I Timothy 2:12. By citing Romans 16:1 to suggest that women have been ordained as deacons and by stating that "women are not ordained to the offices of bishop and presbyter in the Orthodox Church," the note implies that women can be ordained deacons. This is not the case. The order of deaconesses is not currently in use in the Church, and in any case the Church does not treat the order of deaconesses as equivalent to that of deacons, since the former do not perform the deacon's liturgical functions.

f) II Timothy 1:9. The note says, "Our salvation and CALLING are based on His GRACE and love, not on anything we have done to merit God's favor." The Orthodox viewpoint is that our salvation does in fact depend on our response to God's grace and how we use it in our lives. We are co-workers with God in our salvation, as St. Paul says (I Cor. 3:9; II Cor. 6: 1; Phil. 2:12-13). Even our calling as Christians is based on our synergy in responding to God's grace in our lives, since we are all sustained by His grace in every breath we take. Those who respond to this grace receive a calling to participate more fully in it, a calling which is based on their earlier responses.

g) The note on I Peter 3:18 glosses over the Lord's descent into Hades. You may be able to find this doctrine in the note if you know it is supposed to be there, but it certainly is not presented in a clear and unambiguous way. And yet, this is the focus of the primary icons of the feast of the Resurrection, so how can it be skimmed over with no more than a hint in what claims to be an "Orthodox Bible?"

These comments are representative of the non-Orthodox viewpoint which permeates this Study Bible and which makes it unsuited for use by Orthodox Christians. It is truly sad to see so much effort, time, and expense put into producing this Bible with such meager results in the end. It would, however, be far safer for Orthodox Christians to avoid such inaccurate and misleading aids as are provided in this Bible, especially since several more reliable "Orthodox Study" Bible commentaries are available in English for Orthodox readers (e.g. Johanna Manley's "The Bible and the Holy Fathers" her "Grace for Grace: The Psalter and the Holy Fathers" (which has the added advantage of using the Orthodox Psalter as its basic text, rather than the Protestant one); and the ongoing translation of Blessed Theophylact's commentaries on the Gospels.

- Archpriest Seraphim Johnson of St. Cosmas of Aitolia Orthodox Church, Lanham, MD, posted at

Sunday, February 24, 2008


I received my copy Saturday.

IMO, it is very good the books of the OT were arranged in canonicalorder (as done by the Greeks). But I wish they had rearranged the NT inthe canonical order (as done by the Greeks) at the same time. Oh well.

I /really/ dislike the ugly font used in the running header -- zeroes are wider than the capital letter O; ones look like a capital I. Thefont used for the text has far too high an x-height: lower case lettersare about 3/4 the size of capital letters instead of 1/2. But I can live with ugly. The content is far more important.

I was checking to see if εκκλεσία was translated as 'church'. To mydelight, it was rendered 'church' in Psalm 21 (vv. 23, 26); Psalm 25(vv. 5, 12); Psalms 34:18; 39:10; 67:27; and 88:6. I wish they hadmaintained that rendering for the remainder of the psalms, but for somereason did not in Psalm 106:32 and Psalm 149:1.

The word εκκλεσία was also translated as 'church' in Job 30:28, Proverbs 5:14, and Lamentations 1:10. I really wish they had also used 'church'in the 23rd chapter of Deuteronomy (vv. 2, 3, 4, and 9) and Joel 2:16, but, alas, they did not.

When I was checking to see the rendering of εκκλεσία in the four booksof Kingdoms, I ran into a problem finding the verses. So I starteddigging into verse numbering.

What a mess!

The standard numbering of the books of the Old Testament are, like it ornot, based on the Masoretic text.

