Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lutheran Study Bible -- ELCA / Augsburg Fortress

Last week, I ordered a copy of the Lutheran Study Bible (LSB from here on out) from Augsburg Fortress. I received it yesterday. Evidently, this study bible was in process when the ELCA decided to promote the Book of Faith initiative (so they say on p. 15)... but they designed the graphic art to dovetail nicely.

I have only had a day essentially to look it over, but I have a few observations.
  1. It is hard to argue with the translation... ok, at places it is hard to argue... at others it is not, if you read the original languages and knw that the translation in the NRSV is skewed (e.g. is it faith IN Christ or the faithfulness OF Christ such as in Romans 3:22? At least there the NRSV has a footnote to at least raise the issue). BUT it is the version that most congregations use in their weekly worship. So it makes sense that the NRSV is to be used here.
  2. There is some introductory stuff at the beginning that serves as an Introduction. Topics there include "What is the Bible?" and "How Did the Bible Come to Be?" Fairly good stuff there, although when they reach page 28, they create a table for "Different Canons of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)." Then under four headings (Jewish Tanakh, Protestant Old Testament, Roman Catholic Old Testament, Greek Septuagint), various books are listed under different categories. The Tanakh is listed in its traditional categories: Torah, Prophets, Writings. The other three groups have the same categories: Pentateuch (oooh, let's not use "Torah"... we might anger the superseccesionists in our congregations), Historical Books, Poetry/Wisdom, Prophets. The Roman Catholic and Septuagint headings include the apocryphal/deutero-canonical books. I understand that the idea here is inform readers of the different books that are used, but given that there are various groupings, I am afraid that folks will see these descriptive categories, and believe subconsciously that each group is using a different bible. Of course in some ways we are, since Jews look only to the Torah as authoritative, Roman Catholics can use the deutero-canonical books for doctrine, etc. BUT all the books point to a story of God, gracious and merciful, beginning and sustaining a covenantal people, even the apocryphal books... after all, Lutherans are free to read from those books in the midst of worship. Think of the Song of the Three Young Men (or Benedicite, omnia opera for you folks who still remember/care about the classic names) or the Baruch at the Easter Vigil.
  3. "A Word About Dates"... Here is another portion of the "Introduction" (p. 17) that is troublesome. When dates are listed the LSB, they use the scholarly convention of B.C.E. and C.E.; that is, Before Common Era and Common Era, respectively. They choose this convention of dating over the B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (anno domini, "in the year of our Lord") convention because they say, "We also recognize that we share history with people of many faiths, including Jewish brothers and sisters with whom we share sacred Scripture." If I am in a scholarly setting, of course I use I the former. After all, in a religiously pluralistic world, I cannot assume that MY Lord is necessarily OUR Lord when speaking to a group of scholars. BUT the LSB touts itself precisely as a LUTHERAN study bible... I don't know how many folks will pick this book up for perusal if they are not Lutheran or at the very least Christian. Here in this book for Christians, we ought to feel free to call Jesus our Lord.
  4. The Layout is odd... The biblical text is on thin paper, and various study articles are on thicker, glossy paper. The "Introduction" is one such section on thick, glossy paper. The ink used there for most headings is a muted blue. Unfortunately they continue using that blue ink on the thin paper for section headings (why we need section headings is another issue... that practice encourages folks to read only the little pericopes, rather than learning how to see the larger picture... I encourage my bible study participants to ignore those headings). That blue is really rather difficult to read... if you are going to have the headings, make them readable.
  5. The next group of glossy pages interrupts the flow of the prophets. We get the Old Testament from Genesis to Nahum, then a glossy section that focuses essentially on how Lutherans should read the bible, but also some things about Luther and the Small Catechism (not the actual catechism, but how the Small Catechism relates to the witness of Scripture. THEN we get Habakkuk through Malachi... It just seems awkward to break up the flow like that. Why not wait until after the prophets were finished.
  6. The study notes have several different ways of looking at a passage... which are nice. They use four small icons to denote them: World of the Bible (bringing historical or archaeological comments to bear on what the bible is saying), Bible concepts (lifting up theological insights of a text), Lutheran perspectives (explaining how a passage might be interpreted with a Lutheran lens), Faith Reflection (raising questions about how a passage might intersect with the reader's life). All in all a nice addition, but the they use that awful blue ink again... with the combination of the print on other pages seen through the thin paper and the low contrast of the blue, they hard to see. Also, with all that can be said about biblical passages, why are there long stretches where there are none of these icons? Some pages are full of these notes, while others are incredibly sparse. For example, I just finished a bible study where we were looking at the upcoming gospel lesson for this Sunday ( Lent 5B, John 12:20-33)... not one little icon found there... Who are these Greeks who come to see Jesus? What about a Faith Reflection about what someone might think it means for one to lose her life, or what it means to hate their life in this world? Who is the "ruler of this world" who will be driven out in 12:31? No comments about parallels in other gospels? I like these little icons and their insights... I just wish they seemed more complete. Do the Lutherans have this little to say about stuff in the bible? I think not... but reading the LSB, I certainly get that impression. On the other hand, I suppose if this is a study bible, perhaps they were leaving copious amounts of room for the jotting down of notes.
  7. I do like the bible reading plans that they have in the back... and yes, I did say plans. Three different plans for reading the bible: Challenge, Survey, Sampler. The Challenge Path digs deep into Scripture, reading two to four chapters daily. The Survey Path has shorter passages, but call attention to themes that run throughout the bible. Finally the Sampler Path picks several verse daily out of a story that could be used for memorization. Varying levels of time and difficulty depending on where a person is... I like this greatly. They do not say it, so I would assume that the Challenge Path does not read through the whole bible in the course of a year. I wish that were the case... that would be the only improvement that could be made in this case.
All in all, the LSB certainly would not harm anyone... and will serve many people well. The price seems a little steep. I think I paid $24 for my paperback version... $38? for the hardback... a little much, but there is plenty in here to keep folks engaged. They could certainly choose worse.


