Showing posts with label Zondervan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zondervan. Show all posts

April 8, 2017

NEW! The Amplified Study Bible

At last! The updated Amplified Bible comes with over 5,000 footnotes in a new study edition from Zondervan, who kindly sent me a complimentary copy to review. What impressed me first, however, was the nice 10.5-point font in the body of text and an easy-to-read font for the footnotes even though this isn’t the large print edition, which is also available.

Despite the extra space needed by the use of larger, more readable fonts, the Amplified Study Bible demonstrates clear interest in the biblical text over anything scholars can say about it. I mention this because some study editions have gotten so carried away with commentary, they only allot a few hard-to-find verses per page, which seems worrisome to me – or, dare I say “arrogant”?

The Bible is the Word of God – not our words about it.

In addition, biblical words and their usage change from one century to the next and also from one language to another, which means the earliest Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible offered thoughts and expressions familiar to their original readers, but not necessarily to us. Furthermore, each language, including English, has various options for word substitutions as seen in synonyms and colloqualisms. These connotations of a word or the clearer context for an outdated phrase is what makes the Amplified Bible a unique translation of God’s Word.

Since I love to play with words and explore their fullest meanings, I’m delighted to have the Amplified Study Bible, which I plan to refer to often in my Bible studies and poetry writing. A lovely surprise, though, comes in the spiritual depths of the footnotes. For example, the note for Genesis “1:26 in Our image” says:

“Since God is spirit (Jn 4:24), there can be no ‘image’ or ‘likeness’ of Him in the normal sense of these words. The traditional view of this passage is that God’s image in man is in specific, moral, ethical, and intellectual abilities. A more recent view, based on possible interpretation of Hebrew grammar and the knowledge of the Middle East, interprets the phrase as meaning ‘Let us make man as our image.’ In ancient times an emperor might command statues of himself to be placed in remote parts of his empire. These symbols would declare that these areas were under his power and reign. So God placed humankind as living symbols of Himself on earth to represent His reign. This interpretation fits well with the command that follows – to reign over all that God has made.”


Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017, reviewer and poet-author of PRAISE! published March 30, 2017 by Cladach Publishing

Amplified Study Bible, 10.5-point font, hardcover



Amplified Study Bible, large print, 12-point font, hardcover



..

March 9, 2017

NIV Faithlife Study Bible

When Zondervan announced the new NIV Faithlife Study Bible (FSB), I wondered if this would be a repackaging of the ever-popular NIV Study Bible or the more recent NIV Zondervan Study Bible, both of which I’ve previously reviewed. However, as I look at the complimentary copy of the NIV Faithlife Study Bible Zondervan kindly sent me to review, I see a new study edition, edited by John D. Barry, whose preface says: “Our ultimate goal is to help you engage with God’s Word – and with God himself.”

With that goal in mind, Editor Barry explains, “we have curated the most relevant data to illuminate the biblical text, from archaeological findings to manuscript research. Historical, cultural and linguistic details help you understand the background of the Bible so you can interpret its significance.” In addition, the FSB “looks at the Bible as a work of literature, explaining how different genres, narrative structures and literary devices shape the text.”

Readers who want to know if the FSB focuses on a particular Christian perspective will be interested to hear that the “FSB stands in the Christian tradition summarized by the ancient Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed. It is committed both to the authority of Scripture and to the challenge of wrestling with its full meaning.”

In the article “How To Study The Bible” at the beginning of the book, Douglas Stuart reminds us “There are several different ways to look at any piece of literature.” He then goes on to list “11 such angles, or steps, in the study process,” including a closer look at “the correct meaning of individual words and phrases found in a passage” and “the literary category and the characteristics that make any passage special.” Most important is the application by which readers “Act on what the Bible says.”

Additional articles discuss the formation of both testaments and introduce each book with in-depth information about the background, structure, outline, and themes on which the writer(s) focused. To further aid our understanding of the context, this edition includes timelines, illustrations, charts, maps, and verse-by-verse notes – so many, in fact, that the Bible text may take up only a third of the page!

Although jam-packed with information, this edition is not as bulky or weighty as some, which makes it an excellent choice to carry to a Bible study discussion group for adults of all ages – from teens to elderly readers – and all levels of study – from beginners to long-time students of God’s Word.

In the latter group, I turned to the FSB as I prepared for the mid-week study group I lead. Looking up Mark 6 (our next lesson as we make our way through the New Testament), I saw the most helpful treatment of “Coins of the Gospels” I’ve ever seen. In addition to illustrating the size of the coins commonly used, the notes explained that a silver denarius “was considered a fair day’s pay for a common laborer in the first century” and went on to say that one denarius could buy 15 lbs. of wheat.

Similarly, the information on a silver shekel says: “Minted in Tyre, the shekel and half-shekel were the only coins accepted for the temple tax in Jesus’ time because of the high purity of the silver.” A half-shekel paid an individual’s temple tax for the year, while a whole shekel could buy “A tunic, a liter of olive oil, two 1 lb. loaves of bread, and a half-liter of cheap wine.” By contrast, the widow’s mite (a small bronze lepton) could only pay for “A bath at the public bathhouse.”

