Showing posts with label study Bible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label study Bible. 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 These connotations of a word or the clearer context for an outdated phrase is what makes the Amplified Bible a unique translation of God’s Word.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 27, 2017

The MacArthur Study Bible, ESV, large print


Although I’d previously reviewed The MacArthur Study Bible, which Crossway kindly sent, I welcomed a review copy of the newer large print edition, also from Crossway.

With an 11-point font for the ESV text (English Standard Version) and 9-point type for the study notes, this edition is easy on the eyes, which aids comprehension as does the wealth of in-text maps and drawings that help readers to envision what’s being read.

In addition, Dr. John MacArthur provided book introductions and almost 25,000 notes with pertinent information and insights based on his 40 years of biblical studies. In the Introduction to Leviticus, for example, we read:

“The most profitable study in Leviticus is that which yields truth in the understanding of sin, guilt, substitutionary death, and atonement by focusing on features that are not explained or illustrated elsewhere in OT Scripture. Later OT authors, and especially NT writers, build on the basic understanding of these matters provided in Leviticus. The sacrificial features of Leviticus point to their ultimate, one-time fulfillment in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.”


Then, a footnote to Leviticus 1:1-7:38 explains:

“This section provides laws pertaining to sacrifice. For the first time in Israel’s history, a well-defined set of sacrifices was given… to the people and the priests….”

However, a footnote for Hebrews 9:8 reminds us “The Levitical system did not provide any direct access into God’s presence for his people…. Nearness had to be provided by another way.”

That way, of course, was The Way of Christ Jesus, Whose “death was necessary for the fulfillment of the older covenant and the establishment of the new” (as stated in the footnote for Hebrews 9:13-22.)

In the back matter, an “Overview of Theology” discusses the uniqueness of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and the creation of mankind in God’s image but, corrupted by sin, in need of salvation, regeneration, and justification through the power of Christ and His righteousness.

The next article gives readers an “Index to Key Bible Doctrines” with major headings such as “The Holy Scriptures” and “God the Father” followed by numerous subheadings that lead you to Bible verses on those themes. For instance, under the heading “Last Things,” you’ll find scriptures on the antichrist, eternal death, final judgment, heaven, hell, resurrection from the dead, reward of believers, and second coming of Christ – the latter of which required two columns to list relevant verses.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for in that list of biblical doctrines, the topic has most likely been included in the concordance to follow.

Since this study edition may turn out to be an often-used favorite, the Smyth-sewn binding assures you of a book meant to last.

Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017, poet-writer, reviewer, and lifelong student of the Bible

The MacArthur Study Bible,
ESV, hardback, large print




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



January 13, 2017

Standard Lesson Study Bible, NIV


Unlike most study Bibles with small fonts and footnotes, the Standard Lesson Study Bible has a pleasant-to-the-eyes 10-point font in a two-column format with the NIV (New International Version of the Bible) alongside the best of Standard Publishing’s best-selling Bible study lessons. As soon as I heard about it, I immediately requested a review copy, which David C. Cook Publishing kindly sent.

To give you an idea of the type of study helps this edition has, I turned to Genesis 1, which appears in the left-hand column of the page and, to the right, notes such as ”The Bible does not attempt to prove God’s existence. God simply is…” and “The earth was… formless, or unfinished,”and:

“1:3-5 On the first day of creation, God spoke: Let there be light. Light is essential for life. God separated light from darkness, which has no real existence but is simply an absence of light, a ‘without.’ Thus darkness serves as an apt metaphor for the chaos of moral evil and sin – living ‘without God,’ our moral light…”

At the bottom of the right-hand commentary, this edition provides questions for discussion:

“WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Why are the aspects of creation important in understanding both God and our world?

Talking Points for Your Discussion
. Orderliness/design
. Creative power of God
. A world created to be good”


With that same format running consistently throughout, the lessons alongside the “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 have this to say:

“13:4-7 Paul defined love by what it was and was not. Obviously thinking of the pride the Corinthians were taking in their spiritual gifts, Paul warned that love doesn’t boast about what one has or envy what someone else has received. Furthermore, love does not lead us to desire, to do, to celebrate, or even to think about anything that dishonor(s) others. Instead love is centered in truth, protecting everything one values, trusts in, and hopes for while awaiting a brighter future.”

