The Orthodox Study Bible: The Ancient Church Reappears

For many of us, the title of this Study Bible prompts the question, Who exactly is “Orthodox?” and then, What’s their Bible like? Another quite separate group, however, is the growing number of English-speaking Orthodox people world wide. Is this really their Bible?

Personal Note: This project was a Trip! What has become a chapter-length essay still omits byways, people glimpsed furtively, intriguing churches still unvisited, pastors still not contacted, not to mention long lists of blogs and websites barely touched. I thought the New Jerusalem Bible review took us far into history behind the Study Bible, but this one takes us far into the current religious world—both behind and in the Study Bible! It’s a long and complex story, but I invite you to stay with it; it is a story of our time.

Outline of the Review

   The Orthodox Churches
   St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology
   From Campus Crusade to Heavenly Liturgy
   The Orthodox Sponsors of the Study Bible
   The Editions of 1993 and 2008
   The Translation of the Septuagint
     The Remarkable Case of the Psalms
   Adverse Reviews, from the Orthodox Side
   The Orthodox Approach to Scripture
     Reading the Bible with Obedience
     Understanding the Bible through the Church
     Christ, the Heart of the Bible
     The Bible as Personal
   Orthodox Interpretations: The Notes
   Orthodox Interpretations: The Study Articles
   Some Evaluative Comments

The Orthodox Churches

Orthodox churches are often referred to as “Eastern” churches. That’s because from a West-European viewpoint, all the non-Roman-Catholic Orthodox churches appeared in the east. From around 400 of the Christian Era, two great traditions were gradually separating and shaping peoples and cultures for centuries to come: The Latin-speaking tradition (West) and the Greek-speaking tradition (East). The West clung to the use of Latin in its worship and teaching until early-modern times, when Protestants replaced Latin with local languages in worship, teaching, and especially Bible translation.

Christians in the East, however, gradually transmitted their tradition not only in Greek but also in Semitic languages such as Syriac and Arabic and in other local languages such as Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and several Slavic languages. All of these other language groups, however, translated their Bibles from the Greek scriptures. Thus, all the Greek-heritage churches followed the Eastern “Orthodox” tradition in both liturgies and scriptures—with certain exceptions in doctrine. (The Coptic, Ethiopian, and Armenian churches, “for example, were and are “monophysite”—or more recently “Non-Chalcedonian”—and the old “Nestorian” churches of Persia have survived as “Assyrian” churches in India and the USA.)

After the Muslim conquests from 638 to 1453 CE, the Greek churches were mostly “People of the Book” communities in Muslim cultures. The Russian Church, surviving in strength, became the “Third Rome,” and was the major Orthodox Church until its own suppression and diaspora began under the Soviet regimes. The result of these various dispersions, mostly in the 20th century, was to transplant many Orthodox communities to the Western world.

The fully Orthodox churches are those that adhere to the Chalcedonian Creed (defined at the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon, 451 CE), from which “monophysite” churches dissent. Currently, “Orthodox Church” means,

a fellowship of Christian churches that has developed historically from the Church of the Byzantine Empire. There are currently fifteen self-governing…churches, including the four ancient patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The See of Rome, which is the fifth Patriarchate in the system…established at the Council of Chalcedon (451), separated from the Orthodox Church [in 1054 CE].

The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, ed. Jonathan Z. Smith, 1995, p. 820.

Of those fifteen self-governing churches, the major ones for present purposes are,

Recent websites and audiotapes claim 300 million members for all the Orthodox churches, making them second only to Roman Catholicism among Christian communions in the world.

(References: Besides dictionaries, encyclopedias, and online searches, the following books are recommended: Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia), The Orthodox Church, new ed., Penguin Books, 1997, a classic since its first publication in 1963; Jaroslav Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700), “The Christian Tradition,” vol. 2, University of Chicago Press, 1974, a history of the distinctive theological emphases; The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, ed Ken Parry et al., Blackwell, 1999, an excellent recent tool; Eastern Orthodox Theology, a Contemporary Reader, ed. Daniel B. Clendenin, 2nd ed., Baker Academic, 2003, with two added chapters about American Evangelicals becoming Orthodox.)

