August 31, 2015

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

When the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible arrived, which the publisher kindly sent me to review, all I could say was, “Wow! Oh, wow!” Besides the impressive size (2,880 pages!), I first noticed the deliciously soft but sturdy premium leather cover with its beautifully reinforced spine to secure a wealth of smyth-sewn pages.

The main joy, of course, came in opening the pages of the updated NIV (New International Version), which is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine for reading silently or aloud.

Prior to the NIV text, the Table of Contents includes an Introduction for each book as well as articles introducing the Old Testament and New. Next comes a list of many maps placed in relevant positions throughout the text to help readers better envision the locale, but a quick check of the back matter showed that, yes, full-page color maps have also been included.

In addition to info on the geographical terrain, other sidebars illustrate the text with a timeline of “Old Testament Chronology,” a diagram of the “Tabernacle Floor Plan,” a chart of “The Eight Visions of Zechariah,” and much more. For example, illustrations show a model of the Ark, an “Artist’s Rendition of Babylon,” a “Model of the Pool of Bethesda,” and I could go on and on.

Leafing through the yummy pages, I see a color photograph of “Mount Nebo, where Moses gave his speech to the Israelites” as told in Deuteronomy 32:49, which helps me to envision the rocky terrain awaiting nimble feet. A page turn reveals a photo of a “Life-size replica of the tabernacle,” whereas the adjacent page shows a fourteenth-century tapestry of the New Jerusalem.

Many pages later, an actual picture of the “En Gedi, where David hid from Saul” helps me to see how difficult movement would have been on those rugged, barren slopes, but, oh, what a view! Later still, a photo shows “Part of Nehemiah’s Wall in Jerusalem,” which I doubt I’ll get to see in person but am glad to know how it looks.

I’m also happy with how the format looks. With poetry and poetic prophecies set in poetic lines, a single column used for the biblical text, and cross-referencing placed in the outer margins, each page has at least an inch of white space on its outside edge, which could be penciled in with brief notes. (I highly recommend a mechanical pencil for such notes-to-self and also underlining as the graphite doesn’t bleed through and can be erased if needed.)

This edition has so many notes itself, however, that many pages have more notes than scripture! Although I haven’t yet read them all, the content helps to expand the context and expound on passages that might otherwise be difficult to understand. I found the font a bit hard on the eyes, but, nevertheless, readable.

Appropriately placed as the title implies, an article entitled “The Time Between the Testaments” presents interesting information about the rise of various powers and sects with an instructive chart and color illustrations to clarify even more. Then, over 60 pages of additional articles appear in the back matter, ranging from “The Story of the Bible” to such topics as “The Glory of God,” “Worship,” “The Kingdom of God,” and “Love and Grace.”

Much more can be said about this Bible and biblical library packed into one hefty volume, but perhaps the most important is to let you know that this edition is not a revision or expansion of the ever-popular NIV Study Bible, also published by Zondervan.

Over 60 contributors from diverse backgrounds worked with editor-pastor-professor D.A. Carson to produce this impressive new edition with the aim of being “Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message.”

As I mentioned earlier, my copy came covered in premium leather, which I haven’t yet found on Amazon, probably because it’s already on backorder due to all the readers who have been eagerly awaiting its release. However, if you think you might have trouble with the size and weight, a hardcover copy works best on a desk, so I’ll add a link for that too.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, a lifelong student of the Bible, is a freelance and assignment writer, who likes to write Bible-based poems and manuscripts.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible, hardcover

NIV Zondervan Study Bible, premium leather
on Zondervan’s website

August 21, 2015

Catholic Scripture Study International Bible, RSV, CE

Unlike many study Bibles, the Catholic Scripture Study International (CSSI) Bible places its informative charts, maps, and “Faith Facts” in glossy page inserts, rather than footnotes throughout the large print text. This gives you a distraction-free reader edition of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) – beloved by Catholic and non-Catholic Christians from all denominations.

Published by Saint Benedict Press and distributed by Tan Books, who kindly sent me a review copy, the CSSI Bible includes the deuterocanonical books often referred to as the apocryphal books of the Old Testament.

I purposefully said Old Testament rather than Jewish Bible or Hebrew Testament since these books, initially accepted by Jews and Christians alike, have been excluded from Jewish Bibles because they were in Greek, not Hebrew.

However, modern scholarship and findings near the Dead Sea show that the Pharisee community did not accept the Septuagint or Greek Bible, whereas early Jewish Christians (such as the apostles) did. Therefore, more and more Protestants want a Bible with the Apocrypha, which means “hidden” and which Catholics aptly call “deuterocanonical,” meaning outside the Jewish not Christian canon – books originally included, too, in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.

