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.


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