Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

May 12, 2017

CSB Study Bible

The new CSB Study Bible, which Holman kindly sent me to review, has many of the features found in the previously reviewed award-winning Holman Study Bible. The most notable difference, of course, is its use of the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) text – the newly published revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) translation, which came out in 2004.

As an “optimal equivalence” translation, the CSB provides a word-for-word rendering of scripture unless the meaning might be obscure to most readers, in which case a thought-for-thought translation takes precedence.

To give you an idea of how those options compare, read the HCSB translation of Psalm 1:1 below, followed by the revised text in CSB:

How happy is the man
who does not follow the advice of the wicked
or take the path of sinners
or join a group of mockers!
” (HCSB)

“How happy is the one who does not
walk in the advice of the wicked
or stand in the pathway with sinners
or sit in the company of mockers!
” (CSB)

Besides the implication that women and children may also be “the one” struggling with a choice of peers, the CSB retained the parallelism of walk/ stand/ sit found in most translations.

That same page in the CSB Study Bible includes a sidebar on the Hebrew word “’ashrey” [pronounced ash-RAY] and gives the number of occurrences in the Psalms, along with a definition, shown in part here:

“’Ashrey, an interjection especially frequent in Psalms, means happy (Ps. 1:1) and implies blessed (Ec. 10:17) and happy (DN. 12:12.) It is similar to baruk (“blessed”) but probably more secular. ‘Ashrey is never used of or by God.”

Such sidebars on key words can be found throughout the book. In addition to those word studies, this edition also uses bold type to highlight quotations from scripture found elsewhere. For example, in the third chapter of his gospel, Luke includes a quote from Isaiah 40. The CSB Study Bible then uses a boldface font to call our attention to this as we read, “A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord.”

Both the original and present study editions from Holman provide such excellent features as cross references, introductions to the individual books, helpful footnotes, photos, charts, maps, timelines, and essays on major biblical and theological issues. However, the CSB Study Bible has even more articles, such as “Reading the Bible for Transformation,” “Faith and Works,” and introductions to the Pentateuch, historical books, wisdom books, prophetic books, and the gospels.

Instead of one bookmark, the new edition has two, which I appreciate because of Sunday School discussions on the Old Testament and Wednesday studies on the new. However, both of these Bibles have sewn-in pages, which lay flat on a desk – the most likely place for reading and studying the impressive aids found in both of these highly recommended Holman study editions.

Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017, poet-writer, reviewer


CSB Study Bible, 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



June 23, 2016

The Rhyme Bible Storybook


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016

The Rhyme Bible Storybook, hardback



April 15, 2016

Your Bible notes as heirloom


Some time ago, I posted a review of one of my most literal and beautifully produced leather Bibles in the “NASB wide-margin Bible in goatskin” – a Cambridge University Press edition now covered in a sturdy split-calf leather that’s shown on the review since Amazon no longer carries my particular goatskin edition.

Meanwhile, my copy has become my cache for thoughts that come as I read and insights that arise in my Bible study group at church. Studying for that discussion of God’s word, I also find interesting notes and comments that put a passage into its intended context while showing the Bible’s relevancy today. So, I pencil (never ink!) those notes into the wide margins.

Since I’ve been doing this for several years, most of the pages have some type of response to the scriptures read. Therefore, I began taking that Bible to my study group, instead of carrying one or more of my typically heavy study Bibles. Not only is this less cumbersome, but I can add new comments during our discussion and also have my own notes ready to share.

Recently, however, some changes occurred: 1.) I now have trouble seeing type smaller than 11 points, and this lovely edition has only around an 8-point font. 2.) The NASB (New American Standard Bible) has been updated. 3.) I'm praying my children will want to read my personal responses to God’s word. 4.) I have more than one child!

When I began an Internet search for a large print leather Bible with sewn pages and wide margins, I found that few existed. I also realized that most contemporary editions of the Bible will continue to be updated, often losing a precise word by substituting a fresh phrase that readers today will understand. But what about readers tomorrow?

