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.


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