openbibles.jpg The iMonk has a Recommendation and Review: Ten Reasons to Love The ESV Literary Study Bible. Notable here is the fact that this edition strips the chapter and verse divisions as well as the cross-reference notes, and offers study notes from a literary perspective, unusual in a study Bible of any type. Intrigued, I am.

At a recent Emergent Gathering, Mike Clawson received a Bible in a new format, a TNIV edition from IBS, the The Books of the Bible — basically a TNIV without the chapter and verse divisions, no cross-references or paragraph headings. Just the books, set in paragraphs as they would originally have been read. He quotes from the preface, “When verses are treated as intentional units (as their numbering suggests they should be), they encourage the Bible to be read as a giant reference book, perhaps as a collection of rules or as a series of propositions.” Hell-lo! This note from the preface cuts to the heart of the way some of us have used the Bible… by referring to it as a “sword,” we somehow got the idea that we were supposed to hurt people with it.

The TNIV is a nice idea and I think illustrates a trend in how people are wanting to read the Bible — much as Eugene Petersen captured with his translation. (Yes, it’s a translation — a paraphrase is not the same thing as dynamic equivalence in translation, and it doesn’t help to wrinkle your nose when you say “paraphrase.”) But it’s the TNIV; my essential issue with the TNIV is not the “T”, it’s the “NIV” — I suppose I share Michael’s (Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk) appreciation of the NIV Study Bible’s notes more than it’s translation, which is in my estimation not a good one to which to become addicted. (Rather than a solitary viewpoint, this particular study Bible has a good set of notes from a cross-section of notable scholars on each book of the Bible.)

Following our good discussion here on Bible translations (and my history with them) not long ago, I purchased a new Bible, and I went with an NLT that has no notes, just minimal cross-references. The divisions, face it, are something of a distraction that stops the flow of your reading. I remember fairly clearly my Dad telling me that when reading the Bible, I didn’t have to read (I was reading aloud) the verse numbers. It helped. The edition I selected is a better size than what I’ve tried before too — big enough that the text is legible but smaller than the sinner-thumping study editions I’ve had in the past (and still have). I selected the NLT as a solid translation that reads nicely — I should ask Scot McKnight how prominently it featured, but the preface says that the translation was done with consideration given to how it would flow when read aloud, something that isn’t much of a consideration in most translations. As a result, the text flows well for reading in general, aloud or not.

The NLT notes, as Ben Witherington also observes, that the original intent of the texts were for oral use. Not that they’re to be taken internally, but… well, wait. Maybe that too. But significantly, the texts were read aloud and heard, not distributed for silent reading… even the few that were literate read aloud, even if they were alone. Anselm said that Ambrose was the most remarkable man he had ever met, because he could read without moving his lips or making a sound. The fact of the text’s originally-audible-only context impacts the way it can be understood, which we would do well to remember as we approach it.

Maybe I selected the NLT for some of these same reasons that I’ve loved J.B. Phillips’ excellent translation, which he began with Colossians in a bomb shelter during the London Blitz. Somehow you have to know that’s going to affect your translation — which is ever in need of an eternally timeless immediacy. Phillips’ verse divisions were imprecise, being joined when it was more suitable to do so, and set in the margins like Petersen’s. As far as I know, there exists no edition of his translation which has cross-references or study notes. (Should you find a copy of his translation in a used bookstore, I urge you to snap it up.)

I suppose I also share Michael’s enthusiasm for a literary type of study Bible (even though I’d love to see the format in another version). While we’re at it, I’d also like to see a study Bible version of the NET Bible with the full set of translator’s notes and none of the study notes, and in a smaller (carry-able!) size. It’s a nice translation with perhaps the best set of notes (see aforementioned caveat) available anywhere. Too bad the print versions aren’t very accessible. Now there would be a winning combination — the translation notes of the NET set in a flowing (verseless) format with study notes from a literary perspective. NET and/or NLT, please. JBP would be too much to ask, I know, and there’s not a complete Old Testament for it.

It seems to me as though there’s a shift going on in how we view the Bible and want to interpret it — not merely among the emerging set, but in the wider context of Christianity. It may be old news to those in “the conversation”, but I think it’s catching on. In the past, there has been a scholarly quest for exhaustive systematic knowledge about the text without a corresponding concern for its application, for allowing the text to grow in us. “Mary” puts it very well when she says, “Quiet times became study times without my realizing it.” Her astute observation after all her study and ability to dissect the original languages and explain the cultural significance of the words: “Perhaps I knew what the Bible said, but I didn’t know what God meant.” Without making a formula of it, Ed Cyzewski says, “Over the past week or two I have noticed a trend of sorts. I could say this in any number of ways, but the gist is this: the more scripture I read, the less likely I am to sin. That’s a bit simplified, since I really noticed radical differences in my state of mind, attitude, and thoughts as well.” I’ve noticed that as well. Not, you know, right now, but, er, at other times… uh, in the past. Like Mary said, I think I like many of us want to re-learn to re-read the Bible. This is not an easy task for a text with which we’ve become so familiar, but I’m finally finding I can start to see it in fresh ways again.

