Neufeld on the Orthodox Study Bible

Henry Neufeld of Participatory Bible Study recently received a review copy of the complete Orthodox Study Bible, and has published a couple of posts thus far in which he addresses two troubling aspects of that volume:

Isaiah 64 in the Orthodox Study Bible
Inane Comments in the Orthodox Study Bible

In the first post, Henry calls our attention to the awkward English often found in the OSB text by drawing specific examples from Isaiah 64. As he rightly notes there, “[i]t would seem like a few minutes checking with ordinary speakers of English would suggest some alternative” to any number of less than smooth renderings in the OSB, but it is one of the many failures of that project that it did not subject its translation drafts to very many levels of stylistic review and correction. (The contrast at this point with other translation projects is striking; more about this later.)

In the second post, Henry picks up on a lamentable flaw already criticized over a decade ago by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash in his review of the NT edition, and which regretfully also occurs in the complete OSB. Father Ephrem writes:

” [….] The notes to the New Testament are on the whole straightforward and some readers will find them a help in understanding many of the words and ideas in the text. Most of them though are dull and many of them jejune in the extreme. As a friend put it to me, they remind one of the notes to some school editions of Shakespeare. ‘King Lear plans to divide his kingdom between his daughters’, or ‘Hamlet wonders if it would be a good idea to commit suicide.’ In this book we find similar notes all too often, such as that on Luke 16:11: ‘True riches signify spiritual treasures’, or that on Luke 16:25 ‘This conversation is not between God and the rich man, but between Abraham and the rich man.’ The level is that of a not very bright Sunday School class. Critical questions are avoided by simply not being discussed at all. This is unsatisfactory, since many readers will be seeking help on just these questions. What should have been provided is an article setting out clearly how an Orthodox reader of the Bible should approach these problems. The solution adopted here is a further instance of what I call the attitude of the double-headed Byzantine ostrich.

” [….] In general, what Orthodox readers need is to be helped to enter into the spiritual teaching of the Gospel, which is about theology, in the true sense, about the great mystery of the coming of God incarnate into human history, about the response of the sinner to the loving invitation of Christ. They will hardly be helped to any of this by being told that Luke 24:13-35 is ‘a delightful account of a resurrection appearance of Christ’, which sounds more like a description of the visit of the Bishop to the parish sale of work.”

It is no doubt true that the quality of the notes has improved when compared to those found in the New Testament edition, and that patristic quotations appear more readily in them (though, as the much-missed Felix Culpa has pointed out, these are largely useless, since no bibliographical reference whatever is given for citations). So, again, the annotation system in the complete OSB is demonstrably better than that of the OSB-NT, but that is an embarrassing standard for comparison: surely it doesn’t take much effort to outdo the latter! It is much to be regretted that when held to other standards, many of the notes in the new OSB remain “jejune in the extreme.”

In any event, I look forward to Henry’s future observations on the OSB as he continues to work his way through lectionary texts using that volume.

17 responses to “Neufeld on the Orthodox Study Bible

  1. Agreed. I wish that those in charge of the OSB had decided to either translate the Septuagint (as well as the Orthodox recension of the NT, too) OR published a standard Bible translation with specifically Orthodox notes (important, Orthodox textual variants could have been noted here). Instead they half-assed both.

    A lot of this could have been solved if they simply allowed a sort of ‘open source’ reading of their work along the way. They probably didn’t even think of or notice a lot of the criticisms that have been made. They could have then either addressed critics’ concerns (e.g., patristic citations, more standard verse numbering) or gave a clear reason as to why they chose not to (e.g., this is to be an intro to Protestant inquirers into Orthodoxy). Not a very conciliar process.

    Then again, I agree with Fr. John Whiteford that it is better than what anyone else has pulled together in one place. That is more of an indictment of the jurisdictions, publishing houses and seminaries than anyone else. How hard is it to simply prepare a couple standard texts of the Bible based off of either new or public use translations? Heck, come out with suggested substitutions for all the readings of the year for copyrighted translations like the RSV and NRSV.

