November 20, 2015

NLT Illustrated Study Bible

My first impression of the NLT Illustrated Study Bible, which Tyndale House Publishers kindly sent me to review, was its heft!

Then, looking at the outer edges of the book reminded me of striations in cut rock, colorfully telling what’s gone on prior to its discovery. Similarly, layers of color along those outside edges hint at the wealth of photographs and original illustrations included in this sturdy study edition.

The magnitude of features undoubtedly required keeping page bulk to a minimum. Nevertheless, I regretted seeing the thinness of the paper, which seemed even thinner after feeling the thick, slick book jacket and the canvas-like cover sheets at the beginning and end of the book. An option would have been to cut some of the 1,000+ images in favor of a denser quality paper, but then we would no longer have all of the amazing visuals that help us to open our eyes more fully to God’s Word.

Indeed, the website provides a video to introduce this edition and establish its primary goal as helping us to see aspects of the Bible that might, otherwise, go unnoticed.

To do this, the book includes the kind of helps we generally find in a Bible dictionary – for instance, profiles of 120 Bible characters – and the kinds of color photographs we expect in a Bible atlas. The overall effect is to show us what Bible people, places, and times were like, so we can picture ourselves as part of the scene and relate to the ongoing relationship God wants to have with us and all mankind.

In addition to the stunning visuals in this heavily illustrated study Bible, we also get over 25,000 notes to accompany the updated text of the New Living Translation (NLT), which remains one of my top favorites.

Highly readable and poetic, the NLT translates ancient manuscripts into a contemporary, respectful English version that’s easy to follow in a worship service or in a Bible study group when other people read aloud from almost any classical or modern translation. Even at home alone, however, this edition makes the Bible remarkably accessible to new readers and also visually inspiring to those of us who have loved the Bible throughout our reading lives.

© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, Bible reviewer, is a poet-writer of numerous books in all genres for Christian and educational publishers. She also blogs about prayer, poetry, and writing and recently began posting her Praise Poems.

NLT Illustrated Study Bible, hardcover

November 13, 2015

NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance

The third edition of The NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance (NIVEBC), which Zondervan kindly sent me to review, is not only a hefty volume but, according to the hardback cover, “The only exhaustive index to every word in the NIV.”

Does that matter? I think so, and apparently Editor John R. Kohlenberger III did too.

As he says in the Introduction, “Like Strong’s (Bible concordance, the NIVEBC) is truly exhaustive, indexing even the most frequent articles, conjunctions, prepositions, and pronouns in their own special section.” Besides its own unique numbering system, the NIVEBC “has three separate indexes – Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek – that list every word in the original-language texts and every word and phrase used to translate them in the NIV. Thus the NIVEBC combines the best features of Young’s and Strong’s concordances.”

Such information assures me that, unlike the concordances in the back of many Bibles, this extensive volume will have all of the scriptures I want to find for a particular topic, rather than ones an editor or committee think have the most biblical value.

For instance, in writing a poem on how God “let it be” in the beginning, I wanted to see what else the Bible says God, Jesus, or someone else “let” occur. Looking for that word in the NIVEBC, I found over 10 columns of verses that show something has been permitted, allowed, or called into being. Since the type font is rather small, that’s a lot of lets!

Following the A-Z entries is a section of the “Numerals” found in the Bible, but this confused me as I looked for the ever-popular 1, 3, and 7 and found 0! Flipping back to the A to Z, the letter O brought forth columns of scriptures including “one,” but it would have been helpful to have that number listed in the numerical section, too, with a note directing readers to the main entry. Ditto for 3 and 7, each of which require two or more columns to list all of their biblical references.

After the numbers comes over fifty pages for the “Index of Articles” followed by many more pages for the “Hebrew to English Dictionary Index,” a thinner “Aramaic to English Dictionary-Index,” and over 75 pages for the “Greek to English Dictionary-Index.” Since key words have been assigned numbers, the “Numbering System Indexes” relate those words to systems by Strong, Goodrick, and Kohlenberger.