In addition to the information and insights in commentary immediately adjacent to the scripture readings, this edition include book introductions to review before beginning the study of a book. For example, part of the introduction to Revelation reads:

“Although separated by 15 centuries, Moses and John faced similar situations. Both dealt with rulers who demanded worship. The plagues of Egypt are best understood not as plagues against people, but against the gods worshipped by them. The Pharaoh saw himself as the chief of these. When we recall stories of Pharaoh’s hardened heart, we gain insight to the similar personality of Domitian Caesar.”

Other unique study aids include a pronunciation guide in the front pages to help Bible teachers pronounce unfamiliar names easily.

In the back matter, I particularly enjoyed “Everyday Expressions That Come from the Bible” such as “apple of my eye,” “drop in a bucket,” “a little bird told me,” and “let justice roll down like water.”

Other articles in the back pages help to teach teachers how to teach more effectively and students at all levels to learn more about God’s Word.

If you love a good laugh, as the Creator of Wit does, you’ll also enjoy the collage of stories expressing “Humor in the Bible.”

Throughout the commentary alongside the scriptures, the question “What do you think?” evokes discussion and reflection, reminding me now to say, I think very highly of this unique study Bible.

Review by poet-writer Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017

Standard Lesson Study Bible, NIV, hardcover


Standard Lesson Study Bible, NIV, imitation leath, duotone




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


November 19, 2016

The Complete Jewish Study Bible

The Complete Jewish Study Bible comes to us with the theme of “Insights for Jews & Christians” and the goal of “Illuminating the Jewishness of God’s Word.” What a treasure this provides in one volume – something I’ve been hoping for since my husband bought me The Complete Jewish Bible and separate commentary, which I reviewed a few years ago.

This hardback edition published by Hendrickson Bibles, who kindly sent me a copy to review, offers “Features Unique to The Complete Jewish Study Bible” (CJSB) such as “New Bible Book Introductions” from a Jewish perspective and “Study Notes” in the bottom margins “to help readers understand the deeper meanings behind the Jewish text.”

Additionally, over 100 color-coded articles in sidebars throughout the text focus on these twelve significant themes:

Anti-Jewish Scriptural Interpretations
Covenant
Jewish Customs
Jewish-Gentile Relatons
Messianic Prophecy
The Name of God
The Sabbath (Shabbat)
Salvation and Atonement
The Holy Days of Israel
The Land of Israel
Torah
The Tabernacle (Mishkan)


In his introduction, translator and scholar David H. Stern, who provided us with this biblical text in English, begins by asking “Why is this Bible different from all other Bibles?” bringing to mind a traditional question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” asked by the youngest person at the Passover Seder.

And why is this Bible different? The CJSB “restores the Jewish unity of the Bible,” giving Messianic Jews the opportunity to see Jesus’ Jewishness in the New Covenant and Christians a fuller view of Jesus in the Torah.

For example, a footnote to Genesis 2:15 comments on the phrase “To cultivate and care for it” as coming from “The Hebrew word for ‘work,’ avodah,” which “is the same for ‘manual labor’ and ‘worshipping God.’ The picture we see here of the human’s work is that it was also a form of worship.”

To give you an example of the importance of Jewish insight into the New Testament, Nicodemus was more confused by Jesus statement “You must be born again” in John 3:3 than most of us Christians ever realized. According to Pharisaic Judaism, a person had six ways to be born again:

Converting to Judaism
Becoming bar mitzvah
Marrying
Being ordained as a rabbi
Heading a rabbinical school
Being crowned king


Since (Nicodemus) “Nakdimon had gone through every process available in Judaism to being ‘born again’….” Jesus (Yeshua) had “the opportunity to explain some spiritual truths to this already ‘born again’ teacher of Is’rael, primarily that he still needed to be spiritually ‘born again’.”

I would be delighted to give you more and more examples of how the CJSB blesses readers who love God’s Word, but I pray you’ll see for yourself. Since I'm posting this review on the last day of National Bible Week, it's a great time to find out!

Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-writer, reviewer

The Complete Jewish Study Bible, hardcover






November 18, 2016

NKJV Know The Word Study Bible

For those of us who really, really want to know The Word of God, any reputable study edition will help us toward that goal. The new NKJV Know The Word Study Bible published by Thomas Nelson differs mainly by making that goal a strong focus as we read.

Having received a complimentary copy from BookLook Bloggers for my always-honest review, I like how this edition emphasizes three ways to study the Bible:

Book by Book
Verse by Verse
Topic by Topic

If you choose the latter as your starting point, the front matter immediately provides that option, right after the Table of Contents, rather than in the back matter, which typically occurs near the index. This upfront placement gives clear access to God’s Word by highlighting key topical verses and “Topic-By-Topic Articles” on the Trinity, Love, Salvation, Suffering, and other vital subjects.