St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology

The Orthodox Study Bible was “prepared under the auspices of the Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Elk Grove, California. Fr. Jack Norman Sparks, Ph.D., Dean.” (Title page.)

The Academy’s Website describes it as follows:

St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology was founded in 1976 as an arm of the Evangelical Orthodox Church and entered canonical Orthodoxy when that body was brought into the Antiochian Archdiocese. We offer a Correspondence Study Program, operate a Prisoner Education Program, and carry out various programs of research and study to prepare materials presenting the Orthodox Christian faith to Americans.

… The Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms [1993, predecessor of the full Orthodox Study Bible] is an outstanding example of the fruit of our literature programs.

The title “Evangelical Orthodox Church” is unusual. When one inquires further into the background of St Athanasius, the “Evangelical Orthodox Church” leads to a remarkable story.

From Campus Crusade to the Heavenly Liturgy

“Even though the Church on earth lives simultaneously in two dimensions, the heavenly and the earthly, her worship is focused on the heavenly realm.”

“Heavenly Worship,” Fr. Richard Ballew (Father Richard was one of the Evangelicals who made the journey to Orthodoxy and stayed through the completion of the Old Testament part of The Orthodox Study Bible of 2008.)

The remarkable story behind the making of the Orthodox Study Bible is that the people who created the St. Athanasius Academy and found a place for their communities in the Antiochian Orthodox Church evolved from a group of leaders of the Campus Crusade for Christ in the late 1960s. Here are two of the figures who led many in this remarkable journey. For a quite different story of an Evangelical turned Orthodox, see Frank Schaeffer, Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religions, Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1994.)

Jack Sparks, Dean of St. Athanasius (until his death in 2010), was a fervent campus crusader at UCLA at the same time that Hal Lindsey was rapturing students there with The Late Great Planet Earth (the run-away best seller about the “rapture” of Christians and the imminent end of the world). Jack and his co-worker Paul Raudenbush had their own evangelical thriller called Letters to Street Christians, “Translated [from the New Testament Epistles] by Two Brothers from Berkeley,” Zondervan, 1971. (The target language of the “translation” was described as “American Slang of the 60s and 70s,” and the back cover says it was colloquially called “the hippie Bible.” Four online listings of a 2004 reprint of this book, used, range from $124 to $712!)

Fr. Jack Sparks

Sparks had gotten a Ph.D. in the secular disciplines and taught statistics and research design at the University of Colorado and at Penn State in the 1960s. Having been converted to the Jesus Movement, he became a Campus Crusade worker at UCLA in early 1969 and helped form a group called Christian World Liberation Front. After a few years he had joined other campus and regional staff members of Campus Crusade for Christ to begin a search for a more complete experience of Christian community. Several of them began house-church groups across the country and merged these church groups into the New Covenant Apostolic Order, 1973. A key leader in the group—and eventually a key creator of the Orthodox Study Bible—was Peter E. Gillquist, of whom more in a moment.

The New Covenant Apostolic Order was dedicated to finding a form of Church life that was authentic—that is, that was as close to the original Apostolic church as their study, research, and prayer for guidance could lead them to. The members of the leadership group were ministering to house churches and they met several times a year to share their theological and churchly progress in their common quest. In their study they progressed systematically, recapitulating, as it were, the history of the early church. They gradually accepted the need for bishops (the letters of Ignatius of Antioch in the Apostolic Fathers became decisive reading for them), and then St. Athanasius and the creeds. “If anyone could be credited with our conversion to Orthodoxy, it would have to be St. Athanasius and St. Ignatius” (Frs. Peter Gillquist and Gordon Thomas Walker, “Odyssey to Orthodoxy,” see link below).

