Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Orthodox Study Bible: First Impressions

Back in December I discussed the (then) forthcoming The Orthodox Study Bible. I ordered the leather-bound version and waited. For some reason it was available from other retailers back in February, but Amazon didn't ship mine until this week. I received it last night and spent a good amount of time with it so far.

First things first, it smelled nice. (I'm an enthusiastic book-smeller) I'm also in favor of leather bindings, as they tend to wear better, and I side with the woman with the alabaster flask (Mar. 14:3) when it comes to Holy things. I was impressed with its thickness; it's not nearly as thick as some study Bibles are. But the pages seem very thin, and are a little more translucent than I prefer. I worried that it would be hard to read with the text bleeding-through, but after using it this morning I didn't notice it at all. I still am concerned that the pages may tear, especially if I am flipping pages while teaching. The Bible features some nice color plates of icons interspersed throughout the text. The icons vary a bit in style, being written by different hands and that variation is good.

Study Content
The study helps are excellent for the most part. The introduction provides a short explanation of the text used for the Old Testament and the philosophy behind what kinds of notes and study aids were provided. The purpose of the Study Bible is given too: "The prayer of the editors and that is presents an understandable Bible text and commentary to (1) English-speaking Orthodox Christians the world over and to (2) non-Orthodox readers interested in learning more about the faith of the historic Orthodox Church." Following that is handy chart showing the listings of the books of the Bible in both this edition, Roman Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles.

An "Overview of Books of the Bible" follows--brief summaries of the books of the Bible. The author of this essay, Bishop BASIL of Wichita and the Mid-America, takes special care throughout to relate the summaries to Christ. "Introducing the Orthodox Church" follows this, a crash-course in Christian History that could be very helpful to many readers. One should be aware that this section is written in a persuasive style, attempting to convince the reader that the Orthodox Church alone has preserved the apostolic doctrine. Fair enough, given the purpose and prayer of the editors. I do think it goes too far at the conclusion, inviting readers of the Study Bible to attend Orthodox worship. At this point the essay feels more like a Gospel-tract, if you know what I mean.

Throughout the text the Bible includes mini-essays on doctrinal topics with generous quotations from Scripture and Church Fathers. In my limited reading so far, it doesn't seem to include as many quotes from the Fathers as I had hoped, but the notes provided seem quite good so far. One outstanding feature is that every Biblical text used in Orthodox liturgies throughout the church year are noted with a special symbol. The notes below the text tell the reader at what service they are read. The effect this has is to affirm just how much Scripture is used in the Eastern Rite liturgy. It's staggering. I wonder if the forthcoming Lutheran study Bible would benefit from doing this. I also wonder if Lutherans could boast of so much Scripture used!

After Revelation the Study Bible includes two essays, the first entitled "The Bible:God's Revelation to Man," written by Bishop JOSEPH, Bishop of Los Angeles and the West; the second, "How to Read the Bible," by Bishop KALLISTOS, Bishop of Diokleia. I've only read the latter so far and found it delightful. I don't recall any liturgical Christian who would object to this essay. Following that is a Lectionary, arranged roughly according to the Eastern Rite Orthodox liturgical year, an Eastern Rite order for Morning and Evening Prayer, a glossary, index, and the obligatory maps.

The Translation
As I discussed last year, one of the great benefits to this Study Bible is that the text of the Greek (Septuagint) Old Testament. So what is it like reading this? I'm not sure at this point, having only read a few short chapters. So far its hard to tell what differs due to translation and what differs due to a different original text. The language is easy to read, the print is good, the notes are helpful, but in some ways it's almost like seeing your house through a mirror; everything looks familiar, but things seem somehow different. After a few months I may be able to share more.

Who Should Have it?

1. Anyone interested in a readable English translation of the Greek OT, used by Christ and the Apostles and generations of Christians since (all the reasons I blogged about before).

2. Those who don't mind receiving some excellent insight and information about Orthodoxy (even at Concordia Seminary we learned vast amounts about Roman Catholicism and other Protestants; the Orthodox Church was virtually ignored!).

3. Those who are using a Protestant Study Bible (such as the Zonervan, Thompson, Life Application, MacArthur, etc) The Orthodox Study Bible is to be greatly preferred, as it shares a similar liturgical, sacramental, Christ-centered reading and understanding of Scripture as Lutherans.


  1. -C said...

    As you might know if you have done alot of reading of Orthodox bloggers, the OSB is somewhat controversial even among Orthodox Christians.

    I don't know, I'm not giving up my RSV yet.

  2. The Rev. BT Ball said...

    You and Ron Burgundy - you have many leather bound books, but does your home smell of rich mahogany?

  3. Christopher D. Hall said...


    I can understand the negative reviews, to a point. Looking in from the outside, I can definitely see that the Bible was prepared somewhat polemically. I was reading this morning and one note made a passing reference to a Church Father and I almost put the Bible down and pulled out my Ancient Christian Commentary volume to read more of what the Fathers said about the passage.

    ISTM that those who complain about it are really looking for something different. But I'm not on the "inside" either.

  4. Christopher D. Hall said...


    My home does smell of rich mahogany, old spice and the faint odor of sweaty children...

  5. Dixie said...

    I do think it goes too far at the conclusion, inviting readers of the Study Bible to attend Orthodox worship.

    Well, it is an Orthodox study Bible. I imagine if I bought a "Spirit-Filled" Pentecostal study Bible I wouldn't be surprised to find instructions on speaking in tongues and the importance of finding a church that supports such a thing.

    Being Orthodox, I would disagree that it goes too far. The Orthodox and Lutherans do not share the same definition of Church so inviting those interested enough to pick up an Orthodox study Bible to "come and see" isn't remotely inappropriate from my point of view.

    I am sorry I am so late arriving on the scene to was good to read your first impressions. is my understanding that the Ancient Christian Commentary books were actually assembled by Reformed that yours as well? I have found I have had to be careful with the application of some of the selections to the referenced text. I think they are still great resources, though. And I use them frequently--sometimes going to the referenced text when I ensure context.