The big number for the NIVEBC, however, is fifty! In 1965, the NIV was commissioned and translation began, making the current year a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of this perennially best-selling Bible. Congratulations, Zondervan!

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a poet, writer, and lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the Church in all its parts. Recently she began writing Praise Poems, which, Lord willing, she will eventually propose for a book.

The NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance, hardback

November 4, 2015

My First Message Bible Search: Discovering Answers in God's Word

Instead of a Bible storybook, The My First Message Bible Search: Discovering Answers in God's Word by Jon Nappa brings, as the sturdy cover states, “Guidance for 40 real life situations” that children six to ten are likely to encounter.

Published by NavPress, who kindly sent me a free copy for my review, this hardback book has slick pages, colorful artwork, and a lively layout to encourage children to interact with God’s Word.

Although the book includes verses from The Message in each section, the Introduction tells young readers, “…we want you to use this book with your Bible. This book will show you how to find help in your Bible for lots of the things you’ll deal with as you grow up. It’ll help you figure out what some grown-up words mean too,” particularly through the kid-friendly concordance and dictionary within the pages.

For example, the two-page Concordance shows topics such as these:

When I’m Discouraged
When I Feel Sad
When I Say Things I Shouldn’t
When I Get Really Mad
When I Get Stressed
When I’m Afraid
When I Don’t Want to Help Others
When I Make Excuses
When I Don’t Know What to Do

Besides addressing very real situations faced by most children of elementary school age, a two-page layout for each topic provides “Bible Help for Daily Experiences.”

For example, the double-page spread for “When I Don’t Want to Obey,” asks “Are you trying to be the boss?” followed by a brief discussion then closing with the Bible verse in Deuteronomy 7:9, “It’s good to obey God.”

Various perspectives presented in colorful columns help children to get real with themselves about themselves before going to the adjacent page where they’re asked to look up a key verse in the Bible then write what they think it said in the lined spaces provided.

Similar interactions are encouraged in the Bible Dictionary portion of the book where readers learn more about abstract ideas and words they hear at home, church, or school but don’t always have explained to them! Some of these discuss:

What The Bible Is All About
What Character Is All About
What Church Is All About
What Courage Is All About
What Eternal Life Is All About
What Friendship Is All About
What Trust Is All About
What Truth Is All About

For example, the Bible Dictionary page on “What Forgiveness Is All About,” explains it like this:

“Has someone ever owned you something? When you forgive, it’s like saying that person doesn’t owe you anything anymore. You don’t hold anything against them. God gives us forgiveness and doesn’t ask for anything in return. It’s free. All you have to do is ask for it. You can give forgiveness to others too.”

The text then headlines, “Look at what the Bible has to say about forgiveness,” with several Bible verses followed by these suggestions:

“Get a pencil and a piece of paper. Write down the things you’d like God to forgive you for. They can be little or big things. Then talk to God and ask him to forgive you. Erase each of the things on your list. That’s what God does when you ask for forgiveness.”

What a blessing for children and people of all ages to know: God does not use permanent markers against us!

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a poet, writer, and lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the Church in all its parts. Recently she began writing and posting Praise Poems.

The My First Message Bible Search: Discovering Answers in God's Word, hardback

October 29, 2015

JOT Bible Life-Notes ™

When my free review copy of the new JOT Bible Life-Notes ™ arrived from JOT Publishing, my first impression was, “Nice packaging!” Removing the book from its attractive, plain black box, I saw – or, rather, felt – the genuine leather cover encasing the lined pages, sewn sturdily into place.

This innovative journal looks like a high-quality edition of the Bible with three ribbon markers but is actually a companion for keeping together your notes, inspired thoughts, and key words or phrases from any or every translation in one journal.

As God-incidence would have it, the book arrived just before our Bible class at church stopped using our regular curriculum to begin a consecutive study of Bible books, starting with Genesis. The leader encouraged each of us to bring our favorite study Bibles in whatever translation we preferred, so we could pool our resources, compare word choices, and collectively use informative footnotes to deepen and broaden our understanding of God’s Word.

