15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I just used this book in my biblical interpretation class. From Zondervan's website:
"This new fourth edition, still available in its popular flexiback binding, has been revised to include new and updated articles and images. From the history and design of the temple in Jerusalem to God's relationship to the universe, you'll find it here. The land, cultures, battles, feast days, heroes, and villains of Scripture come alive through spectacular color-filled articles and images of meticulous clarity and detail. Special features include: * Four-color guide to all the books of the Bible * 119 articles by an international team of experts * Over 500 color photographs * 68 maps, 30 charts * Complete "Rapid Fact-Finder" reference section. "Rich with study helps" (Kay Arthur) and "indispensable" (Charles Colson), the Zondervan Handbook to the Bible is the most important Bible resource a Christian can own."
I think they recycled some of this synopsis from an earlier version. The book actually boasts
-800 full color pages packed with information and insight (colorful, exciting, authoritative, readable, challenging, and inspiring)
-700 photos and illustrations (vividly portraying the world of biblical characters and events
-127 articles by leading international scholars (on the setting and use of the Bible, and on subjects of special interest, including character studies and interpretation)
-a section by section guide to the bible (featuring explanatory notes on key words and issues of meaning)
-copious color maps and charts of historical and background information ina helpful visual format
-the aforementioned rapid factfinder to the Bible and to the handbook (for easy navigation to key people, places, events, and teachings)
-written by 70 contributors
If that sounds like a lot, believe me it is! Each page is literally bursting with information and color. As this is the 4th edition, Zondervan has mastered how to squeeze each page with as much biblical content as possible. The result for me, however, was a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes the pages are so chock full, they are actually a little distracting. The eye quickly becomes dazzled by all the colors and fonts and boldings and pictures and charts and all those things mentioned above. There's so much sometimes I didn't know where to focus and I just jumped around the pages. While this is a minor quibble, I did feel it was worth mentioning to people who have a hard time reading or focusing on the page as they read. Don't get me wrong though, the book is pretty stunning to behold. It is a good size and fits nicely in your hands as you read. The flexiback binding allows the books to lay flat on a table when studying, which I found very helpful.
As for the content itself, this book to me was like a book by book overview of the Bible and a survey of the Old and New Testaments in one volume. The book is divided into 4 major sections:
1. Introducing the Bible
>a. Starting with the Bible
>b. The Bible in its Setting
>c. Understanding the Bible
>d. Passing on the Story
>e. The Bible Today
2. The Old Testament with intro (divided into 4 sections: the Pentateuch, History, Poetry, and Prophets)
3. The New Testament with intro (divided into 2 sections: Gospels to Acts, The Letters)
4. Rapid Factfinder (with alphabetical list of special articles)
The first section gives a lot of cultural and social information about biblical times, while highlighting archaeology and modern studies. The purpose is two-fold: to immerse the reader in the setting the Bible was written so that it may be properly and fully understood and to convincingly present the Bible as accurate, true, and worthy of our trust. The first point basically involves establishing context. Context allows us to answer questions like:
What did the Bible mean to the people to whom it was originally written? What was each author's purpose in writing the letters or books they wrote? What things were happening in the world around them as they wrote? How did they wish to be understood?
When we can responsibly answer these questions, we can then responsibly apply the Bible's meaning to the present day. Safe interpretation equals safe application. And this is where the Handbook shines. The first section overviews the context of the whole Bible and the sections on the Old and New Testament focus on each book of the Bible, before breaking them down chapter by chapter.
The end result is a very solid reference for understanding the Bible. While the book doesn't take an official doctrinal position, I would gauge the work as conservative and perhaps even Evangelical, though any stream of Christianity would benefit from the historical, social, and cultural insights offered here.
Why then the 3 stars? Well as good and polished as everything is, I didn't sense much life in the words I was reading. Keep in mind this was a textbook for a college class in biblical interpretation, so, it reads somewhat like a textbook. And for most people, textbooks aren't fun books; they aren't soul-enriching books; they are books you have to read to pass the class. This book falls somewhere into all that. I mean I wholeheartedly endorse contextual interpretation, which this book supports. But I also believe in reading the Bible devotionally and letting God speak to my heart and my life through it, which this book kind of squashes. The book labors so much to describe what the Bible meant to the original hearers, that it almost seems as if the Bible wasn't written for believers today. We can apply the principles and meanings of the Bible, but we can't approach it as though it were God-speaking directly to us. His words come through the filter of history. On the one hand I get that. Loads of false, misguided teachings have been born through taking verses out of context and twisting them to mean something the original authors never intended. BUT, at the same time, I believe the Bible is God's word and He delivered His word for all time, not for a specific time thousands of years ago that can only be analogously or indirectly related to today.
I'm still looking for a book that merges these two streams of biblical interpretation and thought. Until then, this book certainly fills the contextual side of understanding the Bible. And if that's what you're looking for, I can recommend it along with Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart's How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour. If you are looking for solid tools to do the contextual research yourself, my other textbooks for this class were Understanding Scripture by Mickelsen and Mickelsen, and How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart. Personally I found much to agree with in their words, but they don't leave much room for my grievance about letting God speak by the Holy Spirit to my heart through His word. So they make for good reference materials but can come off a little dry like my title suggests.
Thanks for reading!