    There is a distinct lack of basic practicality at work here that points to other concerns at play within the minds of those that could put together such offerings to the anglophone Orthodox Church. In the end, I think a lot of the clergy either don’t care about English all that much and think it’s so far from the ‘original’ Greek, Slavonic, Arab, Romanian, etc. that any of the available translations are equally bad or that they simply think there are no problems with the NRSV and the other edited, unclear passages in other translations – that is, there’s no problem if they leave this or that out, we’re all the same.


  2. I could agree that the OSB is better than nothing, but not that much better. I’m not from the Orthodox community, but I have been working on adding more and more patristic reading, and I have found both the eastern church fathers and Orthodox theologians extremely helpful and attractive.

    My hope was that I would at least regularly find helpful commentary. I know it exists, as I’ve been finding it regularly with other resources. What I had hoped would be that I would get at least quotes as I read. I am extremely disappointed, and I actually regard my negative commentary thus far as restrained.


  3. Christopher> The tragedy of the OSB is that, as Kevin Edgecomb once put it privately to me, it should have been better, and in fact was once better. Kevin has recently sent me a number of early drafts of the OSB that were once available online for all to see; these show that the OSB was once an honest-to-goodness translation of the Septuagint, and a rather satisfactory one, at that. However, somewhere along the line (and in all likelihood on account of Thomas Nelson's–the same company headed by an Orthodox deacon, I might add–overriding pressure to market the NKJV by making this an "Orthodox NKJV" or some such beast), the project became the dubious, embarrassing "translation" that we all have seen. One only need ask Father Patrick Reardon what happened to his translation of the Psalms; other contributors have simple become too jaded by it all and prefer not to speak of the subject.

    I think your observation that the people responsible for the OSB have simply ignored most of the criticism of the OSB is very important. One only needs to re-read Fr Ephrem's review to realize that nearly nothing that he rightly criticized in the earlier volume has changed in that later one. This inability to take constructive criticism, which smacks of the hubris of the Americanist brand of convertitis, is surely a major cause that the OSB isn't better that it is.

    I agree with you that preparing an Orthodox edition of one of the major translations shouldn't be too difficult, and I wonder why it hasn't been done. For instance, the Roman Catholics have an RSV-Catholic Edition; the New Testament was revised by two British Catholic scholars, and the Old Testament has been recently revised by a slew of others. Surely we could do this too? I mean, the NT revision is basically done: see, for example, the Antiochian Epistle and Gospel books, both of which are RSV based. Of course, Fr Laurent Cleenewerck's EOB is coming out soon, and I have a great deal of hope for that.

    Henry> Your comment completely resonates with me. This is, quite simply, a very bad book, and I'm afraid I cannot console myself with the thought that it's better than nothing–particularly when, as you note, there most certainly exist resources which by far outshine this deficient volume. One thinks, for instance, of IVP's "Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture," Eerdman's excellent commentaries entitled "The Church's Bible," and Johanna Manley's substantial books ("The Bible and the Holy Fathers," among others). The resources are out there; it is a shame, an embarrassment, that this book cannot be counted among them.

    I have found your posts on the OSB valuable and very enlightening (yours are the first I've read from a non-Orthodox, and someone, at that, vastly familiar with study Bibles and similar resources), and again, I look forward to your future review posts on this volume.


  4. Yes, Henry, thanks very much for your reviews. They’re especially valuable because you are the kind of user that the OSB project apparently seeks to interest. I would also recommend to you the New Testament Commentary of the Blessed Theophylact. This is a kind of synopsis of Patristic commentary on the NT, done just over 900 years ago.

    On the OSB, I will always hold that the “better than nothing” argument is completely unacceptable, and something of a fraud. There is plenty of Patristic commentary available in full, well-translated and annotated editions. These might have been systematically utilized, yet they were not. I am myself not convinced of the value of a study Bible which is so cursory as so many are. The extent of notes found in, say, the ESV Study Bible indicate the amount of space that I think would be necessary to accurately represent Patristic commentary in a study Bible format. Thomas Nelson needn’t be the publisher. In fact I would say shouldn’t be the publisher, judging from this last OSB. Once bitten, twice shy. Twice bitten: shoot the dog.


  5. I am acquainted with the Ancient Christian Commentary series, and am in fact slowly working through the Syriac text of Hebrews along with that commentary. That goes very slowly because I can’t do it daily. My Syriac is slow enough that I have to dedicate at least an hour to that particular study before it’s worth getting started. Perhaps I’ll have to just go ahead and finish reading the patristic commentary kindly provided in English by IVP!

