Review: One Year Chronological Bible (NLT)

Two notes: 1. Special thanks to Laura Bartlett at Tyndale for sending me preview copies of the NLT SB and the Chronological Bible. 2. My review of this resource will not relate to the NLT as a translation, but rather the NLT edition as published in this format.

Appearances can be deceiving. When I opened the box, I was disappointed and thought this is not a resource I would regularly use. Other reviews suggested using it for travel. I travel a lot, but this clearly was not something I could see myself using on flights. The size, especially the thickness (2”), and overall dimensions (5.5” x 7”) fooled me into assessing this as an awkward resource; I don’t have any other book like it, except a smaller version for Rockwell paintings. Even a quick glance at the font (an important factor in Bible readability) reinforced my initial reluctance to consider this edition.

So what happened to change my mind? My goal was to look at it, maybe use it for a few days and then put it away. I set it on the coffee table beside my recliner and started the readings for the day. In that setting I found the size to be just about right (however, I still will not take it with me on trips). Not only that but I began to appreciate the design aspects of this Bible.

The Scripture readings are based on one view of chronology relative to when each book was written. While I might disagree with a few time relationships, the presentation is defensible and well done. Contrary to other such attempts, this edition incorporated the Psalms into their historical contexts. This works well both ways – it shows the liturgical element of life events in the historical books (perhaps unintentional side affect) and the historical context of the liturgical life. Also, the editors inserted in chronological order Biblical references of later writings that refer to the specific event (i.e. Gen. 11 and 1 Chronicles 1, p. 18). And it was good to see Job between Genesis and Exodus, often conjectured, but seldom seen in practice; nice to see in this edition. The Scripture references (verse numbers) were small and not noticeable to me most of the time. Well done.

Comments on specific features:

General Timeline (pp. A15-18): very helpful because it puts the date and specific event with the page number. The page reference in the Introduction on p. A10 is wrong because it indicates that the Timeline begins on p. A9, instead of p. A15.

One Year Reading Plan: obvious use for a chronological Bible. Each day is marked in the text to aid the reader without turning to another page. Better integrated and less intrusive than I have seen in other such Bibles.

Transition Statements: Thankfully these are short and hence non-intrusive to the reading plan (this isn’t a study Bible, after all), and in a different but readable font. These little notes prove useful in reading the text quickly and just getting enough information to cause the reader to think, “Yes, okay, that helps me understand the background”.

Chronological Dating: Dates are included in the subheadings throughout the text, very well thought out design to aid the reader.

Daily Reading Guide: This feature complements the in-text reading guides. At the back of the Bible, each day is listed with Biblical readings by text reference. For a comparative reading, this would assist the person to use a traditional Bible. Well done.

Scripture Index: helpful tool for traditional comparisons and quick reference. Personally I wouldn’t find much use for it in this type of Bible.

Verse Callouts: For some people these generate a sense of “speaking to me.” In this kind of Bible reading plan, I find that it is not all that helpful. But that is a personal choice.

Historic Christian Symbols: “Each month a new symbol is introduced with an explanation of its significance” (p. A11). The publishers commissioned an artist to provide these, and each page of the month’s reading has that symbol. They are faint, so they don’t overwhelm the text. Coming from a liturgical and visually oriented background, I find these kind of assets of great value in teaching the faith and engaging all the senses. Well done!

Overall Assessment:

While I study the Biblical text primarily in the original language texts, I use English translations routinely for all aspects of my devotional and pastoral tasks. Thus, I try to expose myself to several translations in different settings: personal reading, family devotion, sermon prep, teaching prep, publication prep, etc., rotating the translations used. Thus, one year I might read ESV for one part, GW for another, NAS for another. This does not mean I always think a specific translation is best, but such a process gives me a feel for how well a translation works in a specific context.

In 2009, I have decided to use two new resources. For devotional reading, this One Year Chronological Bible (24/7 NLT) will be my resource (while at home). I find the Bible’s arrangement, aids, and ease of use worthwhile to encourage me in this type of reading.


For family devotions for the past few weeks, we have been using The Books of the Bible (TNIV), also a Chronological reading Bible (which requires its separate review!).

NLT Study Bible – Review 2

This review has taken longer due to the amount of material surveyed. Obviously even now, this review only looks at a sampling.

Positives:

In my first review I noted many positive features. Here the focus is on the content. The book introductions provide enough information to grasp the general thrust of the book. The setting is perhaps the most important factor because this gives the reader a chance to identify time and place; obviously this blends well with the included timelines. Depending on the level of someone’s knowledge of the Bible, it seems that the introductions to the prophetic books are particularly useful, otherwise the prophetic message can “hang suspended in time.” Of course, no study Bible can prevent misuse of the message, but at least an appropriate context for the original audience sets the writing in place.

The character and theme inserts were well done and add perspective when studying. But see below for the negative side of such a feature.

Negatives:

As I began using the SB I noticed several features that were less than satisfactory. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the scarcity of cross references. I realize that comprises had to be made (font size, other material, spacing, etc.). But given that this is a study Bible, my expectation is that extensive, but good cross references are at the heart of the study.

The footnotes were adequate. But I found two issues that showed 1. inconsistency between footnotes and, 2. inconsistency between the footnotes and the NLT text.

1. Lord’s Supper: The footnote for Matthew 26:26-29 (p. 1633) lists three positions regarding the Lord’s Supper. But the second option really includes two separate options. The Reformed view is “spiritual presence” and refers to “the real presence of Christ.” Often the word “symbolizes” or “represents” is used to refer to the words of institution (as noted in footnote Mark 14:24, p. 1686). However, the Lutheran view (“in, with, and under”) refers to the real presence of Christ’s body and blood, but the word “consubstantiation” is not used by Lutherans. So there are four views.

Further, while the theology of the footnote authors/publisher is expected to show, evenhandedness would have done better in Luke 22:19-20 (p. 1755). The footnote only gives the “symbolic” view (“using the bread and cup as symbols of his body and blood”), but with no reference to the Matthew/Mark passages for alternative views. A simple note could have been included: “For further discussion see parallel passages (p. 1633, 1686).”

2. Justification: In Romans 3:22 NLT (p. 1897) has: “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.” I have always opposed such a translation, because it makes faith as the active agent rather than the passive receptor, contrary to the emphasis in the Greek. This rendering changes the emphasis from the Greek, which is on the righteousness of God. Interestingly the footnote gets it right, “the way God puts people in a right relationship.”

The wealth of information contained in the character and theme inserts provides value for the student. However, because they take so much space I found that they were actually hindering my study. I would have preferred to have a companion booklet with all the character and theme inserts (separate sections for each). This would have allowed the additional space to be used for both cross references and for more footnotes. A study Bible needs to focus on tools that help study the text, not be a systematic theological resource.

One further surprise concerns the Ephesians study helps. There are many good statements that summarize the theme and aspects of the letter. But I found no hint about the importance of the phrase “in Christ” (or equivalents: “in him”); these occur 37 times in the short letter. Yet the footnote for Eph. 1:1 (p. 1998) notes the letter has “frequent emphasis on “the will of God” (which occurs only 6 times total!). In contrast, “in Christ/in him” occurs 13 times in chapter 1 alone. This seems like an oversight that should be rectified for the next edition.

Conclusion

Any Study Bible that provides a service for understanding God’s Word is worth considering. So, how does this stack up against other Study Bibles I have and use? The layout, maps, timelines, etc. are some of the best I have seen. Will I use this Study Bible? Not as my primary one, but I frequently examine it to see how both the NLT renders the original language text and to compare footnotes and study aids with other sources.