5 Stars Out Of 5
One of the Best General Purpose Study Bibles
April 27, 2015
Study bibles have been around since the Geneva Bible of 1560 and they have come in every imaginable sort, from the general purpose study Bibles like the NIV and ESV Study Bibles, to ones with a more specific agenda, like the Reformation Study Bible or the Orthodox Study Bible. As such, the HCSB Study Bible falls squarely in the general purpose study Bible category. In fact, in the introduction, the editors say that they intentionally avoided any sectarian bias in the notes, and I have found that to be (sometimes disappointingly) true. I like notes that make me think and sometimes even disagree with, but this study Bible is pretty main stream Evangelical in its approach. The excellent scholars that wrote the notes to the HCSB Study Bible are mostly from southern Evangelical seminaries, but there is enough variety in their denominations to make me happy.
The notes to the HCSB Study Bible are very good, but not great. Sometimes there are no notes where there should be some. Let me give you an example. John 6:44 states: No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. (HCSB) The English word draws is very important here because it comes from the Greek word ἑλκύω (helkyo) which can mean drag (as a net) or draw (as a sword) or impel. Many commentators, including Martin Luther believed that it was more of a gracious allurement than God compelling the believer. The point is, there is a lot of disagreement over whether Christ meant that God the Father drags people to come to Him (perhaps even against their will) or whether he entices them (in accordance with their will). The HCSB Study Bible avoids this issue altogether and doesnt even comment on this important verse and others related to it.
To be fair, the HCSB does have a textual note on John 6:44 that says, Or brings, or leads but this is in all HCSB Bibles, and not the study Bible specifically. I wish that more study Bibles had the courage of their editors convictions and wouldnt be afraid to take positions on difficult or controversial topics. Too many study Bibles notes are tepid at best.
That said, one of the best features of the HCSB Study Bible are its word studies. The editors have chosen over 400 words in the Old and New Testaments and have given them special colorful articles that are both helpful and attractive. And while we are on the topic of color, you will not find a more colorful study Bible anywhere. Besides the many colorful end pages, the text itself is full of colorful maps, illustrations and diagrams. Along with these, the in-text headings and verse numbers are in a nice dark shade of blue and the textual notes are in their own cream-colored section beneath the text of the Bible. Some people are distracted by a lot of color, but I found the color tasteful in this Bible. It is a joy to read. Yes, I wish the text was in a single column format like the ESV Study Bible, but the overall page design is pleasing.
Another feature of this study Bible are its essays by leading Christian scholars. I found these essays to be well-written, but again, some important topics and doctrines were left out. I know that no study Bible can be all things to everybody, so I dont fault the HCSB Study Bible too much here. The essays are useful and a pleasure to read.
What do I love the most about this study Bible? Its maps. This is where this study Bible shines. It is chock full of color maps, often full page, that make orientating oneself in whatever book you happen to be reading much easier. So many study Bibles have weak gray-scale maps that the reader passes over because they are so small and bland. I found myself getting much more out of my reading (especially OT books) because I could reference the maps that went along with the text. The HCSB Study Bible also has good maps in the back of the Bible, but those are almost vestigial there are so many excellent maps in the text. One note: Why is it that Bibles have gotten rid of their map index (gazetteer)? It seems like Cambridge is the only Bible publisher that puts a map index in their Bibles anymore. This is a very useful feature that should make a comeback in Bibles, especially study Bibles.
The physical nature of this study Bible is impressive. It is a big study Bible and heavy. I brought it to church with me and thought it was probably too heavy to bring to church all the time, especially as I like to take notes on my iPad. Handling both was a bit much. Still, it feels good in the hand, like the precious tome that it is. The deluxe leather version is in black cowhide and is nicely executed. The leather is soft and pliable and the gold inlay on the spine is well done. It is not leather-lined, but the lining is very flexible and looks sharp. More importantly, the text is Smythe-sewn. It is a Bible that should last for years, if treated well. Interestingly, the gold leaf edges make a lot of the pages stick together on this Bible. Rather than being annoying, I rather liked this, as it made opening many pages of the Bible a special event of its own. It also reveals that the gold leaf was thickly applied and not some cheap spray on, like it is on a lot of Bibles.
The paper of this Bible is excellentone of its best features. Holman needed an especially opaque paper for this Bible so the color illustrations wouldnt show through, and they found a good one. Even with full color illustrations on the following page, I wasnt distracted in my reading. The HCSB Study Bible has two ribbon markers of different colors presumably for the Old and New Testaments. I dont use the ribbon markers and they remain tucked in as if new. They look good, however. This Bible also has a very good concordance (for the back of a Bible) and the cross references are thorough.
One thing this study Bible lacks that some (such as the ESV and Ryrie) study Bibles have is a section in the back on important church doctrines and ethics. While nice, I didnt miss this in this Bible. I have plenty of books on these topics and dont really use them in a study Bible. To me, a good study Bible should make reading the Bible text itself more revealing and informative. The HCSB Study Bible does this.
The overall impression of this study Bible is well executed. Good job Broadman & Holman! I have started to really like the Holman Christian Standard Bible version and now read it nearly as much as the NIV and the ESV. This study Bible will only make me want to read this version more. I should mention here that I was kindly sent a copy of the HCSB Study Bible to evaluate by Brandon Taylor of B&H Publishing. Many thanks to him.