At the 1991 Emmy Awards presentation, comedian Jerry Seinfeld commented on television ads that promise “new and improved” versions of well-known brands. He points out, “I didn’t even know there was anything wrong with it!”
It’s easy to feel that way about the annual appearance of a host of Bibles — “new and improved” versions, study aids, and even bindings. More than one preacher has probably seen the ads or reviews and thought, “I didn’t know there was anything wrong with it!”
While there is certainly nothing wrong with old favorites like my black-leather bound King James Version, we live in an era in which remarkable work is being done in providing more accurate or contemporary translations and outstanding resources to aid in our understanding of Scripture. To assist preachers trying to work their way through a barrage of marketing information on such products, Preaching is devoting a section in its November-December issue each year to a brief survey of the best new materials published during the current year.
Despite the surge of new translations made available in recent years, the King James Version (KJV) continues to be a favorite — but the KJV’s preeminent place in the hearts of Christians may be giving way to more contemporary translations in the hearts of a new generation.
For example, a survey of Southern Baptist adults showed the KJV to be the preference of 62 percent of respondents, followed by The Living Bible (LB) at 13 percent, New International Version (NIV) with 9 percent, New American Standard Version (NASV) at 6 percent, and the Revised Standard Version (RSV) with 5 percent. By contrast, a recent survey of Southern Baptist college students indicated that 49.9 percent preferred the NIV, followed by the KJV (15.5 percent), NASV (14.9 percent), New King James (9.6 percent), LB (4 percent), and the Good News Bible (2 percent).
Recent months have produced two new translations: the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), copyrighted in 1989 by the National Council of Churches, and the Contemporary English Version (CEV), copyrighted in 1990 by the American Bible Society. The NRSV is an update of the 1952 edition which takes into account subsequent discoveries of textual fragments and manuscripts of Old and New Testament books. Efforts were made to eliminate “masculine-oriented language … as far as this can be done without altering passages that reflect the historical situation of ancient patriarchal culture.”
The CEV is an original translation which seeks to make the biblical text more easily understood by the contemporary reader. In doing so, the translators have removed such terms as “justification, righteousness, redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, atonement, salvation, sanctification, and repentance.” As if that isn’t controversial enough, the translators explain at length their difficulty with the word “grace” — and the reader will be surprised to find this rich theological term frequently replaced with “God’s kindness” and similar phrases. The CEV is unlikely to find a prominent place in the life and work of most serious students of Scripture.
The NRSV, on the other hand, is worthy of consideration even though it will not be a favorite of many evangelicals. Zondervan Bible Publishers (Grand Rapids, MI) has produced a fine reference edition of the NRSV, available in leather or hardcover. The text is well-designed and readable, helpful introductory material is placed at the beginning of each book, and there are a variety of helpful study aids scattered throughout the text. For example, adjacent to Deuteronomy 23 is a full page outline identifying “Major Social Concerns in the Covenant,” complete with biblical references; adjacent to Luke 24 is a page outlining the “Resurrection Appearances” found in the Gospels, Acts, and First Corinthians. In the back is a concordance, a selection of maps, and a section of “Promises and Perspectives from the Bible.”
The New International Version continues to be a growing favorite among evangelicals, and each passing year finds additional study aids linked to this excellent translation. For example, those who have grown to enjoy the Thompson Chain Reference Bible can now obtain a version utilizing the NIV text (available from B. B. Kirkbride Bible Co., Indianapolis, IN). The NIV edition contains the complete numerical system of chain references found in the KJV edition, along with a wide assortment of study aids, outlines, charts, and other references.
A supplement for Thompson users is the Thompson Chain Reference Bible Companion by Howard A. Hanke. Hanke has provided brief commentary on selected passages, supplemented by a number of charts, illustrations, and more than one hundred beautiful color photographs of biblical sites. Even non-Thompson users will find Hanke’s volume of interest.
One of the more remarkable trends in Bible publishing is the “Theme Bible,” designed to be marketed to specific interest groups. For example, Zondervan has recently published The Full Life Study Bible, an NIV edition identified as “An international study Bible for Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians.” It contains articles on subjects of particular interest to Charismatic groups, and has a unique series of graphic symbols that appear in the margins and highlight verses that relate to the “Pentecostal tradition.” For example, a small dove (reference to “Baptized in/Filled with the Holy Spirit”) appears next to passages such as Acts 2:4-13 and 4:31; a mountain symbol (“Faith that Moves Mountains”) is adjacent to passages like Acts 3:16 or 1 Corinthians 13:2.