For a Book-by-Book study, the edition offers introductions to each book with a Summary, How To Study that particular book, and the highlights covered in the text, which most study editions also provide.

For a Verse-by-Verse investigation of God’s word, footnotes offer insights and information that add to our understanding of the text, which, in this case, is the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible – one of my favorite translations.

The light font and bleed-through on thin paper make this edition harder to read than some, but it’s exactly the Bible I’ve been wanting to place on the bookshelf at church. When members of our study group forget to bring a Bible from home, they’ll have a good edition with helpful notes to contribute to the class discussion, and the Topic-by-Topic feature provides a fine choice for guiding future studies.

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

NKJV Know the Word Study Bible



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April 1, 2016

10 features Bible readers want


After reviewing new editions of the Bible for over four years and being an avid Bible reader long before that, I’ve learned that other readers look for the same features I like to see.

If I’ve omitted your favorite, please add it in the Comments section below. Or, if you’re a Bible publisher, please let us know what plans you have along these lines:

First, the physical features:

. Manageable Size .
The first thing most of us notice is whether a Bible is too big, too heavy, or too small to fit our needs. One of the most gorgeous study Bibles I’ve ever received was so massive, I found it too awkward to handle and read except at my desk. Nor could I comfortably carry it to my Bible discussion group, which was a loss to all of us since we missed the benefits of some very impressive footnotes and sidebars.

. Readable Font with Adequate Ink .
On several occasions, I’ve received review copies of “large print” Bibles that weren’t! Unless the font is a minimum of 10-point type with 9-point footnotes, the print will not be large enough for young readers to focus on or for older eyes to see without a blur. I hope type lauded as large print will become standardized at 11 or 12-point type with giant print at 14 points and super giant at 16 to 20. That said, none of the above will ease a reader’s eyes unless the publisher selects a well-inked font.

. Adequate Margins and White Space .
When a font of any size cuts into the surrounding margins, the text seems to scream at the reader’s eyes. That might be a necessary compromise for a study Bible, but people who interact with Holy Scripture usually need a wide-margin edition that provides space for jotting down those insights that come during reading.

. Quality Paper, Sewn into the Binding .
As do many Bible lovers, I like to underline God’s promises and words of encouragement, but some paper textures won’t readily accept a pencil or stop bleed-through from light markers. A creamy, thicker, easy-to-turn paper can be ideal for a reader edition, whereas thin paper might be necessary for a study edition. In either case, the quality of paper makes a big difference in Bibles meant to be kept and used often, which also means those pages must be sewn – not glued – into the cover.

I’m personally displeased with the cheap grade paper often used in children’s editions. I suppose the thinking is that they’ll soon outgrown a kid version and want a “grownup” edition, which might be true for some. However, a lifelong love for the Bible began for many of us in childhood, and I’m happy to say I still have the first Bible ever given to me. Keeping it was my choice, but if the publisher had used the cheap grade of paper I often seen now, I doubt my zipper-enclosed children’s edition would have lasted for decades!

. Durable Cover .
Regarding that zipper, which I don’t want in a Bible now, it still works amazingly well! Again, that’s because the publisher used quality materials and workmanship, which I’m finding more difficult to locate. However, contemporary translations in paperbacks with glued-in pages give us a chance to see if we want something more durable. If so, high quality leather covers that lay flat are a long-time preference for favorite editions, while top-quality man-made covers that lay flat can last well and also be pleasant to the touch. For encyclopedic editions, though, my gorgeous goatskin-covered study Bible can not stand up on my desk! Then, a sturdy hardcover binding with sewn-in pages makes the most sense.

. Two (preferably three!) Ribbon Markers .
Yes, we can always add bookmarks, but two or more ribbon markers encourage us to read from both testaments and actually check out those cross-references. For instance, I might want to read the Gospels straight through, as I would other books, but turn to Psalms for a morning meditation. Then, if I want to investigate the verses referred to in a passage, I need another ribbon to hold my place while I look up the next scripture. Therefore, three ribbon markers work great in study editions. Regardless of the number, though, each ribbon needs a hem-finished tip to prevent unraveling.

More importantly, students of the Bible, avid readers, and study groups need:

. Cross-References .
Make that readable cross-references! Most are not! Even in large-print Bibles, the references typically have a thin, tiny font that requires a magnifying glass. Since these often get placed between columns or in the outside margin of paragraphed text, this cuts into usable space for note-taking. One workable solution is to place a reference at the end of the Bible verse to which it connects, making it immediately accessible and also very readable as such cross-references sensibly use the same sized font.

