I was on vacation this past week, staying at home to continue the bathroom remodel job that was started well over a month ago... probably almost two. However, payday came and went which meant I needed to run into the office to pick up my paycheck. When I did, I found that my pre-ordered The Lutheran Study Bible from Concordia Publishing House had arrived. I really couldn't wait to crack it open to take a look. In fact, on my way to the bank to deposit said check, I even called a colleague and giddily announced its arrival. I was that excited.
From the very outset, I really liked the look and feel. Rich burgundy, hardcover, with golden lettering on the cover, and a subtly embossed Luther's Rose all give the book a feel that makes it clear this book is meant to last and possess a place of honor in your home, office, library, nightstand, whatever. This study bible is clearly meant to bear great dignity.
Of course, I am am ELCA pastor. I knew before I read one iota of substance held within that there would be significant disagreements between their view and mine. But as one friend pointed out, a denominational study will have its certain polemics (Augsburg Fortress' Lutheran Study Bible is no less polemical; they simply go about their polemics in a different way). For instance, in the opening pages (and probably others throughout the entire bible) there are numerous references to "liberals" who read scripture differently. Their intent is clear: to set forth their own view in extremely certain and unambiguous terms. However, these labels could be much worse in their vehemence, which was actually non-existent. Most references to liberals went something like, "Some liberals read scripture to say X on this point. We read it to say Y, and here's why..." I know there will be disagreement. The balanced and restrained response is just fine. I actually appreciate this method.
And I need to say that I am envious. Concordia's TLSB is what I long for Augsburg Fortress to publish. Concordia evidently put a great deal of work into this study bible. I am not saying AF did not, but everything in Concordia's TLSB is well thought out and planned. Things hang together nicely and make sense. I did not always get that sense from AF's LSB.
The layout throughout TLSB is very similar to the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible (my own study bible of choice). The biblical text is on the top part of the page with explanatory notes on the bottom. In the NOAB, the annotations are kept to a defined section underneath. Every page in TLSB is varied. In the opening pages of the book of Genesis, the biblical text takes up a small percentage of the page, and the commentary takes up over (it seems) three-quarters of the page. Excessive? Perhaphs, but the text and notes seem to be intimately linked. Quotes from Reformers and Church Fathers are peppered throughout. Law/Gospel summaries are places throughout and highlighted by a cross icon. Each one of these summaries includes a prayer.
As a person reads and prays through this bible, she will encounter maps and other excurses that speak to the issues encountered in the text itself. In Paul's letter to the Romans for instance, a table appears that lists topics throughout the letter, along with mistaken interpretations and the then the correct understanding. And while there is a map section, finding them throughout the texts helps us to remember that the bible is not written in a historical vacuum. Quality essays appear throughout. Proper understanding of Law and Gospel, the place of the inter-testamental writings, and others are very useful and would generate much discussion if used in a group setting, I am sure.
Despite the denominational differences, then, there is much more in TLSB that I can and will use. The more I read, the deeper I delved, the more I realized that as per usual it is Christ who is the Word revealed in scripture. That perspective is not lost in TLSB, and even with inherent biases, it is a work that can be used by Christians of many different perspectives. As with AF's LSB, where I refused to make litmus tests out of one or two particular issues, I will hold to the same thinking with TLSB. I am happy to have this study bible in my library. It will not likely replace the NOAB in my usage (most of this has to do with the familiarity of that book to my fingers-I've had it for over ten years now), but I will certainly pick it up sooner than AF's LSB. Concordia has given the Church a solid reference work, one which should be modelled throughout in many and various aspects, even if not in the particularity of parts of its interpretation.