The ΖΩΗ (ZOE) text I have adapts to this by skipping verse numbers wherethe Church's text does not have the equivalent of the Masoretic. Thus,in 1 Kingdoms, the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) text numbers the first eleven verses ofchapter 17 which basically parallel the Masoretic text, then skipsnumbers 12 through 31, numbers verses 32 through 40 which parallel theMasoretic text, skips verse 41, numbers verses 42 through 49 whichparallel the Masoretic text, skips verse 50, numbers verses 51 through54, and omits numbers 55 through 58. (Note: the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) text includesthe omitted verses from the Masoretic text in footnotes rendered in adistinct font.)

When there are verses present in the Church's text that are not in the Masoretic text, the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) edition numbers verses with added letters.Thus, in Chapter 2 of 3 Kingdoms, it numbers the first 35 verses whichparallel the Masoretic text, and then numbers the following verses 35α,35β, 35γ, 35δ, ... 35μ, 35ν, 35ξ. The next verse is numbered 36 as isthe parallel verse in the Masoretic text.

The Brenton translation of the Septuagint basically uses the samenumbering system as the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) text, but instead of appending lettersit has no verse numbering (effectively making 3 Kingdoms 2:35 a great long verse!).

The Orthodox Study Bible doesn't follow either of these methods. Insteadit uses what is, IMO, the worst possible method. It numbers versessequentially regardless of the standard numbering of verses. Thus, wherethe Church's text does not have text which parallels the Masoretic text,the Orthodox Study Bible ends up with few verse numbers than othereditions. For instance, 1 Kingdoms 17:32 in the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) text and theBrenton translation and 1 Samuel 17:32 in the NASB, is rendered in theOSB as 17:12! The same thing is done where there are additional verses,only this results in more verse numbers than other editions. Forinstance, what the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) edition counts as 35, 35α, 35β, 35γ, 35δ,... 35μ, 35ν, 35ξ, 36 is counted in the OSB as verses 35 through 49. So3 Kingdoms 2:36 in the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) text and the Brenton translation and 1Kings 2:36 in the NASB becomes 3 Kingdoms 2:50.

Like I said, it is a mess. Worse, there is no 'conversion table' thatwill allow a reader to find the equivalent of a verse found in any othertranslation/edition. Perhaps some enterprising soul(s) will create a webpage with a conversion table.


In looking at 1 Kingdoms chapter 17 (the story of David and Goliath), Ifound two things which bothered me. The OSB has a verse 29 whichparallels 1 Samuel 17:50 in the same place as it appears in theMasoretic text, but that verse DOES NOT EXIST in the Church's text. Iwonder if someone, working from the NKJV Old Testament (which was usedas this project's boilerplate), inadvertently left that verse in.

The second thing was the OSB's note to 1 Kingdoms 17:4 -- 'Goliath isover nine feet tall.' This would be true if one is following theMasoretic text which gives Goliath's height as six cubits and a span (acubit being about 18 inches makes six cubits approximately equal to ninefeet), but the Church's text -- properly translated in the OSB -- gives Goliath's height as FOUR cubits and a span (which works out to about sixfeet plus a 'span', i.e. about 6'4" instead of 9'4")! It appears notesfrom the NKJV Old Testament may have been retained without checking.

The icons included in the OSB are quite good (and traditional). TheLectionary will be very useful. Of course, the patristic comments areimportant. The Index to Annotations looks like it will be helpful, but Ihaven't had much chance to look through it.

Back to looking at the OSB.

- T. R. Valentine, posted on the Indiana University Orthodox Listserv discussion list
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Known for their fine iconography and excellent translation of liturgical materials, Holy Transfiguration Monastery produced this in-depth critique of the original Orthodox Study Bible, published in the periodical, The True Vine. Hieromonk Haralampos' review runs 43 pages, so I have posted a link from the website of the Holy Orthodox Metropolis of Boston:


The Orthodox Study Bible. New Testament and Psalms. Nelson. 1993. Pp.xii, 846 & 195. ISBN 0-8407-8391-4.

