Friday, November 10, 2006

My New Bible: The Harper Collins Study Bible

Being in academia has its perks. For instance, from time to time I receive complimentary examination copies of textbooks. Last week I received a complimentary edition of the new fully revised and updated Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV). I have to say that I very much enjoy the experience of getting to know the landscape of a new Bible, and a relatively new translation for me at that. (My all-time favorite translation is the RSV.) And while I am not a great fan of "Study Bibles," this one contains the most balanced biblical scholarship I have yet come across in a Study Bible. I am very much considering requiring this as a text for the next class I teach in Hermeneutics. (I guess that's why publishers send complimentary copies to academes!) What follows below is an excerpt from one of the articles front-loaded to this edition, called, "Strategies for Reading Scripture" by John Barton.

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"A CANONICAL APPROACH TO READING SCRIPTURE is essentially the way most Christians usually understand the task if they are not involved in technical biblical study, but in recent years it has also been promoted by an influential movement within biblical scholarship. It begins from the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God to the church and that the meanings to be found in it flow from this. The scriptures, it is believed, are not simply a collection of ancient books that happen to have come together to form a corpus, but a carefully selected range of works in which the church has encountered a communication from God. This is very obviously true of the writings of the NT, which are the primary witness to the events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the beginnings of the Christian church, which revered him as its founder; these include the very early testimony of the apostles, above all perhaps of the apostle Paul. It is also true of the OT, in which the God whom Jesus worshipped is encountered throughout the history of ancient Israel, witnessed to by the prophets, priests, and sages, and described by historians and psalmists. In these works the word of life is to be found, and reading them is thus not at all the same kind of experience as reading any other books, not even other religious texts. It calls for a particular mental attitude and for a number of presuppositions about what will be found in the text."


Anonymous said...

An earlier version was required for my Religious Studies classes at UTexas.

Do they say what the improvements were? or are they adopting a page from the science curricula and just updating the cover.

Michael Stewart

lexorandi2 said...

I never bothered to go out and actually buy the old Harpers Collins, though I've used it from time to time. Nevertheless, I'd say at initial glance there's enough embellishment in the new edition to justify the "fully revised and updated" description. It includes five great articles on biblical issues, revised/updated intros to many of the biblical books, and many of the notes are updated.

I much prefer this over the New Oxford Annotated Bible, and it's quickly gaining over the New Interpreters Study Bible in my estimation in that it is much more compact and easier to use as a personal Bible.

BTW - The third edition of NOAB is coming out next year. I heard it will be greatly expanded.

Clement Ng said...

I have the New Oxford NRSV Study Bible. It weighs a ton.

I understand that the Orthodox Study Bible will be published next Easter (, in the NJKV. The publishing arm of the Missouri Synod Lutherans is also developing a study Bible, using the ESV( Finally, some Reformed evangelicals, including John Piper, are apparently working on an ESV study Bible as well.

I'd like to see some traditional Anglicans publish a good KJV study Bible. But I doubt Anglo-evangelicals and Anglo=Catholics could achieve enough agreement in such an endeavour.

Clement Ng said...

One correction - the Orthodox Study Bible will not be issued in the NJKV. Rather, the NJKV has been used as a starting point. Where the English text does not agree with the LXX, it will be changed accordingly (

wyclif said...

Slightly-off topic, but you mentioned the RSV. I have the New Oxford Annotated RSV w/ Apocrypha in hardback. says it's available in leather.

I don't like study Bibles that much. What I would like is a leather RSV with no notes, just the text and verse numbering and page numbers. Also nice would be no center-column notes to break the text going across the page, but I'm not holding my breath. and Cambridge UP aren't that much help. Can you recommend the closest thing to a text-only RSV in leather?

Anonymous said...

I currently use the ESV (large print, no notes) as my Bible. I use a stand-alone copy of the Apocrypha in the NRSV translation to augment the ESV. My copy of the Apocrypha is my only personal experience with the NRSV.

As you well know, many conservative theologians have criticized the NRSV and the Harper Collins as being defective on account of an over-application of Modernity's pride in the "scientific method" and presupposed narcissism. They would call this liberalism, I think.

How would you defend the translation of the NRSV and the Harper Collins notes against conservative critics? Has someone else given a good defense that would convince an open-minded conservative to reconsider the NRSV and the Harper Collins?

Thanks from a former student,

lexorandi2 said...

Hi Brad,

I'm not advocating the NRSV over the RSV. In places it's better (smoother) than the RSV, but its gender inclusivity (while for the most part not an issue) is actually detrimental to the text in some places (e.g. Gen. 1:27). That irks me.

Not sure what "narcissism" you're picking up on. Certainly not the "narcissism" that I wrote about in a previous entry. Also, you shouldn't read the former entry as a wholesale disavowal of the modern scientific method on my part. Rather, I would argue that what is needed is a "post-critical" approach to Scripture that gleans the best insights from the critical school while (1) recognizing its biases and provisional nature of its findings; (2) recognizing that it in no way is an end unto itself; (3) being careful to subject such insights to a thoroughgoing canonical hermeneutical approach and reading of the text.