The whole story of the long journey from the Evangelical campus radicals to the ordained priests in an ancient apostolic succession is told by Peter Gillquist in his book, Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith, Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1989 [published two years after their ordination into the Antiochian Orthodox Church]. An abbreviated version of the journey is on the internet under the title Odyssey to Orthodoxy. Both versions of the journey use the subtitle, “From Arrowhead Springs to Antioch.” Arrowhead Springs in the San Bernardino mountains of Southern California was the location of the national headquarters of Campus Crusade for Christ from 1962 to 1991.

Peter Gillquist, main publicist for the group, had grown up a Lutheran in Minnesota, was born again through Campus Crusade in 1959, got his theological education at Dallas Theological Seminary (a leading fundamentalist, dispensationalist school) and Wheaton Graduate School. He became a Campus Crusade staff member based in Evanston, Illinois, but worked variously at Notre Dame, UCLA, and the University of Memphis. Eventually he spent eleven years on the staff of Thomas Nelson Publishers in Nashville, where he served briefly on one of the Overview committees on the New King James Version of the Bible (eventually published in 1982, and then the version used for the NT of the Orthodox Study Bible). Nelson eventually became the publisher of the full version of the Study Bible. Throughout and beyond this work, Gillquist took leadership in the search for the authentic early church.

Peter Gillquist

When the New Covenant Apostolic Order was fully ready, they cut the knot and declared themselves to be Orthodox. Having discovered the importance of bishops, they found a way to acquire some.

The six of us who originated the movement…secured a liturgy for the consecration of Bishops, formed a circle and consecrated one another. Then we went to our first official council and consecrated thirteen other men. That day, February 15, 1979, the Evangelical Orthodox Church was officially born. (Gillquist and Walker, “Odyssey to Orthodoxy,” section titled “The E.O.C. is Born.”)

The story of how this new Evangelical Orthodox Church eventually secured admission to a Church with authentic apostolic succession—unbroken succession from bishop to bishop since the days of Peter and Paul—is complicated, but after missing out with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Istanbul, the Antiochian (Syrian) Patriarch happened to be in the USA at the right time, and the former Campus Crusaders and their later followers (all two thousand of them) were admitted to the communion of the North American Archdiocese of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in 1987. At that time, Jack Sparks, Peter Gillquist, and several others were ordained as deacons, and subsequently as priests of their own congregations.

The St. Athanasius Academy had been formed in 1976, while the Evangelical Orthodox Church was based at St. Athanasius Orthodox Church in Goleta, California, near Santa Barbara. The first publication of the Orthodox Study Bible—New Testament and Psalms only—was published from that location. (The EOC established its own publishing house around that time, the Conciliar Press, which now produces much of the Academy’s literature, including the Orthodox Study Bible: NT and Psalms edition, which was originally published by Thomas Nelson in 1993.)

In the published versions of the Arrowhead Springs to Antioch story, the narratives culminate in discussions aimed mainly at Evangelical Christians, answering their objections or doubts about “becoming Orthodox.” That is to say, St. Athanasius Academy is a strongly evangelistic body, seeking to “win America for Orthodoxy.” Peter Gillquist has long held the position of Chairman of the Department of Mission and Evangelism for the entire Archdiocese of North America. It is especially American Evangelicals who are appealed to both in the writings and in the many online blogs maintained by the Orthodox believers.

The Orthodox Sponsors of the Study Bible

The title page of the Study Bible refers to some authorities who did not come to Orthodoxy from a Protestant Evangelical background. One General Editor of the Old Testament is Metropolitan MAXIMOS, Th.D. (A Metropolitan is in between a bishop and an archbishop.) In the Greek Orthodox Church in America, there are eight metropolises in the Archdiocese of America.

