Harper Collins Study Bible Review (Recovered)

Harper Collins Study Bible Review (Recovered)

 

This review was originally published in 2015 and was lost during a server failure. It has been recovered and is being republished for your convenience…

 

Harper Collins Study Bible Photos

I am bringing a different review from my normal tract, but it is one that I think is important and because of its importance, I am going to go a little more in-depth than I may have previously.

I will  be looking at the Harper Collins Study Bible which is published by Harper Collins in association with the Society of Biblical Literature. Without any gilding the lilly or adieu whatsoever, let us dive right in to this review of  the Harper Collins Study Bible…

The Harper Collins Study Bible falls into the category of an Ecumenical Study Bible. The dictionary defines ecumenical as being interdenominational, in the connotation of there being a single church. and the Harper Collins Study Bible certainly fits into that mold; it is designed to appeal to both Protestant and Catholics. The publisher identifies it as a general reference Bible and like many of the general reference Bibles it tends to go toward the Historical-Critical Method of Textual Criticism, also known as higher criticism. 

From Theopedia…

Higher criticism, arising from 19th century European rationalism, generally takes a secular approach asking questions regarding the origin and composition of the text, including when and where it originated, how, why, by whom, for whom, and in what circumstances it was produced, what influences were at work in its production, and what original oral or written sources may have been used in its composition; and the message of the text as expressed in its language, including the meaning of the words as well as the way in which they are arranged in meaningful forms of expression. The principles of higher criticism are based on reason rather than revelation and are also speculative by nature. 

Translation Choice

The Harper Collins Study Bible uses the New Revised Standard Version. The official NRSV website, http://nrsv.net offers the following:

The NRSV is the only Bible translation that is as widely ecumenical:

•The ecumenical NRSV Bible Translation Committee consists of men and women who are among the top scholars in America today. They come from Protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic church, and the Greek Orthodox Church. The committee also includes a Jewish scholar.

•The RSV was the only major translation in English that included both the standard Protestant canon and the books that are traditionally used by Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians (the so-called “Apocryphal” or “Deuterocanonical” books). Standing in this tradition, the NRSV is available in three ecumenical formats: a standard edition with or without the Apocrypha, a Roman Catholic Edition, which has the so-called “Apocryphal” or “Deuterocanonical” books in the Roman Catholic canonical order, and The Common Bible, which includes all books that belong to the Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox canons.

•The NRSV stands out among the many translations available today as the Bible translation that is the most widely “authorized” by the churches. It received the endorsement of thirty-three Protestant churches. It received the imprimatur of the American and Canadian Conferences of Catholic Bishops. And it received the blessing of a leader of the Greek Orthodox Church.

In the interest of candor, I have not really formed a definitive opinion on the NRSV; I certainly am not in favor of the level to which they have taken the gender inclusive language but by and large I am not 100% opposed to it nor am I 100% in favor of it. It is one of the translations that I reference when studying and I will leave it at that. 

Update (May 2020): Having spent more time with the NRSV, I find the Old Testament to be very well done indeed. One of my focus areas for study is in the realm of OT, specifically the Messianic Prophecies and NRSV is one of the best, if not the best OT translations available.

Notes

This Study Bible is clearly intended as an academic textbook and the notes certainly bear that out; the academic flavor is quite obvious. For some of my readers, this will pose a problem, for others it will not.  I find that, for lesson preparation, I do like the academc feel of the notes. I want to know what the scholars say about a text, what the pastors say about a text, what lay people say about a text and then I bring all of that together into my lesson,.

Just like the text, the notes are laid out in a double column format and it is here where you will find any cross references that are provided. The notes offer quite a bit of historical background to the text. If one were to couple the notes that are provided here with the Bible Background Commentary from InterVarsity Press, you would have a very solid foundation laid with the historical and cultural background of the Scripture. 

There are a few problems with the notes. For example, in Acts Chapter 9, the notes provided reference both 3rd and 4th Maccabees but I am not really sure why. When I checked the references, they do not really seem to bear on the text in Acts 9. The notes on Revelation seem to be preterist, including a chart that identifies the Emperor Domitian as the “Neronic Antichrist.” This is an interesting point of view (and one I emphatically disagree with). Also, like The Common English Bible Study Bible and the New Interpreters Study Bible, the Harper Collins Study Bible does not seem to take the Prophet Daniel to have been a literal person. I find this curious but it does seem to be a catholic point of view and this being an ecumenical study Bible I am not surprised to see such a position being taken. 

The best way that I can describe the notes is to call them interesting, which they certainly are. If you are not familiar with the points of view taken here, you will most likely be intrigued by what you find here.

Some of my more conservative pastoral colleagues advise avoidning these types of notes. Here is the issue I have with that approach: your congregation will encounter these ideas from other Christians so you need to be prepared. There are areas where we can disagree and still be Christians bothers and sisters and areas where we cannot disagree. If there is that which you disagree with in the notes, better to have an open honest discussion with your congregation than to have them ill prepared for a lively discussion.

Introductions

Surprisingly missing from the Harper Collins Study Bible are the outlines that you will find in most of the major study Bibles that are on the market. I actually find myself not missing them; I prefer the Inductive Study Method and one of the key points of Inductive Study is to develop your own outline of the text that you are studying. 

The largest two sections of the Introductions tend to be about the historical background and the literary aspect of the text being treated. This is very useful since, as I said earlier, it is important to understand the historical and cultural background of the original readers and to translate that into application for people thousands of years after and thousands of miles away from when it was originally written. 

Update (May 2020) The historical and cultural background portions of the introductions are invaluable. Withhin the stream of Christianity, different people groups have approached the text differently throught the lens of theri cultures and historical backgrounds. HCSB does an excellent job of presenting thse views.

Articles

There are some articles included that are intended to help the reader understand the Bible. There are articles about strategies for reading the Bible, Israelite Religion, The Context of the New Testament, and the Bible and Archaeology. When approaching the Scripture from an academic standpoint, these will be some fairly useful resources. 

Physical Form

The text is presented in a double column format with no cross references in the text itself. Instead they are found in the commentary/notes in the bottom section of the page. The font size is around 9.5/10. We are given a sewn binding, not that anything else would make sense for a textbook. The paper, despite being fairly thin is opaque enough to prevent any annoyances from ghosting or bleed through.

Final Thoughts/Should you buy it?

Despite the fact that many of my conservative colleagues are sure to lambast me for this, I find myself liking this particular Bible. Should you buy it? Well that depends on what you want out of your Bible. If you are solidly grounded in your faith, buy it. If you are new to faith, there are better places to start. That is not to say that this Bible will harm your faith but starting here would be kind of like trying to do algebra before you learn arithmetic. It would be better to start with a simpler study Bible and eventually graduate to the Harper Collins Study Bible.  

My overall impression is that it is an interesting Bible; I would give it an 8. 

Disclaimer: Harper Collins Christian Publishing sent this Bible free of charge in exchange for a review. I was not asked to give a positive review, only an honest one.

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