The focal point of an Orthodox church is the Holy Table at the centre of the Sanctuary. All the rest, the frescoes, the icons, the choir stalls, the icon screen, the Holy Doors themselves draw the worshipper’s attention to and culminate in the Holy Altar, or Throne, on which, at the Divine Liturgy, the Word of God is offered in the Sacrifice without shedding of blood. But the Holy Table stands apart in the Holy of Holies. It is not generally visible; during most of the ordinary services it is not used at all. Analogously, the daily round of offices and services, and the other Mysteries of the Church have their focal point, their culmination in the Divine Liturgy itself, the supreme Mystery. The same is true of the Bible. Its centre and focus is the Holy Gospel, which alone lies at the centre of the Altar. All the other books which make up the Holy Scripture lead to or flow from the Holy Gospel. The Bible is the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field. It is not a weapon, even against heresy. We do not read the Holy Gospel ‘to discover Orthodox Christianity’, as the dust jacket of this book suggests, but to hear the Word of God leading us to repentance. Every time the Gospel is read we pray that ‘we may be counted worthy to listen to the Holy Gospel’. There is a profound sense in which the Bible for the Orthodox is not a public thing, any more than the Eucharist is a public thing, but one of the Mysteries of the Faith. Our Lord himself said something very like this: ‘To you has been given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven, but to the rest in parables.’ Against this background it must be clearly stated from the outset that the whole feel of this volume is wrong. It feels far too much like a piece of evangelical propaganda decked out in the trappings of Orthodoxy, like an eighteenth century New England chapel or meeting house with a golden onion dome stuck over the pediment of the porch.

First of all let us look at the translation used. This is not an Orthodox one at all. The editors have taken the New King James Version (NKJV), which is a slightly modernised (‘You’ not ‘Thou’) re-edition of the version of 1611. They defend this on the grounds that the underlying Greek text of the New Testament in the King James version is closer to the traditional Byzantine text than that of modern critical editions. This is for the most part true and all that they needed to say was that the Byzantine text is the text accepted by the Orthodox Church. Instead they defend their decision on supposedly scholarly grounds. This is irrelevant, except for conservative Evangelicals who wish to justify their conservatism by trying to make it ‘scientifically’ respectable. It also obscures the central point that for the Orthodox the Bible comes from the Church, exists in the Church, lives in the Church. The section of the opening chapter, pages x and xi, which discusses the choice of text, is in fact nothing more than a slightly revised version of the preface to the Revised Authorised Version, pages vi and vii. In adopting this approach the editors allow themselves to be drawn onto the ground chosen by their opponents, when they should have taken their stand on the Orthodox ground that the Church’s text is the Orthodox text, full stop.

Even if the text of the NKJV is on the whole that of the Church, it needs careful checking and revision before it can be called Orthodox. One small example will indicate what I mean. The NKJV, like its ancestor of 1611, which here follows the Latin Vulgate, reads at Luke 23:42, ‘Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.’ This prayer, we are told in a note, ‘is highlighted in the hymns and worship of the Orthodox Church’. It isn’t, because the Church’s Gospel and all the liturgical texts derived from it in both Greek and Slavonic have ‘in your Kingdom’, a reference to the Second Coming of Christ in his kingly power, as described in Matthew 25:31-46.

The marginal note on the story of the woman taken in adultery, John 7:53-8:11, is interesting. We are told that the modem critical editions bracket this is not in the original text, but that they are present in over 900 mss of [St] John. The latter remark shows that the editors have little idea of the basics of textual criticism. They should read A.E. Housman. The status of this passage is curious and it would have been worth pointing out both that St John Chrysostom did not have it in his text and that the Gospel for Pentecost makes exactly the same omission as St John Chrysostom and the modern scholars. The Johannine comma, I John 5:7b-8a, is printed as part of the text, though it occurs in no Greek ms. before the fourteenth century and, for the Fathers at least, it is not part of the Orthodox Bible.