The same chapter of Mark my group will be studying this week includes the story of Jesus walking on water. Although very familiar with that event, I’ve often wondered why Jesus intended to pass by the disciples. It just didn’t make sense to me – until now! In explaining “pass by,” the FSB footnote note says: “The same expression appears in the OT when God displays his glory to people,” for instance as recorded in Exodus 33:17-34:8 and 1 Kings 19:11-13.

As you’ll recall, the passage in 1 Kings relays the story of Elijah on the mountain where God passed by – not in the wind or earthquake or fire, but in that still, soft voice that speaks to each of us who want to hear.

And the scriptures in Exodus 33? As God-incidence would have it, that’s the very chapter the Sunday School class I attend will be discussing this week! It's the passage where God passes His glory by Moses -- and us, even now, as we read.

Bible Review by poet-author and lifelong Bible student, Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017


NIV Faithlife Study Bible, hardback



Media link to the FSB



December 27, 2016

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

When the NIV Zondervan Study Bible came out last year, Zondervan kindly sent me a complimentary copy covered in soft, supple leather to review. This year, they sent a hardback review copy of the new large print version, which, unfortunately for my eyes, is only 9-point. However, if print size isn’t a factor, and you’re looking for an impressively thorough study Bible of encyclopedic proportions, this is it!

In my previous review, I talked about the impressive side bars, in-text maps, color photos, and numerous contributors to the study materials. So this time I want to focus on the articles written by a variety of theologians on such subjects as the glory of God, sin, covenant, law, love and grace.

The article “Prophets and Prophecy” by Sam Storms especially interested me as that’s not a topic typically discussed in study editions. In this one, though, we read, “A prophet’s primary function in the OT was to serve as God’s representative or ambassador by communicating God’s word to his people.” Furthermore, “The primary purpose of prophetic ministry is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort believers.” (See 1 Corinthians 14:3.)

In the article “Justice,” Brian S. Rosner writes, “the concept of justice in the Bible covers more than wrongdoing. It included treating all people not only with fairness but also with protection and care. God calls all people to seek justice for those most vulnerable to suffering injustice.”

In “Wrath,” Christopher Morgan says, “Whether presented as wrath, fury, displeasure, judgment, venegance, or indignation, God’s wrath first takes stage in the biblical story when sin enters.” Regardless of the terminology, “God’s wrath is his holy revulsion against all that is unholy, his righteous judgment against unrighteousness, his firm response to covenant unfaithfulness, his good opposition to the cosmic treason of sin.”

When we think of “Worship,” singing often comes to mind, but as David G. Peterson writes in the article by that name, “It may be best to speak of congregational worship as a particular expression of the total life-response that is the worship described in the new covenant…. Singing to God is an important aspect of corporate worship, but it is not the supreme or only way of expressing devotion to God. Ministry exercised for the building up of the body of Christ in teaching, exhorting, and praying is a significant way of worshiping and glorifying God.

With many other articles and copious notes throughout, this very hefty edition might not get lugged to Bible study but will serve as a major resource for those of us who teach, preach, or write about God’s word. And, in Christ Jesus, that word is “Shalom.”

In the article “Shalom,” Timothy Keller tells us “Shalom is one of the key words and images for salvation in the Bible. The Hebrew word refers most commonly to a person being uninjured and safe, whole and sound. In the N.T., shalom is revealed as the reconciliation of all things to God through the work of Christ…. Shalom experienced is multidimensional, complete well-being – physical, psychological, social and spiritual; it flows from all of one’s relationships being put right – with God, with(in) oneself, and with others.

If you want to begin your new year with a renewed commitment to Bible study, I hope you’ll order this hardcover edition to keep on your desk or study area, which is what I plan to do. May your prayerful reading of God’s word and the adventures of a new year fill you with shalom.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2016

NIV Zondervan Study Bible, hardcover


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



November 30, 2015

Faith Builders Bible for children and new readers


Unlike a Bible storybook, the Faith Builders Bible for children and new readers includes the full text of the reader-friendly, New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) – a translation based on the NIV, but with new readers and elementary school-aged children especially in mind. For example, the beloved 23rd Psalm begins:

“1 The LORD is my shepherd. He gives
me everything I need.
2 He lets me lie down in fields of
green grass.
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He gives me new strength.
He guides me in the right paths
for the honor of his name.”


You’ll find that kind of clarity throughout this edition published by Zondervan, who kindly sent me a copy to review.

The readable text works well as do the illustrations, which will appeal to children who enjoy Legos or Minecraft, neither of which has any connection to this unique edition. For generations, though, children of all ages have played with building blocks, and so, undoubtedly, the publisher played with that idea to connect Bible reading with activities having child-appeal. And it works!

