February 10, 2020

My Favorite Study Bibles

Whenever I prepare for the Bible discussion groups I lead, I turn to the footnotes and articles from several study editions lining my desk, especially:

Amplified Study Bible from Zondervan
The NIV Study Bible from Zondervan
NKJV Study Bible published by Thomas Nelson
ESV Study Bible published by Crossway
Thompson Chain Reference Bible from Kirkbride

However, I'm sad to say I gave away the HCSB Study Bible from Holman to another Bible discussion leader, who needed one reliable resource instead of the many I prefer.

Each of those excellent editions gives a broad understanding of Bible people and their religious views, cultures, and geographical locations. But almost every time, I discover a little something more in my all-time favorite Bible - The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), which I just learned has been released in a 5th edition in a leather cover currently on Amazon at half-price! 

Mary Sayler, ©2020

January 28, 2020

The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel

When Koren Publishers Jerusalem kindly sent me a review copy of The Susan & Roger Hertog Edition of Exodus, entitled The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel, I wondered if they had printed it wrong! Unlike the right-to-left books we’re used to, this one opens left to right. So it took me a second to remember that’s the Hebrew way to read. Since this book includes passages of scripture in both Hebrew and English, the choice is not only appropriate but a great conversation opener!

Upon its release in February 2020, this large, attractive hardback will certainly dress up a coffee table. Besides the artistically rendered cover, the interior presents an abundance of colorful photographs on thick, slick paper. These ample illustrations help us to see the land of Israel and the people who lived there in sweeping vistas and up-close detail. However, you’ll want to actually read this beautifully produced book as it combines art with an in-depth study of Exodus. As the inside flap of the book jacket tells us:

The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel is the first work of its kind in English to use contemporary 21st century biblical scholarship with traditional Jewish perspectives."

For those who might not know “What is the Tanakh?”, the Introduction to the Series responds to that very question:

“The word Tanakh is an acronym comprised of the Hebrew letters t n kh, referring to the fundamental collection of writings on which Judaism is based: Torah (the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (the Prophets), and Ketuvim (the Writings). The Tanakh is a literary collection composed over the course of a millennium.”

Christians refer to these books as the Old Testament, which is not intended to give offense but to indicate the vital placement of the Tanakh before the books known as the New Testament – and vital, it is. The more Christians study the Tanakh, the clearer the life and times of Jesus become, which can greatly alter the misinformation, suppositions, and contemporary perspectives often brought to scripture reading.

Regarding the particular scriptures used for this book, the highly respected Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks served as the primary translator of the Hebrew and Aramaic texts in a new translation of Exodus into English. Portions of both the Hebrew and the English text appear on each page, along with short articles and insights highlighted by these categories:

  • Archaeology  - notes on archaeological objects relating to the adjacent text
  • Near East – backgrounds on the ancient civilizations who interacted or affected God’s people
  • Language – insights into the languages of the times
  • Flora and Fauna – identification of plants and animals mentioned in the Bible
  • Egyptology – comments on the culture, religions, and powers in Egyptian society
  • Mishkan – descriptions of the Tabernacle
  • Geography – information on biblical places  
  • Halakha – textual links to Jewish rituals and contemporary practices

For example, the opening text begins with the Hebrew “names of the sons of Yisrael (Israel) who came to Egypt with Yaakov(Jacob), each with his household: Reuven (Reuben), Shimon (Simeon), Levi and Yehuda (Judah); Yissakhar (Issachar) Zevulun (Zebulun) and Binyamin (Benjamin); Dan and Naftali (Naphtali); Gad and Asher. The descendants of Yaakov were seventy in all, and Yosef (Joseph) was already in Egypt.”

Above that English translation is the Hebrew passage, and below is the sidebar on the Near East, which says:

“The numbers 7, 10, 12, 40, 60, 70, 300, and their multiples appear many times in the Torah. Rather than representing an exact or historical quantity, these numbers have allegorical and typological meaning. The family of Yaakov consists of 70 souls who immigrate to Egypt. The Israelite nation has 70 elders (Ex. 24), Gideon and Ahab had 70 sons (Judge 8:30; 11 Kings 10:1), and Adoni-Bezek rules over 70 kinds (Judges 1:7).”