Besides the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, what makes this edition uniquely “Catholic” are those glossy inserts, beginning with a “Catholic Apologetics” list of such topics as “Apostolic Succession” followed by relevant Bible verses .

In addition, you’ll find “Faith Fact” page inserts on topics such as “The Biblical Origins of the Mass,” genuflecting, “Signs and Symbols,” and “Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.”

In the latter, for instance, we learn that “no one taught that the presence of Christ was only symbolic until Ratramnus (d.868) and, more notably, Berengarius of Tours (d. 1088).” However, “The Church firmly rejected the teachings of both.” This belief of receiving Christ Himself through the bread and wine is affirmed by each individual partaker of the Eucharist who then receives the elements with a verbal “amen.”

Any Christian who would like to become better acquainted with the Roman Catholic Church will appreciate this highly recommended edition, which came to me in a nice quality bonded leather as shown below but which Amazon erroneously referred to as imitation leather.

Following each testament, a section of “Explanatory Notes” come in a smaller font than the large print used for the biblical text, but, with ample ink, the two appendixes are clear, readable, and informative. For example, the first note states:

“1:1-2:4a: The aim of this narrative is not to present a scientific picture but to teach religious truth, especially the dependence of all creation on God and its consecration to him through the homage rendered by man, who is the climax of creation. Hence its strong liturgical character and the concluding emphasis on the sabbath. It serves as a prologue to the whole of the Old Testament.”

Regarding that “whole,” I’m delighted to have the deuterocanonical books in the RSV translation as it and the KJV are ones with which I and other Christians from diverse denominations are most familiar, especially when it comes to hymn lyrics and memorization of Bible verses. If I want to follow a 3-year cycle of readings, I can follow the “Calendar of Readings” at the back of the book, but I suspect I’ll be eager to read this poetically beautiful text straight through.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, a lifelong student of the Bible, is a freelance and assignment writer, who likes to write Bible-based poems and manuscripts.

Catholic Scripture Study International Bible, RSV, CE, bonded leather (which I confirmed by checking the ISBN number of my review copy with this one advertised on Amazon

August 14, 2015

The Literary Study Bible, ESV

Since I’ve had the privilege of receiving many review copies of new translations or editions of the Bible, I’ve discovered that each one has something unique to offer. Occasionally though, I see one not available for review that interests me anyway as did The Literary Study Bible, ESV, edited by Leland Ryken and Philip Graham Ryken and published by Crossway Bibles.

This hardback edition intrigued me because of its title and editors. As a Christian poet and writer, I’ve noticed and appreciated the Bible as literature and wanted to know more. So, over the years, I’ve purchased several books by Leland Ryken, an English professor at Wheaton College, who has written over 25 books such as A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible.

As the “Editors’ Preface” tells us, “We need to pay attention to the how of a Bible passage as preliminary to understanding what is said.” With this unique approach, “The commentary in this book is designed to draw readers into interaction with the biblical text instead of merely providing information about the Bible.”

In the “Introduction” we learn, “The goal of literature is to prompt a reader to share or relive an experience. The truth that literature imparts is not simply ideas that are true but truthfulness to human experience.”

We read the Psalms, for example, as we might any poem or prayer and put ourselves into that moment as though it were our own. This personalizes God’s word for us, which we can embrace even more fully because the Bible does not try to cover up the flaws or gross sins of its heroes but shows them to be vulnerable, fearful, courageous, and filled with faith that occasionally wavers. Jesus Christ alone is the exception as He alone embodies the perfection of our Holy God.

And so, we “begin a literary analysis of the Bible exactly where all study of the Bible should begin by accepting as true all the biblical writers say about the Bible (its inspiration by God, its reliability, its complete truthfulness, etc.).”

Inspired by God, “The writers of the Bible refer with technical precision to a whole range of literary genres in which they write – proverb, saying, chronicle, complaint (lament psalm), oracle, apocalypse, parable, song, epistle, and many other” with poetry abounding throughout. Indeed, the Bible begins with poetry, poetic stories, histories, and origins of creation and our covenant relationship with God, which continues throughout our lives and throughout the Bible.