. Book Intros .
For a reader edition, a brief introduction about the author, time, place, and purpose helps to get us grounded. For study editions, outlines and themes work well, but for either, a one-sentence thesis statement can help us to find which book is most likely to have what we’re looking for.

. User-friendly Layout .
Timelines, photographs, maps, and/or sidebars in an eye-appealing format make readers just want to keep reading, which should be a primary aim for any new edition. Those visual aids also help us to see the relevancy of scripture today. If space prevents those features, however, just having chapter subheadings will visually break up the text and help us to find the passages we’re looking for with greater ease.

All of the above features encourage Bible reading, but most importantly, we need:

. Unbiased Footnotes and Articles .
At first glance, this preference seems to have exceptions. For instance, when I received a review copy of The Lutheran Study Bible, I expected – and, indeed, wanted – footnotes to interpret the Bible from the perspective of that denomination. Ditto for the Didache Bible, whose footnotes include quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC.) Such editions provide an important service to members of a particular denomination by helping them to see where their church is coming from and why. In addition, this info can foster ecumenical understanding in Christians from other backgrounds.

Study notes that present various interpretations can be very helpful, too, when they’re fair-minded, avoid telling readers how to think, and do not speak against any denomination ever! The more Christians from diverse backgrounds read, study, and love the Bible, the more we come to respect one other and acknowledge the family we have as the beloved children of our one Creator God.

© 2016, Mary Harwell Sayler



November 20, 2015

NLT Illustrated Study Bible

My first impression of the NLT Illustrated Study Bible, which Tyndale House Publishers kindly sent me to review, was its heft!

Then, looking at the outer edges of the book reminded me of striations in cut rock, colorfully telling what’s gone on prior to its discovery. Similarly, layers of color along those outside edges hint at the wealth of photographs and original illustrations included in this sturdy study edition.

The magnitude of features undoubtedly required keeping page bulk to a minimum. Nevertheless, I regretted seeing the thinness of the paper, which seemed even thinner after feeling the thick, slick book jacket and the canvas-like cover sheets at the beginning and end of the book. An option would have been to cut some of the 1,000+ images in favor of a denser quality paper, but then we would no longer have all of the amazing visuals that help us to open our eyes more fully to God’s Word.

Indeed, the website http://openmyeyes.com/bible/ provides a video to introduce this edition and establish its primary goal as helping us to see aspects of the Bible that might, otherwise, go unnoticed.

To do this, the book includes the kind of helps we generally find in a Bible dictionary – for instance, profiles of 120 Bible characters – and the kinds of color photographs we expect in a Bible atlas. The overall effect is to show us what Bible people, places, and times were like, so we can picture ourselves as part of the scene and relate to the ongoing relationship God wants to have with us and all mankind.

In addition to the stunning visuals in this heavily illustrated study Bible, we also get over 25,000 notes to accompany the updated text of the New Living Translation (NLT), which remains one of my top favorites.

Highly readable and poetic, the NLT translates ancient manuscripts into a contemporary, respectful English version that’s easy to follow in a worship service or in a Bible study group when other people read aloud from almost any classical or modern translation. Even at home alone, however, this edition makes the Bible remarkably accessible to new readers and also visually inspiring to those of us who have loved the Bible throughout our reading lives.

© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, Bible reviewer, is a poet-writer of numerous books in all genres for Christian and educational publishers. She also blogs about prayer, poetry, and writing and recently began posting her Praise Poems.


NLT Illustrated Study Bible, hardcover




September 21, 2015

CEB Student Bible

The CEB Student Bible, which Abingdon kindly sent me to review, is a great find for young people, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it too!

The contemporary and ecumenically-minded CEB (Common English Bible) translation makes a good choice for children, teens, young adults, and virtually any-aged Bible student who wants to grasp the complexities and paradoxes of God’s Word.

Added to the easy-to-read text, this edition includes several unique features about which the “Introduction” says:

“As you read, you’ll notice textboxes throughout. Some are written by scholars – pastors, seminary professors, and students who have devoted a lot of time over the years to wrestling with the difficulties of the Bible. They’ve highlighted certain passages, provided a bit more information about the context for these passages, and asked some questions that these passages raise. Other textboxes are written by young people – people who aren’t experts but are just faithful people like you who are willing to dig into the Bible and ask God what it means.”

Each book begins with an overview, which includes “Key Themes,” “Tips for Reading,” and “Quick Facts" about the author, setting, and approximate date. Then each book ends with a relevant “Wresting With” section.

