Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Orthodox Study Bible

With the release of the Orthodox Study Bible in 2008, a complete English Bible in a readable version translated from the Septuagint of the Old Testament and the Byzantine Text for the New Testament became available.

The Original OSB came out in 1993, but featured only the New Testament and Psalms. This new, complete edition of the OSB just came out in February 2008.

The New Testament originally used in the OSB is the New King James Version (NKJV), an edition translated by evangelical Christians from the Byzantine Text, and released by Thomas Nelson Publishers. The Psalms were also from the NKJV. The NKJV has become somewhat of a favorite version for Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christians.

For this new, complete edition, there was no need to replace the NKJV New Testament, as it is a faithful translation of the Byzantine Text. To make the Old Testament suitable for Orthodox Christians, however, the Old Testament needed to be translated from the Septuagint. The Septuagint of the Old Testament, and The Byzantine New Testament Text are normative for the Orthodox Church.

This new version of the Old Testament is called The St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint (SAAS), and was translated directly from the Septuagint, using the NKJV in places where the Septuagint and Masoretic text agree. The Deuterocanonical books, which do not appear in the NKJV, are completely fresh translations.

The Deuterocanonical books are interspersed throughout the Old Testament in the traditional order of the Septuagint. For those not familiar with the Eastern Orthodox or Septuagint traditions, it may be interesting to know that the books of the Hebrew Canon are in slightly different order, too. Job follows Psalms instead of preceding them; the first prophetic book is Hosea, not Isaiah; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel are all inserted at the very end of the Old Testament. I am mildly disappointed that the books of Chronicles are not labeled Paralipomenon, as is traditional in the Greek and Latin Bibles.

After having the Orthodox Study Bible and reading it for several years, I have found that the SAAS version has much lovelier renderings than the NKJV. For example, in the SAAS version, I love Psalm 84 [85]: 9- “I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me, for He will speak peace to His people and to His holy ones, and to those who turn their heart to Him.” This rendering follows the Septuagint reading.

The NKJV, following the Hebrew, reads, “I will hear what God the Lord will speak, For He will speak peace To His people and to His saints; But let them not turn back to folly.”

The SAAS is prettier to me; not because it does not contain the warning, but because it is more spiritual, and poetic to my ears. I like the concept of the Lord “speaking in me.”

It is important for Christians and others to know that the vast majority of Old Testament quotes in the New Testament are from the Septuagint. This is not simply because both were written in Greek, but because the Septuagint was the preferred version of the Apostles and the Early Christian Church, and even among the Jewish Diaspora. Ancient Christians and modern day Orthodox Christians consider the Septuagint inspired in its own right. Many of the prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament only make sense fully in the Septuagint. Critical passages quoted in the New Testament that highlight the divinity of Christ and his mission are quoted in the New Testament from the Septuagint, not the Hebrew (see for example: Matthew 1.23 & Isaiah 7.14; Hebrews 2.6-8 & Psalm 8.5-8; Hebrews 10.5 & Psalm 40.8).

To learn more about why the Septuagint and Byzantine Text are standard for the Orthodox Churches, I have provided a link to Bishop Isaiah’s excellent article, Which English Translation of the Bible Should I Use?

The OSB is a beautiful edition of the Sacred Scriptures. It features nice big print. I appreciate that the lay out is plain and easy to read, and that it does not feature bizarre colors and starbursts like so many other study bibles on the market. It does have several pages of beautiful and colorful Byzantine Icons.

The OSB contains an index to the annotations, the Byzantine Lectionary, Morning and Evening prayers, a glossary, and several articles, including ones on the Orthodox Church and How to Read the Bible. Many of the notations and articles highlight passages read on major feast days of the Church, and key theological concepts in the Orthodox Church, such as Christology, faith & works, Theosis, the sacraments, and many others.

I enjoy the commentary, which is from the perspective of Orthodox theology, with ample quotes from the Church Fathers. This makes the Orthodox Study Bible also attractive for all Christians- Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant- interested in understanding the Bible from the perspective Eastern Theology, the Fathers, and the Ancient Church.

The Orthodox Study Bible may have flaws, but so do all versions and study editions. I think that the Orthodox Study Bible serves well its purpose, providing and excellent and reliable Study Bible and translation.

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