Chris Duckworth said...

Nice review, even if you are a little picky about layout . . . ;-)

Re: #7 Reading Plans: I think it would have been nice had they included the daily lectionary, which is found in ELW. Assuming that this Bible will be read mostly by Lutherans who worship in Lutheran churches, the connection between liturgy and devotional bible reading could have been reinforced with the daily lectionary.

Re: #3, Dates: I have no issue with CE vs. AD . . . especially when the AD is mostly likely off by a few years! The truth is that Jesus is Lord whether or not we invoke his name in a phrase referencing dates. In fact, shedding such cultural vestiges of Christendom might, ever so slightly, help us place our faith in Christ himself rather than in cultural signs and symbols too often used as crutches, props, and even idols.

Anonymous said...

Pastor, I'm wondering if you spend a bit more time with this Bible if you will have even more concerns. I certainly did.

Here is what the AF Bible tells us about the Great Commission in a note at Matthew 28:19-20. No, this is not an error. This is what it says:

“Jesus now sends the disciples to make disciples of all nations. That does not mean make everyone disciples. Most people who are helped by Jesus and believe in him never become disciples. Jesus includes in salvation people who do not believe in him or even know about him.” (p. 1658; Augsburg Fortress Lutheran Study Bible).

While it skip-steps around every other verse in the Bible dealing with homosexuality, at 1 Cor. 6:9 the Augsburg Fortress study Bible notes that "all modern Bible versions mistranslate" the Greek words commonly translated “sodomite” and “homosexual.” The AF Bible says that the terms used refer not to homosexuality, but to a lack of self-control and violence. And then it notes, "Neither term applies to homosexuality or the lives of gay and lesbian people." (p. 1881).

John Swensson

Brian Bennett said...

Like I said John, I have had a day... these observations were only on the physical... very little chance to peruse the notes, etc. for content. Does it surprise me that the notes you quoted are in there? no not at all... but I cannot imagine that the vast majority will be so glaringly wrong. But then... that is the risk of getting a study bible, you are at the mercy of the interpretation of the folks who put it together. And this bible reflects a great number of current Lutheran biblical scholars who would take a number of those points you listed and think they are valid interpretations.

Of course, I doubt I will be grabbing this bible off the shelves for much use. I will still be using my good old Oxford Annotated as well as Bible Works...

Anonymous said...

Is this the Christ Duckworth who at one time worked for Augsburg Fortress?

Pastor David said...

THese are some very good first reflections here. Your thinking on dates was mine exactly. Yes, when in other settings I use BCE/CE, especially in academic settings, but in the church I use BC/AD. I look forward to your further thoughts on this, as I am working on my own.

Paul McCain said...

Pastor, thank you for your posts, which I’ve found interesting. I’m wondering if you would not mind reading a couple things I’ve prepared on the AF Lutheran Study Bible, and giving me your opinion. I offer these to you respectfully. A blessed Holy Week and Easter to you.



God bless

Pastor Paul T. McCain
Concordia Publishing House

Rus said...

I have to agree with Paul McCain here. As an ELCA Pastor myself I find the inclusion of Historical Literary Criticism as the only hermeneutic disturbing. The tendency to use redaction as a means of undermining the manifest content of the text borders at places on Marcionite heresy. The use of CE and BCE is nothing if not an intentional slap in the face of the very folks who would read it. Not a strong outing for Augsburg.

Anonymous said...

Interesting indeed. I do not think it necessary to be a Lutheran based upon this translation. In fact it is not even necessary to be a Christian. Moreover, it is no longer necessary believe in Jesus or know Him for that matter based upon this tranlation. Who cares about hermenutics? The authors (not translators)take matters into their own hands with interpretations and distortions. The great commission is no longer necessary. Atheism appears more attractive based upon this insight. As for me, I believe that everyone who believes in Jesus will be saved. See Matthew 28:18-20. Footnotes page 1658. Darrell Heun