In Psalms, for example, the overview tells us that this anthology of “150 favorite songs of ancient Israel…. express a tremendous range of feelings, from guilt to adoration, exaltation to utter misery. After thousands of years, we’ve lost the tunes to these songs. Though only lyrics remain, these songs still have the power to speak for us and to speak to us today about the way we live our lives in relationship with God.”

The key themes list various types of psalms such as lament, wisdom, and songs of trust followed by “Tips For Reading,” which urge readers to “Pay Attention to the Unique Style of Hebrew Songwriting” such as structure, placement, and figurative language.

At the end of the book, the section “Wrestling with the Psalms” asks such pertinent questions as “How does the particularly human perspective of the Psalms influence your interpretation of them as part of the biblical canon? What is their purpose within the large biblical text?” and “What do these prayers teach us about how we relate to God?”

Following this, another unique feature “Reading Differently” encourages readers to write their own psalm, try putting the lyrics of a favorite psalm to a familiar tune, and practice lectio divinia (meditation or contemplative prayer) with Psalm 8:1 or 139:8-10.

In addition to suggestions for interaction with the text, sidebars include prayers by young people and info by Bible scholars to enhance reader involvement and comprehension. For instance, a sidebar in the Gospel of John discusses “Doubting Thomas,” who has a bad rep despite being a faithful follower of Jesus.

The insert also reminds us that “All the great Christian saints, from Martin Luther to Mother Teresa , have faced doubts. But rather than letting your doubts drive you away from faith, consider Thomas and how his doubts drew him closer to an encounter with God in Jesus.”

To find these sidebars on all sorts of topics important to our faith, the back matter of this highly recommended edition includes an “Article Index,” divided by testament and book, followed by the locations of “Well-Known Bible Passages and Stories” and “Less Well-Known Bible Passages and Stories.” These additions help to deepen faith, lift spirits, and even show that a delightful sense of humor begins with God.


© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, author, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, poetry, and the church. Her latest writings are posted as Praise Poems.


The CEB Student Bible, paperback



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




August 21, 2015

Catholic Scripture Study International Bible, RSV, CE


Unlike many study Bibles, the Catholic Scripture Study International (CSSI) Bible places its informative charts, maps, and “Faith Facts” in glossy page inserts, rather than footnotes throughout the large print text. This gives you a distraction-free reader edition of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) – beloved by Catholic and non-Catholic Christians from all denominations.

Published by Saint Benedict Press and distributed by Tan Books, who kindly sent me a review copy, the CSSI Bible includes the deuterocanonical books often referred to as the apocryphal books of the Old Testament.

I purposefully said Old Testament rather than Jewish Bible or Hebrew Testament since these books, initially accepted by Jews and Christians alike, have been excluded from Jewish Bibles because they were in Greek, not Hebrew.

However, modern scholarship and findings near the Dead Sea show that the Pharisee community did not accept the Septuagint or Greek Bible, whereas early Jewish Christians (such as the apostles) did. Therefore, more and more Protestants want a Bible with the Apocrypha, which means “hidden” and which Catholics aptly call “deuterocanonical,” meaning outside the Jewish not Christian canon – books originally included, too, in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.

Besides the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, what makes this edition uniquely “Catholic” are those glossy inserts, beginning with a “Catholic Apologetics” list of such topics as “Apostolic Succession” followed by relevant Bible verses .

In addition, you’ll find “Faith Fact” page inserts on topics such as “The Biblical Origins of the Mass,” genuflecting, “Signs and Symbols,” and “Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.”

In the latter, for instance, we learn that “no one taught that the presence of Christ was only symbolic until Ratramnus (d.868) and, more notably, Berengarius of Tours (d. 1088).” However, “The Church firmly rejected the teachings of both.” This belief of receiving Christ Himself through the bread and wine is affirmed by each individual partaker of the Eucharist who then receives the elements with a verbal “amen.”

Any Christian who would like to become better acquainted with the Roman Catholic Church will appreciate this highly recommended edition, which came to me in a nice quality bonded leather as shown below but which Amazon erroneously referred to as imitation leather.

Following each testament, a section of “Explanatory Notes” come in a smaller font than the large print used for the biblical text, but, with ample ink, the two appendixes are clear, readable, and informative. For example, the first note states:

“1:1-2:4a: The aim of this narrative is not to present a scientific picture but to teach religious truth, especially the dependence of all creation on God and its consecration to him through the homage rendered by man, who is the climax of creation. Hence its strong liturgical character and the concluding emphasis on the sabbath. It serves as a prologue to the whole of the Old Testament.”