For instance, the opening two-page spread in the front matter shows “Building With Books Of The Bible” by stacking titles of those individual books above their particular category. Beginning with the Torah titles above the category “Law” and ending with “Revelation” above the category of prophecy, readers can see how the Bible comes together as one structure with many parts.

In the back matter, a “Dictionary to the New International Reader’s Version” helps to build vocabulary heard at home, church, or church school. For example:

“anoint 1. To pour olive oil on people or things. This sets them apart for God. 2. To pour oil on people as part of praying for their healing.”

The back of the book also lists “Great Bible Stories” by topic and the book, chapter, and verse(s) where they can be located, but the addition of page numbers might have helped readers who aren’t yet familiar with the Bible.

I also would have liked a larger font for younger readers and a page in the front or back listing the titles of illustrations and their page numbers. For example the illustration and story “Noah Builds An Ark” has been inserted between pages 120 and 121.

That building-block drawing helps children to envision the scene and, perhaps, inspires them to build an ark of blocks. More importantly, that illustrative page, like others in the book, gives a brief version of the story with reference to the chapters where the full account can be found before ending with a character-building “Building Block Verse:”

“Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
Genesis 6:22”


The text on those pages has a larger, readable font, which encourages new readers to read the stories themselves. In addition, the pages provide a Bible storybook within the Bible, giving children and new readers the opportunity to read more when they’re ready.

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

Faith Builders Bible, hardback




November 13, 2015

NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance


The third edition of The NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance (NIVEBC), which Zondervan kindly sent me to review, is not only a hefty volume but, according to the hardback cover, “The only exhaustive index to every word in the NIV.”

Does that matter? I think so, and apparently Editor John R. Kohlenberger III did too.

As he says in the Introduction, “Like Strong’s (Bible concordance, the NIVEBC) is truly exhaustive, indexing even the most frequent articles, conjunctions, prepositions, and pronouns in their own special section.” Besides its own unique numbering system, the NIVEBC “has three separate indexes – Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek – that list every word in the original-language texts and every word and phrase used to translate them in the NIV. Thus the NIVEBC combines the best features of Young’s and Strong’s concordances.”

Such information assures me that, unlike the concordances in the back of many Bibles, this extensive volume will have all of the scriptures I want to find for a particular topic, rather than ones an editor or committee think have the most biblical value.

For instance, in writing a poem on how God “let it be” in the beginning, I wanted to see what else the Bible says God, Jesus, or someone else “let” occur. Looking for that word in the NIVEBC, I found over 10 columns of verses that show something has been permitted, allowed, or called into being. Since the type font is rather small, that’s a lot of lets!

Following the A-Z entries is a section of the “Numerals” found in the Bible, but this confused me as I looked for the ever-popular 1, 3, and 7 and found 0! Flipping back to the A to Z, the letter O brought forth columns of scriptures including “one,” but it would have been helpful to have that number listed in the numerical section, too, with a note directing readers to the main entry. Ditto for 3 and 7, each of which require two or more columns to list all of their biblical references.

After the numbers comes over fifty pages for the “Index of Articles” followed by many more pages for the “Hebrew to English Dictionary Index,” a thinner “Aramaic to English Dictionary-Index,” and over 75 pages for the “Greek to English Dictionary-Index.” Since key words have been assigned numbers, the “Numbering System Indexes” relate those words to systems by Strong, Goodrick, and Kohlenberger.

The big number for the NIVEBC, however, is fifty! In 1965, the NIV was commissioned and translation began, making the current year a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of this perennially best-selling Bible. Congratulations, Zondervan!


©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a poet, writer, and lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the Church in all its parts. Recently she began writing Praise Poems, which, Lord willing, she will eventually propose for a book.


The NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance, hardback




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




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
Healing
Faith that moves mountains
Witnessing
Salvation
Second Coming
Victory over Satan and demons
Overcoming the world and worldliness
Praise
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



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 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:

CORRECTLY HANDLING
THE WORD OF TRUTH

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


January 13, 2015

KJV Note-Taker’s Bible


Did you know that, if you have a blog or other outlet for reviewing Christian books and Bibles, you can receive free copies of titles published by Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, and Westbow? All you have to do is sign up (for free) and receive approval by BookLook Bloggers. Having done this some time ago, I’ve since reviewed a number of inspirational books, Bible storybooks, and other titles, and generally enjoyed the process.

As vow-swapping required, I agreed to post a review here on my own blog and do a brief word on Amazon, and therein lies the problem. Now that I’ve received my review copy of the KJV Note-Taker’s Bible, I’m in the unenviable position of having to give a Bible – the King James Version, no less – a low online rating. (Can you hear me sigh?)

To be as precise as possible, I’m giving the highest possible “score” of 5 stars to the KJV itself but only 1 star to the book at hand. Although I’d rather not star at all, Amazon insists, so the best I can do is average those ratings to a 3.