MAXIMOS was appointed first Bishop of Pittsburg in the GOC in 1979, now under his Eminence Demetrius, Archbishop of America. (Note: this is the Greek Orthodox Church, not the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese.) MAXIMOS was elevated to Metropolitan in 1997, still in Pittsburg, indicating significant growth for Orthodoxy in that jurisdiction in eighteen years. According to its website, the Metropolis now contains 52 parishes in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, and three monastic communities.

Metropolitan MAXIMOS

Metropolitan MAXIMOS is listed as a General Editor of the Study Bible, not simply a member of the Overview Committee. There are only six General Editors of the Bible, while there are 29 members of the Overview Committee consisting of Archbishops, Metropolitans, Bishops, and Fathers, who are named on the title page. While it is clear that Metropolitan MAXIMOS was a busy administrator during the years the Orthodox Study Bible was produced, he was also a substantial theologian by training in the Greek and European worlds before assuming his administrative roles in America.

He was born on the Greek island of Chios in 1935, graduated from the Patriarchal Theological Seminary of Halki, Greece, in 1957, was ordained priest on Chios in 1959, and received a D.Th. from the University of Louvain (Belgium) in 1964. He was then transferred to America and served as Professor of Systematic Theology at the Holy Cross School of Theology (Greek Orthodox) in Brookline, Massachusetts, from 1966 to 1979, where he also served as academic dean. When he was appointed first Bishop of Pittsburg in 1979, he was also assigned to teach systematic theology at Christ the Savior Theological Seminary in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where he taught until 1985. Meanwhile he had been appointed Bishop of Diokleia (Turkey) in 1978 as an ecclesiastical stepping stone to becoming Bishop and then Metropolitan in the rapidly growing American upper Midwest.

In 1999 the Metropolitan hosted the Twelfth All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America and in 2003 he attracted some notoriety for publicly denouncing the ordination of gay clergy by the Anglicans in America].

It is surly safe to say that Metropolitan MAXIMOS was made General Editor of the OSB to give the approval of both his high office and his distinguished theological career to the enterprise of that publication, not because he was available as a working editor and translator on the project. His work must have consisted in reviewing and approving the work of others.

In 2000, when the LXX project was well under way, Metropolitan MAXIMOS, unable to attend a major meeting, had written,

I wish to express to you my undivided support and enthusiasm for this ongoing project. I look forward to the opportunity when I can devote the necessary time to the project. This is an important, indeed historical, work of scholarship.

Prof. Eugen Pentiuc. Also listed as an Old Testament General Editor for the OSB is Eugen Pentiuc, Th.D., Ph.D. (See .) Here, instead of a senior church leader, we have a young scholarly teacher with both East-European background and high-profile American training.

Pentiuc was born in Romania in 1956, received a Licentiate in Theology from the Bucharest Orthodox Institute of Theology in 1979, studied at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem (Roman Catholic Dominican) in 1986, then at Harvard University Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, where he received a M.A. in 1996 and a Ph.D. in 1997. The Orthodox School of Theology in Bucharest then granted him a Th.D. in 1998. His Harvard dissertation on West-Semitic Vocabulary was published in 2001. Since then he has published more popular works, Jesus the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible, Paulist Press, 2006, and Long-Suffering Love: A Commentary on Hosea, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2008.

From 2003, Pentiuc was a popular teacher in Religious Studies at Hellenic College in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he was honored as Teacher of the Year three years in succession (2005-2007). He then became Assistant Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at the sister institution, Holy Cross School of Theology. There had been a brief return to Romania as Visiting Professor at the Orthodox School of Theology in Bucharest in 2004.

Pentiuc obviously qualified as a full-time scholar in Old Testament in the American academic world, however he may have been actually used in the editorial work of the Orthodox Study Bible. (The translation of the Old Testament for that work had begun in 1998 and was on-going until almost 2008; more below.)