Regarding that “whole,” I’m delighted to have the deuterocanonical books in the RSV translation as it and the KJV are ones with which I and other Christians from diverse denominations are most familiar, especially when it comes to hymn lyrics and memorization of Bible verses. If I want to follow a 3-year cycle of readings, I can follow the “Calendar of Readings” at the back of the book, but I suspect I’ll be eager to read this poetically beautiful text straight through.


©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.


Catholic Scripture Study International Bible, RSV, CE, bonded leather (which I confirmed by checking the ISBN number of my review copy with this one advertised on Amazon





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



April 13, 2015

Holman Rainbow Study Bible


Do you ever underline a favorite Bible verse or color-code passages you want to highlight? Holman Bible Publishers spent 16 years doing this and more for us in the new Holman Rainbow Study Bible, available now in the New International Version (NIV) with two other translations (NKJV and HCSB) in the works.

When I first opened the review copy Holman kindly sent in the edition shown below, I wondered if the quilted look of the colorful pages would befuddle my eyes! As it turned out, the muted colors actually helped to hold my eyes steadily on the passage being read, reminding me of the early school years when we followed words with an index finger to keep our eyes aligned and pointed in the right direction.

Besides holding my attention, the rainbow-colored text felt unexpectedly soothing to read. The idea behind this, however, is to show the major themes of the Bible clearly through thoughtfully-selected color-coding. For example, a soft shade of purple has been “assigned to God because it is a color of royalty” with “Blue assigned to Salvation because it has a heavenly or eternal connotation,” and “Silver assigned to History because it signifies age or experience.”

All total, you’ll find 12 major themes color-coded in the text with a colored decoder strip along the bottom of each page, indicating Discipleship, Outreach, God, Salvation, Love, Commandments, Family, Faith, Prophecy, Evil, Sin, History.

In addition to this unique feature, the edition includes a Bold Line® System with the Words of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) underlined, regardless of the surrounding theme. This system replaces the need for the words of Christ to be further enhanced, as typically done in red letter editions.

The overall effect of these features is not only pleasing to the eye, they ease reading, accentuate themes, and enhance memorization. To further encourage readers to memorize key scriptures, another help comes with the inclusion of “365 Popular Bible quotations for Memorization and Meditation.”

The edition also provides introductions to each book with a list of the “Books Of The Bible in Biblical Order” and “Books Of The Bible in Alphabetical Order” in the front matter to help students new to the Bible to become acquainted with the arrangement of the books. Also, this particular edition has indexed tabs to help you find a book quickly in your Bible study group. Such study aids, along with maps in the back matter and cross-referencing throughout the text, make this an excellent choice for Bible students of all ages.


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


Holman Rainbow Study Bible, NIV, hardcover, indexed edition




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


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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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.

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© 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





January 4, 2014

African Heritage Study Bible


The Original African Heritage Study Bible, published by Judson Press, answers questions I’ve had ever since I began to wonder why few people mention that Egypt sits on the continent of Africa or why artistic renderings of Jesus most often show a Jewish man, Who’s as pale-skinned and blonde as I am.

In the beginning, God made us, male and female, in the image of God, but from the moment we left the Garden of Eden, we’ve been attempting to remake God in our image. Therefore, when I first heard of the Black Madonna, I only saw a remaking at work without considering how those oldest renderings of Jesus’ mother Mary might actually be the most accurate portrayal of a young Jewish woman of Afro-Asian descent.

One might expect something written from an African heritage perspective to want us to consider that thought, but the scholarly articles introducing the King James Version (KJV) go far beyond an Africentric view. Through extensive research of Bible places, names, and cultures, the introductory articles clearly show how the beginnings of civilization and beginnings of our ongoing relationship with God had their genesis in Africa, known then as “Akebu-Lan,” which means “Mother of Mankind” or “Garden of Eden.”

From the beginning, that name remained in usage until ancient Romans renamed it “Africa,” but even then, the country was known to encompass the “Middle East,” a term that didn’t exist prior to the 20th century. I did not know this, and so I read with great interest the footnotes to shaded text that alert readers to “passages, places, names, and information relating to the Edenic/African presence.” What I found even more interesting, though, is that peoples of Africa have retained many of the customs and attentiveness to God as first expressed in Bible cultures.

