On the top of my bookshelf at home sits an old, falling-apart, heavily marked-up edition of The New Oxford Annotated Bible. So it has been with anticipation and appreciation that I’ve been able to use the The New Oxford Annotated Bible in its most current, 4th edition.
What the Annotated Bible Is
The Bible text in The New Oxford Annotated Bible is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). I’ve always appreciated this translation’s blend of readability and fidelity to the original languages.
Each biblical book receives a short introduction, covering topics like authorship, date of composition, literary structure, and interpretive helps for reading. (The “guide to reading” that precedes most books is especially helpful when doing a book study or reading through a whole book of the Bible.) The biblical text itself appears in a clear, uncluttered font, with the study notes appearing at the bottom of the page. The brief but illuminating notes address each passage of the text (as a passage), and then comment more specifically on individual verses, terms and words.
Here is Psalm 1 with study notes:
The title page bills this as “An Ecumenical Study Bible.” Its balance in this regard is, indeed, fair. The Editors’ Preface reads:
We recognize that no single interpretation or approach is sufficient for informed reading of these ancient texts, and have aimed at inclusivity of interpretive strategies.
The editors and contributors have succesfully met this aim. The introduction to Colossians, for example, does not make a heavy-handed assessment one way or the author as to Pauline authorship, but lays out the different views (with support) so the reader can decide. I appreciated this.
At the end of the Bible are some “General Essays,” covering topics at considerable length, such as:
- The Canons of the Bible
- Translation of the Bible into English
- The Persian and Hellenistic Periods
- The Geography of the Bible
and more. Also included are a glossary, concordance, 14 color maps, and other study helps.
“With the Apocrypha”
One thing that sets this study Bible apart from others is its inclusion of the Apocrypha. Not only is the text included, but its contributors are top in their field: John J. Collins (3 Maccabees), Lester Grabbe (Wisdom of Solomon), Amy-Jill Levine (Additions to Daniel, Tobit), and David A. deSilva (4 Maccabees), to name just a few. The introductory articles are clear and concise, yet contain the sort of information most users of this Bible will be looking for. For example, after a section on “Definitions” of terms like “Apocrypha” and “deuterocanonical,” the introduction to the Apocryphal section has “The Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Canons of the Old Testament.” The comparison chart in that part of the introduction is especially useful, so readers can see “which religious communities accept [the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books] as scripture.”
In Mattathias’s speech on his deathbed in 1 Maccabees, to explore just one passage, the explanatory note for 1 Maccabees 2:49-70 simply reads:
Jacob (Gen 49), Moses (Deut 33), and Samuel (1 Sam 12) utter similar speeches; compare also the praises of famous men in Sir 44-50.
The biblical characters that Mattathias extols (Abraham, Joseph, Phinehas, Joshua, and so on) have accompanying biblical references in the study notes so readers can explore their stories further. It’s, of course, not nearly as in-depth as a commentary would be, but neither does it intend to be. It covers the basics well, and addresses most initial questions readers would have of the text.
Construction and Aesthetics
The leather-bound edition (what I am considering for review) is a well-constructed Bible. Despite its weight–to be expected of a Study Bible–it is a pleasure to hold and read. And to smell. Its gilded edges and two ribbon markers give it a classic feel. Its sewn binding and leather cover mean that it lays flat anywhere you have it open, even at Genesis 1:
The pages are a bit thin, though this may be inevitable. (A delicate balance in Bible production is how thick the pages can be without weighing down an already bulky Bible). I was aware of bleed-through but not really distracted by it as I read. Note, too, the book name tabs in the image above, which help readers to quickly get to a desired spot.
Three Ways I’ve Used the Annotated Bible
There have been three primary ways in which I’ve made use of the Annotated Bible. One is for personal, devotional reading. In this context I have found the book introductions and notes to be just enough to answer my top-of-mind questions, but not so much that I was distracted from a focus on the text itself.
Second, this is the Bible I had in my hands while leading a small group Bible study last Lent on the Sermon on the Mount. Again, I found that most of our questions of the text were addressed in the notes by succinct, summary statements. And the NRSV was a good version for group reading.
Third, I’ve found the introductions and essays to be helpful in teaching and preaching preparation.
Many thanks to Oxford University Press for a copy of this beautiful Bible to review. They provided it with no expectation as to the nature of my review, except that I be honest.