Bible Resources
Christian preaching is rooted in the biblical text, and effective preaching requires serious study of that text. Such study inevitably involves supplementary study resources — commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and more — to confirm or correct our interpretive work and to gain new insights into Scripture. A wealth of such material is available to the contemporary preacher, with budget the only limiting factor!
The Complete Biblical Library is a 16-volume set which includes a study Bible (9 volumes), a Greek-English dictionary (6 volumes), and a Harmony of the Gospels (1 volume). The study Bible is unlike anything I’ve seen: it contains a Greek-English interlinear (including Greek text, grammatical forms, a transliteration, a basic translation, and a number that allows you to reference the same word in the Greek-English Dictionary. Adjacent to the interlinear section are textual apparatus, to assist the more serious Greek student in identifying textual variants. Across from the interlinear, you’ll find a brief commentary on the passage, plus an amplified English translation (containing the KJV and supplemented by excerpts from other translations). Volumes are $29.95 each and worth the price (available from World Library Press, Springfield, MO, 1-800-444-6238). I only hope that the publishers are true to the name of this set and produce a comparable Old Testament collection.
Another interesting resource is The NRS-NIV Parallel New Testament. This volume, published by Zondervan, includes an interlinear translation by Alfred Marshall placed between the NRSV text on the left and the NIV text on the right. Students of the NRSV will also be interested in another Zondervan publication: The NRSV Concordance (Unabridged), produced by John R. Kohlenberger III (who also produced the NIV Exhaustive Concordance and the NIV Interlinear Hebrew English Old Testament).
A good Bible dictionary is a much-needed tool for any preacher, and one of the finest one-volume dictionaries ever produced was published this year: the Holman Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers). Edited by Trent C. Butler and representing the work of 285 contributors (mostly Baptist), the 1450-page volume contains an exhaustive collection of biblical and theological articles, plus some 600 illustrations, including some magnificent color plates, charts and maps. It is beautifully designed and illustrated, and will find a welcome place in the studies of many preachers.
Commentaries are to the preacher what a level is to a carpenter: a tool that helps keep the work accurate and balanced. Even more, commentaries frequently provide us with new insights we had never considered in our personal study of the biblical text. A number of fine commentaries are produced each year; some are one-volume works while others are parts of larger collections.
One excellent collection is the Interpretation series, published by Westminster/John Knox Press, the Presbyterian publishing house now based in Louisville, KY. Two additional volumes in this series have recently been issued: Deuteronomy, by Patrick D. Miller (Professor of Old Testament at Princeton Seminary), and Exodus, by Terence E. Fretheim (Professor of Old Testament at Luther Northwestern Seminary). Both carry a retail price of $21.95.
Another popular collection is The New Century Bible Commentary, published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI). This set is being reissued in paperback, with several volumes being revised or replaced. Iain Provan’s work on Lamentations was added to the collection this year. Provan is on the Old Testament faculty of the University of Edinburgh. Another series published by Eerdmans is the International Theological Commentary. Two volumes were added to this collection in 1991: Ezekiel: A New Heart, by Bruce Vawter and Leslie J. Hoppe, and Proverbs & Ecclesiastes: Who Knows What is Good?, by Kathleen A. Farmer.
Eerdmans is also to be congratulated on a new series it is publishing, the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. The first of a proposed 20-volume series was issued in 1991: Colossians & Philemon, by Murray J. Harris (Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). Expository preachers will find this book priceless as it carries them through the text, verse by verse, providing grammatical and lexical details of the Greek text, along with a translation, paraphrase, outline, and a series of homiletical suggestions.
The Word Biblical Commentary series promises to be a standard evangelical reference work as it continues to produce outstanding commentaries. Several new volumes in this set have been issued in recent months, including Psalms 51-100 by Marvin E. Tate; Ezekiel 20-48 by Leslie C. Allen; Galatians by Richard N. Longenecker; and Ephesians by Andrew T. Lincoln.
The latest edition of the Preaching the Word series of homiletical commentaries by R. Kent Hughes is James: Faith That Works (Wheaton, IL; Crossway Books, 1991). Hughes is pastor of College Church in Wheaton (a Chicago suburb); he provides a practical treatment of the text, including frequent illustrations, that will be useful to the preaching minister.
The young pastor (or one just beginning to build a theological library) might find helpful Douglas Stuart’s little book A Guide to Selecting and Using Bible Commentaries (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990). Stuart, a faculty member at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, offers a few suggestions about evaluating a commentary, then provides a list — divided by biblical book — of more than 1,000 commentaries, along with a very brief evaluation. He also lists what he considers “The Very Best Commentaries,” a list which includes four of his own works. (Oh, well, most of us would rather hear ourselves preach than anyone else!)

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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