This rich heritages belongs to all of us, so I hope Christians from every background will get a copy of this excellent study edition that Judson Press kindly gave me to review. Although African-Americans who have experienced any form of oppression will especially receive healing from these pages, the matter-of-fact articles also call for reconciliation between people within the One Body of Christ – a theme that’s been important to me as long as I can remember.

In addition to information highlighting peoples of African descent such as St. Augustine or other saints and popes born in Africa, this edition offers unique features I haven’t found in any other study Bible. For example, the front matter includes a typical listing of the books of the Bible but atypically adds the meaning of each book’s name. For instance, “Judges” evokes thoughts of courtroom scenes, but more accurately, the notes define them as “Deliverers who had to exercise the Judgment of God (intelligence of God) to rule the children of Israel and defeat their enemies.” Or, for the book of Galatians, we learn the meaning of the title as “Gallaic, Greece, Land of the Gauls or simplicity of truth.”

After a listing of the books comes a section entitled, “A Key To The Correct Syllabication of the Scripture Proper Names and Their Meanings,” which tells us, for example that “Aaron” means “light,” “Cush” means “black,” “Zebah” means “sacrifice,” and “Zipporah” is the “Egyptian wife of Moses.”

Numerous articles and color photographs help the text to come alive throughout the book, and at the back, colorful maps clearly show where biblical tribes and places can be located. I also enjoyed reading about “African Edenic Women and the Scriptures,” where we're reminded that “Egypt produced queens as well as Pharaohs,” and “The Candaces of Ethiopia were strong successful women who were instrumental in charting the destiny of ancient Christian Africa.” Indeed, “It is because of the Candace that Ethiopia was one of the first countries to become a Christian nation.”

Throughout the African diaspora, Bible verses rekindled faith for countless people, and so “101 Favorite Bible Verses” have been included as well as a section of hymns. Having heard and loved many “spirituals” since childhood, I passed along those faith lyrics, singing them to my sleepy children while my rocking chair kept time and timeless comfort.

As an Anglo-American whose ancestors survived the first terrible winter at Jamestown and eventually worked alongside African-Americans to build our own blessed nation, I want to thank Editor Cain Hope Felder and Judson Press for this long-needed study Bible. May this highly recommended edition bring respect and reconciliation among all Christians and help us to heal and up-build the church Body of Christ in Jesus’ Name.

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler


The Original African Heritage Study Bible, large print, paperback











January 2, 2014

Catholic Women’s Bible

The word “catholic” means universal, which aptly describes the Catholic Women’s Bible with its timeless, universal appeal to women everywhere. As stated in the introduction by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker (one of my favorite contemporary devotional writers): “We have tried to highlight some of the women without whom God’s plan for humanity would not have unfolded as it has…. Their situations and circumstances may be different from ours, but the longings and dreams haven’t changed.” With colorful inserts to acquaint us with women throughout the Bible, we “come to realize that these women are not just figures out of a distant past. They are our sisters.”

In addition to these unique features, the visually-appealing cover speaks of light and levity and seems to draw the reader to look up and into the pages of scripture.

Published by Our Sunday Visitor, those scriptures comes to us in the revised New American Bible, which includes deuterocanonical books often referred to by Bible publishers as “apocryphal.” Also, other Christian publishers often place deuterocanonical books between the two testaments or after Revelation, whereas a Catholic edition interweaves the books according to their primary category.

At the beginning of this Bible, for example, “The Names and Order of the Books of the Bible” lists “Biblical Novellas” (Tobit, Judith, Esther, and I and II Maccabees) as located between the books of history and books of wisdom. Then, besides Job , Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs), “The Wisdom Books” include The Book of Wisdom and The Wisdom of Ben Sira (aka Sirach), whose inspired words continue to inspire those of us who read them.

In referring to the deuterocanonical or apocryphal books, we’re talking, of course, of the Hebrew Bible aka Old Testament. In any New Testament Bible published by any publisher, you will find the same books in the same order with the same devotion among Christians – male or female – in any church anywhere. However, Christian women who want to relate to the women of the Bible will welcome this lovely edition where we meet such interesting but often overlooked people as “Mrs. Noah: Standing by Her Man” or Asenath “Joseph’s Egyptian Wife” or the prophetess Anna with her “intuitive nature” or “Mrs. Peter: The Woman Behind The Man,” each of whom helps us to learn more about ourselves and one another and, ultimately, the “Bride of Christ: The Church.”

©2014, review by Mary Harwell Sayler


Catholic Women’s Bible, paperback




June 20, 2013

Life Application Study Bible

For about 30 years at least one person in every Bible study group I’ve participated in has brought a Life Application Study Bible (LASB.) Sometimes we met in church fellowship or parish halls, but often we met in homes where members of most denominations came together regularly to study the word of God.

