The Oxford Study Bible, Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha. Suggs, Mueller, and Sakenfeld, eds. Oxford University Press, 1992.
Well, it took me an entire year, but I finally did it. I read The Oxford Study Bible, Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha (OSB), in its entirety, and I would like to give a broad, general review.
This was my first experience with the Revised English Bible (REB) translation as well as the Oxford study apparatus, so I will comment on translation and edition separately.
The REB is probably under-appreciated on this side of the pond; it isn’t available online, and finding a hardcover edition (at least an affordable one) of the OSB is rather difficult.
I could try to compare the REB to an American translation, but it resists being boxed up. As for equivalence in translation, it is occasionally rather literal and often more dynamic–sort of like the New International Version (NIV), but distinctly British. In fact, I often found myself reading it, silently, with a bit of a British accent. It probably reads much like average Brits would talk, which I guess is to its credit. A bit more formal and dignified than, say, the New Living Translation (NLT), but not nearly as stuffy as our more literal translations (English Standard Version, New American Standard Version, New King James, etc.). The REB does have some quirky wording now and then,* but I understand that the REB is much less innovative (read heterodox) than its predecessor, the New English Bible (NEB).
The REB occasionally takes great liberties in rearranging the biblical text, “correcting” what it assumes to be corruptions in the transmission of the text (see Job); and although this sounds questionable, it is actually very helpful.
To its credit, the REB deletes nearly every vocative “O,” giving it a more contemporary sound. However, the REB persists in the pesky habit of translating the Hebrew word ruach as “spirit” (with a lowercase “s”) when referring to God’s Spirit (with an uppercase “S”). Does this betray a non-Christian approach by the translators?
I also had never read all the deuterocanonical books of the Bible before I read this edition (I know: shame on me), which sandwiches them between the Old and New Testaments. Very clear and understandable.
Overall, I enjoyed the REB. It was fresh, different, and challenged my too-familiar reading of the Bible. I would probably stick with an American translation when recommending Bibles to those I know, but it’s definitely worth the read.
The Oxford Apparatus
The OSB is basically a compendium of Modernist biblical interpretation from the Enlightenment era–like you would get in a secular college class on the Bible. The articles and notes are not written for spiritual edification, and they aren’t even necessarily written in a Christian (or really any kind of religious) voice. Unfortunately, the scholarly perspective is written from a dry, skeptical, outsider’s viewpoint–a dissection of the text like so many frogs in biology class (I lament that academy and church have been largely separated, but that’s another post for another day).
The OSB provides 199 pages of articles titled “Understanding the Bible and Its Communities.” Truly, it’s about as exciting as it sounds. Mostly, these articles are historical-critical boilerplate: they assume the source theory for the OT (the elohist, jahwist, and priestly sources), minimalist archaeology, late dating for nearly everything, and have a generally non-religious, “scientific” approach to the Scriptures. There are some very helpful articles on historical context and archaeology, but I would not recommend this edition to my church family. Alas, it is more suited to a secular college atmosphere.
Introductions and Annotations
The introductory articles to each book could be more extensive (and the same could be said about the annotations), but they are concise statements of Modernist scholarly consensus.
Occasionally the annotations give excellent historical, archaeological, and grammatical insights into the text. Word plays, ancient customs, other religious myths, and modern archaeological findings are often pointed out, which shed further light on the biblical documents. There is no cross-reference system in this edition (only verses cited in the annotations), which is a minus. As I mentioned, the annotations and introductory remarks are written from a neutral, non-religious perspective, approaching the text in an anthropocentric (rather than theo- or christocentric) way.
On the whole, the OSB was a useful read–refreshing and enlightening. It is scholarly complete and hits all the high points. It would be useful for an academic introduction to the Bible. But spiritually speaking, the OSB did little to feed my faith. I would not recommend it as a Bible text for most Christians, and certainly not as a beginner’s Bible.
* A couple of examples of strange words and phrases:
- “On that day I shall break Israel’s bow in the vale of Jezreel.” (Hosea 1:5)
- “Like someone who seizes a stray cur by the ears is he who meddles in a quarrel not his own.” (Proverbs 26:17)
- “Every morning you will say, ‘Would God it were morning!'” (Deuteronomy 28:67a)
- “David was living in the fastness of the wilderness of Ziph.” (1 Samuel 23:14a)
- “You strain off a midge, yet gulp down a camel!” (Matthew 23:24b)
- “The people were all agog, wondering about John.” (Luke 3:15a)
- “They put him to death, hanging him on a gibbet.” (Acts 10:39)
- “This has been no hole-and-corner business.” (Acts 26:26)