This Is Life!: Revolutions Around the Cruciform Axis

Further Reflections on the Orthodox Study Bible


Earlier, I gave some very superficial initial impressions of the Orthodox Study Bible. (This webpage gives a list of translators and commentators, but it is manifestly an old document, dated 19 September 2002, and may not be entirely accurrate/updated.) I’ve spent a week now with the OSB, and have some further thoughts.

First, a bit of my reading pattern. I have been reading a couple of pages from the Old Testament (starting in Genesis), a couple of pages from the New Testament (starting in Matthew), the Psalms on a 30-day cycle, and a chapter from Proverbs per the calendar date. obviously, a great deal of my reading is from the Old Testament.

Secondly, the Old Testament translation is not only new as in never-been-published, but it is new as in the first English translation of the Septuagint I’ve read. This newness is very welcome, as one of the challenges of regular Bible reading is coming to the text with attention and reflection. I also pretty much am unfamiliar with the NKJV text of the New Testament. For about twenty years, the only translation I used was the New International Version. And in Bible college, I’d had pounded into my head the utterly inferior nature of the Greek text underlying the NKJV, so I pretty much avoided it. In the mid- to late nineties, I finally put the NIV away and went on to other translations, settling, for a time, on the New Revised Standard Version. In the past several years, I’ve worked mainly with the Greek texts, but nothing on the order of daily devotional/contemplative reading.

With all that as background, this week of daily Scripture reading and reflection has been amazingly refreshing. While I still want to develop my facility with Greek (and still have my Rahlfs and Robinson-Pierpont 2005 on my icon corner bookshelf), I am coming again to recognize the importance of vernacular Bible reading for spiritual nourishment and development.

Let me also say one more thing: my thoughts here are not technical/grammatical (or at least are barely so). I’m not all that interested, for my own purposes, on whether or not Psalm 22 (Hebrew 23) should read more like the Masoretic text (because it’s what English-speaking Christians are more familiar with) or more like the Septuagint text (there are a couple of fairly meaty differences). I’m not all that interested as to whether the verse numbering of certain texts (or the go-ahead to keep the messy LXX variations of Jeremiah, Isaiah etc) is a wise or foolish thing. Further editions of the OSB can work these things out. And in any case, the OSB is now set to become the standard Orthodox English translation. In which case, other versions can compare to it, rather than it conforming to other versions.

Now, to more direct comments on the OSB. While I’ve not checked the Old Testament translation against Rahlfs, and while I’ve not read much of the Old Testament translation as a whole, I’ve found the first dozen and a half chapters of Genesis to read well. Similarly, the Psalms and Proverbs are also nicely done. I do find lamentable that the Psalms are not translated in “old liturgical” English with the Thees, Thous and doeths. The Antiochian archdiocese retains this language in their liturgies, and it is quite jarring to the aesthetic sensibilities to smack hard in to the Yous when you expect the Thous. But, that said, the Psalms are well done and praying them/reading them contemplatively is readily facilitated by the translation. Similarly, Proverbs reads well. I don’t have anything really to say about the New Testament translation, since the NKJV has been out for more than a couple of decades.

Now to the notes. I understand there were some pretty strong criticisms of the notes of the Orthodox Study Bible-New Testament, and the OSB website indicates that the NT notes were “slightly revised.” I don’t have the means (or the inclination) to make a careful comparison between the OSB-NT and the New Testament notes of the full OSB. But from what I’ve read of the notes for the OT books I’m reading and of Matthew, I have found them to be quite helpful in fostering my reflection and contemplation on these Scriptures. I am extremely pleased with how the notes of the Psalms (written by our own Father Patrick) very clearly bring out Christ as the key to their interpretation. This is also well done in Genesis and Proverbs.

I have read some criticisms that the whole orientation toward a “study Bible” approach to the Scriptures (and that version marketing itself as the Orthodox Bible) is existentially contrary to the Orthodox approach–that is to say, it allows for the individual Bible reader to distance himself from the Church into individual and private interpretation. But I personally find this criticism to ring hollow. Certainly one must read the notes within a mental framework that submits them to the mind of the Church. But one must do this for the Fathers, the liturgical texts, and so on. This is nothing new. Indeed, to me, the benefit of the Orthodox Study Bible is not the explicit content of the notes themselves, though, as I say, I am finding them helpful and good. But rather, the benefit is that the notes themselves inculcate the careful reader in the process of submitting the interpretation of the Scriptural texts to the mind of the Church–for the notes themselves explicitly verbalize this orientation.

As I get further into my reading in the coming months, and have more about which I may want to comment, I’ll try to post my thoughts.