Evangelism Exposed

“Jesus wept.” Joh 11:35

Chronological Study Bible stirs interest, skepticism


Like most versions of the Good Book, the new Chronological Study Bible from Thomas Nelson starts with “In the beginning,” and ends with “Amen.”

Everything else is up for grabs.

Entire books, like the Psalms, have been chopped up and mixed in with other sections of the Scripture, while others have been combined into nine story arcs, known as epochs.

Editors at the Nashville-based Christian publisher say their remix of the Protestant Bible’s 66 books will give readers new insights to the Scriptures. But some scholars believe the project will lead to confusion, not enlightenment.

Wayne Hastings, senior vice president at Thomas Nelson, says this new Bible isn’t for beginners. Instead, he said, it will help longtime Bible readers see how the different parts of Scripture fit together.

Sitting in a conference room at Thomas Nelson with a mock-up of the Chronological Study Bible, Hastings pointed to a section about the life of King David. The section includes both text from the Old Testament book of 2 Samuel and Psalms. It also includes maps and historical notes.

Readers get both the historical and spiritual context, said Hastings.

“Here’s where David and Bathsheba did their thing,” he said, “and right in the middle of that is when David wrote Psalm 51. So we dropped (in) Psalm 51, to give you, the reader, the spiritual impact of that psalm.”

That psalm is traditionally believed to have been written by King David expressing his remorse for committing adultery with Bathsheba.

Context is an issue

Parallel parts of the New Testament, such as the four Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — also have been woven together.

The new Bible’s chronology is based on the setting of each text — when the events in it occurred — rather than when it was written.

That’s a problem, says Doug Knight, Buffington professor of Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Many books of the Bible, he said, were written long after the fact. For example, Knight says, the book of Joshua is set in the late Bronze Age, but was probably composed several hundred years later. Inserting notes about the historical context of a Bible passage won’t help if that text was written hundreds of years later, he said.

“Why would that be relevant, if the author is not living in the Bronze Age?,” he said. “What’s happening in the author’s own time is relevant.”

That’s especially true of a book like Daniel, Knight said.

That Old Testament account is set in the 6th century B.C., at the time when the Jews had been conquered by the Babylonians. But it was probably written in the 2nd century B.C., when Israel was ruled by a tyrant named Antiochus Epiphanes, and was written to encourage the Jews to keep their faith, despite being persecuted.

“It’s a powerful account if you put it in the time period of Antiochus Epiphanes,” Knight said.

But Richard Hess, professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado, said a chronological Bible could be a useful tool.

“Anything that provides new insight and helps people study the Bible is good,” he said.

For example, he said, a reader can better understand parts of the book of Isaiah, which deals with the threat of the Assyrian Empire, by reading portions of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. Parts of those two books describe the conflict between the Israelites and the Assyrians.

“When we teach an Old Testament survey class, we often teach in that way,” he said. “We try to put the prophets into their historical context.”

Still, Hess said that a chronological Bible has its limits.

“I do think you do lose something when you start demolishing any book of the Bible,” he said. “You lose the literary and theological context.”

The changes are so great that at least one scholar thinks the new publication isn’t really a Bible.

Philip Towner, dean of the Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship of the American Bible Society, says the term Bible should be reserved for only canonical arrangement.

“I’m not going to jump off the roof or anything like that,” he said. “But I’d want to be quite careful in pitching this as a Bible.”

Don’t like it? That’s OK

Creating alternative arrangements for the Bible is nothing new. The Jewish canon, for example, includes only 35 books, rather than the 39 in the Protestant canon, and the two lists are in different order. Catholic and Greek Orthodox Old Testaments include even more books — such as Maccabees, Sirach, and Bel and the Dragon — commonly known as the Apocrypha.

Around A.D. 150, a popular book known as the Diatessaron combined the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John into one story.

Bob Sanford, vice president at Thomas Nelson, said the new Bible can’t replace the canonical version. But he believes the book, which launches in September with a print run of at least 75,000, will be a helpful tool.

Bibles make up 11 percent of sales in the $2.4 billion Christian retail market. That doesn’t include Bibles that are given away or sold in secular or church bookstores.

Nelson sells about 10.5 million Bibles a year, in about 1,500 different types, said Hastings. He said the target audience for the new Bible is someone who already owns at least three and as many as 10 Bibles.

“They are constantly on the lookout for something new and different,” he said.

“Their motive is to get closer to God and hear his message. Bible one, Bible two, Bible three, Bible four are all mechanisms to hear that message clearer.”

While the arrangement of the Chronological Study Bible is different, the content remains the same, Sanford said. Every verse of the canonical version is in the new Bible. The editors even created an index to ensure that every verse was accounted for.

Some people may not like the new version. But Sanford doesn’t mind.

“What we do here in publishing, we do for the purpose of getting people into Scripture, to get into God,” he said. “Some of the things we do, not everybody likes. But that’s OK.”

August 25, 2008 - Posted by | The Bible Exposed

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