September 17, 2016

Holman NKJV Giant Print Reference Bible

Almost everyone in the last few Bible study groups I’ve led or attended has needed reading glasses, but with the small fonts many Bible publishers now use as standard, a lot of squinting is going on!

Thankfully, Holman Bible Publishers has just released a giant print edition of the New King James Version (NKJV) in a very readable 14-point font on good quality paper. Even better, Holman kindly sent me a copy for review.

In addition to offering one of my favorite translations, this Bible includes color maps, a concise concordance, and one-year Bible reading plan.

You’ll also find a couple of unique features: Instead of the usual thumbnail-shaped index tabs, this edition has squared out corners, which I suspect will keep their shape longer. This does make the book names a bit harder to see, but if you hold the Bible in your hand and let the pages drape down, you can read the tabs readily.

This edition drapes nicely in the hand – as genuine leather is apt to do. But when I first took the Bible from its sturdy box, I wrinkled my nose at the slight chemical odor that overcame the expected smell of genuine leather.

The cover feels as though it has a light coating. And yet, that feature, stitched edging, flexible leather, and a sewn spine make me think this well-made edition is meant to last for years.

Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-writer, reviewer

Holman NKJV Giant Print Reference Bible, Leather, indexed

August 29, 2016

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible

If you time-traveled 4,000 years into the past, how would you explain cameras, movies, telephones, moon landings, race cars, popsicles, or even the idea of voting for the leaders of a country? How hard would it be to explain our mechanized, technologically-minded culture to a people who speak another language, travel by donkey, and live in a rural environment with no electricity or easily accessible water? Reverse this situation, and you’ll see why the new NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, which Zondervan kindly sent me to review, is such an excellent idea for helping us to “be there” in Bible days.

As the “Author Introduction” explains:

1. “We study the history of the Bible world as a means of recovering knowledge of the events that shaped the lives of people in the ancient world.
2. We study
archaeology as a means of recovering the lifestyle reflected in the material culture of the ancient world.
3. We study the
literature of the ancient world as a means of penetrating the heart and soul of the people who inhabited that world.”

In the front matter of this edition, “Major Background Issues From The Ancient Near East” offers a sweeping view of the prevalent beliefs during Bible times. For instance, under “Creation and Order,” we’re made aware that, “In the ancient world people were much more inclined to think of creation not so much as manufacturing the material cosmos, but of establishing order in the cosmos and making it function with a particular purpose in mind.”

The sidebar “Creation And Existence” develops this idea by saying: “…in the ancient world something existed when it had a function – a role to play.” For example, we read in Genesis 2:5, “there was no one to work the ground,” but, as Genesis 2:7 tells us, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being,” NIV.

Genesis 2:8 goes on to say, “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed,” showing how God prepared everything we need before we existed then initiated work for us to be caretakers of creation. Working with God and nature became a privilege and an honor.

Throughout this edition, footnotes, sidebars, photographs, and maps keep us immersed in each biblical era, making familiar stories come to life. For example, those of whose who grew up in a church, most likely learned the song lyrics, “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,” which came about from the Bible story told in Genesis 28.

As the story goes, Jacob had left his home to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, go to his mother’s native land, and find a wife. After stopping that first night, “He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.There above it stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac’,” Genesis 28:12-13, NIV.

The sidebar “Stairway To Heaven” offers an interesting cultural insight into Genesis 28 by referring to “the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia, which were built to provide the stairway for the gods to come down and be worshiped in their temples. Jacob did not see a ziggurat, but the stairway portal between heaven and earth that ziggurats were designed to provide.”

As the sidebar further explains: “There is a continuum in space between the heavenly dwelling and the earthly one such that they are not simply considered mirror images or paired structures, but in the sense that they are more like the upstairs and downstairs of the same building. Yet it is even more than that as the earthly temple can be thought of as actually exisiting in the heavenly realm.” Therefore, “We should not imagine that the angels Jacob saw were marching in procession down and up the stairway as often pictured in art. Rather he saw messengers (= angels) going off on missions and returning from delivering their messages.”

How much more sense this makes than images of angels holding a ladder to a heavenly loft for no apparent purpose than to show they had the right-of-way!

My only regret is the difficulty I had in reading that and other insightful notes because of the light ink in the thin font the publisher often uses. Nevertheless, I plan to refer regularly to this excellent resource in researching Bible background for my books or study group.

If you want to know more about this new study edition of the New International Version, visit Zondervan’s site. Or, if you’re eager to get your copy, I highly recommend the hardcover edition shown below as it’s ideal for keeping handy on a desk.

Those of you who have been following the reviews posted on this blog (thank you!) know how much I prefer fine leather as I’m reading, not only because of the durability but because such editions are pleasant to hold on my lap as I curl up in my favorite chair. However, this and other hefty editions work best as desk copies for reference, rather than straight reading, because of the weight and bulk. Also, the hardcover copy I received for review rests flat on my desktop, even if opened only to the first page. In addition, its very thickness makes this a “stand-up” edition with no need for bookends but a Bible that’s readily available to grab, open, and reveal God’s Word in its original context.

Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016, poet-writer reviewer

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, hardcover

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, bonded leather

August 11, 2016

ESV Single Column Journaling Bible

My review copy of the ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, which Crossway kindly sent me to review, came in an attractive case matching the “summer garden” pattern on its hardback cover. The other option for this large print edition is a brown leather cover with closing strap as shown below.

I prefer the easy-on-the-eyes font found in both editions over the smaller type most Bible publishers use today, but, despite its current labeling, I’d wouldn’t call 9.5 point “large print.” Basically, it’s the text size of my older Bibles when “large print” was at least 12-point type with the standard size around 9 or 10.

The purpose of this single-column edition, though, is to give us a place to make notes to ourselves in the margins, which run an ample two inches on the outside edge of each page. Writing small will be necessary, however, as the lines allow a little over half the space of college rule.

Since I already have a hard-to-find leather-bound Bible with a 10-point font and wide margins all around, I’ll probably continue to use that for making notes before and during my Bible study class, but this journaling Bible makes me want to take another approach. When I first opened my copy, for example, I felt drawn to write haiku or aahcoo in the space beside the scriptures that evoked a poem. Or, I thought of claiming Bible prayers by writing down the date and the name of a person or event that came to mind upon reading. Or, I might jot down thoughts or insights relevant to the adjacent text.

You’ll probably think of other uses that haven’t occurred to me. Regardless, if you don’t have a wide margin Bible and would like to carry on a conversation with an accurate translations of God’s Word, this edition from Crossway makes a fine choice.

Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016, poet-writer reviewer

ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, large print in summer garden hardback

ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, large print in brown leather with strap

July 14, 2016

Africa Study Bible

Reportedly, over 80% of the peoples in the U.S. say they’re Christians, whereas in Africa, one in four has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. Almost 500 million Christians live in Africa, yet few have Bibles with footnotes or study aids relevant to their lives and cultures.

What’s ironic is that many key events in the Bible took place on that beautifully diverse continent. Also, its past and present peoples, places, and cultures can help us to understand more about our biblical roots and our ancestry as God’s people.

Such thoughts urged me to request a copy of the Africa Study Bible (ASB) from Oasis International, who kindly sent me their attractively published Book of Genesis to review. Its well-chosen text from the New Living Translation (NLT) was completed a few years ago, of course, by the Tyndale House Foundation, but Oasis International has not yet finalized the ASB study notes being prepared by over 300 individuals from 50 nations.

The first book, however, clearly shows how the ASB aims to bring us “God’s Word through African Eyes.” For example, “Proverbs and Stories,” applications of the text, and sidebars of “African Touch Points” give us fresh insight into Genesis, such as the note regarding “The Fall” in chapter 3:

Most parents would punish their disobedient children. The Bangolan people in Cameroon say a parent should punish a rebellious child with a rebuking left hand and draw him or her closer with a loving right hand. That is exactly what God did to humans in and after the Fall.

Below the text for the Cain and Abel story in chapter 4, “Proverbs and Stories” urge us to “Build Up, Not Tear Down” with this word:

A Sierra Leonean proverb says, ‘If a person is tallker than you, do not chop off his legs so that you will be equal. Rather, grow up’.”

Next to the biblical text for Genesis 10, an “African Touch Point” discusses the infamous “Sons of Ham” with this important clarification:

Because Ham was the father of the African people, some Christians, Jews, and Muslims have misued this passage to justify enslaving Africans. But the passage only says that Canaan is cursed. Even though the rest of Ham’s sons settled in Africa, Canaan did not. Much later, God told Israel (descendants of Noah’s son Shem) to conquer the land of Canaan, and Canaan’s descendants became servants, just as Noah had said.”

That sidebar goes on to explain:

As Africans, we are not descendants of Canaan, but of Ham’s other sons – Cush (Egypt and Sudan), Mizraim (Egypt) and Put (Libya or Somalia).”

In an “Application” for Genesis 44-50, footnotes briefly discuss Joseph's enslavement because of the harsh treatment of his jealous brothers, and yet he remained faithful to God, eventually rising to power at a crucial moment in the life of his people. By the time he saw his brothers again, he had come to recognize God's hand on his life. As the footnotes say:

Many people have assumed positions of power over those who have wronged them greatly. Some people desire to take revenge and continue the cycle of violence. Others, like Joseph forgive and say, ‘It was God who sent me here, not you’.

Forgiveness brings peace. Let us be like Joseph with people who have rejected us and caused us harm. We must not continue the cycle of violence by seeking revenge. We must see our lives as controlled by God. Only then can we be at peace.”

Yes! And may all of God's people say, "Amen."

Bible review by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2016

June 28, 2016

5-Minute Nighttime Bible Stories

The 5-Minute Nighttime Bible Stories retold by Charlotte Thoroe and illustrated by Gil Guile makes a good choice for bedtime reading with young children. Published by Tommy Nelson, the appealing artwork catches the attention of little ones, while the large font encourages elementary school child to read along and learn new words. In addition, I appreciate the capitalization of pronouns referring to God.

In the Genesis opening, for example:

“God spoke and whatever He said, it happened.”

