Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Wesley Study Bible

A friend in the Virginia Annual Conference (W. Clay Knick of Kernstown UMC) has informed me of the upcoming publication of the Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). Due in February 2009, this looks like something that every United Methodist pastor will want to check out.

I am a "Bible geek" who is always checking out new translations, editions, and study Bibles. Clay follows the scene even more closely than I, and I have been grateful for his tenacity and his willingness to share information; he was able to get me an advance copy of the HCSB Psalter a few years ago, which I have come to believe is the most beautifully effective translation of the Psalms since Thomas Cranmer put together the Book of Common Prayer.

Many Bible translations have a bias. The NRSV is left-leaning, mainline; the NIV is right-leaning, Calvinist premillenialist. I like both translations, mind you, and don't mean to denigrate either of them. My old chum Joe Miller has some strong feelings about Eugene Peterson's The Message, which Joe believes to be a commentary, rather than a paraphrase (as it has been advertized). The primary translation I am using now is the ESV, a 2001 revision of the RSV that is a mite more "literal" than the NRSV. Picking up on the biases of the translators can really help the way we exegete (of course, for serious exegesis, turn to Greek and Hebrew editions...there's a good reason they pounded these languages into our heads during seminary!).

Study Bibles can be useful tools. I don't recommend that pastors or laity exclusively use any particular study Bible, but as concise references, they can be excellent. Some are certainly better than others.

In 1989, Thomas Nelson published the Wesley Bible (NKJV), a study Bible put together from a Holiness perspective. It was very good, and I still refer to it. But, it didn't last long and is now difficult to find.

A few years later, Zondervan published the Reflecting God Study Bible (NIV), again featuring a Holiness perspective. This Bible was a revision of the very popular NIV Study Bible, released to counter many of the notes, which contain a Calvinist bent (as does the NIV). Despite its high quality, generally good notes and articles, and similarities to a top selling edition, this study Bible failed to catch on with readers of Wesleyan persuasion. Like the Wesley Bible, it can now be difficult to find.

I am very excited about the February 2009 publication of the Wesley Study Bible. Cokesbury describes it thusly:

"With a warmed heart and active hands...

"The Wesley Study Bible helps persons experience God in fresh ways and grow as more faithful disciples. The Wesley Study Bible gives inspiration and practical examples to live your faith with a warmed heart and active hands.

"Written for everyone in: African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Church of the Nazarene, Church of God (Anderson), Free Methodist Church of North America, The Salvation Army, Wesleyan Church, United Church of Canada, and The United Methodist Church."
So, for the first time, we have a mainline Wesleyan study Bible. And the scholarship looks excellent. The General Editors are Joel Green and Bishop William Willimon. Prominent contributors include Thomas Bandy, Ted Campbell, Bishop Kenneth Carder, Paul Chilcote, Kenneth Collins, Maxie Dunnam, Western PA alumnus Jeff Greenway, Adam Hamilton, Western PA alumnus Richard Heitzenrater, Zan Holmes, Bishop Rueben Job, Gregory Jones, Bishop Scott Jones, F. Belton Joyner, J. Ellsworth Kallas, Michael Lodahl, Russell Richey, Theodore Runyon, Bishop Robert Schnase, Michael Slaughter, David Lowes Watson, Bishop Timothy Whitaker, Ben Witherington, Charles Yrigoyen, and many others. That's a heck of a list!

I'm sure there will be more news about it as its release draws near. My fear is that it is too "mainline compromised" to be very useful; my hope is that these excellent scholars, leaders and theologians have crafted a truly useful Wesleyan resource. The Cokesbury page is here. You can view some excerpts as PDF files here, including the Letter of St. James.


Unknown said...

Interesting. If they publish an electronic version in Logos, will probably pick up a copy.

Anonymous said...

Cool. I will certainly buy a copy.

Eric Park said...

Interestingly, the General Board of Discipleship (through the United Methodist Publishing House) has authorized the publication of a new translation of the Bible. The New Testament is scheduled to be finished by 2009. Although no official title has been approved, the working title is "The Common English Bible."

This new translation, I'm told, has two aims:

1. Translational accuracy and integrity;

2. Expanded accessibility to all readers (the new translation, like the NIV, will demand an 8th grade reading level, as opposed to the NRSV's 12 grade reading level)

That's what I know at this point.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

Thanks, Eric. I'd love to hear more if you hear anything else.

I think part of the reason for thr new translation might be financial. The Southern Baptists (through Lifeway) get the profits from the HCSB. Publishers are starting to realize that they can have their own little niche markets.

I'll be curious to read the UMPH translation and see how it might differ from the NRSV, which could be renamed the "United Methodist Version" or simply the "Mainline Version".

Anonymous said...

News of the release of the new NRSV Wesley Study Bible arrives with a grand welcome. Nelson has done a service to the Arminian and Wesleyan community by providing this volume.

I would like to offer another perspective to the comment though, that the NIV Reflecting God Study Bible "never caught on." Having had a significant role in the development of that project I have had numerous conversations with leaders at Zondervan and elsewhere. From information I have received, the general editor, Kenneth Barker, was not pleased when he realized that the editors for the Reflecting God Study Bible had expunged the Calvinistic slant within the footnotes, replacing them with a holiness-Arminian perspective. My sources indicated that such was the concern from Dr. Barker and others, that pressure was put on Zondervan to not proceed with a second printing.

My memory tells me that a total first print run including hard cover and all leather editions, ran something like 40,000. Published in 2000, I believe the inventory was nearly exhausted within two years--not too shabby.

My opinion is that Nelson has been far more cordial to Wesleyan/Arminian views and authors, than Z.

Historically, in the 90s it seemed that at least according to anecdotal information I received, both Z and Nelson were proposing a study bible which would appeal to Wesleyan/Arminians. So the story goes, Z proclaimed that after their studies the market simply did not exist after all and that they were shelving their version compiled by liberal leaning United Methodist pastors. Thinking Z was calling their bluff, Nelson proceeded with the KJV Wesley Bible, which in turn did not "catch on" I believe primarily due to the fact that it was KJV.

The very publication of this NRSV volume speaks to the vacuum within the Christian community caused by a lack of extant Wesleyan/Arminian material.

This new release will hopefully answer some of that call.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where I could purchase ... The Wesley Bible by Thomas Nelson Publishing 1990 copy
I have worn out two Bibles and can't find another. In my estimation, the best study notes around.

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CJ Caufield said...

I have a couple of questions for fellow Wesleyans.

The 1990 NKJV Wesley Study Bible went out of print. It quickly reappeared in a repackaged Bible - complete with notes - on the market.

1) Do you remember the publisher and name of this new one?

2) In terms of contemporary study Bibles, what is out there that is not advocating a Reformed perspective, but a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective instead?

As study Bibles have proliferated the market in the last few decades in particular, and the Reformed tradition owns all of the publishing houses, radio and television stations, and most of the conservative to moderate educational institutions, this is an important need and distinction.

I appreciate you feedback.

My email address is as well.