The Apologetics Study Bible (Review)

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Cabal, Ted, ed.

The Apologetics Study Bible

Nashville, TN: B&H, 2007. Pp. xxxviii + 2008. Hardcover. $39.99.

B&H Publishing | Amazon | CBD | Overstock
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Many thanks to Drew Van Huss of B&H Publishing Group for this review copy!

Obviously it would take much too long to read an entire study Bible along with notes and articles, so I have skimmed this volume, and will review what I have seen according to five categories:

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Translation
  3. Articles
  4. Notes
  5. Overall Impression

1.  Aesthetics

My initial impression upon receiving The Apologetics Study Bible was that it was a very attractive Bible.  The black, silver, and gray colors are pleasing to the eye, and the picture of Rodin’s Le Penseur seemed an appropriate choice for the cover.  The dust jacket is quite thick, comparable to oak tag, and the actual book cover is identical underneath, so in the event that the dust jacket is damaged or discarded, none of the aesthetic appeal will go with it.  It’s also a very dense Bible, and fairly heavy.  This certainly wouldn’t be the first choice for your every day, carry-along Bible.

Upon looking through the inside I discovered that all of the book introductions have decorative backgrounds, as do the articles.  Scattered throughout are various “twisted scripture” notes that are intermingled with the main text, so these are also marked out by decorative backgrounds.  The main text is a standard two-column format, with two sets of footnotes.  The first set is lettered notes, which appears in a single column above the numbered notes, which retains the double-column format.  The words of Christ are in black which many people prefer (I’m apathetic either way), and the size of the text is quite readable (as I have fairly poor eyesight).  I’m not sure exactly what size it is, but I’d guess 10 or 11 point.  And I must mention the black ribbon-marker as well.  In my opinion, a Bible isn’t a Bible without a ribbon-marker.

2.  Translation

The translation of choice for this Bible is the Holman Christian Standard Bible® (HCSB) which is completely new to me.  The textual base for this translation is the NA27/UBS4 and the BHS5, but they state that “[a]t times, however, the translators have followed an alternative manuscript tradition, disagreeing with the editors of these texts about the original reading.” [p. xvii]

Their translation philosophy is neither formal equivalence nor dynamic equivalence, but rather what they have termed “optimal equivalence,” which is explained as:

[A] translation philosophy [which] recognizes that form cannot be neatly separated from meaning and should not be changed (for example, nouns to verbs or third person “they” to second person “you”) unless comprehension demands it. The primary goal of translation is to convey the sense of the original with as much clarity as the original text and the translation language permit. Optimal equivalence appreciates the goals of formal equivalence but also recognizes its limitations. [p. xviii-xix]

I always turn to John’s Prologue in any translation to gauge how well I like it.  My only complaint with the HCSB translation is the choice of “The One and Only Son” over and against “only begotten God” (NASB) or “God the One and Only” (NIV) in reference to Jesus.  I’m in agreement with the UBS4 committe [Allen Wikgren excepted] that μονογενὴς θεὸς is preferable to μονογενὴς υἱὸς.  From the other passages I read (Gen. 1; Ps. 23; Jo. 6) I have no serious problems.

3.  Articles

The articles in this Bible range from half-a-page to three pages in length.  Obviously I couldn’t read every article (125 in all) in a Bible of this size, and produce a review in a timely manner, but those I did read were valuable to varying degrees.  For example, Bruce Ware’s article “How Can the Bible Affirm Both Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom” seemed out of place in a Bible that was produced to answer questions.  He says:

We cannot understand fully how how both are true together, but that they must work together is demanded by Scripture’s clear teaching. [p. 1054]

That doesn’t provide any actual answer though, it’s merely an assertion.  He concludes the article by saying:

Not every question is here answered, but we see that we must affirm both the sovereign rulership of God and the genuineness of our moral responsibility. Both are joined together in Scripture, and what Scripture has joined together, let no man separate. [p. 1055]

Obviously we can’t expect every question related to the issue of God’s sovereignty and human freedom to be answered in such a short article, but some attempt would have been nice.  William Lane Craig on the other hand, offers an article of the same title, addressing the same issue, but actually attempts to answer the question by appealing to Molinism (the doctrine of God’s middle knowledge) [p. 1850-1851].