As God-incidence would have it, the only 11-point font I found in a leather-covered Bible with wide margins is the King James Version (KJV) published by Hendrickson Bibles – a perfect choice for now and, hopefully, for ages to come!

Since I also plan to use this edition in my Bible study group, I welcome such “Special Features” as a concordance and color maps. In addition, the back matter includes:

Key Bible Promises
Harmony of the Gospels
Miracles of the Old Testament
Parables of the Old Testament
Miracles of the New Testament
Parables of the New Testament
Old Testament Prophecies of the Passion


Although I wish the cover were split cowhide, this genuine leather is supple and sturdy with sewn pages to last a lifetime and, Lord willing, long beyond.

Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-writer, lifelong Bible lover, Bible reviewer, and blogger for The Word Center and Praise Poems, © 2016

KJV wide margin large print Bible, genuine leather cover, sewn pages




March 17, 2015

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) reader edition


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


HCSB Large Print Ultrathin Reference Bible, Brown Genuine Cowhide Leather



HCSB Large Print Personal Size Reference Bible, Brown Genuine Cowhide





February 23, 2015

The Bible from Scratch


When Saint Mary’s Press kindly sent me a review copy of the Catholic edition of The Bible from Scratch: A lightning tour from Genesis to Revelation by Simon Jenkins, I could see I was in for a fun read. Some readers might wonder “What’s this?” which is exactly what the opening text addresses, saying:

“The Bible’s characters themselves weren’t shy about using different methods of communication to get across what they had to say. Jeremiah smashed crockery. Ezekiel performed weird, one-man plays. David sang songs. Nathan told a trick story. Jesus talked in pictures.”

In that same spirit of getting people’s attention so they’ll actually listen, the book has youth in mind in this “beginner’s guide to the Good Book, something to help readers start their own explorations in the Bible.” After reading it myself, however, I think that any teen or adult, who doesn’t know their chapters from their verses, would do well to let this lively little book provide a guide.

To give readers an overview of the inspired word of God, one section takes you “Around the Bible in 30 days” and “introduces 30 significant Bible passages that will take you quickly from Genesis to Revelation.”

After that month-long challenge, the “Intro to the Old Testament” encourages Christians to read the whole Bible and not just parts. As the text says, “if we don’t read the Old Testament, then we miss out on a lot. Sticking to the New Testament and ignoring the Old is like walking into a movie when the film is two-thirds of the way through.”

Besides “a great deal of humor, tragedy and some startling encounters with God,” the Old Testament shows us “people arguing with God, wrestling with God, haggling with God, trying to get the best deal from God; people who struggle and will not let go of God – and a God who in turn will not let go of them.”

In addition to touching on interesting stories, poetry, and prophesies in the Bible, the book provides timelines of the Kings of Israel and Judah, quick sketches of Bible characters, brief summaries of each book, and a recap of what went on in the times between the testaments.

Then, the “Intro to the New Testament” defines its four sections as focused on:

 Jesus (Matthew to John)
 The Church (Acts)
 Letters (Romans to Jude)
 The End (Revelation)


With profuse use of cartoon drawings, silly sidebars, and overall good humor, the book presents sense instead of non-sense and gets serious as needed too. In discussing “epistles by apostles,” for example, the text explains that “Most of them were written to fix the big problems facing the young churches. The letters are full of details about real people and situations – and yet they also speak to us today.” Written by "people on the move," the letters (aka epistles) continue to help us:

 combat wrong ideas (Galatians, Colossians)
 tackle crises in the churches (1 & 2 Corinthians)
 explain important teaching (Romans, Hebrews)
 encourage Christians under pressure (1 Peter)
 make a personal appeal (Philemon, 3 John)

As “The End” comes, the author emphasizes the “classy ending” in the “cast of (literally) thousands, choirs of saints and angels, a pitched battle between the forces of light and darkness, a smoldering lake of fire for the wicked and paradise regained for the righteous.” More important than all that, “the Bible begins and ends with God and with the promise that the human story, despite its chapters of suffering and despair, will have the ultimate happy ending.”

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


The Bible from Scratch: A lightning tour from Genesis to Revelation, Catholic Edition, paperback




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