Fr. Michel Najim. One other Orthodox figure is listed as General Editor, for both Old Testament and New Testament, a figure who played an unusual role in the longer-term enterprise: Michel Najim. Father Michel was a native of Lebanon, his first theological training coming at Balamand University in Tripoli, where he received a M.Div. in 1974. He then studied in Greece, receiving a M.Th. in 1976 and a D.Th. in 1985 from Aristotelian University in Salonika. He then taught, and served as Dean, at St. John of Damascus Theological School, Balamand, Lebanon from 1979 to 1987.

Fr. Michel Najim

At that point in his promising career, Father Michel was selected by his ecclesiastical authorities to go to the United States for an unusual assignment. He was appointed “Catechismal Instructor” at St Athanasius Academy in Santa Barbara, California. The position is listed in his curriculum vita as follows:

Catechismal Instructor, St Athanasius Academy, CA (1987-1996). Transferred from Lebanon and given the responsibility for catechismal instruction of several thousand converts brought into the Antiochian Archdiocese in 1987.

The “several thousand converts” he was assigned to instruct were, or included, the mass of former Evangelical Protestants who had formed the Evangelical Orthodox Church and been accepted into the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese. The leaders of that group had already created St. Athanasius Academy (1976) as the center of their Orthodox education, research, and publication. Father Michel was to guide these pilgrims into the truly Apostolic way of being the Church—Tradition, liturgies, Septuagint scriptures, icons, and the rest.

While on the faculty of St. Athanasius in Santa Barbara, Father Michel also assisted at the large St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles (2300 W. Third Street). By 1996, as the catechismal work tapered off, he was appointed Dean and Pastor of St. Nicholas, where he still serves. St. Nicholas was a bilingual congregation, Arabic-English, and Father Michel was involved in translation work on liturgies and other literature from the beginning. He was Co-Chair of the Department of Liturgies and Translation of the Antiochian Archdiocese, 1988-1997, and a member of the Liturgical Translation Committee of the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA) from 1993 to 1995. For English speakers in the Antiochian Tradition, the task was to get the liturgies, rites, and lectionaries from both Greek and Arabic into appropriate English. (Arabic is, of course, the local language of the Antiochian Church in Syria, and websites for Antiochian Orthodox Churches are presented in both Arabic and English.)

It is important to recall that the first edition of the Orthodox Study Bible, the New Testament and Psalms of 1993, was being created during the years of Father Michel’s “catechismal” work. He would, then, have been working closely with the other St. Athanasius scholars while that edition was being shaped. The New Testament was not translated newly from the Greek, however, so Father Michel’s facility in Greek would not have been important for the project in that respect. (The OSB New Testament was simply Thomas Nelson’s New King James Version taken over and given Orthodox annotations.) During the Old Testament work of the OSB, done between 1998 and 2007, Father Michel would have been more heavily engaged in the work of the Cathedral, even though the Study Bible translators were primarily involved with the Greek of the Old Testament.

Father Michel was undoubtedly very influential in the early stages of the Study Bible project at St. Athanasius. In the final analysis, however, he too was probably most useful to the advanced project as a highly-respected Dean and Pastor of St. Nicholas Cathedral and a teacher whose approval would carry much weight among Orthodox and Arabic-speaking people in California and among Antiochian circles in Lebanon and Greece.

The Editions of 1993 and 2008.

The leaders of the Evangelical Orthodox Church (1979-1987) had had strong roots in Protestant Bible-focused worship and devotion. They had grown up with the Bible all around them, several kinds of study Bibles included. The Orthodox Churches, however, had no study Bibles at all! What the Orthodox Churches did have was Tradition. Peter Gillquist’s book Becoming Orthodox has a chapter entitled, “The ‘T’ Word.” The great leap for Evangelical Protestants was the fact that Tradition gives the Church its Bible, rather than the reverse. The challenge for the Evangelical Orthodox folks was to find a way to have the Bible—and maybe an Orthodox Study Bible—in ways that fit Orthodox Tradition.

