August 1, 2015

NLT Study Bible

If you need a compact, inexpensive, nicely balanced study Bible in a highly readable translation with a poetic thought-for-thought flow and comprehensive footnotes, the NLT Study Bible from Tyndale House Publishers makes an excellent choice. Since I bought the personal size paperback edition, that’s what I’ll describe, but if you need large print, that’s also available in hardcover.

Re font size: It’s small but surprisingly clear, even in the footnotes. The boldface font used to show the chapter: verse in those notes helps, too, as that highlighting draws the eyes to the comments.

Most of you are probably familiar with the NLT (New Living Translation), but in case not, I’d compare it to the NIV (New International Version) rather than The Living Bible (TLB),which Tyndale House also produced. Unlike the TLB, the NLT is not a paraphrase but an actual translation.

As the “Introduction To The New Living Translation” explains: “On the one hand, they (the translating team) translated as simply and literally as possible when that approach yielded an accurate, clear, and natural English text…. On the other hand, the translators rendered the message more dynamically when the literal rendering was hard to understand, was misleading, or yielded archaic or foreign wording. They clarified difficult metaphors and terms to aid in the reader’s understanding.”

The results brought us an understandable yet beautifully worded text that’s become a personal favorite. If Tyndale would make this Bible available in a top quality leather, I’d be thrilled, especially if they'd send me a review copy. Sigh!

Back to the paperback edition at hand, I find introductions for each book of the Bible with a quick overview. Those introductory pages also include information about the setting, a map inset to show that setting, a summary of the book, outline, and info on authorship. Then, in the outer margin, a timeline identifies the era to show how Bible history fits into world history. So, even before you begin reading the text, you’ll have a good idea of what’s going on, where, why, and when.

Those introductions also include a “Meaning and Message.” In introducing Genesis, for example, a subheading under “Meaning and Message” discusses “Blessing and Curse,” saying:

“The entire message of Genesis turns on the motifs of blessing and cursing…. These motifs continue throughout the Bible. Prophets and priests spoke of even greater blessings in the future and an even greater curse for those who refuse God’s gift of salvation and its blessings. The Bible reminds God’s people not to fear human beings, but to fear God, who has the power to bless and to curse.”

A sidebar within the first chapter of Genesis reminds us that “The creation account in Genesis is foundational to the message of the entire Bible…. Understanding the early chapters of Genesis is thus crucial to forming a biblical worldview.”

Into the text, you’ll see additional study helps such as the “Word Study System” for a couple hundred Greek or Hebrew words and “Person Profiles” of Bible people whose experiences, choices, and relationships with God help to inform ours.

You’ll find cross-references in the outer margins of most pages, and biblical references might also occur at the start of a new chapter to indicate parallel passages. For example, if you’re reading about Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:2-3, you’ll see that 2 Chronicles 29:1-2 also introduces us to that king’s reign.

To help readers envision various scenes or situations, this edition has numerous side bars and visual aids such as charts, maps, diagrams, or illustrations. So, except for my wish that the NLT included the deuterocanonical books (aka apocrypha), all it lacks for me is a soft, sturdy premium leather cover on Smyth Sewn (aka Section Sewn) pages, preferably sent to me as a review copy.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler – a poet, writer, and lifelong lover of the Bible – has purchased so many, many top quality editions over the years, she’s truly delighted when Bible publishers send her free ones to treasure, read, read, read, and review.

NLT Study Bible, personal size, paperback

NLT Study Bible, large print, hardcover

July 13, 2015

Life in the Spirit Study Bible, KJV

The Life in the Spirit Study Bible published by Zondervan, which HarperCollins kindly sent me to review, does not contain all of the Old Testament books originally translated into the King James Version (KJV.) Nevertheless, I highly recommend this study edition for serious students of the Bible and Christians from every denominational background within the church Body of Christ.

In that Body, the Holy Spirit knows no denominational boundaries. From the hovering of God’s spirit over the waters at creation to Christ-filled hearts today, the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Living Word of God as spoken to and through the prophets and other writers of the Bible. In addition, the Charismatic movement of the Lord’s spirit has touched almost every church and Christian, who is open to the indwelling of Christ, our hope of glory.

How do we get that in-filling or in-dwelling? According to the Gospel of Luke, we pray for it!

Luke 11:13“If you who are sinful know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will our heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?”

Once we accept Christ as Savior for eternal life and the Holy Spirit as our advocate now on earth, we’ll receive the training we need through God’s Word. Sometimes, though, the Spirit’s movement is so subtle, we don’t notice or even know what to look for, which is where the “Contents: Articles” section of this study edition will prove exceptionally helpful.

