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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

09 March 2007

Study Bibles and Bible Study

Q: Should we read the NIV Study Bible and every footnote and text note?

Journaling BibleA: No matter which Bible translation you use, study notes can be quite beneficial. However, they’re written by people whose perception may differ greatly from yours. Some theological biases may show in their interpretations of Biblical events or divine pronouncements. Because of this, while we may certainly gain enlightenment from them, we should always be careful that the notes agree with all else we know about the Faith and the other parts of Holy Scripture.

This goes beyond the various translations. Greek and Hebrew Scriptures also often include editorial margin notes. I’ve discovered through the years that some are quite accurate and agree with the rest of the Bible. Others, however, sometimes contradict or shift the emphasis of a text.

Any notes or alternate translations that diminish the work of Christ for our salvation or which champion human efforts to save ourselves should, of course, be rejected immediately. Other faulty or weak interpretations are more subtle. The best protection is a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, including, if at all possible, the original language writings. Beyond this, solid, Christocentric commentaries and pastors who are able and willing to help our studies pay enormous dividends in our studies of Holy Writ. Even theologians, whether clergymen or academics, benefit from seeking advice in our exegetical studies.

Bible StudyRegarding specifically the New International Version, you didn’t say if this was the “regular” version or the Concordia Self-Study Bible published by Concordia Publishing House of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. They differ in that the latter includes special notes added to more clearly comment on Christological issues and to clarify certain doctrinal points, often concerning justification by grace through faith in Christ. I am much more comfortable with my own parishioners using this than the more general notes in the original NIV Study Bible. However, even these may not answer every question a Bible student might have. Also, the Lutheran additions sometimes contradict the original commentary, which can confuse the unwary reader.

That any corrections or additions are in any way necessary indicates our fallen natures and the sinfulness about which Scripture itself also testifies. Minds clouded by sin don’ always understand even the clearest word from the Lord. Gifted, intelligent translators sometimes bring the wrong presuppositions to their task and their biases may lead them to incorrect renderings of the Word.

Since you brought up the NIV, I’ll use it as an example. In its rendering of Acts 3:21, the NIV ignored the most straightforward translation that had been followed since the earliest days of the Church. The ESV — following traditional renderings and the literal sense of the original Greek — speaks of Christ, “whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets.” The NIV chose instead to deny or downplay Christ’s ubiquity by saying that the Lord “must remain in heaven.” This tortured translation is then used to buttress arguments against the Real Presence of Jesus’ body and blood in Holy Communion.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles and from the New International Version® Bible, © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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