What I like about this edition is its handy, regular book size and a nice concordance in the back. The hardcover seems sturdy enough too, but sadly, this is not an edition for a serious note-taker.

My Bibles and I talk to each other. God's Word speaks, and I respond. Usually that means scribbling in the margins whatever insights God brings to mind or connective thought I want to investigate or phrases someone in our Bible study group says that I don’t want to forget. So when I saw that a review copy of a KJV with “Generous, wide margins for note takers” had become available, I requested it right away.

But, alas! According to the ruler in my desk drawer, the outer margin is slightly over one and a quarter inches but definitely less than 1.5 and less than the wide margin Bible I normally use. The latter also allows an interior margin of about three-fourths of an inch, whereas the KJV Note-Taker’s Bible has slightly more than a quarter-inch. This could be improved upon – and the regular book size kept – if the text were printed in a single, narrower column with a big, fat outside margin.

At present, the outer margin provides enough room to write tight or note a cross-reference, but personally, I’d rather have cross-references printed throughout the Bible. The one I use and have previously reviewed includes that feature and also has pages sewn (not glued) into the sturdiest possible binding of high quality leather – a necessity for those of us who do not want to transfer notes from one Bible to another in years, hopefully, to come. If, however, you just want a reader’s edition to sit down and read straight through, as you would any book-sized book, this non-intimidating, no-frills choice would work very well.



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


KJV Note-Taker’s Bible, hardcover





I review for BookLook Bloggers


December 15, 2014

Christmas gifts for all sorts of Bible readers


This post comes later than intended and, very likely, I accidentally omitted some of my favorites or yours. Nevertheless, this will give you a quick list of highly recommended editions of the Bible to check for your Christmas giving and your own Christmas list.

Catholic readers
Catholic Study Bible
Catholic Women’s Bible
Little Rock Catholic Study Bible
Jerusalem Bible
New Catholic Answer Bible
New Jerusalem Bible
Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible
The Saints Devotional Bible

Children
Adventure Bible for Early Readers,
Adventure Bible,
Bible storybooks for children
Bibles for children
Catholic Children’s Bible
Catholic Teen Bible
Catholic Youth Bible
ESV Children’s Bible
NIV Teen Study Bible

Evangelical readers
ESV Study Bible
Gospel Transformation Bible,
Holman Study Bible
Life Application Study Bible
MacArthur Study Bible,
New American Standard Bible, wide-margin, goatskin

General readers
African Heritage Study Bible
Amplified Bible
Anselm Academic Study Bible
Complete Parallel Bible
Common English Study Bible
The Lutheran Study Bible,
New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha
The Message with deuterocanonical aka apocryphal books
NIV Study Bible
Oxford Study Bible, Revised English Bible with Apocrypha
Thompson Chain Reference


©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.


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October 31, 2014

NKJV Adventure Bible for children


The flyer that came with the copy of the Adventure Bible the publisher kindly sent me to review calls this “The #1 Bible For Kids,” and I can easily see why!

Zondervan published this particular edition of the NKJV (New King James Version) with 8 to 10-year-old's in mind, but the sturdy hardback cover, colorful illustrations, and kid-friendly features make this a keeper for children in almost every age group.

Written by Lawrence O. Richards, those features include:

• Life in Bible Times
• People in Bible Times
• Did You Know?
• Let’s Live it!
• Words to Treasure

Most of those special features are self-explanatory, but to give you an idea of what to expect in “Did You Know?” an example relating to Exodus 30:7 says, “Incense is similar to perfume, but it is a powder that is burned rather than a liquid that is put on a person’s body. Incense and perfume both smell sweet.”

As an example of “Let’s Live It!” one of these special sidebars appears with a list of the Ten Commandments, giving the meaning for each and also “How I obey it,” which translates each command into everyday acts that are doable. For instance, the fourth commandment to “Keep the Sabbath holy,” means “Rest and think about God,” with an example of “How I Obey It” given as “Pay attention in church.”

An example of “Let’s Live It!” in the New Testament discusses “How to Love Enemies” as mentioned in Luke 6:27-36, explaining “Love is not just a feeling. Christian love means caring about other people and doing nice things for them.” Suggestions then include “Smile. Be friendly. Pray for her. Help him with schoolwork. Say nice things about her. Choose her for your team.”

Other highly appropriate study aids for children include Bible verses in “Word to Treasure” – and maybe even memorize! Also, each book of the Bible has an introduction addressing such questions as:

Who wrote this book?
Why was this book written?
For whom was this book written?
What happens in this book?
When did this happen?


The “Where” of a book often matters, too, so the edition includes several pages of clear, colored maps as well as a concordance to help readers look up key words or topics in the back of the book.

Scattered throughout this edition, however, slick, sturdy page inserts carry along the adventure motif, colorfully illustrating that being a Christian is an ongoing adventure with the Bible as our companion and travel guide.


©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts. She highly recommends this excellent edition from Zondervan as an ideal gift for children at Christmas time and throughout the year.