The note ends by saying:

“In the ancient Near Eastern texts, the number 70 has referred to gods, kings, and more…. in the ancient Near East, the number 70 represented totality.”

Then, in reference to verse seven, the note on Archaeology briefly discusses the “Semites in Egypt” and explains:

“Water in the Middle East is always an issue. In ancient times the Canaanite shepherds brought herds to the Nile delta in times of famine, because the Nile provided a steady supply of water that supported agriculture and fertile grazing pastures even when rain was scarce. The Egyptian government blocked infiltrators when it was strong, but when the central administration was weak, shepherds from Canaan would bring their herds to graze there.”

As Exodus 2 begins the story of Moshe (Moses), a note appears on “The daughter of Pharoah” under the heading “Egyptology” and offers this insight:

“…the Egyptian princesses were very precious to their fathers. In the time of the New Kingdom, when foreign princesses were sent as diplomatic gifts to the king of Egypt, no Egyptian princess was ever sent in return to a foreign ruler.”

Alongside the story of the burning bush in Exodus 3, the note on Flora and Fauna tells us:

“The traditional commentaries unanimously identify the seneh, or thorn-bush, as what is now called the holy bramble, Rubus sanguineus – a bush that grows in proximity to springs and streams.”

By chapter 15, God’s people have left Egypt, crossed the Sea of Reeds, and  entered the “Shur Desert, toward Beershaba,” which is discussed under the heading “Geography” and says:

The main route across the desert would have been a relatively straight, level journey from the Isthmus of Suez, to Beersheba, an approximately 180-kilometer trek that would take around a week on foot.”

 Hopefully, those examples give you a good idea of what you’ll find in the text and commentaries, but this highly recommended biblical resource also includes a Timeline, Maps, and Introductions to the book, ancient Egypt, the plagues, and more. If, however,you never get to read every elegant page, the color photographs and captions will give you a broad and, sometimes, detailed view of the times, places, and people along with the artifacts and items of worship that enriched their lives – and ours.

Reviewed by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2020.

January 17, 2020

Bible Gateway: opening the gate to God’s Word

Bible Gateway has been my “go to” Internet resource for years, so it finally occurred to me to review the site that includes blog posts, podcasts, study notes, articles, and more. Most impressive, though,  is its being, as it says, “A searchable online Bible in over 150 versions and 50 languages.” 

Since I regularly receive review copies of new editions of God’s Word, my bookshelves are piled high with Bibles, but I certainly don’t have all 150 versions! So I often click onto the Bible Gateway site to compare translations and, especially, to research a biblical topic.

For example, when I felt urged to see what the Bible says about love, I readily found over 600 references simply by typing the word “love” in the Search box provided at the top of the main page. Then I added brief devotionals and published the book by that name.

That same Search box let me type in the Bible book, chapter, and verse(s) of the actual prayers in the Bible then compare numerous translations before paraphrasing them for the prayer book I've always wanted, the Book of Bible Prayers. Shortly thereafter, I published the Book of KJV Prayers with the same scriptures but from the King James Version only.

Instead of having to retype each prayer for the latter, I was able to copy/paste the KJV text directly from the Bible Gateway site into a word processing file then remove verse numbers and break lines into a more contemporary rhythm of speaking.

The site’s features also work wonderfully well in preparing sermons and Bible lessons. Not only does it take less time to look up topics and key scriptures, the site offers a wealth of translations for comparison. A quick click onto the version in place lets you immediately change to another.

If you look up a single verse, you can also see numerous versions of that same verse on a single page. By comparing the words chosen to translate the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts into English, we get a broader perspective of biblical truths, and we see that God’s Word truly is living, constantly speaking to us, and moving us closer and closer to the Lord.

January 3, 2020

The Enduring Word Bible: ESV

The Enduring Word Bible, which Concordia kindly sent me to review, makes a blessed beginning for the New Year or any time. 

This edition of the highly acclaimed ESV (English Standard Version) of the Bible invites you to make God’s Word your own as you color memory verses and pencil in prayers, insights, and other responses in the wide margins provided alongside the readable 9.5-point text.