Having read each of the 77 articles interspersed throughout these pages, I’m hard pressed to decide which to single out or quote as each had insights and wisdom most helpful to our lives in Christ. However, the insights in such articles as “Effective Praying” show how helpful we can also be in the lives of others. For example, under the heading “Reasons for Prayer,” the third entry tells us:

“In His plan of salvation for humankind God has ordained that believers be co-workers with Him in the redemptive process. In some respect God has limited Himself to the holy, believing, persevering prayers of His people. There are many things that will not be accomplished in God’s kingdom without the intercessory prayers of believers (see Ex. 33:1, note). For example, God desires to send out workers into the gospel harvest: Christ teaches that this will only be accomplished to God’s full purpose through His people’s prayers. ‘Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest’ (Matt 9:38). In other words, God’s power to accomplish may of His purposes is released only through His people’s earnest prayers on behalf of the progress of His kingdom. If we fail to pray, we may actually be hindering the timely accomplishment of God’s redemptive purpose, both for ourselves as individuals and for the church as a body.”

Another article, “The Suffering of the Righteous,” addresses a topic many people ask: “Why, God? Why?” In addition to listing several steps we can take to receive “Victory Over Personal Suffering,” the article lists “Reasons Believers Suffer” with a response suggested at the end of each. For example, one reason Christians suffer is that we have “the mind of Christ,” which makes us aware and empathetic. An appropriate response then is to “thank God that just as Christ’s sufferings are ours, so also is His comfort.”

Other articles such as “Biblical Hope,” “The Word of God,” “The Peace of God,” and “Intercession” bring comfort, hope, and empowerment too. This power we receive from God can especially be experienced and appreciated in “Spiritual Gifts for Believers” and “The Ministry Leadership Gifts for the Church.”

Given to Christians to serve Christ and build up the church, such gifts bring special God-given ability to pastors, teachers, evangelists, missionaries (or apostles “sent”), and prophets. Since the qualifications or job description for the latter is probably the least familiar to us, I’ll focus on that gift here, noting “Their primary task was to speak the word of God by the Spirit in order to encourage God’s people to remain faithful to their covenant relationship.” Although predicting future events might arise in a prophetic words, they’ll be most likely to “bring words of rebuke and warning, as well as encouragement, words prompted by the Spirit, words exposing sin and unrighteousness…as well as comfort….”

A prophet has “a zeal for church purity,” “a deep sensitivity to evil,” and “an inherent dependence on God’s Word.” Therefore, “…if the church, with its leaders, hears the voice of the prophets, it will be moved to renewed life and fellowship with Christ, sin will be forsaken, and the Spirit’s presence will be evident among the faithful.”

Besides the insightful articles on the many aspects of a Spirit-filled life in Christ, this study edition includes various charts with descriptions and relevant scriptures on “The Gifts of the Holy Spirit” as well as historical information such as “Old Testament Feasts” and “Old Testament Prophecies Fulfilled in Christ.”

Other features include a chain link referencing system in the margins and, in the back, a subject index, color maps, and an exclusive “Themefinder ™ Index that links you to scriptures relating to these key subjects:

Baptized in/filled with the Holy Spirit
Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Fruit of the Holy Spirit
Faith that moves mountains
Second Coming
Victory over Satan and demons
Overcoming the world and worldliness
Walking in Obedience and Righteousness

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

Life in the Spirit Study Bible, KJV, bonded leather

July 2, 2015

NIrV Study Bible for Kids

A year ago, I reviewed the NIrV Adventure Bible for Early Readers, published by Zonderkidz, who also sent me a review copy of this year’s release of the New International Reader’s Version for slightly older children, the NIrV Study Bible for Kids. Since the NIrV text has a third-grade reading level, this study Bible well-suits children 6-10.

Besides being young-reader-friendly, the edition includes study features appropriate to the age group. At the beginning of the book, for example, a two-page color layout defines the Bible, addresses “What is in the Bible?” and shows the division of “The Old Testament” and the New with categories listed beneath each. The facing page then illustrates that information with a bookcase and each book of the Bible grouped by:

Old Testament
Major Prophets
Minor Prophets

New Testament
Church History

Seeing that bookcase helps children to realize that many books come together in one Bible. Most likely, the visual will also help children to understand and recall various categories and easily find out which book belongs where. For instance, “Church History” depicts the book of Acts.

As occurs in study Bibles for teens and adults, this children’s edition introduces each book with a quick word telling what to expect overall and in key chapters, such as Genesis 12 where “God gives Abraham a promise.”

Throughout the text, a “Brain Game” reinforces what’s been learned as children read and search the verses for themselves and/or as an adult asks the questions provided in those sections. Similarly, “Soak It up!” highlights key verses to memorize, while “Check It Out” gives children an idea of the culture.

On the page for Acts 10:9, for example, the “Check It Out” sidebar explains: “Houses had flat roofs. People slept on their roofs on hot nights. Some roofs had gardens. People grew fruit and spices on their roofs.”

