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

April 2, 2015

NIV Proclamation Bible

When I received my review copy of the NIV Proclamation Bible from BookLook Bloggers, the attractive book jacket made me bristle! I later discovered that some reviewers objected to the quotation at the top of the cover where the well-respected Rev. Timothy Keller says, “There are many Study Bibles, but none better.”

Interestingly, the classic and highly acclaimed NIV Study Bible – also from Zondervan – is done as well as any study Bible from any publisher anywhere because of balanced, intuitive footnotes that answer the very questions I look to the bottom of the page to resolve. But, none of this had anything to do with what made me so reactive! What I objected to was the bold declaration in all caps directly below the title:


As a long-time writer for Christian and educational markets, my timbers shiver at such a statement. No matter how much we research or how much we know or how inclusive we aim to be, we just might miss something. Therefore, the very best of intentions, which I’m certain Zondervan has, does not necessarily guarantee success in “correctly handling” anything!

Having noted that objection, I removed the attractive book jacket and discovered a nice navy hardback beneath. So, even if company nail biting results in cost biting, I recommend redesigning the jacket or at least taking off this particular jacket in the present heat!

Immediately below the afore-mentioned capital letters, a modest note quietly announces in smaller caps, “With Cross-References And Concordance.” Paradoxically, that concordance includes far more entries than I have found in most Bibles published by most companies, so this addition alone gives a good aid for study.

Other additions add to this edition’s usefulness for group or private study, but my favorite is the attention given to the “melodic line,” a term I previously equated only with poetry. in this context, however, the phrase refers to “the overarching coherence of a particular book,” (italics, theirs.) “Therefore,” the idea involves “thinking in terms of identifying ‘the melodic line’ of a Bible book (as) an encouragement to us to see how the key themes and purposes of a book develop at its argument or narrative unfolds.”

As the article goes on to say, “Very often the key to finding some specific thing is to ask the right questions.” For example, “Why does the writer say the things he does? Why does he express himself in the way he does? Why is the book put together in the way it is? What is the overall purpose of this book? What impact was the writer intending to have on his readers/ hearers? What was he communicating to them? What overall purpose is served by each of the different elements of which the books is comprised?” Such attentive probing will surely result in well-researched sermons, books, poems, church curriculum, and other writings.

The next article, “From Text To Doctrine: The Bible And Theology,” reminds us that, as Christians and students of the Bible, we’re automatically theologians. This means we not only need to know what the Bible says and how we respond to that information, but “We must also be aware of our subculture or tribe, which brings its own set of values and practices into our lives.” Most of us realize that our culture influences us in various ways. More than this, “Our cultures not only shape us as individuals, but also shape our churches, our patterns of relating, and our shared values.”

In the article, “From Text To Life: Applying The Old Testament,” we consider how, “The more we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the wonderful teaching of the Old Testament, the more we shall revel in the glories of Christ to whom it all points.” And, as we consider how to apply the New Testament to our lives and churches, we’re reminded of the cultural changes which continue to occur.

“From Text To Sermon: Preaching The Bible” emphasizes the importance of “Getting the text right” and paying attention to the context. Identifying the literary genre (poetry, narrative, historical highlight, etc.) and the primary theme and purpose of each book are crucial considerations, too, as we aim to handle God’s Word correctly – which brings me back to my first reaction but now with a willingness to revise and respond to say:

The questions and pointers in this edition can help us – as readers, pastors, poets, Bible teachers, and other communicators for Christ – to handle the Word of Truth as correctly as possible, despite tendencies to react (okay, overreact) and interpret information through our own expectations, interpretations, or bias.

Just as I was starting to feel somewhat sage for (finally!) realizing the study aids in this edition are intended to help us – you and me and other readers – to handle the Word of Truth correctly as we speak, preach, or write in Jesus’ Name, I flipped to the “Editor’s Preface,” which I’d obviously skipped earlier, and saw the very first sentence, which says: “The apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to do his best ‘to present [himself] to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the world of truth’ [2 Tim. 2:15].”

Oh, Lord! Sometimes it’s hard to see the truth, much less handle it! But thankfully, You send us lots of help!

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

NIV Proclamation Bible, hardcover

I review for BookLook Bloggers

March 17, 2015

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) reader edition

When the B&H Publishing group kindly sent me review copies of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), the first thing I noticed was the packaging! Yes, the packaging. In all my decades of buying Bibles and now of receiving them for my review on the Bible Reviewer blog, I’ve never seen an edition treated with such care.

Inside each sturdy box, I found a Bible wrapped in both directions in heavy-duty paper to ensure its safety. Then, inside the wrapping, I found a thick leather cover – ready for long wear, yet flexible and soft to the touch. No wonder Holman Bibles come with a lifetime guarantee!

Earlier I had received a review copy of the hefty, impressive, award-winning HCSB Study Bible, which I highly recommend, but this time I wanted a reader’s edition to read, cover to cover, without the distraction of lengthy footnotes and articles. So the publisher sent two!

The HCSB Large Print Personal Size Reference Bible measures about 5.75" x 8.5", which provides a nice size for carrying in one hand. To keep down the weight and thickness, the paper is a bit thin with some bleed-through, but the large font (about 10-point) is very readable. With no footnotes except essentials and no center-margin references, this truly is an edition to just sit down and read.

The HCSB Large Print Ultrathin Reference Bible measures about 6.75” x 9.5” and is also easy to carry, but the slightly larger size helps the leather cover to lay flat. The unusual font choice blocks out the bleed-through but might take some getting used to if you’re expecting the typical roundish serif. Once I actually began to read the text, however, I found the dark, narrow san serif font to be super easy on my eyes.

The ultrathin edition also includes a small concordance at the back of the book and cross-referencing in the center column, providing features I like even in a reader’s edition. In addition, I discovered an unusual feature I don’t recall seeing before: The names and chapters of the books have been placed in the left corners of the bottom margins of the pages! In the opposite corner, page numbers have also been placed at the bottom of each page, so with the ultrathin edition, I was able to look up scriptures very quickly in my Bible study group.

Regarding those scriptures, the HCSB provides a contemporary translation of the Bible that, unlike some updated versions, wisely retains such key words in Christianity as “justification,” “sanctification,” and “redemption.” As a writer and poet who aims toward compression, I seldom like the use of ten words when one precise word will do – especially if it carries the weight of centuries of faith and theology.

I’m also happy to say this translation retains the word “blessed,” which says so much more than my momentary happiness over that discovery! In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Matthew 5:3-5 reads:

“The poor in spirit are blessed,
for the kingdom of heaven
is theirs.
Those who mourn are blessed,
for they will be comforted.
The gentle are blessed,
for they will inherit the earth.”

In the next chapter, Matthew 7:7 in the HCSB clearly states:

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”

With red letters in the ultrathin edition, I immediately found those words of Christ, and with bold letters for the biblical quotes in various chapters, I easily found scriptural references from the Old Testament to the New. With either edition though, I'm finding the HCSB a good choice to read.

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

HCSB Large Print Ultrathin Reference Bible, Brown Genuine Cowhide Leather

HCSB Large Print Personal Size Reference Bible, Brown Genuine Cowhide