The Lutheran Study Bible, a First Look

The regular print edition of The Lutheran Study Bible is a beautifully bound book.  It is a big book, about the same size as the Treasury of Daily Prayer; however, the print is much smaller and the paper is thinner than the Treasury.  The print for the abundant notes below the Biblical text is especially small.

There are many beautiful illustrations.  The picture below depicts the baptism of Jesus at the beginning of the Book of Matthew.

This picture also shows how easy it is to see right through the thin paper, even two pages ahead.  The thinness of the paper, ink gloss, red lettering of Jesus’ words, and small print make the text difficult to read.  Also, extra care is needed when turning pages so as to avoid ripping or wrinkling the paper.

Even though the paper is thin, the content appears thick.  This book is billed as the first genuinely Lutheran study Bible in the English language, and that alone should earn it some praise.

However, the danger of any study bible is that the study notes and translation could cause the readers to read into the Biblical text what is in fact not there (eisegesis).  For example, the English Standard Version (ESV) translation of 1 Corinthians 11:8-10 & 14-16 from The Lutheran Study Bible says:

8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.  9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.  10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels…

14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?  For her hair is given to her for a covering.  16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

Here are the study notes for verses 14 & 15:

11:14 nature.  No Scripture passage teaches this, nor is Paul appealing to the created order.  Instead, as in v 13, he calls them to consider how things are in their culture.

11:15 covering.  Summarizes vv 9-12 and 14-15, pointing out that the practices of Roman culture regarding head coverings and gender distinction are in harmony with God’s will…

Paul discusses our creation and the created order, and appeals to “nature itself,” however, the notes conclude that Paul is actually writing only about Roman culture and not nature.  Over the last 90 years, many prominent American women cut their long hair, not just as a new style, but as an expression of liberation.  Is it possible that “nature itself” means nature and not just culture?

Has the Church always interpreted “nature itself” in verse 14 as culture?  Or is this an innovation?  Notice Jesus’ hair in the drawing above.  (We do not know how long Jesus’ hair was).  Samson had long hair, but he was a Nazirite from birth (see Numbers 6 and Judges 13).  Was a Nazarite’s long hair also a sign of authority on their head (i.e. their vow)?

In an interesting WELS Q & A regarding the translation of the Greek word gune in 1 Corinthians 11, the WELS answer expresses concern, not only with the ESV’s arbitrary translation of gune as both “woman” and “wife” in the same passages, but also by inference the LCMS’ theology regarding the roles of men and women.  (The NIV, KJV, and NKJV all use only the word “woman,” in 1 Corinthians 11, not “wife”).  The Lutheran Study Bible is billed as the first genuinely Lutheran study Bible, but it is also distinctly Missouri Synod Lutheran, and the Missouri Synod has women serving in positions of authority over men in some of its congregations (for example, as authoritative voters and congregational presidents).

Compared to the other highly anticipated and recently released books from Concordia Publishing House, this is the first that I’ve found difficult to read and recommend.  There is a larger print edition available.  In summary, this is a good book at first look, and the pictures are beautiful, but its theology and translation may be a bit off in places, and reading the regular print edition is hard on the eyes.


14 thoughts on “The Lutheran Study Bible, a First Look

  1. I’m a little disappointed in this review, which appears more agenda-driven, than facts-driven.

    Let me offer a few responses.

    About the paper. It is identical to the paper in the Concordia Self-Study Bible. Yes, it is thin. It is by no means difficult to read. The larger print edition is printed on slightly heavier paper. And speaking of the CSSB…

    The WELS is Concordia Publishing House’s largest single customer for the CSSB and since the CSSB is based on the somewhat loose translation, the NIV, and is only slightly modified to offer Lutheran content, one wonders how/why the level of criticism leveled in this review over against TLSB would not appropriately offered over against the CSSB, which has definite Reformed slants on many things and is, in comparison to TLSB, so devoid of solid Lutheran content. In other words, if the WELS has been using and recommending CSSB to its people, which is, in comparison to TLSB, anemic, will the WELS not recommend TLSB? It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

    If the “theology is a bit off” in places in TLSB, according to the WELSian take on things, surely the reviewer should be interested in correcting all the many places the theology is lacking in the CSSB or simply not even existent.

    Is the reviewer seriously suggesting that women cutting their hair are violating God’s eternal mandate for His Church. Luther himself recognized the culturally based comment of St. Paul at this point. I wonder if the reviewer needs to reconsider his comments on this point.

    I think the reviewer should probably look at the TLSB more carefully before running to the verses where the WELS, in the past several decades, has seemingly focussed a lot of its attention and developed even further certain “emphases.”