With that in mind, I kept the JOT journal beside me as I read various translations of Genesis 1-2 along with study materials and other relevant info. More importantly, I contemplated each verse to see what God brought to mind for me to note.

Inside the journal, each page allows two full lines per verse with two to four lined pages for “Extra Notes" at the end of each book. So, beginning with Genesis 1:1, I wrote: “Before everything was, God is.” Then I made a note to myself about the possibility of God’s actions creating a “big bang,” especially since verse 2 shows the earth as “formless and void.”

To expound on this, I went to the “Genesis Extra Notes” page and wrote, “The first day of creation establishes a movement of energy and matter before time existed.” Then on day two, God created “the sun and moon as time clocks – makers of time, which earlier, did not exist.” So we have a timeless era outside of time before God shaped our earth and atmosphere or called on the land, seas, and sky to “bring forth.” As each part of creation obeyed, God called it “good” and mankind “very good.”

Jotting down those thoughts brought others to mind too, which is most likely what the creators of this Bible journal intended –- a place to “bring forth” insights and understanding of God’s Word. Furthermore, by constructing the journal for beauty and durability, these Life-Notes -– your Bible life notes –- could very well turn out to be a priceless heirloom for generations to come.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler

JOT Bible Life-Notes ™ with genuine leather cover

October 19, 2015

Exquisite! Tyndale Select NLT

For all of my adult life and then some, I’ve been reading the major translations, study editions, and various versions of the Bible, but the new Tyndale Select NLT (New Living Translation) in goatskin is surely one of the best reader editions I’ve ever had the joy of owning, thanks to Tyndale House Publishers, who kindly sent me a free copy for my always-honest review. And, on a scale of 1 to 5, I'd honestly give this exquisite treatment of God’s Word a 10!

First of all, the NLT has continued to be my favorite contemporary version, not only for its intelligent thought-for-thought translation aka dynamic equivalence rendering but for its respectful, poetic tone in easy-to-grasp language.

Even so, in “A Note To Readers,” we learn that the Bible Translation Committee decided “an additional investment in scholarly review and text refinement could make it even better. So shortly after its initial publication, the committee began an eight-year process with the purpose of increasing the level of the NLT’s precision without sacrificing its easy-to-understand quality. This second-generation text was completed in 2004, with minor changes subsequently introduced in 2007, 2013, and 2015.”

The Introduction then goes on to say that “the Bible Translation Committee recruited teams of scholars that represented a broad spectrum of denominations, theological perspectives, and backgrounds within the worldwide evangelical community,” which basically means the diverse committee did not translate the apocryphal aka deuterocanonical books.

Although the Tyndale Select NLT is a reader’s edition with no footnotes except those needed to explain a particular choice of words, the single-column pages allow for cross referencing in the outer margins of the text and a full “Dictionary/Concordance” followed by colored maps in the back matter.

Besides the newly updated text, this gorgeous edition includes: a well-inked, roundish font that’s easy on the eyes; silken Smyth-sewn pages; and the finest quality of covers in a sturdy, soft, huggable goatskin.

I love it!

© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, Bible reviewer, is a poet-writer of numerous books in all genres for Christian and educational publishers. She also blogs on poetry, writing, Bible prayers, and Praise Poems.

Tyndale Select NLT, black or brown goatskin

October 10, 2015

The Message 100

Unlike chronological Bibles that divide up the chapters of each book, The Message 100 Bible keeps the books intact but arranged in the most likely time sequence then divides them into 100 sections to help us get grounded in each biblical time, place, and culture. Or, as the cover explains, this edition gives us “the story of God in sequence.”

Published by Tyndale House, who kindly sent me a free copy for review, this edition provides an excellent option for youth and people somewhat interested in the Bible, but also Bible students who want to feel themselves as present and part of God’s Word. Not only do the 100 sections aid that experience, so does the highly accessible text, paraphrased by Bible teacher-pastor-author Eugene H. Peterson.

