A Treasure from Scribes Old, Not New
The Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms
reviewed by Peter Toon
This project was directed by Fr. Peter E. Gillquist, who worked for Thomas Nelson as a senior editor some years ago before he joined the Antiochian Orthodox Church. His own pilgrimage is told in Becoming Orthodox (revised edition, 1992). The introductory chapters and the notes for this study Bible were prepared at the St. Athanasius Orthodox Academy in Santa Barbara, California, before being looked over by a committee of some twenty-four Orthodox bishops, priests, and laity.
There is no doubt that Fr. Gillquist wanted to produce something which could truly be called “Orthodox”—i.e., a study Bible which genuinely conveys and reflects the way the Bible has been and is intended to be read within Orthodoxy. Has he succeeded? The answer is both yes and no.
A Success? Yes . . .
In terms of book publishing, this book is a success. It is a delight to hold and to read. The Orthodox tradition is well served by the quality of the production and the expertise of the contributors.
Further, it is certainly good to have a study Bible which is not married to the post-Enlightenment, Western approach to the study of the Bible, found in academia (be it liberal Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Evangelical). For the editors of this Bible, Matthew and John wrote the Gospels bearing their name, and Jesus actually said what the Gospels record him as having said! It is as though form criticism and redaction criticism had never been invented, that Q never existed, and that Kant and Schleiermacher had never been born!
Then, also, in this Bible, we move from the corporate to the personal, from the Body of Christ to its members, and from the teaching of the Church to the exercise of private judgment—and not vice versa. This is a most welcome change. The Holy Scriptures are viewed here not only as a collection of authoritative, inspired books (the typically Western Protestant approach), but also as an authoritative collection (canon) of inspired books. We learn that it is the Church which collected and which has preserved the canon, and it is the Church which sets the context for the reading and interpretation of the Bible. Thus the use by the Church in her liturgy of particular readings is often indicated in the notes, within the text of the Bible, and by the photographs of icons; further, the lectionary for the church year is printed in full as an appendix. And one gets the sense that the first (but not the only) place to hear and read the Bible is in corporate worship—the Divine Liturgy.
Most people who use this study Bible will certainly get the impression, I believe, that they are being helped by scholars who have the highest regard both for the sacred text and for the Church which sets the principles for the reading and right interpretation of the text. Further (and, in these days when pantheism and monism are so prevalent), they will sense that they are being pointed to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as the One to whom all worship and service is to be offered in the power of the Holy Spirit.
A Success? . . . No
It is clear that for the Orthodox Church there is one Bible (one canon), and in this one canon are the two Testaments and the Apocrypha. To call anything less than the whole Bible “the Bible” is not to do justice to holy Tradition! Of course the editors are aware of this, and they have essays on “How to read the Bible” and on “Interpreting the Scriptures,” which presuppose the whole Bible. However, I think that it is probably the case that they have sufficiently imbibed the post-Enlightenment development of the separation of the disciplines of theology and accepted the practice of modern biblical scholarship (which speaks of “Two Testaments making one Bible” rather than “One Bible with two Testaments”) not to have been aware of the importance of teaching and emphasizing “the unity of the one Bible” much more than they have done.
I think that there is an urgent need to recover the patristic sense of the one Christian Bible (God’s Word written) and to read it all from its center, the Word made flesh. The editors missed a chance to convey the fundamental doctrine of the unity of Scripture—that it is (unto faith) one Bible before being two Testaments—when they explained their title (a title which refers to the one Bible and then only comments on less than half of its books!). They could have explained why they printed the Psalter with the New Testament and used this opportunity to write movingly and convincingly of the unity of Sacred Scripture and also to give advice about available commentaries upon that larger part of the one Bible on which they have not commented. As it stands, the title “The Orthodox Study Bible” suggests more than it delivers.
Then there is the question as to whether or not they were wise to use the New King James Version (NKJV) of the New Testament and Psalms. Perhaps the choice of version was dictated by the fact that the publisher of The Orthodox Study Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, already owned the rights to the NKJV. Or, are we here in the realm of “politics is the art of the possible” with a partially hidden agenda? Is there an attempt—through the use of this updated version (the NKJV) of a classic (the King James Version)—to get the various jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church to go for the use of “You” and “Your” in the addressing of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as does the NKJV?
The various jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church are debating as to whether they should follow the stately kind of traditional English of the Book of Common Prayer (e.g., 1662, 1928) or a modern form of English (as in the new prayer books of the Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches) in their translations of the Divine Liturgy, the Scriptures, and the fathers. I fear that this study Bible may well be a part of a general strategy to press for a modern form of English in worship, as their printing of the texts for morning and evening prayers in modernized English suggests.
Related to this question of the use of modern English is a further matter of some importance for the future of Orthodoxy. There is evidence within the notes, essays, and articles that American modernity remains within (and will probably continue to do so) the minds of those who believe that in going to Orthodoxy they are escaping the Western, secular, individualized, and politically correct mindset. For example, no distinction appears to be made between “relation” and “relationship,” and “humanity” is sometimes used to avoid “mankind.”
Curiously, Theotokos herself seems to have been minimalized in the Orthodox Study Bible. And finally, I missed an article on the crucial importance, in hearing and reading the Bible, of the presence of the Trinitarian, Niceno-Constantinopolitan (Nicene) Creed. In the twenty-seven articles there is not one on the Holy Trinity: and for the Orthodox the confession of “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, God” is fundamental both to worship and to Bible reading.
The Rev. Dr. Peter Toon is a contributing editor to Touchstone and visiting professor at Philadelphia Theological Seminary. He is an ordained clergyman in the Church of England.
Letters Welcome: One of the reasons Touchstone exists is to encourage conversation among Christians, so we welcome letters responding to articles or raising matters of interest to our readers. However, because the space is limited, please keep your letters under 400 words. All letters may be edited for space and clarity when necessary. email@example.com
“A Treasure from Scribes Old, Not New” first appeared in the Summer 1994 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue. Click here for a printer-friendly version.
An introductory subscription (six copies for one year) is only $29.95.