On the difficult word in the Lord’s Prayer, which is traditionally rendered ‘daily’ we read: ‘Daily is a misleading translation of the Greek epiousios, which is literally "above the essence" or "supersubstantial".’ Not for St John Chrysostom it isn’t. He says very simply that it means ‘for the day’, ephemeron. He may be wrong, but his view is at least worth mentioning. Further, the idea that our Lord during his earthly incarnation was acquainted with the technical language of Greek philosophy has interesting implications for Christology. I am not sure it is quite what the Fathers of Chalcedon meant when they declared that Christ is homoousios with us, ‘sin alone excepted’. The corresponding note on Luke 11:3 is far better. This is only one of a number of places which display signs of sloppy editing. The note on Luke 11:2 is a give-away. We read that St Matthew’s version of the Our Father ‘has a slightly stronger liturgical flavor’ than St Luke’s. This is true if one compares the modern texts produced by modern scholars. In the traditional text, as given here, the two are virtually identical. The note presumably derives from a comment on some quite different translation.

Similar observations could be made on page after page of the translation. Finally I must protest most vigorously against the wholly unorthodox inverted Arianism of the typography whereby the words of Christ are printed in salmon pink, while his heavenly Father has to be content with mere black along with Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate. This use of colour is at times seriously misleading. Thus at John 3:16, which is badly translated, it is not clear whether this and the following verses are spoken by Jesus, or whether they are a comment by the Evangelist. They are probably the latter, but the salmon pink type adopted here compels one interpretation only. There are even more serious objections to this practice. What Our Lord did during his earthly life is as important, if not more important, than what he said. Both St John and St Luke make this point. St John ends his Gospel, ‘There are many other things that Jesus did’; nothing about ‘said’. St Luke begins Acts with a look back at the Gospel as the record of ‘all that Jesus began to do and teach’. It is Jesus himself who is the Word of God, and his actual words are only one aspect of the mystery. To highlight only the spoken words of Jesus is a reflection of a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon attitude which effectively reduces Jesus to a teacher of a system of ethics and a teller of picturesque inspirational stories. It is not for nothing that the traditional iconography of the Holy Doors includes not only the Four Evangelists but the Annunciation as well. The reason that the Gospel and the other readings from Holy Scripture are always chanted in the Church and never simply read is to make sure that the readers do not impose, by their inflections and emphases, their own interpretations on God’s word.

When we turn to the text of the Psalter we are in an even worse case. The Church’s Psalter is that of the Greek Septuagint [LXX], and has been since the days of the Apostles. It is the one used in all Orthodox services, and it forms the basis of innumerable liturgical hymns and prayers which are frequently little more than a mosaic of words and phrases from it. If one adds the fact, though the editorial introduction to the Psalter fails to point this out, that the Latin Psalter of the Western Church was itself a translation of the LXX until this century, one can say quite simply that the Christian Psalter is that of the LXX. The editors lamely protest that ‘no suitable translation of the Septuagint is currently available’. Considering the number of names that occupy most of the title page, not to mention the numerous others listed in the introduction, it should have been possible between them to produce a translation of the Psalms. If that was beyond the resources of the editors, they could at least have printed the Psalms with the correct numbering and divided them into the traditional kathismata and staseis of the Church Psalter. To do that does not even require a knowledge of Greek, only access to Miss Hapgood’s compendium of Orthodox services, or Mother Mary’s and Bishop Kallistos’s Festal Menaion. Moreover an Orthodox Psalter contains the text of the Odes used at Matins. There is no trace of them here, nor of Psalm 151. We are told that ‘some compensation is provided by giving the Septuagint text (author’s translation) in the notes for certain psalms’. A rapid run through the notes reveals that the author must be Ebenezer Scrooge. No attempt has been made to give the LXX titles to the psalm, though these are one of the areas in which the patristic commentaries are particularly rich. Where is the title of Psalm 5, ‘For her that shall inherit’, which the Fathers see as referring to the Church, the Bride of Christ? Where is the ‘Song for the Beloved’ in the title of Psalm 44, in which the Fathers see a reference to Christ? In Psalm 67:15 there is not so much as a hint that the words translated ‘curdled mountain’ form one of the most frequent images used in the Church’s poetry for the Mother of God, for reasons that I have set out in detail elsewhere. The NKJV’s ‘mountain of many peaks’ is pointless as an image of the motherhood of the Ever-Virgin. As one might have expected by now, the ‘doctors’ have disappeared from Psalm 97:10. One of St Basil’s favourite verses [Psalm 118:120], which he uses in many of his prayers that we still use in the Office, goes by unnoticed. The ‘author’ would have been well advised to spend a little time with the three volumes of St Nikodemos’s commentary before writing his notes, even if his own familiarity with the Church’s Psalter was such that these things and countless others like them did not spring to mind at once from his familiarity with the Church’s texts.