While I’m thinking on these things, Paul Fromont mentioned an article by Greg Jones, William Stringfellow reads the Bible. Considering our approach to “Bible study” as having been a code-phrase for (basically) saddling up the hobby horse, Paul writes that if we are to genuinely engage in Bible study with others, we must do so with an openness to being read by Scripture. “It is to be open to hearing afresh what the Spirit might be discerned as saying or directing.”

My background is still too evangelically-imbalanced, so I wasn’t previously familiar with William Stringfellow, but I got a reasonable introduction from Greg Jones’ article. In addition to noting Stringfellow’s work for justice, he writes, “Stringfellow was also a surprisingly bold critic of Mainline Protestantism’s ‘virtual abandonment of the Word of God in the Bible’ for a mess of modernistic philosophical porridge.” Continuing with Stringfellow’s assertions, Greg explains that people were neither “intimate with nor reliant upon the Word of God in the Bible, whether in preaching, in services in the sanctuaries, or in education and nurture. Yet it is the Word of God in the Bible that all Christians are particularly called to hear, witness, trust, honor and love.”

Stringfellow argued that Christians ought not primarily to think of the Bible as something to be dissected, figured out, and discussed as if it were a dead frog on a lab table – or an encyclopedia of ancient concepts. Rather, he argued that the Bible should be engaged with by living people in living ways – for in and of itself the Word of God is living and active.

Yes, to Stringfellow, the Bible is the Word of God, and as such is a thing not dead, but a Word militant, free and alive. Christians should be focused on living within the Word of God in the Bible in this world. Our primary vocation as Christians, therefore, regarding that Word of God, is to be open to it, to listen to it, and to live it – to live humanly and biblically as he would say. Yet this kind of open listening to the Word of God in the Bible – is the very thing we modern people are no longer very good at. Stringfellow says we can’t listen to the Word of God in the Bible because we are not particularly good at listening to anything outside ourselves.

This got me to thinking about the way in which modern hermeneutical methods have tended to treat the Bible systematically as though it were composed by a single author at a single point in time, despite clearly recognizing it as a multi-scribed (perhaps better than multi-authored) work composed over a period of perhaps 6,000 years. A shift away from modernist methods of Biblical study toward postmodern methods, which will have greater concern for what each author intended to say to his readers as a part of the story in which they found themselves. Perhaps this is the change in the wind. I don’t think that the quest for deeper understanding of the language, the textual criticism, and the study of the cultural milieu will or should come to an end, but we do need to learn or find ways of letting the text impact us with as much force and effect as it had for its first recipients.

Perhaps a literary reading can help with this (ESV or not)… we’ve dwelt on the minutia for so long, perhaps a literary view of the big picture will help us catch the grand themes a little better. Minutia is for dividing ourselves, grand themes are for bringing ourselves closer together. It’s easier to rejoice in the grand themes than in the minutia. The old study Bibles I’ve got all had brief book introductions, as do the critical commentary serieses serii seriesen seriess series (multiple incomplete sets, I give up) that grace my bookshelves. I’ve got old- and new- testament introductions there as well… but still the natural inclination was always to go to the note on the particular verse, as though the Bible were an encyclopedic reference work.

Stringfellow harshly criticizes Modernist literalism as a tendency which produces either an irrelevant Bible or a fundamentalist Christianity. Stringfellow would argue that the kind of Modern reductionism rampant among incredulous agnostics and credulous fundamentalists alike is false in that does not really engage with the living Word of God in the Bible. Moreover, this kind of biblical literalism is a denigration of the humanity of the reader or listener whose role in engaging the text is reduced to a passive one, and a flattening out of a text which is divinely multidimensional.

It seems to me that there’s something to this whole line of thought, and perhaps some ways in which our modernist methods of interpretation may have attempted to speak to our brains but failed to nourish our souls. In the exchange, perhaps we’ve been too quick to apply our “knowledge” of the book to the lives of others without first having had our lives changed by the book. We’ve prefer to read the book rather than letting the book read us… far too mystical a concept for moderns anyway. So am I on the right track here? How does one regain a simple love for the Bible (as Mary asked)? Does a literary view and a literary study Bible make sense? Will the eschewing of chapter-and-verse divisions help us to this end, or is it just another marketing ploy that won’t deliver as promised?

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