The excerpt that I quoted in this post explains the canonical approach pretty well, methinks.

Clement Ng said...

lexorandi2 wrote:

"...canonical hermeneutical approach and reading of the text"

Kevin Vanhoozer uses "canonical linguistic" in his latest book, referring (I assume, because I haven't read the book) to his view of Scripture as a communicative act. Were you thinking along the same lines?

wyclif said...

Cambridge UP doesn't even publish a complete RSV anymore, just editions of the NT only.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply.

I think "gender inclusivity" as used by the NRSV translators is evidence of narcissism - a self-gratifying self-love which rewrites the scriptures to make them more complimentary to a self-image which is fixated on gender. Perhaps I am wrong.

Also, I recognize that neither you nor I made a "wholesale" repudiation of the scientific method, which is why I wrote of prideful "over-application" if it.

Third, the idea of a canonical hermeneutic has been a hard won idea for me, but one which I am embracing. I thank you for helping me along that road.

So, am I safe in assuming that you 1) recognize the weaknesses of the NRSV and prefer other translations, 2) haven't fully digested the notes of the Harper Collins, but 3) recommend this study bible on the strength of its claimed adherence to a canonical hermeneutic as described in the prefacing essay?

The question is whether the prefacing essay is a clever ruse? Is this nice essay a cover for "notes" and a translation which interpret the Bible in radical new ways that bear tenuous or few real links with a truly canonical interpretation? That is my suspicion, based on my limited knowledge of chez Harper Collins. I.e, shouldn't it take more than a good preface to overcome the legitimate criticisms leveled against the Harper Collins notes and the NRSV translation?

I am looking for a study Bible that actually applies a faithful canonical hermeneutic to an excellent translation of the Scriptures.

Are you really ready to say this is it?


lexorandi2 said...

Hi Brad. Here are answers to your questions:

(1) Recognize weaknesses of the NRSV?

Answer: Yes, that's a fair statement. As I said before, I prefer the RSV.

(2)Haven't fully digested the notes of the HCSB?

Answer: While, I've been over large sections of it quite thoroughly, it's obviously going to take me some time to digest it completely.

(3) Recommend on the basis of its claimed adherence to canonical hermeneutics?

Answer: Actually, I wouldn't say that the HCBS is making any such claim (wholesale anyway). Rather, the acknowledgement of the canonical approach, rather than being a ruse, is a very welcome development in the evolution of this important Study Bible. Also,a number of its contributors are coming from a canonical perspective, also a welcome development.

Finally, you ask...

"I am looking for a study Bible that actually applies a faithful canonical hermeneutic to an excellent translation of the Scriptures. Are you really ready to say this is it?"

Answer: No, not exactly; at least not in the way you express what you're looking for. Rather, I would characterize the HCSB as a Study Bible that, while still within the critical school mold, is nonetheless "user friendly" to the canonical hermeneutical approach.

The strength of the canonical hermeneutic is that it is able to accommodate ANY valid insight that the critical school might contribute to the study of the text of Scripture, no matter how inconvenient said insight might be to many old-school conservatives.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I think I understand much better now. I look forward to reading the five great articles on biblilcal issues which you have recommended. Which five are they, or is that obvious once I pick up a copy?


lexorandi2 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
lexorandi2 said...

I suspect, Brad, that you will not find them so great. And I suspect you already know that. Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

I understand that you have invited me to stop posting, and I will. However, please allow me this last post. I really was asking which of the articles you found best so that I could start with those. I have every intention of reading the articles, with a mind that perhaps you will be right about this the way you were about other things I had a difficult time accepting. If I disagree with the articles, at least I'll know first hand why the Harper Collins gained its reputation in the circles I move in. Either way, thank you for your thoughtful replies.

Best wishes,

lexorandi2 said...

The article on Strategies for Reading Scripture is clearly a balanced approach to the issue, and must reading for anyone embarking on using the Study Bible.

The two articles on archeology are great summaries of where the current philosophical arguments are being waged, and is also quite balanced.

I like the NT Backgrounds article for its comprehensiveness.

You'll no doubt dislike the article on the Origins of Israel's Religion. I found it intriguing, though I hardly buy into it wholesale. Pedagogically it is important article, in my context more so than in yours.

Anonymous said...

For the fellow looking for a simple RSV without center columns:

The "old" Harper Study Bible, although it does have "study notes" of varying quality, those notes are rather sparse, and over all the volume as a whole is, imho, one of the best laid out bibles I have ever owned. It was published by ZOndervan, and used the old RSV. I think that later, another edition was released using the NASB. If you can find it used, it would be worth a look.

Bob Hackendorf

lexorandi2 said...

My first personal Bible was the old Harper's Study Bible (RSV). Thanks for posting, Bob.