In the back of the book, children will find even more information in the interesting article, “Life in New Testament Times.” Also, a dictionary and colorful maps will help children to understand more about Bible times and places as will slick, colorful page inserts with lively lists and visually appealing artwork. I wish the art consistently corresponded with the adjacent text. Nevertheless, the informative features throughout make this edition very recommended for young readers.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler

NIrV Study Bible for Kids, hardback

June 26, 2015

Sing-Along Bible stories

Parents, grandparents, teachers, and other caretakers of toddlers and preschoolers will have fun remembering these 50 Bible stories with accompanying songs to learn along with the kids! Stephen Elkins not only selected the stories and translated them into child-friendly language, he provided the lively artwork for this sturdy picture book, which includes a CD.

The slightly padded front cover, which can be easily wiped clean of sticky fingerprints, is nicely sized for young children and early readers. For the latter, a “Let’s Read” upper section has 6 or 7 lines in a clear font with easy-to-read song lyrics in the “Let’s Sing” section at the bottom of the page. In between, you’ll find the title of the story with a relevant “Little Lesson” on the facing page, which, again, many young readers will be able to read for themselves. If they know how to put a CD on pause, so much the better!

Younger children will need an adult’s assistance, playing the CD, keeping track of the stories, and guiding each reading. You might also want to skip the “David and Goliath” story, which almost every Bible storybook includes even though toddlers and preschoolers don’t need the thought of whacking bullies in the head with a rock! The “Little Lesson” on the facing page says, “There is power in the name of the Lord!” but the take-away could be in discovering the power of hurling objects across a room. (Yes, I’m apt to worry, but then one of our little ones loved to throw things, and the power of a flying Matchbox car wiped out a TV set!)

Other than that concern, the stories in this picture book, published for Tyndale Kids, fit preschoolers well. They’ll love the idea of “Balaam’s Donkey” talking with the “Little Lesson” take-away of “God can do all things!” And, as a parent, grandparent, and Bible teacher, I love the idea of teaching the very youngest child to “Pray about Everything” and planting the thought, “I can pray for my puppy!”

Accompanying another important story, “Jesus Promises to Love Me,” the “Let’s Sing” section gives the lyrics to “Jesus Loves Me” – the life-changing song I first heard as a toddler and immediately believed. Still do.

The book continues to builds on that early teaching moment and other stories, for example, by saying:

“Do you want to be a good friend?
Jesus taught us how!
He said, ‘Love other people the way I have loved you’.”

Then the “Little Lesson” brings that home by adding: “Loving others makes us a friend of Jesus!”

Yes, and amen.

Thank you, Tyndale House Publishing for this lovely, lively book and the complimentary review copy you kindly sent.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

My Sing-Along Bible, padded hardback picture book

June 2, 2015

NASB Study Bible

When the Bible Reviewer blog started, I initially reviewed Bibles I’d bought over the years. Then Bible publishers kindly began to send review copies of new translations, study editions, children’s Bibles, and storybooks for Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Liturgical, Charismatic, and other Christian readers of all ages.

Occasionally, though, I welcomed a review copy with such enthusiasm that I would order the same edition, covered in leather to stand up to heavy use. Or, my husband would buy me a new Bible, such as the exceptionally helpful NIV Study Bible, which I previously reviewed.

Sadly that compact edition eventually proved too difficult to read after eye surgery. So, instead of getting a large-print version, I opted for the NASB Study Bible, which Zondervan publishes with the footnotes adapted to fit the New American Standard Bible (NASB) text.

As you probably know, The Lockman Foundation brought us the NASB in 1960 with periodic updates as the English language changes and new archeological discoveries are made. With the last copyright date shown as 1995, the text continues to be one of the most accurate translations into English.

The lay-flat edition I ordered in top grain leather and standard type includes a hefty concordance, 23 pages of color maps, and articles on such biblical categories as wisdom books, prophets, Gospels, letters, and the era between the two testaments. In the front matter, timeline charts present the chronological sequence of important events, helping us to get grounded in each biblical setting relevant to the text.

What I most welcome, however, is access to 20,000 footnotes! Not only are those notes intuitive in their responses to the text they accompany, they have a way of bringing together the information and insights I might have to search through a half-dozen or more other study Bibles to find.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

NASB Study Bible, leather

April 24, 2015

HCSB Minister’s Bible

Liturgical church groups, such as Episcopal or Roman Catholic Christians, often have books dedicated to the order of worship, rites of matrimony, funeral services, collection of prayers, and other pastoral guides. Some churches incorporate those features in the hymnals or in special editions of the Bible for a denomination such as The Lutheran Study Bible.