    I had not heard of the New Testament Comment that Kevin mentioned. I will be looking into getting a copy of that soon.


  6. So — what are you saying happened with Thomas Nelson during the publication process?

    In terms of why it’s so difficult for us to put out a Bible — what’s the joke again? “I’m not part of an organized religion, I’m Orthodox.”


  7. So, Esteban…

    What version of the Bible currently extant would you recommend for the [wannabe] discerning Orthodox? Or, if it helps, which OT, which Psalter, which NT?


    – V.


  8. Henry> Before you order the wonderful Expositions of Blessed Theophylact (which on the main are distillations of the sermons of St John Chryosostom by another father who was an accomplished exegete in his own right), contact me. I have a 15% coupon that I can pass on to you and which you can apply to your final order online.

    I think you're following a wonderful method; I have done much the same in past with the sermons of St John Chrysostom, the Expositions of Blessed Theopylact, and a few volumes of the ACCS that I own. (Of course, being Syriac-less, I cannot follow that bit of your program, but I have usually read the Biblical text in Greek.) So, again, the resources are out there in English, which makes the failure of this study Bible all the more egregious.

    Richard> What happened was that the original, fresh translations produced by a some of the more accomplished collaborators of the OSB project (which were, in any case, not very numerous) was basically axed in the interest of providing an hybrid NKJV due to various levels of pressure and other contributing factors. Again, Father Patrick Reardon has spoken publicly on the subject.

    As for the joke, oh, how right it is! :-) Fortunately, in the light of such disorganization, some noble souls have taken justice into their own hands for the good of us all–on which see more below.

    V and E> On various occasions I have given my recommendations for all these on this blog. Here they are:

    1) For a full Bible, the forthcoming Greek / Eastern Orthodox Bible (Fr Laurent Cleenewerck, ed.) will be hard to beat. The NT can already be downloaded and purchased online, and the OT should be available at the end of the year. I am in possession of a draft copy of the OT (which based on Brenton), and it is really very good.

    2) For a Psalter, there is none better than Michael Asser’s KJV-LXX Psalter. It is available online for download (links here), and has been recently printed in a handsome edition published by the CTOS.

    3) Orthodox Christians should also have a good translation of the Hebrew Old Testament (see my forthcoming post on the subject; in the meantime, note that, for instance, the Russian Church has translations available of both the Greek [in the Slavonic Bible] and the Hebrew [in the “Synodal Translation”] Old Testaments). For this, any of the usual translations will suffice, though I myself prefer the Revised English Bible.

    I hope this helps!


  9. Thanks, Esteban. It helps.

    I must say that it is good to run into you again, if you are the person I am 99% certain you are.

    E. sends her greetings also.

    – V.


  10. V and E> A pleasure to be of assistance, of course!

    And, after perusing your blog, I'm too quite certain that I know who you are. It is good, indeed, to run into you again; all three of you are always in my prayers. Kindly greet E. back for me, and kiss your beautiful B. on my behalf!


  11. Ah, very clever, Mr Edgecomb!

    Meanwhile, weren’tyou supposed to call sometime after the Feast of Theophany? Because we have just celebrated the Apodosis of that Feast in the Old Calendar. Just sayin’. ;-)


  12. Very clever indeed.

    My only objection is that while I may have studied German, and E. may have studied Spanish, our little B. has yet to master Italian.

    – V.


  13. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    Stepanchik, it is still “After Theophany” isn’t it?

    (Yes, I know: I am shameless!)

    I’ll be on the horn in the next couple of days! Our conversation will be sponsored by Heinz, because it will be all catchup.


  14. V> What?! You must start the teaching of Italian forthwith; I don't care how young that child is! ;-)

    Gene> Shameless, shameless, shameless.

    Also, it seems you're on a roll–witness the "catchup" remark! I will patiently wait the current episode out. (Yes, I realize that the "current episode" has been going on for your entire life.) ;-)

    (And as for calls, remember: the later the time, the better!)


  15. Pingback: Does "born of water" in John 3:5 refer to baptism? Study Bibles Compared | Baker Book House Church Connection

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s