Besides the 350 line-art illustrations in the margins of the book, this edition includes ten full-page illustrations for you to color, preferably with colored pencils or other medium that won’t smear or bleed through the thin pages.

Since the idea is to encourage you to meditate on God’s Word and use the margins to remind yourself of those close encounters with the Lord, you might want to add a date each time you jot down whatever comes to mind. Those reminders can continue to be a blessing in years to come as you recall your unique relationship with the Lord and pass along to loved ones this ongoing evidence of faith  and devotion to God.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2020, poet-writer, reviewer

December 17, 2019

Portals of Prayer Devotional Bible

The Portals of Prayer Devotional Bible, which Concordia Publishing House kindly sent me to review, makes a wonderful Christmas gift (if ordered right now!) However, in its attractive gift case, this hardback edition makes a thoughtful gift any time for anyone, especially since it uses a 10.5 font size that most of us can easily read.

In addition to the accurate and clear English Standard Version, this Bible includes over 700 devotions relevant to the text. For example, the heading “Delight In God” quotes Job 27:10, “Will he take delight in the Almighty? Will he call upon God at all times?  In the devotional that follows, “Job asked if the godless would take delight in the Almighty and call upon Him. The obvious answer is no. Why would they? But do we delight in God?” If so, then….

How do we reveal our delight in God? One way that Job indicated is to ‘call upon God at all times,’ especially in thanksgiving and praise. But how can we do this when we go through suffering as Job did? Our delight in God does not depend on our outward circumstances, but on who God is, on what He has done and continues to do for us.

For another example, the prophetic word of Hosea 6:2 tells us, “On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.” Then the devotional entitled “For A Little While” reminds us:

Though we suffer now, we have an eternal perspective. For a little while, the Lord says, we will suffer the woes of the sinful flesh. But the third day is coming – the third day of resurrection.

“Easter morn meant that no suffering, disease, or death could touch Jesus again. It was also God’s promise to us of our resurrection day to come….”

With Christmas presently only a few days away, we’re reminded of Luke 2:20 when, “…the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” 

The devotional “The Night of Hope” follows that scripture of the Nativity then goes on to say:

As you read the Christmas story anew, focus on Jesus. Focus on God’s love for you in the babe of Bethlehem, born of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. There He is in an animal shelter, having come to be your Savior. Don’t focus on your losses, failing health, tragic disappointments, or wretched sins. Focus instead on that glorious One who came to remove the stain of your sins and fill your heart with hope. This hope is for you and all humanity.

As occurs in each devotional in this edition, those faith-building words end with a pertinent prayer:

We praise You, Lord Jesus, begotten of the Father’s love from all eternity, and born to be who You truly are – the Prince of Peace. Amen.”

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2019, poet-writer, reviewer

Portals of Prayer Devotional Bible, ESV, hardback, gift case

December 16, 2019

The Growing in Faith Bible for children and beyond

Does it seem strange to you to call a Bible “delightful”? But that’s the word that came to mind when Concordia Publishing House sent me a review copy of  The Growing in Faith Bible for children in the highly accurate ESV (English Standard Version) which says:

 Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them,” Psalm 111:2.

As caretakers of the earth blessed by vital waterways and vivid sunsets, we study those delightful works of the Lord in nature. However, the Bible itself is a work of God to be studied and to fill us with delight.

In this edition for children and (my assessment) beyond, the colorful artwork and unique features will surely help readers to find God Himself delightful. One such feature, the “Verse for Life,” highlights Bible verses for children to memorize and recall throughout their lives. For example:

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart,” Psalm 37:4.

The front pages of the book list the features with an explanation for each, starting with “Parent Connections,” which could also be applied to teachers and other caretakers and says:

“Teach your children the important message and theme in each book of the Bible, raising them to be a child of Jesus Christ, their Savior.”

As the heading implies, “Bible Narratives” give important Bible stories to show “how God loves, forgives, guides, and protects us in our everyday lives.” Then “Christ Connections” reveal “places in the Old Testament that point ahead to Jesus….” while another feature, “Big Questions and Answers,” reflects on things children wonder about and want to know.