I found some of the introductory articles to be overstated and lacking in substance.  Lee Strobel’s article “How Apologetics Changed My Life” is fine as far as testimonials go, but he never really sets out to prove any of his assertions, and some of his assertions are simply uncompelling, even to a believer such as myself.  He says:

I found that Jesus alone, fulfilled ancient messianic prophecies against all mathematical odds. I concluded that the New Testament is rooted in eyewitness testimony and that it passes the tests that historians routinely use to determine reliability. I learned that the Bible has been passed down through the ages with remarkable fidelity. [xxvii]

But he doesn’t even begin to defend these statements.  Yes, Jesus fulfilled messianic prophecies (which consequently the next article outlines briefly), but the so-called “mathematical odds” argument is a contrived one.  There’s no doubt in my mind that Strobel is referring to Josh McDowell’s statistic probabilities here, and statistics are only as good as the numbers used to calculate them.  McDowell never proved these stats to my satisfaction.  He’s also vague in what he means by “rooted in eyewitness testimony” — does this mean that the books of the Bible were written by eyewitnesses?  Does it mean they were written by those who knew eyewitnesses?  He simply doesn’t tell us.  And likewise, the fidelity with which the text was transmitted is a fairly simple case to make, so why then, didn’t Strobel make it?

I also found Phillip E. Johnson’s article “Evolution: Fact or Fantasy?” to be below standard.  In it he argues against evolution, but doesn’t take into consideration theistic models of evolution.  By not factoring theistic evolution into the argument he makes misguided statements such as: “The only mechanism the evolutionists have is a combination of random variation and natural selection…” [p. 8]

Ergen Caner’s article “Is Allah identical to the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ?” on the other hand was very well written and as succinct as can be.  He rightly notes that:

Ultimately, this is not an issue of vocabulary; it is an issue of definition. The Allah of the Qur’an is described and defined in a way that clearly shows Muhammad was not presenting the same God. [p. 1754]

He goes on to highlight the blatant contradictions between Islam’s and Christianity’s God.  This is the kind of simple, yet informative article I was looking for in this study Bible.

Darrell Bock’s article “Is the New Testament Trustworthy?” was also concise (although nearly 4x longer than Caner’s) and very well written.  I especially appreciated the fourth point he makes in the article which is that “[t]rustworthiness demands not exhaustive but adequate knowledge of the topic.” He continues and says:

Sources are selective even when they are accurate . . . When people call Scripture trustworthy, they are arguing that its testimony is not contrary to what happened and is sufficient to give us a meaningful understanding of God and his work for us (2 Tm 3:16-17). Speaking accurately is not the same as speaking exhaustively. [p. 1453]

4.  Notes

Like the articles, the notes are helpful to varying degrees, as is the case with any study Bible.  What I did appreciate was that the notes for each book were handled by the scholar that wrote the introduction for that book.  This makes it easier to give credit where credit is due, and to point blame in the right direction when disagreeing with what was noted.

This is a conservative study Bible that is annotated by conservative scholars, who all (to my knowledge) affirm the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy (a doctrine I do not affirm).  But it was refreshing to observe in the notes that even when harmonizations are attempted, they are usually accompanied by a note that even if the proposed solution were not so, there would be no real harm done to the overall trustworthiness of Scripture.  In other words, it’s not the strict inerrancy of fundamentalism that is argued for, but rather a more laid back evangelical view.

5.  Overall Impression

My overall feeling about this Bible is that it is more helpful than harmful.  From what I’ve read, I can see how many who are new to the faith could be strengthened in what they believe, and given good reason to keep believing it, after studying this Bible.  However, I don’t believe that this Bible is going to equip a believer to enter into debate with scholars of various cults.  It would be more suitable for those home visits from your local Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness, and even then I’d tread carefully.  This Bible doesn’t provide anything new in terms of evidence or arguments, but it does collate what already exists and presents it in a manner that’s easy to understand.  I believe that it is suited for conservative evangelicals, who are interested in being armed with a short and sweet answer for all who would question their faith.

Other nice features of The Apologetics Study Bible are the 10 page index, 61 page concordance, and 8 page annotated bibliography, which are all found in the back.  There are also 8 pages of color charts and maps for a more visual approach to retaining the information explained in the notes and articles.  And I’ve been informed by Kent Hendricks of Logos Bible Software that they’re going to be developing a digital version of The Apologetics Study Bible as part of their 13 volume Holman Reference collection.  I’ve also been informed that The Apologetics Study Bible is now available for Accordance.  A digitized version of this work would certainly be a welcome addition to anyone’s digital library.

In the end, I give this study Bible 4 out of 5 stars4.0 out of 5 starsand I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in Christian apologetics, without any doubt that they’d find it useful, but with the caveat that they’d not likely convert their skeptical friends based on the information in this Bible alone.  Such a task ultimately requires the work of God, but on the human level it requires time and continued interaction.  Most converts are not made because of apologetic efforts, most are made because someone has shown them the love of Christ.