What then of the Study Guide itself? Some of it looks like unaltered evangelical material, like the chapter entitled ‘How to read the New Testament in a year’. Many of us prefer to follow the Church’s way of reading. The maps also betray their evangelical origins. The sites of Calvary and the Tomb of Christ, venerated since at least the fourth century by countless thousands of Orthodox believers, are marked with question marks to leave open the possibility, also on the map with question marks, that General Gordon’s improbable ‘Garden Tomb’ was the real one.
The main study material, apart from the notes on the text itself, begins on page 755 with Morning and Evening Prayers. These contain traditional material, but are distinctly unorthodox in feel; at least I would be surprised to find an Orthodox Christian whose regular morning and evening prayers made not a single reference to the Mother of God or the Saints. Both Greek and Slavonic books have traditional sets of Morning and Evening Prayers and it was surely not impossible to include one or other of them.

Next we have a long and helpful piece by Bishop Kallistos on ‘How to Read the Bible’. This is by far the best section of the book and in it the Bishop makes a number of important points. For example, ‘A book is not part of Holy Scripture because of any particular theory about its date and authorship, but because the Church treats it as canonical.’ It is a pity that the sort of approach recommended by the Bishop seems not to have been properly taken into account by the other contributors. ‘There is gold’, writes Bishop Kallistos, ‘in the patristic texts, if only we have the persistence and imagination to discover it.’ Sadly the editors on the whole lack that Klondyke spirit. An earlier version of this piece was originally published as a separate pamphlet and it is much to be hoped that this fuller version will also be made widely available in the West as its Russian translation already is in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

There follows a Lectionary for the whole year. This is a useful feature of the book, for those who do not have ready access to an annual calendar. For some reason the eleven Gospels for Sunday Matins are nowhere given, or even listed, though those for Matins of the major Feasts are. The lectionary does, however, contain a number of curiosities. Why, for example, are we informed that the 4th Sunday after Pentecost is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils and that it occurs between the 13th and 19th of July, when in most years it does not? The references given are indeed the ones for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost; they are not those for the Fathers. The same remarks apply to the Sunday of the Fathers of the Seventh Council in October. The Lectionary is basically the Slav one and no account is taken of that of the Great Church. The Sundays of Lent on which Saints are commemorated are not given their two sets of Readings, but only those for the Sunday. There is a small selection of Readings for the fixed Feasts, whose dates are given by both the old and new calendars, though this is not explained. Such a list is useful, but not adequate, since on numerous occasions the actual text of the readings does not correspond with the modern verse numbers and on occasion verses are given in a different position from the one in which they are found in the actual scriptural text. For example in the reading from Luke 8:5-15 verse 8b is displaced to the end of verse 15.

