Two new Bibles have just thumped onto my desk. They are both handsome specimens of their kind, and I thought it would be worth reviewing them side by side.
The Proclamation Bible (PB) is produced with the aim of equipping preachers. It is based on the 2011 NIV, and a magnificent range of practising preachers and scholars has provided a preaching-based introduction to each Biblical book, together with a serious and fine collection of essays at the start. Under the umbrella of the UK based Proclamation Trust (which has done more to improve British preaching than any other organisation I know), this Bible is designed to sit on our desks as we begin to preach. There’s a video introduction:
The Gospel Transformation Bible (GTB) is based on the ESV, and has two aims. It equally has introductions to each book by practising preachers (less well-known to me) but in addition it provides a running commentary with a focus on Biblical Theology (the Gospel in the title), and on application (the Transformation in the title). Rather than essays at the start, the features of this Bible include a thematic index at the end, to help construct series of sermons or studies on Biblical theology. There’s a free 70-page sample pdf, and also a video introduction:
Both Bibles testify to a renewed hunger among a younger generation of preachers across the world to be faithful and engaging, using the best tools of biblical theology to produce life-changing sermons. So we should take a moment to praise God for that. I said across the world, but I mean, across the West, at least on the evidence of the contribution teams. The need across the rest of the world is obviously enormous – but I wonder whether there are contributions to be heard there which we in the West continue to ignore.
So you are not disappointed, remember that neither of these is trying to be a full fledged study Bible. The ESV Study Bible is a magnificent achievement, although I haven’t seen a NIV 2011 equivalent to compare it with. (In my view, the Study Bible of the New Living Translation is even better than the ESV’s, but that’s for another day. The New Living Translation deserves to be much better known). So the question would be why you would purchase either of these in addition.
The Gospel Transformation Bible is a substantial resource, that I can see sitting on my desk as I prepare each week. Sometimes the comments are quite thin, and I would need other, better resources, but at least they would point me in the right directions, both for biblical theology itself and for application. Since biblical theology is a discipline that is still quite a new kid on the blocks but increasingly seen as important, and since application is widely held to be critical, but not often done well, those are two good reasons to have this book. And those study notes often occupy a third to a half of the page, even though the bible itself is not unwieldy.
But I have niggling questions about the Proclamation Bible. Now I need to declare several interests here: I was at one stage an employee of the Proclamation Trust, and I am a keen supporter. And I was asked to contribute some of the introductions, but I had to decline because of other responsibilities. Furthermore, a good number of the contributors are known to me as at least acquaintances and often as very dear friends (I work within yards of two) and I am in awe of several of them.
I also really like the content. The introductory essays are magnificent – especially the one by Dirk Jongkind. They are generally well-aimed, designed to produce proper handling the Bible. There’s material on applying the Old and New Testaments, on how to analyse a whole book, the nature of scripture, a Bible overview, all by really good people. A novice preacher, or perhaps one who has never been to seminary, would find this really helpful. And to my British eyes, this is a much stronger (i.e. experienced) cast than GTB assembled.
You can tell there’s a ‘but’ coming, and that I’m reluctant to give it because of all the awkward conversations I’m going to have. But here goes: basically, once you get past the introductory essays, what PB gives you is a page or two of introduction to each biblical book, with outline, theme sentence, points to consider and the melodic line, and then the unadulterated NIV text. Each of the book prefaces is useful, intensely packed, and has a helpful and crisp list of commentaries for preachers. But that is all there is. By comparison the GTB has specially commissioned notes on every page (frequently taking up to a third of the page) – as well as an introduction to each book. Now I know that one of the big selling points of this is that it helps you to focus on the text and not the study notes – but I can do that by buying any cheap edition with minimal footnotes. This seems odd. Especially as I can download a clean copy of the text with no notes without spending any money at all. Am I missing something here? Because this is not a cheap edition.
Many readers of this blog will have an ESV already sitting on their shelves, and possibly the Study ESV, and they may have the 2011 NIV as well. Should you pay to upgrade?
For GTB, unquestionably. These notes will help me to become a more faithful expositor, biblical theologian, and pastor of the hearts in front of me. Whichever ESV I owned I would be pleased to add the GTB.
And PB? Well, NIV 2011 is major retranslation, and deserves to be on our shelves. I recently worked through 2 Timothy with the new NIV and found it to be a substantial improvement over previous NIVs in terms of accuracy, aside from the well-rehearsed issues of gender neutrality. (British readers may not be aware of the even better Holman Christian Standard Bible, which is worth having a careful look at)
My problem is that PB does not give that much bang for the buck. There are brilliantly helpful two page essays on each book by experienced preachers, but that’s really all we get. Move past the introductions and it’s just the standard NIV text. Just two pages, and then the whole of Isaiah – or a page and a half on Romans? The introduction to Genesis being the same length as in the introduction to Jude, at one and a half pages each? Is that really teaching people how to handle God’s Word properly?
Maybe I’m being greedy. Maybe I expected it to be more of a study Bible. Maybe I knew I would give my eye teeth to sit down for fifteen minutes with any of these contributors and pick their brains. And none of these introductions takes even five minutes to read.
With a heavy heart, if I already owned a version of the latest NIV, I really don’t think I’d be picking this off the shelves. There are already too many Bibles that have introductions which cover very similar ground, and do much more as well. And these days the NIV, like almost every edition, is free on the web, so I’m only really paying for that extra material.
Here’s my message to my good friends who put this together: these essays are outstanding, but they cost way too much. Put them on a website, expand them, and give them away – and bless every preacher around the world who would love them.