The next page invites children to count the animals shown on that page as does the story of Noah. The cheery illustrations and interactive questions help to hold a squirmy child’s attention. Sometimes, though, that same question might cause confusion. For example, posing it with the story of Jesus’ birth could give the impression of an exact animal head count around the manger.

Another type of interaction occurs with a prayer such as the one relating well to the last page of the Noah story:

“Dear God, thank You for all of the wonderful animals and for always keeping Your promises.”

A sidebar with the story of Moses and Pharoah asks what happened to Aaron’s staff, while the next page lists the plagues with a prayer thanking God for taking care of His people.

All Bible storybooks don’t include the Ten Commandments, so I was glad to see this one did in child-friendly language. However, I wish this and other Bible storybooks would omit David’s killing Goliath and talk instead about his tending sheep or writing many of the poems known as Psalms.

In the New Testament stories, the interactive question: “How many disciples did Jesus have?” probably refers to the twelve men He had just chosen as apostles who would be sent out in His name, whereas the disciples or followers of that time and now are countless.

My favorite story in the book will surely be the favorite of young readers, too, as they read “Jesus Loves Children.” At the end of that story, bold letters acclaim, “Jesus always had time for children.” Amen!

Finally, the back matter of this sturdy book, which I kindly received for my honest-as-always review, gives children easy-access to find and memorize:

The Lord’s Prayer (Our Father)
The Ten Commandments (included earlier too)
Psalm 23 (with a word about David and the Psalms)
Books of the Bible (Old Testament and New)
Song About Jesus (“Jesus Loves Me”)

Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, ©2016

5-Minute Nighttime Bible Stories, padded hardback

I review for BookLook Bloggers

June 23, 2016

The Rhyme Bible Storybook

Zonderkidz often sends me review copies of Bibles and Bible storybooks for children, but I saw The Rhyme Bible Storybook by L.J. Sattgast in a Christian bookstore and thought my young grandson would love it. He does!

On each slick page of this sturdily bound book, cheerful artwork by Laurence Cleyet-Merle enhances the lively stories while a large, roundy font encourages young readers to read to themselves, follow along, or take turns reading with a caretaker.

Happily, readers of all ages will enjoy the bouncy rhymes and appreciate the scriptural accuracy of the stories, which include true-to-human-nature examples to fill in the details. For example, “Safe In The Boat,” adapts Genesis 6-9 with these opening lines:

“God was very,
Very sad,
For all the people
Were so bad.
They would chat,
And they would lie.
They would make
Their sisters cry.”

As the story of Noah continues, the author takes into account how people most likely responded.

“So Noah’s family
Built the boat.
They made it strong
So it would float.
But all the people
Laughed and said,
‘They are loony
In the head!
Where’s the water?
Where’s the sea?
They’re as crazy
As can be’!”

Anyone who’s had someone laugh at them and not understand what’s going on will appreciate the emphasis on what Noah and other people of God have had to endure.

With expressions of faith, rebellion, repentance, and answered prayer, these stories also help us to see more clearly how we, too, are part of the ongoing story of God’s love for us, which is best shown in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For example, the last story, “Good News!” presents the account of Jesus’ resurrection as recorded in Luke 24 and Acts 1-2 when, in the upper room:

“Jesus’ friends were hiding.
Their hearts were filled with fear.
But suddenly they saw him –
Jesus had appeared!
Jesus said, ‘Don’t be afraid,
Touch me and you’ll see
That I am not a ghost at all –
Believe that it is me’!”

Thankfully, these well-presented stories of faith do help readers to believe.

Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016

The Rhyme Bible Storybook, hardback

June 2, 2016

Large print ESV from Crossway

Praise God! Crossway has just published the Holy Bible, Large Print, English Standard Version (ESV), and as I can readily see from the copy the publisher kindly sent me to review, I can readily see!

With a highly readable 11-point font, this new edition provides welcome relief from the prevailing 8-point type found in too many Bibles, including those for young children, who much prefer this size or larger, as I do. For general readers, 9 to 10-point type might be fine, but anything less than that or larger than 14 seems to be out of touch with what most people want or need.

Besides encouraging us to read without eye strain, this reader edition also includes color maps and a 10,000-entry concordance to aid Bible study – alone or in a group. The page layout with its double-column paragraph format also assists comprehension, whereas either flap on the dust jacket can become an immediately accessible “bookmark” in lieu of fraying ribbons.

In case you haven’t yet read the ESV, this translation has been lauded for being accurate but readable – and familiar too. For instance, The Translation Oversight Committee opted to retain the word, “Behold!” which often occurs in both testaments because, as the Preface informs us, this one-of-a-kind attention getter “helps us read more carefully.”

Also in the Preface, the “Special Notes in the ESV Bible” explain the infrequent footnotes added for clarification. For example, the first note in this edition says, “The Hebrew word used here for man includes both men and women (see 1:27) and refers to the entire human race.” Similarly, “The note on Romans 8:14 shows you that ‘sons’ also includes ‘daughters’.”

Footnoted or not, this edition – like the content of the Bible in any language – welcomes all who come to read and heed God’s word.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016

Holy Bible, ESV, large print, hardback