There follows a tendentious and wholly unnecessary chapter ‘Introducing the Orthodox Church’. The paragraphs on the so-called Nestorian and Monophysite Churches of the East are most misleading, and of no interest whatever to the Orthodox Christian seeking help in reading the Holy Scripture; nor for that matter are Henry VIII’s matrimonial problems, which are also discussed. There are some surprising statements, such as ‘spontaneity was never the practice in the ancient Church!’, when it is well known that in the early centuries the Eucharistic Prayer was improvised by the bishop. That Christian worship had ‘a basic structure or shape’ does not of itself exclude spontaneity. There is little or no evidence that ‘chrismation [was] there from the start’. The New Testament evidence is all for the apostolic laying on of hands. The section on the early history of the Christian ministry is likewise marked by quite inadequate scholarship. The exegesis of Acts 1:20 shows an extraordinary insensitivity to a sense of history. The remarks on the presbyterate show an equal insensitivity to language; but a sound knowledge of Greek is a not a noteworthy feature of this volume. On page 794 we are told that baptizo means ‘to be plunged’, which was news to me. Elsewhere we learn that the Greek for ‘anointing’ is chrismatis. We are told that the Seven of Acts 6:1-7 were ‘deacons’ though the word is not used of them and St John Chrysostom specifically says that they were not. At Romans 16:1, incidentally, we are not told that Phoebe of the church of Cencreae was a ‘deacon’, only that she was ‘a leading Christian woman’. This whole chapter has absolutely no place in a biblical study guide for the Orthodox; it is simply a piece of not very effective propaganda aimed at those outside the Church. Inquirers are advised, among other things, to attend a liturgy, when, if parts are not in English, ‘the Service Book in the pew will help.’ They will be disappointed when they find neither, and with good reason, in a traditional Orthodox church.

Next we are offered a Glossary. This is explained, but only on the dust jacket, as being ‘of Orthodox Christian terminology’. It starts with a howler. ‘Abba’, as used in first century Aramaic and in the New Testament, is not ‘somewhat equivalent to the English "Daddy".’ Try reading Mark 14:36 with that substitution. The Evangelist, quite correctly, glosses the Aramaic with the word ‘Father’. Many of the entries are however well done, though there is nothing particularly Orthodox about a large number of them. The Glossary is followed by an extremely useful ‘Index to Annotations’ and a list of the traditional Seventy Apostles with the scriptural passages in which their names occur and the dates of their feasts in the Church calendar. A detailed study of the references could be quite interesting. I do not know why there is a second Mark, listed without any scriptural reference under September 27th and October 30, since in both cases the entry in the Synaxarion makes it clear that he is the same as Mark the Evangelist.

This list is followed by a long chapter, reprinted from elsewhere, by the dean of St Athanasius Academy, Jack N. Sparks. This is a somewhat rambling and incoherent piece, but makes a number of useful points about the differences between allegory and typology. It would have been preferable, though, to have asked Fr John Breck of St Vladimir’s to write something, or even for his permission to reprint a chapter from his book on biblical interpretation. This would have been heavier going for the reader but would have packed a good deal more intellectual punch.

The volume ends with a ‘Harmony of the Gospels’, a sort of ‘Write your own Diatessaron’ or ‘Be your own Tatian’, the usefulness of which is obscure, Tables of Monies, Weights and Measures and a Concordance that includes phrases as well as individual words. This comes from some other book—it is paginated quite separately—and covers the whole Bible, not merely the New Testament and Psalter. It would have been better to have provided a fuller concordance for the actual book that the reader is using.

The notes that accompany the text are very full for the New Testament, scrappy to a degree for the Psalms. The notes to the New Testament are on the whole straightforward and some readers will find them a help in understanding many of the words and ideas in the text. Most of them though are dull and many of them jejune in the extreme. As a friend put it to me, they remind one of the notes to some school editions of Shakespeare. ‘King Lear plans to divide his kingdom between his daughters’, or ‘Hamlet wonders if it would be a good idea to commit suicide.’ In this book we find similar notes all too often, such as that on Luke 16:11: ‘True riches signify spiritual treasures’, or that on Luke 16:25 ‘This conversation is not between God and the rich man, but between Abraham and the rich man.’ The level is that of a not very bright Sunday School class. Critical questions are avoided by simply not being discussed at all. This is unsatisfactory, since many readers will be seeking help on just these questions. What should have been provided is an article setting out clearly how an Orthodox reader of the Bible should approach these problems. The solution adopted here is a further instance of what I call the attitude of the double-headed Byzantine ostrich.