NKJV Adventure Bible, hardback




August 22, 2014

The Case For Christ Study Bible


Lee Strobel, the general editor of The Case For Christ Study Bible: Investigating The Evidence For Belief, is an award-winning Christian writer and Zondervan a well-respected publisher of Bibles, but I might not have gotten this edition if it were not for a great sale! Having grown up in The Body of Christ, which is comprised of many denominational parts that I have had the privilege of trying on from time to time, I felt no need for evidence to support my life-long belief in Christ or my conviction of biblical truths or my love for the church.

Almost immediately, however, I realized how much I appreciated the attitude expressed on the welcome page, which said this Bible “doesn’t instruct you regarding what you should or should not believe. Instead, its goal is to help you solidify your confidence in the Bible and its message by providing well-researched information that allows you to investigate the evidence for yourself and come to your own conclusions.” Yes!

Since that’s what I initially sought years ago when I began buying and devouring Bibles like someone starving, I must admit those words piqued my interest. But how would a new reader of God’s Word discover such claims to be true? Case by case, of course! And so, this unique study Bible includes relevant case histories in sidebars throughout the book as highlighted by these headings:

The Case For A Creator highlights God's intricate plans and the wonders of creation.

The Case For The Bible responds to questions about Bible people and stories.

The Case For Christ considers prophecies from the Hebrew Bible and also statements Jesus made about Himself.

The Case For Faith addresses troubling concerns such as why there’s so much suffering in the world.

The Verdict gives summations from distinguished biblical scholars and renowned Christians who have given much prayer and thought to such matters. And, oh, did I mention that Lee Strobel was once an atheist, whose research not only convinced him of Christ but turned him into an outstanding spokesperson for Christ and Christianity?

Looking for examples to show you, I saw “The Case For A Creator” addressing the question: “How do the sun and moon facilitate life?” With the sun the ideal distance from the earth, we learn that, if the sun “were much smaller, its luminosity would not allow high efficiency photosynthesis in plants; if it were much closer, the water would boil away from the planet’s surface. Similarly, our moon is just far enough away and just the right size to stabilize Earth’s tilt. Without the moon’s stabilizing presence, Earth would experience wild temperature swings, with devastating consequences for life.”

In another sidebar, we find examples of “The Case For The Bible” with such facts as “Over 5,700 of these old manuscripts have been found, compared with fewer than 700 copies of Homer’s Iliad and only 9 copies of the historian Josephus’s Jewish Wars.” Interesting!

Elsewhere, “The Case For Christ” asked, “What Is A Theophany?” then said that in this “visible manifestation, or appearance, of God… the forms in which God appears vary greatly, from the burning bush seen by Moses in Exodus 3:2 to the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire in Exodus 13:21-22.” With examples given of additional physical manifestations, the text ultimately explained, “when Jesus lived on Earth, people saw and interacted with God through him.”

Toward the back of the book, before the concordance and a series of colorful maps, other features address “Creeds And Hymns Of The Early Church,” which the Apostle Paul quoted in Romans 1:3-4, 10:9-10, I Timothy 3:16, and other places in the New Testament. We find, too, a list of “Claims Jesus Made About Himself,” which features His avowals to fulfill the law, establish the Kingdom of God, and be the light of the world.

With this recommended edition of the original New International Version (NIV) 1984 to enlighten us, we, too, can bring light to others as we present a convincing case for our faith and show wondrous reasons for believing in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

...

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is the author of numerous books in all genres, including the poetry book Living in the Nature Poem, published by Hiraeth Press in 2012 with an e-book version released in 2014 and a book of Bible-based poems Outside Eden, published this year by Kelsay Books.

To find reviews of other editions on this blog, type the title of the Bible in the Search box. If you don't find a discussion of an edition you're interested in, contact Mary through her website.


The Case For Christ Study Bible, hardback





July 14, 2014

NIV Life Journey Bible


If you’ve ever read the bestselling book Boundaries, you’ll know why I was glad to get a review copy of the NIV Life Journey Bible from Zondervan. In addition to providing the revised text of the super-bestselling NIV (New International Version) Bible, this edition includes 20 essays and 300 “Insights” by Boundaries authors, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. What a combination!

According to our Jewish ancestry, which came to all Christians through Christ, a person’s faith in God involves the body, mind, and spirit. In Luke 10:26-28 and Matthew 22:37, for example, Jesus tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind.”

Most of us “get” the spiritual side of believing, the physical side of putting those beliefs into practice, and the mental side of opening our minds to the mind of Christ through prayerful Bible reading. In worship services, we also hear sermons or homilies on spiritual growth and the various ministries requiring our physical presence and, perhaps, a little grease from our elbows.

Many Bible resources have been developed to help us draw closer to God spiritually and materially or tangibly, but articles and notes in this edition help us to draw closer to God mentally too. As explained in the front matter, “The Insights feature will give you an inside track on tips for emotional and relationship health, including where signs of emotional health and maturity, or their absence, occur in various stories, teachings and events found in Scripture.”

