Sunday, March 7, 2010

Study Bibles - Do You Want A Little Coffee With Your Sugar?

With each passing year, and each passing Bible study, I find myself ruing the day study Bibles were born; for time and again I see that the study notes drive the interpretation and interaction rather than the Biblical text; it is like someone putting 10 tablespoons of sugar in 8 ounces of coffee, the sugar drives the drink, not the coffee.

The last time I led a Bible study in my church I found that my first challenge was to insist that we read the text and not the notes - the notes could come later, but only after we had engaged the text to the point of coming to conclusions. In the beginning I frustrated my folks with this persistent insistence; but later they came to appreciate it. 

In the men's group in which I currently participate I see again and again that those men with study Bibles gravitate to the notes before they gravitate to the Biblical text - rather than wrestle with the Biblical text and hold the Biblical text as authoritative they functionally hold the study notes as authoritative.

If we can't read the Scriptures without the notes we certainly can't read the Scriptures with the notes; and I am convinced that we can't read the Scriptures - we don't know how to read, we don't know how to hang with the text and in the text, we don't know how to eat the book. We will submit ourselves to the study notes before we will submit ourselves to the text for there is no effort in submitting to the study notes - our work is done for us, we need not till the land to have plenty of bread. 

Do I think that there is a place for study Bibles? Yes I do, I think their place is on the bookshelf; to be taken down when the spade work is done within the Biblical text in the same way a commentary should be taken down only after the Biblical land has first been tilled. I say this with all respect to many (not all!) producers of study Bibles; I have good friends who are contributors to the Archeological Study Bible and I honor our friendship and respect their work, and study Bibles can be quite helpful in many ways. However, as instruments of first impressions they are not helpful, they are, in fact, detrimental. They are also visually distracting - in spite of protestations to the contrary; when people tell me that they are not distracted  from the Biblical text by reading a Bible with copious study notes they might as well tell me that they can drive while talking on a cell phone and not be distracted.

to be continued...

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