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Studying the Bible as Literature

Stanley Fish recently wrote in the New York Times (now behind a paywall) about teaching the Bible as literature in public schools:

Stephen Prothero of Boston University… describes the project and the claim attached to it succinctly: “The academic study of religion provides a kind of middle space…. It takes the biblical truth claims seriously and yet brackets them for purposes of classroom discussion.” But that’s like studying the justice system and bracketing the question of justice. (How do you take something seriously by putting it on the shelf?)

The truth claims of a religion—at least of religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam—are not incidental to its identity; they are its identity.

The metaphor that theologians use to make the point is the shell and the kernel: ceremonies, parables, traditions, holidays, pilgrimages—these are merely the outward signs of something that is believed to be informing them and giving them significance. That something is the religion’s truth claims. Take them away and all you have is an empty shell, an ancient video game starring a robed superhero who parts the waters of the Red Sea, followed by another who brings people back from the dead….

Of course, the “one true God” stuff is what the secular project runs away from, or “brackets.” It counsels respect for all religions and calls upon us to celebrate their diversity. But religion’s truth claims don’t want your respect. They want your belief and, finally, your soul. They are jealous claims. Thou shalt have no other God before me.

Our purpose is not to evaluate Fish’s arguments but to point out that as a Christian you have a unique perspective on studying the Bible as literature. You’ve already internalized the Bible’s exclusive truth claims—you’ve accepted it as the Word of the one true God. Further examinations of the Bible (from theological, historical, cultural, literary, or other perspectives) deepen your understanding of the Bible, your neighbors, yourself, and ultimately God. You don’t need to “bracket” God from a study of the Bible: your perception of the Bible informs your understanding of God, and your perception of God informs your understanding of the Bible.

This integration of knowledge and faith helps explain why Crossway is publishing The Literary Study Bible: learning about the Bible’s literary forms deepens your faith because studying them helps you learn more about God.

How? A good analogy comes from C. S. Lewis, who writes in Prince Caspian about a meeting between Lucy and Aslan:

”Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

Studying the Bible is like that. The more you grow in your faith—and studying the Bible is only one of many ways to grow in your faith—the bigger God seems. But at the same time you come to appreciate his personal love for you in particular and for humanity in general, a love that found its ultimate expression through Jesus’ death.

Studying the Bible as literature, for a Christian, presents you with a way to know God more—and in different ways—than you otherwise might.

Via Boar’s Head Tavern. Crossway author Al Mohler discussed teaching the Bible as literature with Stanley Fish on this radio program.

April 16, 2007 | Posted in: ESV,General | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:05 am | 1 Comment »

Coming Soon: The ESV Literary Study Bible

Learn more about this new Bible.

The ESV Literary Study Bible approaches the Bible as literature and shows how the application of literary tools of analysis helps tremendously in reading and understanding the Bible. Readers are introduced to the literary features of each book of the Bible and to each section within each book.

While traditional Bibles are reference books, this is truly a reader’s Bible. The format (single-column, black-letter, 8.5-point text, no section headings) and commentary make it ideal for private devotional reading, for preachers and Bible teachers, and for use in group Bible studies.

Download a 16-page brochure (1.3MB PDF) with sample pages from The Literary Study Bible.

The ESV Literary Study Bible has a single column of 8.5-point text.

About The Literary Study Bible

A literary study Bible—what a great idea! Who better to conceive of such a Bible and to provide the notes than Dr. Leland Ryken, author and editor of numerous books explaining the literary forms manifest in the Bible and encouraging us to pay special attention to these forms. The Literary Study Bible represents the culmination of his efforts to aid all who read, study, preach, and teach the Bible. Find your understanding of Scripture improved and your appreciation for its literary beauty heightened.

“Any piece of writing needs to be assimilated and interpreted in terms of the kind of writing that it is,” write the coeditors. “The Bible is a literary book in which theology and history are usually embodied in literary forms. Those forms include genres, the expression of human experience in concrete form, stylistic and rhetorical techniques, and artistry. . . . [The use of these forms] has been inspired by God and [they] need to be granted an importance in keeping with that inspiration.”

The Literary Study Bible employs the English Standard Version translation, for which Dr. Ryken served as literary stylist.

Two Bibles in One

The Literary Study Bible is two Bibles in one. It is a reader’s Bible by virtue of its format, designed to facilitate reading through the Bible. An important feature of that format is the division of the biblical text into units of a length that invites devotional reading day by day, each unit preceded by helpful tips for reading the passage that follows. The Literary Study Bible is also a study Bible. The commentary that appears before each passage contains tips, not only for reading, but also for analysis. Furthermore, the format and commentary make this Bible ideal for use in group Bible studies. Study leaders can use the commentary to help organize their thoughts about a passage and formulate a series of discussion questions.

For Whom Is The Literary Study Bible Intended?

All who love to read the Bible, and especially those who also enjoy good literature, will embrace The Literary Study Bible. Preachers and teachers who want the Bible to come alive in their sanctuaries and classrooms will find here a rich and unique resource. Members of small-group Bible studies will discover the same, and book clubs can use The Literary Study Bible as the basis for discussing individual books of the Bible.

Features of This Reader-Friendly ESV Bible

  • A general introduction, including twelve literary features of the Bible
  • An introduction to each Bible book, including an overview in chart form
  • Tips for reading and analyzing each passage
  • Headnotes (not footnotes) introducing each literary section
  • Single-column format—this Bible reads like a book!
  • Glossary of literary terms
  • Plan for reading The Literary Study Bible in one year

When Will The Literary Study Bible Be Available?

The Literary Study Bible will be available in hardcover this fall (2007) for $49.99. Don’t confuse it with the ESV Study Bible, a separate product that’s coming out in late 2008 or early 2009.

April 13, 2007 | Posted in: Editions,ESV | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:14 am | (31) Comments »

Coming Soon: Large-Print Pew and Worship Bibles

Learn more about these new Bibles.

The ESV Large-Print Pew and Worship Bible will be available in three colors (red, blue, and black to match the current Pew and Worship Bibles) in summer 2007.

This Bible uses the typesetting from the ESV Large Print Bible. It is 6.625″ x 9.5″ and features 12.75-point type. Its durable hardcover format, high-quality Bible paper, and sixty-five responsive readings reflecting major biblical themes make this Bible a great choice for churches.

The ESV Large-Print Pew and Worship Bible has 12.75-point type.

April 11, 2007 | Posted in: Editions,ESV | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:40 am | Comments Off »

Coming Soon: Two New Wide Margin Reference Bibles

Learn more about these new Bibles.

The ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible will be available in Black TruTone and Portfolio Design TruTone (both for $54.99) covers in late summer 2007.

This Bible features 1.25-inch margins throughout for readers to record their observations, reflections, prayers, and notes. It is 6″ x 9″ and has 8.8-point type.

The ESV Wide-Margin Reference Bible has 1.25-inch margins.

This Bible is also a complete reference Bible, with such helpful study tools as book introductions, an extensive concordance, cross-references, and full-color maps.

With its extra-wide margins and helpful resources, the ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible is great for note-taking, personal study, and devotional reading—an ideal Bible for students and growing Christians.

April 9, 2007 | Posted in: Editions,ESV | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:24 am | Comments Off »

Good Friday 2007

Today is Good Friday, the day that commemorates Jesus’ death for our sins.

Listen to an MP3 (41 minutes) of John 13-19, which tells of the night before and day of Jesus’ death.

This recording was produced for the God’s Story Bibles. Download the complete MP3 Gospel of John for free.

April 6, 2007 | Posted in: ESV,General | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:22 am | (4) Comments »