B”H

35 thoughts on “The Apologetics Study Bible (Review)

  1. Well done, Nick! And really friggin’ quick!

    “a more laid back evangelical view”
    -I think we need some seminaries that include this phrase in their statement of faith :P

    “I believe that it is suited for conservative evangelicals, who are interested in being armed with a short and sweet answer for all who would question their faith.”
    -And that’s why I won’t be picking this study Bible up at the store.

    “Such a task ultimately requires the work of God, but on the human level it requires time and continued interaction. Most converts are not made because of the apologetic efforts, most are made because someone has shown them the love of Christ. ”
    -Amen. Amen.

  2. Patrick: Thanks. I spent the entire day reading through various articles and the introduction. I wanted to write the review while everything was fresh in my mind (plus I took two Tylenol PM and couldn’t be sure that I’d remember anything after I woke up).

    And I understand why you won’t be picking one up, it doesn’t seem suited for your purposes at all.

  3. I just can’t see how that kind of Bible is useful really. It seems better suited to have a couple of general reference books that have more room to be more specific.

    did you find the article correlated with their location in the Bible? Such as creation/evolution near Genesis 1 and evidence for Jesus somewhere in the Gospels? or is the spread more generalized?

  4. it’s sort of like the so-called “archeological study Bible” the problem is, archeology itself doesn’t necessarily prove anything.

  5. Brian, as I understand it, the archeological study bible has more focus on historical background than on “proving” anything. It provides information typically not available – though I haven’t looked at it indepth, that was my impression.

  6. Brian: Yes, the articles are strategically placed throughout the Bible to correspond to difficult to understand passages, or proof-texts that certain cults use, etc.

    The Bible is useful in that it really does provide good reasons to be confident in the faith. I wouldn’t imagine that someone is going to use it to convert anyone in a cult, Scripture is rarely the catalyst in such conversions anyway.

    And Mike is correct, the Archeological Study Bible isn’t an apologetic work (although there are some things that aid in apologetics in there). The main focus in that study Bible (which I absolutely love btw) is on setting the Bible in its context. There’s plenty of stuff about the Ancient Near East, Greco-Roman world, parallel literature, archeological discoveries, etc.

  7. Overall I just don’t care for study Bibles in general. The last thing I want when I get to a problem verse is a quick note on what it might mean. At the least a 1 volume commentary would be better, like the ones from Eerdmans or Harper Collins or even that IVP one.

    And I’m kind of with Brian on this that it seems like instead of this study Bible it seems like it would just be better to have a few books devoted to apologetics or something (Isn’t there a dictionary of apologetics or something)?

    That being said this study Bible looks like it accomplishes it’s task and that some people would definitely find some value in it. Plus it looks cool.

    Bryan

  8. Bryan: I hear you, and I don’t think the publishers/editors intended this to replace detailed apologetic works. Obviously you’re going to get more out of Michael L. Brown’s 4 volumes on Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus then you are in a 200-900 word article in a study Bible. But I think it accomplished it’s goal, which was to give believers some reasons to keep believing.

    And yes, there are apologetic dictionaries. For as much as I can’t stand Norman Geisler, his Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics and his book Christian Apologetics have helped me out a lot in the past.

    And you’re right, the look is very cool. If nothing else, it’s one of the most attractive Bibles in my collection.

  9. Robert: I agree, this Bible seems suited for those starting out. I’d have no problems about giving this Bible to a new believer or something just getting into apologetics.

    And the lettered notes in the single column above the numbered notes usually explained the translation choices. I didn’t see anything in the back of the Bible for that, but there’s still so much for me to explore with this one. I think the HCSB choices are interesting since at times they seem to favor the older MSS but then in other places where you’d expect them to do the same they favor newer readings.

    And I don’t generally use study Bibles either. My all time favorite Bible (which fell apart on me from extensive use) was a simple burgundy bonded leather, center column reference Bible (KJV). My main Bible now is my NA27/RSV New Testament, and I keep another burgundy bonded-leather KJV in the car for Church.

  10. Nick,

    Well one good thing about this, you finally got a HCSB version in your hands ;-)

    I owned one, but gave it away to someone just learning about apologetics. I really liked the look of the bible, but it did not meet any needs for me. I would say it is an introductory apologetic study bible.

    Nick, the bullets next to various words are for definitions that you should be able to reference in the back of the bible. For instance in John 3:16, although they went with the translation of “One and Only” they do provide further meaning to the words. “Or one of a kind, or incomparable, or only begotten;…” Great tool that is standard on all HCSB bibles. So are all of the footnotes.

    I don’t use study bibles anymore, and just prefer to have a Reference Bible, but I do like having basic book introductions, dates when written, etc. None of the HCSB reference bibles that I own have that, however, ESV is starting to publish book introductions in all of their bibles, which for is a nice plus.

  11. I keep a bonded leather ESV compact in my car, and I am sure you know this, but you can get that favorite bible of yours rebound if you still have it.

