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Study Bibles

In the Nick of Time

Everyone has guilty pleasures, and one of mine is reading Carl Trueman. Keeping up with Trueman is a pleasure because he writes with clarity and humor about germane topics—and because I find myself agreeing with him surprisingly often. Nevertheless, it is a guilty pleasure because, after all, he is not one of us (dispensationalist, fundamentalist, independent Baptist).

Earlier this week, Carl took umbrage at study Bibles. His pique was precipitated by the discovery that D. A. Carson has entered the game as general editor of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. These days, everybody who is anybody has published a study Bible of his own, and Carson is certainly somebody.

Here’s a footnote: when I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, it was widely understood that D.Min. students and faculty were on a first-name basis. At least, that was understood until we had a class with Carson. While he never forbade us to use his given name, and while he never insisted upon being addressed by title, I never, ever, heard anybody call him Donald or D. A., let alone Don. For me, the habit remains until this day, though Carson has proven himself to be a model of grace and civility. Still, if unintentional (and presumably unconscious) intimidation were a virtue, he could be canonized next week.1

Back to the subject. Carl is concerned that when someone puts annotations beside the biblical text, those notes might gain an unwarranted authority by proximity. He also points to the irony of having a book that comes from God having to be edited by humans. I am not sure that I share these exact concerns. People ought to be smart enough to tell the difference between the biblical text and an editorial note. The notes themselves do no more than to function as compact commentaries on the text, not as editorial improvements. Most people grasp that point.

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In the bigger picture, however, I think that he is right. How many study Bibles do we really need? Even if they are perfectly legitimate in themselves, their proliferation is clearly more connected to marketing than it is to any pursuit of biblical truth—and that is the main point that Carl makes.

Frankly, I feel the same about the glut of multiple-views books. It seems like every publisher has its own set. Zondervan calls theirs the Counterpoints series, B&H publishes the Perspectives series, and IVP puts out the Spectrum series. The idea behind these books is simple: select a controversial question, then have responsible advocates present and defend the principal answers. In theory the idea is a good one.

But really, haven’t we just about covered the important questions? The first books addressed issues that interested just about everybody. Then things gradually changed. Some of the more recent volumes are simply exercises in tedium. They are plain vanilla explorations of the inconsequential. What is more, even the better books feature chapters of uneven quality (and I should know—one of them has my chapter in it).

Why do the publishers keep printing them? Probably for the same reason they keep editing more study Bibles. As Carl says, “it is a publishing racket, designed to reinvent markets and thus invigorate income streams.” Books for bucks.

But I have a new twist, one that Carl and I could work on together. Why not combine the concepts of study Bible and multiple-views book? This combination could rejuvenate both formats, and he and I would be ideally placed to do it. We could issue the “Dispensational-Covenantal Study Bible” (though I suppose he might prefer the “Covenantal-Dispensational Study Bible,” or even the “We’re Right, You’re Wrong Study Bible”). Here’s how it would work.

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Each page would have three columns. The text of Scripture would occupy the wide center column. The column to one side would feature Carl’s annotations from a Truly Reformed point of view, defending covenant theology, amillennialism, pædobaptism, Presbyterian polity, and so forth. My annotations would be in the column on the other side, defending dispensationalism, premillennialism, pretribulationism, credobaptism, and congregational polity.2

The only problem is that the differences between us do not exhaust the disagreements among evangelicals. We might need to recruit other authors to address other issues. Maybe we could have William Lane Craig and John Frame commenting on Acts 17 and 1 Corinthians 15. Perhaps Roger Olson and Paul Helm could tackle Romans 9. Wayne Grudem and John MacArthur could annotate 1 Corinthians 12-14. If we did that, the title would have to be broadened to something like the “Evangelical Disagreement Study Bible.” Maybe for short it could be known as the “Brawlers Bible.”

This could work. Carl and I could become wealthy men. Just as importantly, he could finally attain his long-sought status as an evangelical celebrity. Though, come to think of it, while we’re combining literary formats, we really should find a way to work in an Amish romance.


1Alright, it wasn’t really a footnote. If it had been a footnote, it would have been here.

2Okay, here’s a real footnote: Carl’s column could be to the left of the center text, and my column could be on the right.

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This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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Lord, I Have Made Thy Word My Choice
Isaac Watts (1674–1748)

Lord, I have made Thy Word my choice,
My lasting heritage;
There shall my noblest powers rejoice,
My warmest thoughts engage.

I’ll read the histories of Thy love,
And keep Thy laws in sight,
While through the promises I rove,
With ever fresh delight.

’Tis a broad land of wealth unknown,
Where springs of life arise,
Seeds of immortal bliss are sown,
And hidden glory lies.

The best relief that mourners have,
It makes our sorrows blest;
Our fairest hope beyond the grave,
And our eternal rest.

Kevin T. Bauder

About Kevin Bauder

Kevin T. Bauder is Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that this post expresses.

One Response to Study Bibles

  1. Hard to overlook the satire in this article, but such a Bible might actually be really helpful in navigating the jungle of non-Catholic (and non-Orthodox) Christian thought (hard to call it Protestant these days since at least the megachurches are starting to resemble the Catholic Church again, and have banned the term “protestant” from any and all conversation). I might consider getting one if there was one :-)

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