Saturday 2 May 2009

LSB - kinda cool

Study Bibles: there are the academic ones (Oxford, HarperCollins etc.) and the apologetic ones, and ne'er the twain shall meet. Except perhaps this once.

Augsburg Fortress' Lutheran Study Bibleis now out. I was surprised on unpacking the box to find what a substantial volume this is. LSB is designed to mesh in with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Book of Faith project, and mark out the distinctives that separate a Lutheran approach to scripture from the overwhelmingly Reformed emphasis that largely reigns unchallenged in the English speaking world.

In terms of appearance and design, beautiful may be a little strong as an adjective, but not by much. The list of scholars who have contributed is impressive: Terence Fretheim, Karl Donfried, Diane Jacobson... But the LSB isn't designed for eggheads either, ELCA wanted it accessible to a wide readership, and I think they've come close to striking a decent balance. The text appears in a single wide column, with study notes in a side margin, with icons identifying whether background information, theological insights, or Lutheran perspectives are being supplied. A further icon indicates questions for reflection, a category that will appeal to some, but I personally find rather twee.

The LSB uses the text of the NRSV, minus the apocrypha. Flicking through the Pentateuch you will find additional charts on the ten plagues, the ten commandments (with the separate numbering in Jewish, Catholic/Lutheran/Orthodox, and Reformed/Anglican communities), and Hebrew festivals.

The quality of the study notes varies from book to book depending on who each was assigned to. The notes in Numbers, for example, are much fuller and more engaging, than those in Genesis. To get a feel for the LSB you can download the book of Jonah.

Several essays anchor this NRSV firmly in a Lutheran context, and because this is an ELCA production we are talking about a stream of Lutheranism that stands in the best tradition of European and American scholarship (though again, this is not a scholarly Study Bible as such.) Lutheran Study Bible from Augsburg Fortress should be distinguished from the yet-to-be-launched volume of the same name from the fundamentalist Missouri Synod (Concordia imprint) which promises to be something else entirely.

My initial reaction, in a country like New Zealand where Lutherans are as rare as hens' teeth, was to immediately share my delight by finding a smug Presbyterian or Baptist to whack over the head with it (metaphorically speaking, of course.) Wisdom prevailed, and I'll bide my time till the next Jehovah's Witness comes knocking...