When it comes to dealing with problems, the Book of Job has much to say! For example, “God’s Right: Saying No” gives us this “Insight” on Job 2:9-10, where “Job did not ‘make God bad’ in his own mind. In all of his complaining, he did not end his relationship with God. Job didn’t understand God, but he allowed God to be himself. Job never withdrew his love from God, even when he was angry with him. This is a real relationship, and he was rewarded for his faithfulness, honesty and devotion to God, even when God did not do what he (Job) wanted.”

Another “Insight” pertains to “Sharing All Our Feelings With God,” where “Job wanted to fully express his protest to God (see Job 13:3).” However, Christians “often fear being honest with God because it has not been safe to express honesty in our earthly relationships. Like Job we fear both abandonment and retaliation. ...Rest assured, however, that God desires truth….(and) seeks people who will have a real relationship with him.”

Nevertheless, suffering can be expected, and so the “Insight” on Job 42:1-17 addresses “Suffering of Different Kinds,” where, “One is suffering as a result of working on our character, and the other is suffering that happens as a result of being in a fallen world. The key is to be able to tell the difference between the two and apply the right kind of experience to each. Too often in the church those who have been victims of destructive events are told that God is trying to teach them a lesson or that what they are going through is a result of their own sin or a part of the growth process.” But as happened with Job, “In reality, they are innocently suffering.”

Either way, disappointment will most likely occur – in God, in ourselves, or in other people, and so, an essay in this well-done edition offers thoughtful responses to the important question: “How Should We Respond to Disappointment With God?”

We do, of course, have choices as the “Insight” for Revelation 3:20 reminds us saying: “God has no interest in violating our boundaries so that he can relate to us. He wants us to love him freely, not because he controls us into it…. Intimacy with God is based on freedom, as are all good choices.”

When we think of “trespassing” as over-stepping the boundaries, we can choose to trust God not to trespass against us! The more we recognize God as loving, trustworthy, and true, the more we want to remove the obstacles, misunderstandings, and other boundaries between us. This edition can help to show us how.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler is a lifelong student of the Bible, writer in all genres, and poet-author of the Bible-based book of poetry Outside Eden.


NIV, Life Journey Bible, hardcover




I review for BookLook Bloggers

June 30, 2014

NIrV Adventure Bible for Early Readers


Until Zondervan sent me a review copy of the NIrV Adventure Bible for Early Readers, I hadn’t read the New International Readers Version of the Bible, which relies on the NIV but uses shorter words and sentences to encourage children to read the Bible themselves. Great idea! and well-done....

More than a Bible storybook that retells stories for children, the NIrV might be called an English translation for school kids. For example, Genesis 1 begins: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth didn’t have any shape. And it was empty.”

This child-friendly edition also includes inserts and sidebars to highlight or explain Bible principles. For example, “Words to Treasure” features key verses such as Genesis 1:1 to memorize and “Did You Know” to clarify words and concepts such as “1:1 The word create means to ‘make something new.’ Genesis tells us that God is the creator of all things.”

Also in the beginning, “Live It!” articles begin with such titles as “You’re Special” followed by an encouragement to “Read Genesis 1:26-27. God made us in his own image. We are God’s very special creation./ Look at pictures of your mom or dad when they were children. How were they like you? How were they different?... / God made you in his image too. You are special to God. He loves you. Write a message to God to thank him for loving you.”

Other child-friendly features include full page inserts such as the “Ten Commandments for Kids” and small sidebars such as “Life in Bible Times” and “People in Bible Times.”

In Acts, for instance, we read about “Purple Cloth,” which explains that “Purple dye came from crushing the shells of tiny purple sea creatures. Hundreds of these shellfish were needed to make enough purple to dye one robe. So purple cloth was very expensive….” Then, on the adjacent page, “People in Bible Times” talks about Lydia, who “sold beautiful purple cloth. One day she heard Paul talk about the gospel. Lydia believed what Paul said….”

Believing comes from hearing and receiving the Word of God. With this Bible to accompany children throughout childhood, they can hear on their language level then read and re-read God’s word as though the Bible were written especially for them.


© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a lifelong lover of the Bible and traditionally published author of 26 books in all genres, including two poetry books, the Bible-basedOutside Eden and environmentally-oriented Living in the Nature Poem.


NIrV Adventure Bible for Early Readers, paperback




June 19, 2014

NIV Teen Study Bible


Lauded as the “Bestselling Bible for Teens,” the NIV Teen Study Bible published by Zondervan comes in a variety of cover choices, ranging from my paperback review copy to the attractive leather-like cover in the compact edition shown below. Regardless of the appearance outside, the inside includes helpful sidebars and interesting inserts by Larry and Sue Richards, who obviously had teens in mind in this updated version of the reader-friendly New International Version (NIV)of the Bible.

