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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.