    I think upon further careful review and reflection on all the many feature and benefits of TLSB, the reviewer might be more appreciative than he was at first glance.

    In other words, is the WELS going to keep praising and using a Reformed Bible with some Lutheran modification? Or will it recognize the benefit and blessing of a thoroughly Lutheran Study Bible?

  2. Rick,

    It’s a tribute to your blog that the general editor of CPH would react so strongly to your comments, as if you were the definitive WELS critique of TLSB. You must be doing something right!

    I find lots to praise in TLSB, but like you, I do not like everything. I think Rev. McCain has been so bombarded with glowing, gushing commentary that he doesn’t know what to do with a bit of negativity.

    The ESV is an archaic translation. No one talks like the ESV reads. For all of NIV’s shortfalls, it’s at least a little more accessible to the average English speaker. But I won’t fault CPH for choosing the ESV over the NIV. It does, however, make it less likely that lots of WELSers will buy it, because I seriously doubt that the synod will change its chosen translation for publications just because there’s TLSB that uses the ESV. It’s not ideal to move back and forth between translations, and the ESV is also far from ideal.

    The section you mention about men and women is part of the ESV’s problem, although I’ve found that the LCMS is not so united on insisting that the headship principle applies only to the husband/wife relationship. Many LCMS pastors understand that women should not be elders or congregational chairpersons. You’re right, though, that if WELS could put together something on the scale of TLSB, our notes on 1 Corinthians 11 would read differently.

    Before I even began discovering the good in TLSB, I was disappointed by some of the first pages of the book that gave a world chronology inconsistent with the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11. For example, the Egyptian dynasties are said to begin before the (approximate) flood date that the genealogies allow for. The editors try to explain away the list of Adam’s descendants by saying that there were probably gaps in the genealogies, which, even if it were true, doesn’t explain the ages given for each person in the list before and after the next person in the list. Rev. McCain has yet to explain that. On his blog, he recently confessed that there might be thousands of years missing in the genealogies, and that it’s a silly discussion, since the LCMS doesn’t take a position on the age of the earth. I think that it’s not silly to take Genesis 5 and 11 at face value, since Scripture gives us no indication they are to be taken otherwise. And there’s good science out there that suggests the Egyptian dynasties did not start as early as previously thought.

    That said, TLSB does affirm a six-day creation, and at least says that the long lifespans of the first human beings should PROBABLY be taken literally. That’s more than most these days. The Luther, Confessions and Fathers quotes are wonderful to have on hand, among many other things. I’m assuming that it does, indeed, trump the CSSB in virtually all the note sections (haven’t read them all yet!).

    So keep up the good work on your blog. I’ve enjoyed visiting it for awhile!

  3. The Rev. McCain knows what to do with negativity. Respond to it!

    : )

    Seriously though, my WELS friends are in quite a pickle if they are truly going to go “negative” on TLSB while they continue to buy and promote CSSB, which is anemic by comparison.

    Also..the problem is coming that the CSSB may not even remain in print due to the cessation of publication of the translation upon which it is based: the older/more original form of the NIV.

    Read more here:

  4. Question: Why didn’t you criticize the Concordia Self-Study Bible? Answer: This was not a review of the Concordia Self-Study Bible. Just for the record, I have never read, nor have I ever recommended the CSSB. My goals when writing this post were to write an honest review, and to encourage the readers to take seriously every word of the Lord.

  5. An “honest review” would seem to consist of more than bashing a book as you did.

    You did not answer my request for clarification of your comments about women cutting their hair. Do you believe it is a timeless mandate from the Lord that women not cut their hair?

  6. The answer is “no.” While Paul does appeal to “nature itself,” he is not making a law, but rather he is speaking about the gifts of God. As he writes, this “is given to her.” In the same manner, the gospel is a gift, an eternal gift. Just as we don’t make a law out of the gospel, we don’t make a law out of other gifts either.

  7. “Is the WELS going to keep praising and using a Reformed Bible with some Lutheran modification?”

    I had eight years of training in WELS schools of higher education — Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Not once did I ever hear a glowing endorsement of the CSSB. The very concerns that you have noted, Pastor McCain (i.e. the problems associated with reworking a Reformed resource), were concerns that I heard on several occasions from different professors. But as far as study Bibles were concerned, it was the best available resource at the time. It was not ideal, but it was certainly better than using the NIV Self-Study Bible.

    If TLSB doesn’t get a glowing endorsement from every corner of WELS, I don’t think that should really be a surprise. Look at the new Concordia Commentaries. When they are reviewed in Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, the review almost always sounds like this: “There are many fine qualities about this commentary. We do have issues here and concerns there, but all in all this is the best resource available.” I can’t predict the future, but as far as the study notes are concerned, I suspect that we’ll see the same kind of review in WLQ should the editorial staff choose to review TLSB.

