Friday, December 19, 2008

Review: The Orthodox Study Bible

I have finally gotten around to reviewing the Orthodox Study Bible. Here it goes:

The Orthodox Study Bible, published by Thomas Nelson, is a new study Bible with two interesting features. First, all of its notes and articles are written from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. Second, the Old Testament is translated from the Septuagint (LXX), which the Eastern Orthodox use, rather than the Masoretic Text (MT). These two features make it a valuable resource for most students of the Bible, Eastern Orthodox or not. For this review, it will be important to note that I am not an Eastern Orthodox, so my thoughts will be those of an outsider.

First, the edition I have is the hard cover. It comes with a nice, sturdy dust cover with a beautiful icon of Christ on the front. The colors of the cover match that of the icon, red and gold, very pleasing to behold. Removing the dust cover, the Bible looks a lot like many standard pew Bibles (at least for many of us Baptists). It is maroon with the "Orthodox Study Bible" written in gold on the front with the Eastern Orthodox cross also gold. The font of the text is decently sized (big enough to be read without being a large-font Bible), and the font of the notes are as well very readable. Some of my favorite parts of the Bible are the paintings/icons that are placed throughout the text. They are beautiful, and many seemed to be filled with theological depth.

The study Bible contains several articles and resources at the front and back of the book. The introduction explains the differences in numbering at some places (Psalms, Jeremiah, and Malachi) between the LXX and the MT. There is also a list comparing the Old Testament books in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant traditions. The different books are: 1 Esdras (a variation of Ezra), Tobit, Judith, 1-3 Maccabees, Psalm 151, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah, the Prayer of Manassah, the additions to Esther, and the additions to Daniel. While I do not consider these to be inspired, the church throughout history has found some value in them as well as it has quoted from them. If you do not have some form of the Apocrypha, here is a good place to get them. The study Bible also has a section with a brief overview of all the books of the Bible. This section is very brief and is not really something to write home about. There is also an introduction to the Eastern Orthodox church which is very informative.

In the back of the book, there are a set of articles entitled "For Prayer, Reading, and Study." The first article in this set is "How to Read the Bible" which explains four characteristics of Eastern Orthodox Bible reading: it should be obedient, ecclesial, Christ-centered, and personal. There are a lot of good things in this article that should apply across branches of Christianity, though there are some specifics I disagree with, but they are not necessarily bad (for instance, how the ecclesial characteristic works out, I am not sure liturgy is the best way to interpret through the Church, though it definitely could play in). The next tool provided is a lectionary. It offers reading based on the church calendar. Sadly, due to my Baptist background, I lack much knowledge about this tool, but it does offer some insight into the way the Eastern Orthodox think, how verses apply and the like. It also has a glossary, again useful for the Eastern Orthodox understanding of different topics. After the glossary, there are morning and evening prayers. I have yet to really use written prayers (someday I think I want to), but there are some good things in these prayers. They also contain the Nicene creed (sans the filioque clause) and some Psalms to use in the morning which I have used and I have enjoyed.

Then, there is an index to the notes which not only point out themes but also references to church fathers. This could be extremely useful if you wanted to find what a certain church father said on various things. This seems like a good time to discuss the notes themselves. The notes are not focused on a specific subject. They are generally explanative from the Eastern Orthodox perspective. Because of that, typology and allegory are used more frequently. Also of interest is that many of the notes come from church fathers. This gives a historical perspective that we do not often find in newer commentaries. Plus, if we do get a historical viewpoint on a passage, it is unlikely to come from the church fathers who are an important part of the church and the whole church has much to learn from them (as well as other parts of the church). Another type of note points out verses that are used for different occasions in the church calendar.

After the index of notes, there is the index to the study articles. These articles address many of the important issues. They attempt to address differing interpretations on the issues (but for instance in the article on Justification by Faith, they seem to misinterpret the idea of sola fides), and offer some idea of Eastern Orthodox theology on the big issues.

Overall, this is a very good study Bible even for those not Eastern Orthodox. The Eastern Orthodox, at least for many Protestants I know, are a mystery, and this study Bible clears up some of the theology and mindset. It is helpful in learning to respect this important branch of the Body of Christ. It, however, should not be the primary Bible of Protestants. It seems, though, to offer much for the Eastern Orthodox Christian, and I am glad to see this tool available for them, despite my disagreements in theology.

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