For example, the front matter provides The Apostles Creed, used by many denominations as a clear statement of faith. Then, a “We Believe” page lists, verse-by-verse, relevant biblical references throughout the text, so young people can see how the creed came about and what each phrase means.

In Genesis, for instance, a “We Believe” page addresses the belief that “God is ‘the Maker of Heaven and Earth’,” then goes on to explain how “Genesis 1 teaches that God created the universe. Life didn’t ‘just happen’ as molecules bumped into each other. How do you know? Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1:18-20 suggest that you look around. If you saw a shiny new Mustang in a junkyard, would you think it ‘evolved’ from the junkyard parts?” With the universe far “more complex than a Mustang,” we can be sure of God’s good work and, more importantly, know “that the heavenly Father who loves you is the all-powerful creator of the universe.”

Scattered throughout this highly recommended edition, you’ll also find Introductions to each book of the Bible, Q&As of Bible trivia, teen-friendly side bars, and article inserts such as “Dear Jordan.” For instance, a “Dear Jordan” question in Genesis asks why it’s so hard to resist temptation, while a question in Job wants to know why God didn’t heal a friend who died. In Romans, another teen asks about her relationship with her parents, and in each case, “Jordan” provides a biblically sound response.

Christian teens will also appreciate the additional helps in the back matter such as the “Bible Truth Index” and “Teen Life Index,” each of which addresses subjects young people wonder about -- alcohol, anger, dating, swearing, and even zits! Odd, perhaps, but God cares about every aspect of us and our lives as this teen-loving edition clearly shows.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a lifelong lover of the Bible and traditionally published author of 26 books in all genres, including two poetry books, the Bible-basedOutside Eden and environmentally-oriented Living in the Nature Poem.


NIV Teen Study Bible, paperback




NIV Teen Study Bible, compact edition, leather-look cover




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May 23, 2014

Creeds, Councils, and Confessions in Christ and the church


In Know the Creeds and Councils published by Zondervan, author Justin S. Holcomb, a professor of theology and Episcopal priest, gives a concise, well-balanced overview of church creeds and councils that arose for various reasons over many centuries.

As explained in the Introduction, the “English word ‘creed’ comes from the Latin word credo, which means ‘I believe’,” with creeds "developed by early Christians to defend against subtle pagan influences and to establish key beliefs.” For example, the opening lines of the Nicene Creed, established in 325 A.D., clearly state:

I believe in God,
The Father Almighty
Maker of Heaven and Earth
Of all that is seen and unseen….

In the early church, “creeds were meant to be used by groups – not just a summary of what everyone in the room agrees upon but a promise made and kept as a group. Creeds were initially used in baptism, during which the baptismal candidate recited a formula or responded to questions, thereby publicly confessing belief in Jesus Christ." Eventually, easy-to-learn creeds gave converts the basic elements of the Christian faith and "were also used in church liturgies ... uniting the congregation in common confession. Far from being a device of the ivory tower, creeds were the way that ordinary” people “could learn about and pledge their lives to the God of the Bible.”

Confessions, however, differ in that they “often define a particular group’s belief in secondary issues such as infant baptism, the end times, predestination, the Lord’s Supper, and the order of salvation.” So, while creeds aimed to preserve the Christian faith for all peoples, places, and times, “confessions tried to apply the faith to the here and now.” Since this often came about because of a theological debate, “the issues emphasized in any particular confession may say more about cross-denominational arguments than anything else….”

Interestingly though, a study of confessions, creeds, catechisms, and councils can draw us closer together in the church Body of Christ as we begin to see and respect differing points of view and various possibilities for interpretation. Such approaches have biblical precedence too. For instance Acts 15 tells us of the first recorded church council, which occurred in Jerusalem to address the issue of “how Jewish and Gentile Christians would relate to one another on a daily basis.”

Even in modern times, “Councils bring together Christians from all over the world – not just the best and brightest thinkers, the flashiest preachers, or the most fervent activists but a cross section of informed Christian leaders. Ideally, the diversity that a council brings – both in the origins of the attendees and in their viewpoints – ensures that all viewpoints are fairly represented. Having asked the Spirit to guide their decisions, these Christians then try to work out a solution to the questions at hand that is best in line with Scripture.”

Although that ideal does not always go as hoped, each chapter of this book takes us through problems and purposes the church has addressed, giving us an informed approach to issues that concern us today. Or, as Dr. Holcomb puts it: “Learning how Christians through history have wrestled with the tough questions of our faith gives us a valuable perspective that deepens our understanding of the Christian faith, increases our dependence on God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and Holy Scriptures, fuels our worship of God, increases our love for each other, and motivates mission to the world.”

