More often than I would like to admit, I am tempted to buy a new one because of its pretty cover or extensive study notes. At such times, I have to remind myself that one Bible is enough for any person (and I already own at least five or six), that any version I might like to read is available online for free, and that the study notes are usually a disappointment.
Yesterday, as I was wandering around the internet, I stumbled upon the soon-to-be-released NLT Study Bible. Despite my scholarly pretensions, I actually like the New Living Translation and a blogger I read and enjoy, Scot McKnight, was a contributor, so I was interested in what this new Bible might be like. Fortunately for me, the Tyndale House website had a free preview of Genesis. Unfortunately for me, it was a complete disaster.
As I read, I became ever more convinced that this so-called study bible should be relabeled a study prevention bible. It's not just this particular study bible I'm down on; I think that most of them are bunk. The study notes don't present interesting research or thought-provoking questions. Instead, they spoon feed readers whatever theological agenda the editors happen to approve. Naturally, I don't expect study notes to be free of perspective, but it would be nice if they could, at least, inspire further reflection and, dare I hope, study, rather than handing out authoritative sounding interpretations.
Here is a paragraph from the introductory materials of Genesis:
Most scholars, however, do not accept that Moses wrote Genesis. The prevailing critical view, called the Documentary Hypothesis, is that Genesis was compiled from various sources by different groups of people. In such approaches, there is seldom a word about divine revelation or inspiration. For those who understand the Bible as God’s inspired word, such theories often seem unnecessarily complicated and conjectural. Genesis can be understood much more straightforwardly as the product of Moses’ genius under God’s inspiration with later editorial adjustments.
Later in his article, the author goes on to explain myth, giving an over-simplified and disturbingly narrow definition, and again dismisses all scholars that would even consider classifying part or all of Genesis as myth. Brief study notes are going to be over-generalized as a matter of course, but the author doesn't even attempt to treat scholars who have spent years developing alternate theories of authorship with respect. The opinion of "most scholars" is dismissed simply because it's too complicated. Not to mention the fact that people who agree with such theories are summarily lumped together as those who don't believe in divine revelation or inspiration. This paragraph might as well say "Don't listen to scholars; none of them believe the Bible, anyway." The anti-intellectual bent of the article makes me wonder why the authors and editors of this bible are even involved in the task of compiling what they call a study bible.
I don't think one needs a Ph.D. to interpret Scripture, but I do think any person who intends to interpret Scripture should be willing to consider the opinions of scholars who have spent the better part of their lives studying the text and context of the bible. We need to beware of accepting any explanation merely because it is the one that takes the least amount of thought. The Bible doesn't need to be defended against thought. A book labeled a "study bible" should inspire learning and inquiry. I've sat through too many bible studies where study helps were treated as gospel truth. The scholars who write these things should be held to a higher intellectual standard.
It's definitely good for my wallet that the NLT Study Bible was so infuriatingly unbalanced, but maybe not so good for the church.