August 14, 2015
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
March 15, 2012
The Oxford Study Bible contains the full Revised English Bible with Apocrypha (aka deuterocanonical books) and “A Complete Guide To The World of The Bible” in such articles as “Historical Contexts of the Biblical Communities,” “The Contribution of Archaeology,” and “The Social World” in both Testaments.
As a Christian writer and poet, I especially appreciate the articles on “Early Christian Literature,” “Literature of the Ancient Near East,” and the “Literary Forms of the Bible.” The latter, for example, talks about the biblical forms used for Bible poetry in the Psalms, of course, but in wisdom books and books of prophecy too. The article also discusses genres such as narratives, parables, and proverbs as well as the literary form prophetic books often took, and the general format found in epistles or letters.
Binding: Thick, glossy paper is my preference for the Oxford REB edition, and the cover has held up well. In other translations such as the Revised Standard Version (RSV) or New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), my Oxford study Bibles have top quality leather, but on each, the spine bowed or pulled away slightly. Since the pages were sewn together, none fell out, but pages on this paperback edition (as shown in the ad below) seem to be strongly glued to the cover.
Font: The highly readable font in the text decreases slightly in size for the footnotes, but they’re still easier to read than most.
Format: In addition to the study articles already mentioned, each section of the Bible has an Introduction as does each of the individual books.
Footnotes: Whether in the RSV, NRSV, or REB, the footnotes avoid denominational differences and aim for a wider, ecumenical view. This is not to say the information straddles fences, but the emphasis is on providing readers information about wordplays, historical settings, and cultural backgrounds, rather than rhetoric aimed to sway readers toward one stance or another.
REB: The Revised English Bible translates thought-for-thought rather than word-for-word, providing a highly readable text that flows well in public or private reading. Some spellings and word choices reflect a British accent, rather than American English, but then the same can be said for the King James Version, which British scholars produced (word-for-word, deuterocanonical books included) over 400 years ago.
© 2012, Mary Harwell Sayler
Oxford Study Bible, REB, paperback