Diakonos09 is a frequent visitor and commentator on this blog, and lately we have been emailing back and forth on the issue of study Bibles. Well, over the past week he held a little "competition" between the various study Bibles on the market that could be usable for Catholics. I found his analysis to be both funny and informative. He has given me permission to reproduce his findings, so enjoy:
Competitors: put in your mouth-guards and check the laces on your gloves, because this might get ugly. Let the fight begin! Ding! Ding!
In one corner, weighing in at 3.9 pounds, boasting 2,298 pages and bearing an oddly-shaped over-sized dimension in width we have the New Interpreter's Study Bible. In the other corner, tipping the scale at 3.6 pounds with a girth composed of 2,480pages and sporting a new 21st century appearance yet holding fast to the well-recognized traditional red cover is the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible- 4th Edition. Both competitors include the so-called Apocrypha. Both come recommended by Catholic and Anglican scholars. And both have successfully claimed skirmish victories in this competition over their primary mainline Study Bible competitors: NJB (though not in theology), NAB (in all its editions to date), REB (was it every really a serious challenger?), Harper Collins (though I still may score a cheap used paperback copy) and ESV (the first loser based on theology).
I need to take the winner to deaconate classes, to Bible Study meetings, to CCD, etc. Because it goes out so much, carries a decent amount of scrap notes, holy cards and handouts and typically gets tossed into my backpack, I like to put my SBs into a nice zippered cover with pockets, etc. With this in mind the NISB is the hands-down loser due to its odd width-dimension. It is a good 1.25" over-sized and I'd have to have a cover custom made. Searches for covers on the net yielded nada. So I declare the NOASB-4 winner in this category. BTW...they are identical in thickness and near identical in length. I guess the NISB folks decided to go with the odd-width to allow for the extra in-text notes it contains.
I see no difference really in the paper quality but it seems to me that the font size or at least clarity of print is slightly better in the NISB. "Bleed" factor is identical and really not an issue at all to me. I have not been able to test note writing on the paper. Winner by a fraction of a decimal of a point is the NISB.
The competitors leave the externals round and enter into the textual competition in a tie.
Both have a clean look with text taking up at least 60% of the page and note section clearly distinguishable. This is important because on one and the same page you have God's inerrant Word and man's errant-prone research and hypotheses. Even the best of notes in line with the tradition need to be clearly seen as commentary. The judges were indeed impressed by NOASB-4's use of the sectional-heading in bold idea for commentary even if not for text. NISB notes however are extremely succinct without loosing content or conveying concepts...so much is packed into so little, though this "little" is still more than found in the NOASB-4.NISB has a habit of commenting on an entire subsection (for example, Rom 3: 21-31) and then following this with a verse/verses sub-commentary on the same section. This allows for a bit more information and puts things into context.
NOASB-4 makes finding commentary easier again because of the subheading concept. It also came out above the NISB in the Introductions layout with a nice format of labeling authorship, genre, etc.The judge brought this close-call competition to deliberation over lunch (and a couple of drinks of course) and came back declaring NISB the winner.
While both competitors make a point of seeking a denominational neutrality in their annotation and comments, it can't but be helped that some theological emphases will be apparent. Likewise, it is possible to get a feel for a kind of objectivity (or not) regarding current biblical scholarship theories. Together these can produce a sense of Catholic friendliness at best or a sense of Protestant kindred ship which is polite enough to allow a Catholic or Orthodox presence (to a degree).
While it is quite clear that the NISB is in the Protestant kindred ship domain, it does a reasonably ecumenical job of acknowledging Catholic/Orthodox applications of Scripture for Jn 6/Euchairst and even Jn 19/Spiritual Motherhood of Mary. It absolutely fails, though in 1Cor 11/Eucharist, Mt 16/Peter. The NOASB-4 actually is less overt in its notes for these passages (particularly the Johannine ones) but what saved its butt in the competition here and actually elevated it above the NISB is its consistent reference to and comfort with Liturgical/Sacramental aspects of passages. Perhaps because Oxford is more Anglican than evangelical it has no problem with liturgical senses or with assigning Baptism as a rite beyond an outward confession of faith, especially in its notes in Pauline passages.
While I truly enjoyed seeing an ecumenical Bible give a nod or two to Catholic/Orthodox doctrine I found much more theological satisfaction in the overall sense of the NOASB-4 notes. In addition, the NOASB-4 introductions have no problem acknowledging traditional authorship as well as pointing out current thought. There is much objectivity there than in the NISB.
So for the theological and scholarly objectivity competition, the judge must declare the NOASB-4 the winner and comment it for its Catholic friendliness. However, the NJB will remain on the judge's bookcase for its Catholic theological notes.
The two competitors came to the Final Round will equal scores:
NISB won for paper/typeset and text layout/notes.
NOASB-4 was the victor for portability, theology/objectivity/Catholic Friendliness...
The final round in the battle of the Study Bibles considers, of all things, study aids besides the notes/annotations. After all...WHY are they published if not for this reason? Therefore, this will be the round that separates the boys from the men...
Study Materials besides Notes:
NISB fails miserable in neglecting to include a concordance, while the NOASB-4 triumphs in this regard.
BOTH fails in cross references but it’s not a competition-point since both use the NRSV and as such suffer the deprivation. Though both do allow for some cross referencing in the notes.
The NISB has great features in the excursi and in the self-pronouncing text. something that the NOASB-4 lacks. Excursi are real handy and helpful addition to a study Bible.
In the domain of maps both do very well. I believe there are 19 detailed maps in the NISB and while I don’t know the number, I recall that the NOASB-4 has a good amount as well which is to be expected from Oxford University Press.
Finally, considering the notes/annotations seen solely as STUDY material and not from a theological perspective, I have to admit that NISB wins out in quantity without detriment to quality.
The NOASB-4, however, take the crown for the Introductions as study material.
So the NISB takes it for excursi and annotation quantity...
NOASB-4 triumphs in concordance and introductions...
This is a CLOSE TIGHT race.....but the judge must look at the overall picture and render a holistic pronouncement that considers all of these features as well as one more irrefutable function of a Study Bible...
The Word of God is first of all a Person. This Person became flesh incarnate of the Virgin Mary. This Person proclaimed the Kingdom of God and commissioned His disciples to "teach them what I have commanded you". This Person founded a Church upon the rock of St. Peter and the foundation stones of the Twelve. These men preached the Gospel which was later consigned in part to writing. The Old Testament prepared for Him. The New Testament proclaims Him Lord, Savior and King. Which of these Study Bibles, above and beyond any comparison of parts and features, best fosters a communion with this Person and the Church which teaches in His Name?
The winner is the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible with Apocrypha, 4th Edition.