The Study Bible of 1993 was the first response to that challenge. It contained only the New Testament and the Psalms, but it established the main lines of the full Study Bible of 2008. The components of that New Testament and Psalms edition that carried over, with additions and revisions, to the full-Bible edition were:

  • The NKJV text (New Testament and Psalms);
  • The running annotations, with numerous quotes from the Church fathers;
  • An Essay: Introducing the Orthodox Church;
  • Study Articles: For example, “The Sermon on the Mount,” “Parables,” etc.;
  • A few Icons (glossy prints of modern icons, in extravagant colors);
  • An Essay: How to Read the Bible;
  • Lectionary readings for the Church Year;
  • A Glossary;
  • Morning Prayer Service and Evening Prayer Service;
  • Index to Annotations;
  • Index to Study Articles;
  • A list of the Seventy (disciples sent out besides the twelve, Luke 10:1-24);
  • Color Maps.

Some items of the 1993 edition were dropped in 2008: An Essay by Jack Sparks, a Harmony of the Gospels, and a Concordance.

Without changing the original format, the 2008 edition added more Study Articles (these are all one-page essays), now addressing OT topics like “Creation” and “Covenants.” The whole Bible of 2008 has 47 Study Articles, 20 of them in the Old Testament. More Icons were also added; there are twelve in the 2008 Bible, only three of which are Old Testament topics (as these are usually identified). However, the major addition in the 2008 edition is the translation of the Old Testament in Greek.

The Septuagint (LXX). Protestants typically don’t realize that the Septuagint was the Christian Old Testament until the Reformation, a modest exception being Jerome’s translation of much of the fourth-century Hebrew text into the Vulgate. (Augustine preferred the Latin versions that had been translated from the Greek, and Jerome’s new-fangled Psalms from the Hebrew could never displace the Latin Psalms based on the Greek versions.) The Psalms and the Deuterocanonical books even in the Vulgate were Latin renderings of the Greek Scriptures. And the New Testament writers virtually all quote “the scriptures” from the Septuagint, a point that the Greek Fathers of the Church did not miss. For them, the Septuagint was the inspired Scriptures.

Thus, the Orthodox Churches have always and only had the Greek Scriptures (or translations from the Greek) for their Old Testaments. It was never a decision; it just was the case. (No Ecumenical Council ever fixed the canon or text of the Scriptures—until the Council of Trent in 1563; the “Scriptures” were always “what the churches read and received.”) “Tradition” determined what was and was not Scripture—universally, that is “catholically.”

Naturally, the only Old Testament for an Orthodox Study Bible would be the Septuagint, which must then be given in English.

The Translation of the Septuagint (LXX)

While publishers are falling over themselves with translations of the “Hebrew” scriptures—translations made from the Jewish “Masoretic Text”—there are practically no translations of the Septuagint. When St. Athanasius Academy began to make its own translation of the LXX, there was only one English version of it in print, a translation published in 1851 by a British scholar named Sir Lancelot Brenton. (An older translation of the Septuagint, by Charles Thomson, 1808, has been revived and is now also available on line.) Therefore, St Athanasius Academy at the beginning of its project set out to make their own English translation of the Septuagint.

The plan for the translation project is explained on the OSB website (slightly edited in these excerpts):

Spearheading the project was Fr. Jack Sparks as Project Director, with the close assistance of Fr. Richard Ballew, and Fr. Peter Gillquist as Director of Development…. [T]he following time-line [was] projected:

  • first drafts of translations and notes in by July 15, 2001;
  • first editing completed by July 15, 2002;
  • back to original workers for their further comments—to be returned by July 15, 2003;
  • final document completed by general editors and the manuscript to the publishers by August 31, 2004.

…[I]nquirers commonly ask about how the translators did their work. It was done by taking the New King James Version of the Bible as a starting point and changing it everywhere it differed from the Septuagint, with the result being a new and thorough translation. [Italics added.]

