Thomas Nelson’s new Study Bible, The Chronological Study Bible, has caused quite a stir in the media and Blogsphere. It’s interesting to me that the pundits would discuss it even though the actual Bible isn’t due to release until September and none of the writers have actually seen a finished copy. I will try and address some of what has been written in this post, but first let me provide some context.
There are many factors that fuel our creative processes as we develop new products. The first strong factor is the growing Bible illiteracy among Christians:
• The Bible Literacy Report I finds that 98% of English teachers say that Bible literacy gives a distinct academic advantage and 90% say it is critical to a good education. They also said that an alarming loss of Bible knowledge among teens is eroding students’ ability to understand British and American literature impairing their study of art, music, history, and culture.
• The Bible Literacy Report II reveals that English professors surveyed at leading universities – including Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford – unanimously agree that, regardless of one’s faith, an educated person needs to know the Bible.
• Recent Time Magazine and Religion & Ethics Newsweekly reports indicate that most Americans can only name one of the four Gospels and cannot name the first book of the Bible; and 60% cannot name five of the Ten Commandments.
The second strong factor stems from our own research with the Barna Group, which revealed the felt need from our customers to have Bibles that help them actually get into and read a book that, too many, can seem intimidating and difficult to understand. These two factors motivated us to develop the Chronological Study Bible. We wanted a product that would help people see the whole story, from beginning to end, without duplication or confusion (as the Canonical order can sometimes cause) especially for people new to the Bible. The project gives readers historical and cultural context not found in a typical Bible. It provides users with some anchors to historical events and shows them what was happening in the world during biblical times. This adds relevance for many readers.
Now, knowing the motivators behind the project’s development, allow me to address some of the points made by recent posts:
• This is a new idea. No, not really. Chronological Bibles have been around for some time. In 1975 Edward Reese developed the Reese Chronological Bible. Then, in 1984, F. LeGard Smith developed a Narrated Bible that was later released as the Daily Bible in Chronological Order that users found extremely helpful. So, as one writer described, the “rejiggering” of the books of the Bible isn’t new or sacrilegious.
• Scholars Won’t Like it. It was not developed for them. The Chronological Study Bible was created by biblical scholars for people who are seeking to study and understand the historical and cultural context within the time frame of the Holy Scriptures. Scholars typically already possess this knowledge.
• What’s the right chronology for the biblical narrative? That depends. Any two attempts to reformat the Bible will exhibit numerous differences. The chronological arrangement of the Bible requires conjectures and choices to be made based on particular data. A chronological Bible is, therefore, an approximation designed to clarify the historical setting and assist further study and Bible reading.
The scholar team that assembled this product had to make some judgment calls. In the Bible’s introduction they say this to the reader:
Rearranging the Bible is, of course, a fallible human effort. Even those who have earned advanced degrees in the various fields of biblical studies would disagree on any particular arrangement. The editors of the Chronological Study Bible have been forced at times to make hard decisions, and to choose one location at the neglect of another that is equally plausible. In such instances, an honest effort has been made to acknowledge another possible arrangement and to present its case fairly. This allows the readers to decide the issues for themselves.
Rearranging the order of the Bible’s books may appear to some readers to be a violation of the integrity of the Bible. The goal of the Chronological Study Bible is not to replace the time-honored canonical arrangement, but instead to honor time as the setting in which the biblical record appeared. Readers who study this Bible will return to their traditional (in canonical order) Bibles better equipped to read them.
• The book of Psalms (and other Narrative sections) is split up. Yes they are and for good reason. We wanted the reader to feel the emotional and spiritual significance of the narrative sections. For example, what better way to understand David’s emotion and passion after he confesses his sin with Bathsheba than to place Psalm 51 right there in the story instead of tucked in with the other Psalms? The Chronological Study Bible allows the reader to discover that moment of spiritual history as it happened instead of asking them, via a footnote, to find it elsewhere and hope they turn the pages.
• The motive is strictly financial. Certainly to grow our business and mission we need to develop products that make a profit. However, that’s not our primary goal. We listen to pastors, consumers, book sellers and our own creative selves and the driving force behind our product development is Nelson’s mission to inspire the world and bring more people into God’s word. Our motive is no more financial than any newspaper’s motive to sell print or Internet advertising. In fact, knowing my team, it’s less.
• The product is radical. Not really, it’s different. Looking through the eyes of someone who has had trouble understanding the Bible, this could be a refreshing alternative. It may also seem “different,” but as we’ve seen in so many other venues different can be good especially when we learn more about it. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was teased and taunted as a young boy for his “different” body and now that perfect swimmer’s build has propelled him to become the greatest Olympic athlete of all time. Different isn’t bad, it’s just different.
Bibles are developed for many reasons. Most of the time they are developed based on a particular customer felt need and out of a sincere missional desire to fulfill that need. We have many consumers who, for the most part, don’t understand the Bible and yet want desperately to hear God’s voice from His scripture. We also have a group of people who find the traditional Bible difficult to read, difficult to become engaged with, and they don’t understand the relevance or context of what’s being written. Hence, they feel lost and give up trying to figure it all out. The Chronological Study Bible easily fills those needs through a unique approach to reading and studying the Bible. It’s our hope that many people will find it refreshing and a new way to seek God’s wisdom for their lives.