Clearly it is not possible to discuss even a small part of this annotation in detail. It is a pity that more explicit reference to the Fathers was not provided. I have noted a number of curious remarks, to put it no more strongly. On Matthew 8:20, ‘Since Son of Man refers to the Messiah (Dan. 7:13), it expresses both His humanity and divinity.’ Since there is nothing divine about the figure in Daniel, doubtful if the figure is the Messiah and doubtful if the expected Messiah was thought to be divine I fail to follow the logic of the comment. The note on Luke 22:48 at least shows some evidence that the writer is aware of recent work on this difficult title. The note on Luke 23:44 tells us that Jesus died on the Cross at the sixth hour, despite the clear statement by St Matthew and St Mark and the clear implication in St Luke that he died at the ninth hour, a belief to which the texts of the Church’s offices make abundant reference. I find no clear evidence that the Greek ekpneo, used at Mark 15:37 of Jesus’ death, ‘connotes a voluntary death.’ This sounds like theologically wishful hermeneutics. The note on John 1:1 fails to notice, though Origen discusses the point at some length, that there is a difference in Greek between ho theos, ‘[the] God’, that is the Father, and theos, ‘God’, without the article, that is ‘God’, but not the Father. In general, what Orthodox readers need is to be helped to enter into the spiritual teaching of the Gospel, which is about theology, in the true sense, about the great mystery of the coming of God incarnate into human history, about the response of the sinner to the loving invitation of Christ. They will hardly be helped to any of this by being told that Luke 24:13-35 is ‘a delightful account of a resurrection appearance of Christ’, which sounds more like a description of the visit of the Bishop to the parish sale of work.

The notes on the Psalms are woefully inadequate. We are told that where a psalm is used in the ‘fixed’ parts of the daily round of offices this will be pointed out. We are not however told that Psalms 19 and 20 form the main part of the Royal Office which precedes the Six Psalms every day at Matins. Psalm 23 is used ‘quite sparingly in the services’, despite the frequent use of the phrase ‘the waters of repose’ in the liturgical texts. We are told that the LXX has ‘Lift up your gates, O Priests’ at Psalm 23.7. So far as I am aware it has ‘you rulers’, in Greek archontes, and I know no of no variant reading. We also learn that ‘verses 7- 10 are proclaimed as the priest knocks on the door of the church on Easter morning’. This is a ceremony unknown to the Triodion and, so far as I am aware, to either Greek or Russian tradition. It seems singularly inept, since the point of the procession in the dark and the entry into the church is to re-enact the coming of the Myrrh bearers to seek for Christ’s Body, only to find the tomb open and filled with light and sweet fragrance. Hence the rubric that while the procession is outside the sacristan is to light a brazier in the church and cast sweet-smelling incense onto it. Psalm 50 is used every day in the Office not ‘three’ times, but ‘four’, but perhaps the editors are unaware of the existence of the Midnight Office. It is the Psalm which begins the daily round and which ends it. Psalm 118 is used every day, except Saturday and Sunday, at the Midnight Office, and is used every Saturday and on most Sundays at Matins. It is thus said nearly every day of the year in the Church’s daily round of prayer. Likewise the Psalms of Ascents (119-133) are the regular Psalms at Vespers during about half the year. They are not, as suggested here, particularly Lenten. In neither Greek nor Russian use is Psalm 136 used ‘throughout Lent itself in the Matins services.’ Psalm 142 is also used daily at Small Compline. The whole of Psalm 144 forms part of the grace before the main meal in monasteries, not just two verses. Since the typikon that underlies this book is clearly most bizarre, it might have been helpful to have been told where it comes from.