Pastors of evangelical, interdenominational, or independent church groups might feel as though they’re on their own if it weren’t for editions especially for ministers such as the Holman Christian Standard Minister’s Bible, which Holman Bible Publishers produced with many helpful features and wider-than-normal margins, ideal for taking notes.

Although available in various choices of covers, the publisher kindly sent me a review copy of their black simulated leather, which is soft to the touch and lays open without flopping shut. Presumably the genuine leather will lay completely flat and have an even nicer drape in the hand. However, this copy seems quite sturdy and should hold up well.

Besides an introduction to the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) translation, which has been lauded for its accuracy and readability, the opening pages include a “Plan of Salvation” to help pastors lead nonbelievers to accept Christ as Savior, pray a “sinner’s prayer,” and consider baptism (no mention of immersion) and church membership (no mention of any particular denomination.)

In the back matter, a section of “HCSB Bullet Notes” provide an interesting glossary with key words marked in their first occurrence within the text then explained here. For example:

atone/ atonement
A theological term for God’s provision to deal with human sin; in the OT, it primarily means purification. In some contexts forgiveness, pardon, expiation, propitiation, or reconciliation is included. The basis of atonement is substitutionary sacrifice offered in faith. The OT sacrifices were types and shadows of the great and final sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Under “propitiation” we find:
The removal of divine wrath; Jesus’ death is the means that turns God’s wrath from the sinner.

Although not as comprehensive as the concordance, which can also be found in the back matter, the bullet notes include brief definitions of words relating to theology, biblical culture, or place names, such as:

Originally a term for the fortified section of Jerusalem and then, by extension, used for the temple and the city of Jerusalem both in the present time and in the future

Also in the back matter, two pages on “Pastoral Care” give pastors a quick way to find a scriptural response to concerns brought to them by other people – or themselves! For example, “When you are blue” refers readers to Psalm 42:5, while Matthew 6:34 might be contemplated “When you worry.”

Essentials for church leadership and an “authentic ministry” have also been provided as well as the order for “A Classical Wedding Ceremony,” “A Contemporary Wedding Ceremony,” and funerals – from a peaceful death to the death of a child or a suicide victim.

Pastors will welcome the section on “Commitment Counseling,” too, with guidelines regarding:

• salvation
• baptism
• church membership
• assurance of salvation
• rededication to grow toward spiritual maturity
• commitment to vocational Christian ministry

Looking through these topics and thinking about a women in my Bible study group who has been coming to church for years but doesn’t know if she knows the Lord, I’m thinking this minister’s Bible would also be a helpful resource for Bible teachers, church leaders, Christian writers, and other communicators for Christ.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

HCSB Minister’s Bible, black simulated leather

HCSB Minister’s Bible, black genuine leather

April 13, 2015

Holman Rainbow Study Bible

Do you ever underline a favorite Bible verse or color-code passages you want to highlight? Holman Bible Publishers spent 16 years doing this and more for us in the new Holman Rainbow Study Bible, available now in the New International Version (NIV) with two other translations (NKJV and HCSB) in the works.

When I first opened the review copy Holman kindly sent in the edition shown below, I wondered if the quilted look of the colorful pages would befuddle my eyes! As it turned out, the muted colors actually helped to hold my eyes steadily on the passage being read, reminding me of the early school years when we followed words with an index finger to keep our eyes aligned and pointed in the right direction.

Besides holding my attention, the rainbow-colored text felt unexpectedly soothing to read. The idea behind this, however, is to show the major themes of the Bible clearly through thoughtfully-selected color-coding. For example, a soft shade of purple has been “assigned to God because it is a color of royalty” with “Blue assigned to Salvation because it has a heavenly or eternal connotation,” and “Silver assigned to History because it signifies age or experience.”

All total, you’ll find 12 major themes color-coded in the text with a colored decoder strip along the bottom of each page, indicating Discipleship, Outreach, God, Salvation, Love, Commandments, Family, Faith, Prophecy, Evil, Sin, History.

In addition to this unique feature, the edition includes a Bold Line® System with the Words of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) underlined, regardless of the surrounding theme. This system replaces the need for the words of Christ to be further enhanced, as typically done in red letter editions.

The overall effect of these features is not only pleasing to the eye, they ease reading, accentuate themes, and enhance memorization. To further encourage readers to memorize key scriptures, another help comes with the inclusion of “365 Popular Bible quotations for Memorization and Meditation.”

The edition also provides introductions to each book with a list of the “Books Of The Bible in Biblical Order” and “Books Of The Bible in Alphabetical Order” in the front matter to help students new to the Bible to become acquainted with the arrangement of the books. Also, this particular edition has indexed tabs to help you find a book quickly in your Bible study group. Such study aids, along with maps in the back matter and cross-referencing throughout the text, make this an excellent choice for Bible students of all ages.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

Holman Rainbow Study Bible, NIV, hardcover, indexed edition