For those who believe in ecumenism and the need for church unity – not to make us uniformly alike, but to unite us as One in the One Body of Christ at work in the world today, this book comes highly recommended.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer


Know the Creeds and Councils, paperback





I review for BookLook Bloggers

December 24, 2013

NIV Essentials Study Bible

For many years Christians from almost every denomination have lauded the ecumenically-minded NIV Study Bible for its well-balanced notes, comments, and study aids, and some, like me, have dug into the Archaeological Study Bible with its “finds” and “tells” uncovered by archaeologists, who gave us deeper insights into Bible places, times, cultures, and events. Also, new Christians seem to appreciate especially the NIV Quest Study Bible with questions from over 1,000 readers and responses from biblical scholars who provide no easy answers but fair-minded feedback and multiple perspectives whenever additional views exists.

Zondervan has produced other fine study Bibles, too, so when I requested a review copy of the new NIV Essentials Study Bible from BookSneeze, I mainly wanted to know what this edition might have that all the others didn’t. Well, I won’t keep you waiting! The answer is – nothing and everything!

As the name implies, the NIV Essentials Study Bible contains the essentials, the highlights, and, dare I say, the best of the sidebars, footnotes, and study aids from each of the other NIV offerings from Zondervan.

Besides my preference for the most recent 2011 revision of the NIV (New International Version), I like the lighter weight of this hardback edition and the easier-to-read font with a bit more ink than the text and footnotes often have in other Zondervan Bibles. I also like the blue headings inserted into the text as a visual reminder of the primary topics for each chapter or passage.

Maybe that medium shade of blue ink helped. I don’t know. I just know I’m somewhat dyslexic, so if a page's format has too much going on, my eyes are apt to blip out in an effort to quieten the chaos. But this Bible evoked none of that! Despite the wealth of notes and information packed onto almost every page, I found the format reader-friendly, visually pleasing, and easy to use.

My only lament, therefore, is a wish – that the NIV Essentials Study Bible will be released in a leather cover as genuine and long-lasting as this essential book.

©2013, Mary Harwell Sayler


NIV Essentials Study Bible, hardback




I review for BookSneeze®


November 14, 2013

NIV Ragamuffin Bible

When I first heard of the new NIV Ragamuffin Bible, the word “ragamuffin” intrigued me as its meaning ranges from urchin to brat to child – descriptions that undoubtedly fit all of us at one time or another. As children of God, we’re bereft when we shut ourselves off from our Heavenly Father and when we get bratty or disobey! We’re also reminded that the Word of God really is for the people of God through the subtitle, “Meditations For The Bedraggled, Beat-up & Brokenhearted.”

Those meditations come to us through the “Lifetime Work from Brennan Manning 1934-2013,” a former Marine, American author, priest, and public speaker with whom I wasn’t familiar until now even though his well-known works include such interesting titles as The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, Ruthless Trust, and his memoir, All is Grace.

In addition to the complete text of the latest edition of the New International Version (NIV), the NIV Ragamuffin Bible includes 104 devotions, 250 reflections, and 150 quotes from Fr. Manning’s wise words, which come to us as golden tidbits tested by fire. For example, “Element of Delight” offers a reflection on Genesis 2, which says, in part, “The Father gave you as a gift to himself. You are a response to the vast delight of God.”

After “The Great Deception” comes this honest insight, “We find it uncomfortable, if not intolerable, to confront our true selves; and so… we either flee our own reality or manufacture a false self – mostly admirable, mildly prepossessing, and superficially happy. Defense mechanisms become useful allies here.”

If you’ve ever wondered what would have happened if Adam and Eve had simply confessed their wrongdoing to God, you’ll connect with this quote by Fr. Manning on page 8: “Perhaps the main reason that we are such poor practitioners of the art of being human, why we so often teeter on a tight-rope between self-hatred and despair, is that we don’t pray.”

As the reflection on “Encountering God” expresses it: “Religion is a matter not of learning how to think about God but of actually encountering him.” And that encounter might not be easy! In “Testing” (page 25), for example, Fr. Manning boldly asks: “Have you grappled with the core question of your faith, which is not ‘Is Jesus God-like?’ but ‘Is God Jesus-like?’”

Besides encouraging us to soak ourselves in the type of prayer that Fr. Manning calls “Son bathing,” his insights and reflections, quoted above from Genesis, continue to spotlight spiritual thoughts throughout the biblical text, nearing the end in this reflection in Revelation: “Nothing can harm you permanently, no suffering is irrevocable, no loss is lasting, no defeat is more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive. Jesus did not deny the reality of suffering, discouragement, disappointment, frustration and death; he simply stated that the kingdom of God would conquer all of these horrors, that the Father’s love is so prodigal that no evil could possibly resist it.”

Such uplifting words give this edition a deep place in readers who want to get closer to God or whose faith has lessened or who know someone who needs this Bible to keep going or who just want a nice quality, hardback reader edition of the newest NIV. Regardless of your reasons for reading – and regardless of how many times you’ve read the Bible or these reflective words, this reader edition comes highly recommended and highly inspired.

©2013, Mary Harwell Sayler

NIV Ragamuffin Bible, hardcover


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NIV Ragamuffin Bible, Kindle edition, is also available.