What first impressed me was how people almost always found something helpful or interesting to add to our discussions, thanks to the extensive footnotes in the LASB. What did not impress me was how the notes sometimes went a bit far in telling readers what to think or how to act with each “must” or “should.”

So while I kept looking for a study Bible that might better suit my needs or preferences, I couldn’t help but notice that Christian friends were buying new editions of the LASB when theirs fell apart from heavy use. Or they began buying editions of the Life Application Study Bible in additional translations -- and there are many!

A quick search on Amazon, for example, shows that the LASB comes in the New Living Translation (NLT), New American Standard Bible (NASB), King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), New International Version (1984 NIV), and the newer NIV that, yes, I finally bought. Other versions may exist, but you get the picture. The LASB comes in many translations for one reason. People like it! And it helps.

Although I really do not want anyone to tell me how to think, I do want to know what other people think, and the LASB helps me to hear those voices and hopefully respond to those needs in my writing. For example, those of us who heard “Jesus Love Me” in early childhood have probably responded to that song from our earliest memories. So when we study Matthew and read the LASB footnotes, we’re reminded that everyone has not had our blessed experience. Some children grow up hearing nothing about God or only hear of Jesus as a baby born at Christmas, and so they may need to hear the footnote for Matthew 21:44, which explains what Jesus meant when He applied to Himself the metaphor about “the stone the builders rejected,” then ends by saying, “He offers mercy and forgiveness now and promises judgment later. We should choose him now!” True, and perhaps a reminder to us lifelong Christians to choose Christ again in the now of every day.

As I became familiar with what the LASB actually says instead of staying locked into first impressions, I discovered a spiritual depth rarely found in study editions of the Bible. Since childhood, for example, I’d loved the Bible story about Solomon and even thought it’d be cool to be wise, which led to a lifelong love for the Bible that I’ve continued, now hoping to get into the mind of Christ. I don’t recall ever having this discussion with anyone before, so I’m doing some soul-baring here, but I cannot tell you what comfort and blessing I found in the LASB note on Ecclesiastes 1:16-18: “The more you understand, the more pain and difficulty you experience. For example, the more you know, the more imperfection you see around you; and the more you observe, the more evil becomes evident. As you set out with Solomon to find the meaning of life, you must be ready to feel more, think more, question more, hurt more, and do more. Are you ready to pay the price for wisdom?” Wow!

No matter what level you’ve reached in your life in Christ, the LASB helps each reader get closer to God. Sometimes, then, the footnotes won’t be for you but for the person next to you or, perhaps, a means of better understanding Christians still new to the faith. Most of the time, though, the footnotes make me feel as if a dear, wise, spiritually mature, well-informed, older friend is responding, explaining, and encouraging me as we read the Bible together.

Special Features: In addition to the extensive footnotes in this hefty edition, each book has an overview or Introduction with a timeline across the top of the page to get you into the era or historical setting. The sidebar, “Vital Statistics,” lists the purpose for each book, the most likely author and date, and the audience first intended. An outline of each book and list of “Megathemes” aid study, too, as do clear black and white maps that show the places mentioned as they're mentioned throughout the text.

Other special features include “A Christian Worker’s Resource,” which provides a teacher’s guide or a way to instruct and edify new Christians. For topical research or Bible studies, an extensive Dictionary/ Concordance helps you find biblical references to a particular subject.

Covers: The quality or type of cover depends on your choice of translations. Most LASB editions come in paperback, hardback, and colorful covers that feel like real leather but may be apt to curl and wear out sooner. However, with the newer NIV available in LASB, you may still be able to find a huge discount on high quality leather covers in the original NIV (1984.)

With copies of the other translations already on my bookshelves, I ordered my LASB in a large print edition of the newer NIV, which I’ll refer to here and feature in the ad below. Instead of the typical leather Bible with one color or piece, this one has a two-tone cover with saddle stitching all around the outer edges and down inner margins, attractively reinforcing areas where hands hit and wear typically occurs.

Format, Font: With its ample size and ink, the large font feels easy on the eyes, but footnotes have a readable font, too, in about the size normally used for the main body of a text. I especially liked the bold type for the chapter and verses to which each footnote refers, making a note quick to find during a discussion. Added subheadings also provide a quick way to scan for information and keep track of where we are as we get closer to God and each other in our search for an ever-deepening life in Christ.

©2013, Mary Harwell Sayler

Life Application Study Bible in the new NIV


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