    The translation is another issue. I agree with Pastor Rydecki. The ESV is literal, yes, but literal does not always capture the meaning of what is said. Pastors love literal translations because they (hopefully!) work with Greek and Hebrew and understand the idiom of the original. I like the ESV for that reason. But what about the average layperson? What about the seventh grade student in Catechism class? Will they understand the meaning with awkward-sounding or run-on sentences, albeit a very literal translation? The different potential uses of Greek participles alone (substantival, adjectival, concessive, causal, means, preliminary, etc.) is good reason to be willing to allow for a bit of freedom in translation (imagine the clarity added to the Great Commission if translations stated, “BY baptizing them … and BY teaching them — no, the preposition “by” isn’t there, but aren’t those participles of means?). If the translation is a bit free, but captures the MEANING of the original, I think the average layperson will be well-served.

    What makes the NIV vs. ESV debate awkward is, of course, the future of the NIV (as Pastor McCain notes in his link above). If the future/revised NIV comes out with the same problems that the TNIV had, then we might see more people moving toward the ESV. But that remains to be seen.

    Luther’s genius was that he strove to make the prophets and apostles speak German, as it were. What I would really love to see — and I’m not going to hold my breath for this — is a translation that aims to be literal wherever possible, but that it not afraid to move to the dynamic equivalence side as far as needed to capture the true meaning of the sentence, expressing it in natural American English.

    Or we could just ask God to reverse Genesis 11.

  8. Rick, so, again for the sake of clarification, are you advocating the view that it is God’s will for His Church that women are not to cut their hair? Is this your private view, or are you reflecting the doctrinal position of the Wisconsin Synod?

  9. Rev. McCain,
    Once again, the answer is no. God does not give the same gifts to everyone, and where He has not spoken a law into existence, I will not speak in His stead. I also do not think the WELS turns gifts into laws.

    – October 8, 2009 update:

    A reader has questioned whether this review is in agreement with WELS teaching. Perhaps certain points could have been more clear with additional paragraphs and other words, but I do believe that the review and comments here are in agreement with the Scriptures and WELS doctrine.

    The WELS position is that there are eternal principles for all men and women that also have unique cultural applications. The 1 Corinthians passage does not establish customs as universal principles, “but it does establish that social customs, which give expression to the Biblical principle of the headship of man, will be observed by Christians as a witness of their faith.” (“Exegesis of I Corinthians 11:3-16” by David P. Kuske, page 1; Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Essay). These cultural applications are different from setting to setting. When I wrote the original post, I phrased my sentences in such a way so that it would be clear that I believed that culture was implicated even in the verses where Paul appeals to “nature itself.”

    Nonetheless, the phrase “nature itself” is an appeal to the created order upon which our various human customs must be based. We reject the notion that the phrase “nature itself” is not an appeal to the created order. In a published Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Essay, David Kuske writes: “To practice their freedom from human rules in this instance would be a denial of the order of creation.” (“The Order of Creation as Moral Law and as It is Applied by the New Testament Writers to the Role of Man and Woman” by David P. Kuske, page 11; Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Essay).

  10. Hi Rick,

    I appreciated your “First Look” review, understanding that it was a brief look at a new resource. I expect to find some things that are helpful and other things that are not so helpful. I appreciate your insights into this new Bible.

    As an average layman, I dislike study bibles. I dislike the NIV and most paraphrases. I dislike the translations that are gender neutral (so-called) and dislike the 1611 edition of the King James bible. We all have things we like about the various versions in our possession, and things we don’t.

    That said, I love the Word of God, and encourage everyone to be a regular reader of it as I suspect you do yourself. In the final analysis, what difference does it make if it is not being read?

    Thanks again for your review, for your other writing, and for your photos! Peace.

  11. I’m waiting for my copy of TLSB, I have the CSSB, but this weekend I’m reading The Story, published by Zondervan. I’m a member of a Lutheran Church Canada congregation in Ontario, I think most theologians will frown at my choice but it’s filling me with The Word, and I’m enjoying it so much. Can I say, enjoying The Word? Thanks for your reviews on this site I’m going to follow all of the comments, just a simple sinner who needs different study tools.

  12. I have my copy of the TLSB and Rick is so right, I thought at first the print was too small, but it’s the font style and the see through pages that make reading it difficult. I have now ordered the large print super deluxe leather version, will pass this one on to someone. Keep the discussion going, tell me more. Have you learned men reviewed Lutheran Study Bible released in March 2009, what can you tell about it?

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