To help readers find these features, numerous pages in the back of the book provide lists and related page numbers as well as a concordance and maps.

In addition to relevant prayers at the end of each Bible story scattered throughout the book, the “Topical Prayers in the back matter also have children and young people in mind. Those prayers include the reader’s church, pastor, family, and enemies! And the section “For My Needs” reminds readers to pray for themselves too. For instance, “When I’m Scared” says:

“Lord God, heavenly Father, please help
me; I’m scared. Remind me that You
are stronger than anything You created –
and You control everything that happens.
Take away my fear for Jesus’ sake, and
give me quiet trust in You; through
Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

Not only does this prayer give a frightened person an appropriate prayer to pray, the words themselves are comforting, faith-building, and filled with delight!

Although there's no Lutheran Church in my small town, and I attend a non-denominational church accepting of all parts of the Body of Christ, I was happy to see the addition of “Martin Luther’s Small Catechism,” which brings up important points for every Christian to consider. Regardless of our age or denominational preferences, we need to know what we believe and why, and this excellent word will help us to do just that.  For example, we receive this word of advice:

…with young people, keep to a single, fixed, and permanent form and wording, and teach them first of all the Ten Commandments, the Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, etc., according to the text, word for word, so that they can repeat it after you and commit it to memory. 

The brief catechism goes on to explain each aspect of those faith-building tools from God’s word. 

With this and other unique features meant to meet a child’s spiritual needs throughout childhood and beyond, this edition comes in a sturdy hardback that should last for many decades of delightful use.

October 29, 2019

Holy Bible: Contemporary English Version

Most of the Bibles I discuss on this blog come as review copies from Bible publishers, who have just released a new translation, study edition, or children’s Bible. This time though, I bought the Holy Bible: Contemporary English Version (CEV) from Amazon because I often choose this version from many, many choices on Bible Gateway when I need the wording of an easy-to-read translation.

Unlike Bible paraphrases, which usually group verses together, thus making them impossible to follow the readings in a Bible study group, the CEV has verse-by-verse numbering typical of most translations. Chapter and verse numbers, of course, were not in the original biblical texts in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, but they’re helpful additions that enable us to follow along, even if someone reads from a translation we’re not using.

Besides that feature, the word choices in CEV are familiar enough for non-CEV readers to follow. Take, for example, the Lord’s Prayer (aka Our Father) in the favorite version recorded in Matthew 6:9-13:

“Our Father in heaven,
help us to honor
your name.
Come and set up
your kingdom,
so that everyone on earth
will obey you,
as you are obeyed
in heaven.
Give us our food for today.
Forgive us for doing wrong,
as we forgive others.
Keep us from being tempted
and protect us from evil.”

A footnote in my paperback copy of CEV (hotlink below) goes on to say, “Some manuscripts add, ‘The kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours forever. Amen’.”

Most contemporary translations omit that verse, too, but some include it with a footnote to let you know it was not part of the original Gospel text. It is, however, biblical and was an established part of the church liturgy in King James' day.

To give you another example of the CEV translation, look at Psalm 23. As you read, notice now the word choices are true to the intent and meaning of this beloved prayer-poem, while being so much clearer in meaning:

“You, Lord, are my shepherd.
I will never be in need.
You let me rest in fields
of green grass.
You lead me to streams
of peaceful water,
and you refresh my life.

You are true to your name,
and you lead me
along the right paths.
I may walk through valleys
as dark as death,
but I won’t be afraid.
You are with me,
and your shepherd’s rod
makes me feel safe.

You treat me to a feast,
while my enemies watch.
You honor me as your guest,
and you fill my cup
until it overflows.
Your kindness and love
will always be with me
each day of my life,
and I will live forever
in your house, Lord.”

And, finally, I wanted a copy of CEV because it's the translation I chose for the one Bible verse I posted beside my desk. This beautiful reminder of God’s love for us is shown so clearly in Zephaniah 3:17, CEV!

“The LORD your God
wins victory after victory
and is always with you.
He celebrates and sings
because of you,
and he will refresh your life
with his love.”


review by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2019

Click this link to order.