In the interesting Foreword by Bono, the musician says he “discovered Eugene Peterson’s The Message through the Psalms. In the dressing room before a show, we would read them as a band, then walk out into areas and stadiums, the words igniting us, inspiring us,” which is exactly the effect we pray the Bible has on each of us as we read.

In his “Preface to the Reader,” Rev. Peterson says, “The Message is a reading Bible. It is not intended to replace the excellent study Bibles that are available. My intent here… is simply to get people reading it who don’t know that the Bible is read-able at all, at least by them, and to get people who long ago lost interest in the Bible to read it again.”

Before we study, before we write sermons or devotionals, before we even try to live in a manner fitting for God’s people, we first must know what the Bible says. As the “Introduction to the Message” puts it:

“There will be time enough for study later on. But first, it is important simply to read, leisurely and thoughtfully. We need to get a feel for the way these stories and songs, these prayers and conversations, these sermons and visions, invite us into this large, large world in which the invisible God is behind and involved in everything visible and illuminates what it means to live here – really live, not just get across the street.”

Lord willing, regularly reading the Bible will help us to do that and more in Jesus’ Name.

© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer and lifelong lover of the Bible, is also a poet-author of Bible-based poems and books in all genres.

The Message 100, paperback

October 7, 2015

Just Like Jesus Bible Storybook

When Tyndale House Publishers kindly sent me a review copy of Just Like Jesus, my first impression was, “Nice!” With its lightly padded cover and thick, slick pages, this book should stand up to long use and sticky fingerprints that can probably be wiped off with a barely dampened sponge. That sturdy construction is impressive as is the beautifully done artwork, which will undoubtedly appeal to young children and also adults of all ages!

Unfortunately, beginning readers will most likely deem those same illustrations as “babyish,” which matters only because elementary school children will identify with the vocabulary and content far more than will children 4 to 7, who are seldom mature enough to understand abstract, character-building concepts.

Exemplary character, as perfectly shown by Jesus, is the overall purpose of this sturdy little storybook. If, therefore, a child received it at an early age and grew up reading it, concerns about age and abstracts would no longer be a factor.

In the book's clear aim to build character, each section begins with a theme and relevant Bible verse before guiding children and their parents, grandparents, or other caretakers to discussion various aspects of Jesus’ character, which we’re all to emulate.

If we want to be just like Jesus, that means we’re to be thankful, responsible, kind, caring, and spirit-filled.

In focusing on the latter, for example, the title “Jesus Was Spirit-Filled” precedes scripture from Matthew 3:16, which says, “After his baptism… [Jesus] saw the Spirt of God descending like a dove and settling on him.”

The adjacent page, “Jesus in The Bible,” goes on to develop that verse more fully by saying:

“Jesus was perfect. So why did He come to be baptized? He had no sin to wash away! When Jesus came up out of the water, God’s Holy Spirit filled His heart.

“It was time to start His mission! Jesus came to teach us about God and to forgive our sins. The Holy Spirit gave Jesus the power to do it!”

Although the question posed was not answered in the text, parents might discuss it with their children, depending on their ages or ability to understand.

Then, the next page “Jesus In Me,” explains:

“When we ask Jesus to forgive our sins, we give God control of our lives. Then He fills us with His Holy Spirit. When we are full of God’s Holy Sirit, His love controls our actions.

“Now we can be just like Jesus!”

The last page on each theme and section ends with a prayer such as:

“Lord, I want to be Spirit-Filled! I pray for more and more of Your Holy Spirit each day.”

And finally,under the ribboned healing “To be just like Jesus….” we read, “I will be Spirit-Filled.”

The consistent format covers each theme in four-page sections, which young readers can be encouraged to read by themselves with a little help from adult caretakers, who take time and care to help children develop character with the sterling examples only Jesus can provide.

© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer and lifelong student of the Bible, is also a Christian poet and writer who writes on biblical themes.

Just Like Jesus Bible Storybook (Wonder Kids), padded hardback