In addition to the detailed annotation there are longer notes on major topics interspersed at appropriate places. Many of these are extremely valuable. Thus the one on the Transfiguration correctly notes that the ‘bright cloud’ is the Holy Spirit, and that the Transfiguration is thus a manifestation of the Most Holy Trinity. This point is made a number of times by St John of Damascus. Unfortunately the editor has nodded, because the note on the text of the Gospel suggests that the cloud is a sign of the Presence of God the Father. Another is entitled ‘Mary’. Surely in an Orthodox book she should be called by one of her familiar titles. No Orthodox would refer to her simply as ‘Mary’. ‘Godbearer’ is not a good translation of Theotokos, which is better rendered Mother of God, or She who gave birth to God. ‘God-bearer’ suggests rather theophoros, an epithet applied to numerous Saints, but more particularly to St Ignatios of Antioch. I wonder whether the note on Christology does not water down the Chalcedonian Definition, which states that Christ is ‘consubstantial’ [homoousios] with us in his humanity, rather than simply ‘like us’ as we read here. If this is so, then is he merely ‘like’ the Father? It is surely confusing to write that ‘[Ordination] is extended ... generally to all through Holy Baptism.’

Finally there are a number of icons. These are almost without exception bad. One of the few exceptions is the icon of the Transfiguration. When I came to this one I said to myself, ‘At last, a proper icon’, and I was not surprised, on reading the caption on the next page, to see the name Photios Kontoglou. The others all seem to stem from America. The colours are garish, particularly in those of the Descent into Hades, which is a very long way after the masterpiece in the church of the Saviour in Chora, and of the Baptism, where the Bodiless Powers have a distinctly well-fed, well-scrubbed, suburban look, like cheer leaders for the Washington Redskins. But best of all is the one of St John dictating the Apocalypse. The Apostle, who has been to an expensive Manhatten barber’s shop, is straining to hear the message being dictated from heaven. Either he or St Prochoros are having difficulties, however, since St Prochoros is carefully writing down the first verse of the Gospel!

Once again I have to report on yet another missed opportunity. There is much that some people may find useful in this book, but there is much that is wrong or misleading. It was not to be expected that the ROCOR would have co-operated in such a project, but it needs a good injection of traditional old-fashioned, even old-world, Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy in America, as represented by large parts of the OCA, the Greek Archdiocese and the Antiochene Diocese, has two great temptations, which are not unknown on this side of the Atlantic. On the one hand the former immigrants assert their assimilation by taking on things western, like pews and organs, without sufficient discrimination. I even have a book of church music that includes a transcription into traditional Byzantine neum notation of the Wedding March from Lohengrin, together with an appropriate Greek text. On the other hand the converts tend to bring with them far too much of the baggage of their previous allegiances, even to the introduction of so-called ‘western rites’. We converts to Orthodoxy must be ready to ‘leave all things and follow’ where our Fathers have led. We Orthodox must be prepared to say ‘Come and see.’ But we must strenuously resist every temptation to add, ‘And don’t worry, well try to make it palatable for you.’ Let us hope that those charged with preparing editions of this book for the traditionally Orthodox countries will insist on a thorough overhaul, though they would do better to start again from scratch. There is a profound sense in which it is true to say that Orthodoxy takes centuries to acquire. This book is the product of people who, with the very best of intentions, are going too fast too soon.

- Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash) of St. Andrew's Monastery, Manchester, UK,
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This blog is designed as a gathering place for intelligent and constructive reviews of the Orthodox Study Bible. First published in a volume containing only the New Testament and Psalms in 1993, this year - 2008 - it was finally published with a new Old Testament translation from the Greek Septuagint, along with revised study notes. As of this writing, copies are being delivered to tens of thousands of people around the world.

Included for your consideration are three reviews from the original OSB, which contain some information that continues to be accurate and relevant with regard to the new edition. Hopefully in time, thorough reviews of the new edition will be produced.