While it is impossible to mention every translator, techy, and editor who has contributed to the LXX Project, the general editors—those key scholars who went over the final text and notes before sending it off to the publisher—are as follows:

  • Metropolitan MAXIMOS, Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh;
  • the Rev. Dr. Michel Najim, former Dean of Balamand Seminary in Lebanon and currently Dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Los Angeles;
  • the Rev. Dr. Eugen Pentiuc, professor of Old Testament, Holy Cross Orthodox School of Theology; and
  • the Rev. Dr. Jack Sparks, Dean of St. Athanasius Academy.

As the project has now been seen through to completion, for the first time in history there exists a complete text of the Orthodox Bible in the English language, with the added features of notes and commentary, making it the only complete Orthodox Study Bible in the world. Thanks be to God!

The Remarkable Case of the Psalms.

Apparently getting the Psalms translated from Greek presented special problems during the decade from 1998 to 2007. There are enough hints and slurs about that project to indicate a complex story.

The Psalm translation of 1993 was simply that of the New King James Version—thus a translation of the Jewish Masoretic Text rather than of the Greek text of the Orthodox Church. The Psalms are recited constantly in the liturgies and lectionaries of the Church; they are even more firmly familiar than the Gospels. The problem here was not past familiarity; there was no English version of the Greek Psalms. The problem here was to establish an English version of the Greek Psalms that could become the Orthodox tradition in English.

Somewhere between 1993 and 2007, the managers of the Septuagint project apparently considered including a translation of the Psalms by Father Patrick Reardon. Patrick Henry Reardon began as an Evangelical who studied at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, then at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and finally (after converting to Orthodoxy) at St. Tikhon’s Theological Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. He became the pastor of an Orthodox church in Pennsylvania, and then was transferred to All Saints Church in Chicago in 1998. In those years as pastor he taught a series of classes on the Psalms which became a book in 2000, Christ in the Psalms, published by Conciliar Press (the affiliate of St. Athanasius Academy). One negative reviewer of the St. Athanasius translation commented that “the project became the dubious, embarrassing ‘translation’ that we all have seen,” and continued, One only need ask Father Patrick Reardon what happened to his translation of the Psalms…, implying dire and unhappy outcomes. Some at least did not view the process very positively as it went on.

Somewhat later, there was another candidate for translating the Psalms. The Wikipedia article on the Orthodox Study Bible has the statement, “The Old Testament includes a new translation of the Psalms by Donald Sheehan of Dartmouth College.” Donald Sheean taught poetry at the University of Chicago from about 1969 to 1989, during which time he also became first Executive Director of the (Robert) Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire. He was accepted into the Orthodox Church in 1984 and was ordained a subdeacon in 1987. In 1989 he resigned his position at the University of Chicago and lived out a rigorously spiritual life in New Hampshire, teaching at Dartmouth College until retirement in 2004.

According to a former student and to Sheehan’s wife Carol, Donald Sheehan completed a translation of the Septuagint Greek Psalms in 2003. His wife is currently [written in 2010] completing final edits and raising funds to finance the book’s publishing by New World Byzantine Studios. (Source: Sheehan’s obituary at Dartmouth, after his death on May 26, 2010. )

Thus it appears that two different scholars had produced translations of the Greek Psalms on the understanding that their work would be used in the Orthodox Study Bible, only to be disappointed in that project. The project ended up instead using a revised version of the New King James Version for its Orthodox faithful. One can only guess at the editors’ reasons for these turbulent changes.

Thus, the Old Testament (not just the Psalms) of the OSB turned out not to be a new translation of the Septuagint. It is instead a Revision of the New King James Version based on the Greek of the Septuagint. Peter Gillquist, in a taped interview available on line, acknowledged that matters of cost of production and publisher’s interest (a Board chairman at Thomas Nelson publishers was a very interested Orthodox Church member, and Gillquist himself had worked for Thomas Nelson for eleven years) influenced the final decision to base the translation on the NKJV.

