Saturday, January 1, 2011

On Buying a Bible

I had a somewhat discomforting experience the other day when I set out to purchase a bible. I own a number of different bibles most of which I use for various distinct needs but most of them do not work well as regular readers. They are either too large, too small, too rigid (hardcover) or too fragile (paperback) to endure the punishment of constant carry. Some time ago I began to use one bible for my normal reading and used the other more cumbersome volumes when studying or teaching. For many years my basic reading bible was a leather-bound King James Version (I use the N.A.S.B. as my base text for teaching and study) but a few years ago the wear on the cover and binding was such that I had to retire that old friend. Since I already owned so many other bibles I could not quite bring myself to spend the money to replace it and instead have been reading variously out of the other bibles at my disposal.

Earlier this year, while attending the T4G conference I received a free copy of the ESV study bible. Since that time I have been doing my best to check the quality and nature of the translation (you might notice that I have often used the ESV quotations on this site). Some have criticized the ESV saying it is somewhat archaic in its language and word order and is a bit inconsistent in applying its translation philosophy but overall I think it flows fairly well. I have found some amusing translations in the ESV such as this curious gem in Proverbs 30:25-26,

the ants are a people not strong,
yet they provide their food in the summer;
the rock badgers are a people not mighty,
yet they make their homes in the cliffs;

But overall I have found the ESV to generally be both readable and accurate wherever I have checked it. Various scholarly reviews are available on the internet pointing out both the strengths and weaknesses of the translation and I encourage those interested to check them out.

At any rate, I decided that it was time for me to get another everyday reader that would be convenient to carry and would hold up to the rigors of traveling with me and I decided to purchase an ESV for that purpose. My first choice in purchasing books is to buy them online because the selection is always good, the prices are often better than in the store, and I do not have to find time to get down to the store. In this case, however, it was very important to me that the book felt right when I held it and that the pages and font were right etc. so I wanted to actually hold and read from the book prior to buying it. The local Christian bookstore that I use when not buying online was not open so I made my way to a larger Christian chain store. I was looking for a 2007 text ESV in a convenient size with good binding and cover and no notes or commentary.

I was simply amazed when I got to the store because it was almost impossible to buy a plain text bible with decent binding, cover, and pages. It seemed that virtually every bible was filled with notes or commentary. I must assume based upon the displays that virtually everyone uses a study bible these days because basically the only plain text editions were the cheap small ones that people generally give away. There were tons of bibles with study notes from famous teachers such as MacArthur, Ryrie, Sproul, and others. There were bibles for old women, young women, teens, men, boys, and every other demographic, even some broken down by profession. There was even an entire section of different King James Study bibles, which made me smile since the sixth rule given to the KJV translation committee was:

“No marginal notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek words, which cannot, without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the text”

-The king would not have been pleased J

I have great respect for many of the teachers who had contributed notes for these volumes and it is a great blessing in our age that we have access to so much information from good scholars and teachers about the bible but there is a danger to this kind of thing. I believe that the main reason for what I saw is pure marketing, but the demand for these things might be there because of another reason.

Perhaps we are not focusing enough on teaching people how to study the bible for themselves. In an effort to be relevant we want to chew all their food for them so that they can immediately benefit from God’s word without having to draw its meaning out from the text themselves. In doing this we deprive them of the discipline of wrestling with God’s word in meditation and study. We replace Sola Scriptura with a cult of personality where certain teachers become the authoritative interpreters of scripture.

Commentaries and study bibles are great tools and can be a tremendous blessing if used properly. They should be supplemental, providing observation and explanation that allows believers to go deeper in their own study. Unfortunately, it seems all too often people use them like cliff’s notes, jumping down to the footnote in order to give them the interpretation of difficult passages. Instead of being one of many tools they become the paper pope giving the “proper” unquestioned understanding.

The Lord has blessed His church with many great teachers and scholars and we should not ignore their insights but we should be doing everything we can as teachers and preachers to teach people how to properly study their bibles so that they have the confidence to engage the Holy Word directly and as a result get the most out of the other tools available to them.

Let this be one of our commitments in this New Year.
God Bless!

No comments:

Post a Comment