    By the way I just got my Legacy Holman CSB bible (it is so sweet to hold). I am on vacation this week, just hanging out so I plan to take photos of it, and compare it with the other 3 CSB’s that I have.

  12. I’ve heard stories of getting Bibles rebound, but I wouldn’t know where to get it done. And would it be in the same cover? Or would they have to replace that?

  13. I’ll pick one up…if it was gifted to me ROFL! Seriously it sounds like a good tool for a university-bound kid like me ;)

  14. Nick:

    Thanks for the review of the Apologetics Study Bible. I had been considering it for the Accordance Bible software program, but I may pass after reading your review. It seems a little too basic for what I was hoping for, although certainly suited to its intended purpose.

    There are several places you can have Bibles rebound. One that many folks have had good success at a reasonable price is Leonard’s Book Restoration – http://www.leonardsbooks.com/. They would most likely replace the cover on your Bible with your choice of leather type and color unless the cover on your Bible is in great shape.

    A good resource for Bible binding information is Mark Bertrand’s blog – Bible Design & Binding at http://www.bibledesignblog.com/. There are many articles of rebinding projects with pictures on that blog. You might especially check out – http://www.bibledesignblog.com/2009/04/poor-mans-geneva-bible-rebound-by-leonards-book-restoration.html for a recent rebind project from Leonard’s Books. A rebind is a custom process and you can select many different design features that may enhance the look and utility of the Bible. The rebound Bible can have a classic look as in the above linked article or can be similar to a fine store bought Bible in appearance. The price is mostly predicated on the type of leather chosen and the size of the Bible. It is not unusual to get a Bible rebound for $70-$100 but it can go much higher. Although, that is more expensive than many new Bibles, it can be worth the money for a Bible that is special or sees heavy use. I have not rebound any Bibles but have enjoyed reading about other people’s projects.

    Hope you find this info helpful. Thanks again for the review.

  15. Greg: Thanks for all the info. I was aware of Mark Bertrand’s blog but I hadn’t read it in ages. Thanks for the reminder. I’m also glad that my review was able to help you make a decision about this Bible.

  16. I’m a newbie with Apologetics and I do really want to learn. I wish Robert has another of this Bible to give away. I’m from a 3rd world country and Study Bibles like this are quite expensive. Anyone willing to give away? Like a “used” Apologetic Bible or a “used” ESV Study Bible. Thanks. God bless guys.
    I live here in the Philippines.
    my email address is atb0420@yahoo.com

  17. Anthony: I’ll pray about it and see if God leads me to give it away, but I’m not very confident that he will. I had purposed to give this Bible to a new believer in the church I attend and the Holy Spirit would not let me do it. In any event, we’ll see what happens.

  18. I’m a former youth pastor and considered having the gift of teaching. Next month for 4 consecutive Sunday service, I’m scheduled to teach Justification by Faith, Eternal Righteousness, Sanctification and Perseverance of the Saints. And soon, lead Men’s ministry. That’s why I think I need such a Bible tool. But for now, I have to stare a picture of an ESV SB or HCSB and pray to God and tarry. He knew very well that I do need one of these.
    Btw, these topics are almost not being taught often (or nothing at all) here in our country, maybe because most the Pastors here are not that well equipped or deprived. I don’t know exactly. Or having trouble with the book of Romans.
    Praying incessantly that God will touch someone’s heart. Sorry for my English.
    Thanks and God bless.

  19. Anthony: You might consider contacting the publishers directly and explaining your situation. They might be willing to send you copies of the Bibles you desire.

  20. Thanks Nick.
    Btw, I’m not a Calvinist nor an Arminian.
    Still am confused about these two doctrines.
    AGain thanks and God bless!

  21. Hi Nick,

    Excellent Review. I recently got this Bible and is so useful. I would like to encourage my friends to follow this Bible. Can I share this in Facebook. (Ofcourse, i’ll make sure to add your name as author for this review)

  22. I just picked this Bible up, i think so far its pretty neat, i dont know much ab out apologetics, im 19 years old and God called me to preach 4 months ago.

  23. So which study bible would you suggest for a 34 year old getting deeper in the faith and interested in hermenuetics and apologetics?

  24. Aknelz: I think the best apology is simply being informed about the Scriptures so I’d recommend the ESV Study Bible as the best study Bible available. I initially gave it a less than stellar review but having come back to it a few years later I appreciate it much more. Those more interested in historical-critical focused study Bibles would probably want to check out the New Oxford Annotated Bible, which I think is in its 4th edition right now.

  25. I use historical-critical study Bibles. They are generally only an opening to a text but they have a useful place. The ESV Study Bible is a good choice for those with an evangelical outlook.

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