In Revelation then, we find epistles, prophecy, narration, drama, symbolism, and other poetic devices such as imagery, metaphor, simile, and allusion. In case those or other literary terms are unfamiliar to readers, the editors have included a “Glossary of Literary Terms and Genres” in the back of this book, which I highly recommend for poets, writers, and anyone interested in embracing and better understanding God’s word.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, a lifelong student of the Bible, is a freelance and assignment writer, who especially likes to write Bible-based poems and manuscripts.

The Literary Study Bible, ESV, hardback

August 7, 2015

The NET Bible

Unless you use the KJV (King James Version) of the Bible in the public domain, you can only quote X number of scriptures on your blog or in your book without gaining permission from the publisher. This can become problematic for sites who post a great deal of scripture, as happened with

To overcome this problem, produced an entirely new translation called The NET, which can be quoted at great length without special permission. That does not mean you can copy the whole text, but if you’re, say, writing a devotional or other book relying on long passages or numerous scripture, you needn’t worry about profusely quoting The NET.

As the Introduction states: “The NET Bible was created to be the first major modern English translation available free on the Internet for download and use in Bible studies and other teaching materials so that the opportunities provided by the Internet could be maximized.”

Not only are those downloads available through the website, but so are almost 61,000 notes by the translators! Those notes can help us to understand variations of biblical interpretations among Christian denominations, which I see as a good and healing thing. i.e., The more we know the mindset of our brothers and sisters in Christ, the more empathetic, accepting, and embracing we might be. Such a response to one another is vital to the Body of Christ if we’re to stand together, healed and empowered to minister God’s love and forgiveness to one another and to a wounded world.

With so many translations of the Bible, “proof texts” might be easy to find to prove one's personal bias. However, a new and unfamiliar to us translation can help to bring us together again – not so we’ll all think or worship exactly alike, but so we’ll be respectful of one another and become a living testimony to the power of God’s love and Holy Spirit, Who enables diverse peoples to get along!

To become familiar with The NET and its fresh wording, I got a reader’s edition with almost no notes to hinder my reading the text straight through within a few weeks. Then, to avoid spending more time at my computer, I ordered the full edition with all 60,932 notes by the translators and editors in a print copy.

Besides those notes and the heft added, the full edition presently comes in a “premium bonded leather,” which is okay but not the real thing. That study copy also came with an odor, which thankfully evaporated within a few hours. Conversely, the genuine, top grain leather of the reader’s edition has a sturdy, supple feel, which I like with thin but smooth pages and a very readable font.

An unusual feature in both editions is having the chapter and verse numbers for each verse together and in a boldface font, which makes it easier to find the scripture you’re looking for in a Bible study group.

Also, both editions are Smyth sewn, which makes for a longer lasting binding than glued-in pages. However, the user maps in the back are so thick they’ve already separated that section in my reader edition.

About those maps: As fitting for this edition, the maps are also highly unusual. Instead of the typical colored ink drawings we’ve come to expect, these are satellite images that show the terrain of Bible lands such as Galilee and the hills of Samaria.

The freshest feature, though is that the full edition shows the thought processes that occur and countless decisions that must be made in translating the Bible into English. Unlike my usage of other study Bibles, I doubt that I’ll read the full edition straight through because that would be overwhelming! However, I suspect the full edition will become a favorite when I’m researching scriptures for a new book, poem, or Bible study.

I would show you what I mean here, but the notes typically include words in Greek or Hebrew, which I’m not technologically-minded enough to figure out how to type. So I recommend you look at the website, visit the notes, see if this edition will serve you well, then come back here to click one of the ads below. (Thanks!) Although most of the Bibles I review come to me as free review copies, I bought these and get a small percentage of each purchase.

If you enjoy reading and studying via the Internet, you might prefer the reader’s edition, which I like and have also shown below. To give you an idea of the clarity in this translation, here’s The NET version of a familiar Psalm:

23 The LORD is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
23:2 He takes me to lush pastures,
he leads me to refreshing water.
23:3 He restores my strength.
He leads me down the right paths
for the sake of his reputation.
23:4 Even when I must walk through
the darkest valley,
I fear no danger,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff reassure me.
23:5 You prepare a feast before me
in plain sight of my enemies.
You refresh my head with oil;
my cup is completely full.
23:6 Surely your goodness and faithful-
ness will pursue me all my days,
and I will live in the LORD’s house for
the rest of my life.

© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a traditionally published author of 27 books in all genres, including two poetry books: the Bible-basedOutside Eden and the environmentally-oriented Living in the Nature Poem.

The NET, premium bonded leather, Tuscany (brown)

The NET, premium bonded leather, burgundy

The NET, reader edition, genuine top grain leather, black

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