Adverse Reviews, from the Orthodox Side

When the 1993 edition of the Orthodox Study Bible (New Testament and Psalms) came out it was a new thing under the sun. Its sales soared and it was clear there was an audience out there for it. There were many positive responses from important Orthodox Church people as well as sympathetic readers in the religious public. There were, however, several responses from more particular Orthodox scholars and churchmen who made mild to scathing adverse criticisms. (See three quotations and links under the heading “Criticism” in Orthodox-Wiki )

A Father Seraphim Johnson commented, “As one reads the notes to the text, a false, non-Orthodox tone becomes uncomfortably apparent.” If it’s really going to be a sales pitch to Evangelicals, say so. “[I]t would be better to advertise the Bible as … the Orthodox Evangelism Bible, rather than to present it as if it is designed to help Orthodox Christians grow deeper in their understanding and practice of the faith.”

A particularly sophisticated critique was written, and republished more recently, by Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash) in Great Britain. This review is formally polite, but with a devastating undertone of disdain for such American and Evangelical folly. Some of this review’s points will be mentioned in later discussions.

The Orthodox Approach to Scripture

Adverse critic Archimandrite Ephrem singled out one really good thing in the 1993 edition of the OSB:

The article, “How to Read the Bible,”
by The Right Reverend KALLISTOS, Bishop of Diokleia.
(This is the writer Timothy Ware, author of The Orthodox Church.)

This article is uniformly approved by other Orthodox writers, whatever their opinion otherwise of The Orthodox Study Bible. Apparently this powerful article had a life of its own before inclusion in the Study Bible, and its quality sets it apart from the other light-weight contributions from highly-placed church dignitaries (such as the preceding essay on “The Bible: God’s Revelation to Man”). This essay is presented here at length, because it is the strongest statement in the book of what the Bible means in the Orthodox Tradition.

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

The essay begins by quoting a statement on Scripture from the Moscow Conference of Orthodox and Anglican representatives in 1976—a Conference in which the writer (a subject of the United Kingdom), no doubt participated.

The Scriptures constitute a coherent whole. They are at once divinely inspired and humanly expressed. They bear authoritative witness to God’s revelation of Himself in creation, in the Incarnation of the Word, and in the whole history of salvation, and as such express the word of God in human language. We know, receive, and interpret Scripture through the Church and in the Church. Our approach to the Bible is one of obedience. (OSB, p. 1757.)

The rest of the essay is organized around four adjectives which Bishop Kallistos says characterize “the Orthodox Scriptural mind”: It is Obedient, Ecclesial, Christ-centered, and Personal. A section of the essay is devoted to each characteristic.

Reading the Bible with Obedience (pages 1757-1760).

The Orthodox mind is obedient to Scripture because it is divine revelation; “the Bible possesses a fundamental unity, a total coherence, for it is the same Spirit that speaks on every page.” Like the Incarnation, though, the Scripture is also fully human: “Each work in the Bible reflects the outlook of the age in which it was written and the particular viewpoint of the author.”

We Orthodox Christians neglect at our peril the results of independent scholarly research into the origin, dates and authorship of the books of the Bible, although we shall always want to test these results in the light of Holy Tradition.

Being “obedient” to Scripture requires two qualities: a sense of wonder, and an attitude of listening. Wonder should be evoked by all the mysteries and undiscovered “rooms” of Scripture, like a child exploring the spaces in a wondrous mansion.

The model for listening is the Theotokos, the Mother of God. (Orthodox folks do not refer to the Virgin simply as “Mary,” in spite of the title of the Study Article on page 1361!).

When we enter an Orthodox Church, decorated in the traditional way, and look up towards the sanctuary, we see there in the apse the figure of the Mother of God with her hands raised to heaven—the ancient Scriptural manner of praying that many still use today. Such is also to be our attitude to Scripture—an attitude of openness and attentive receptivity, our hands invisibly outstretched to heaven.

The Virgin was receptive to the annunciation by the angel Gabriel, and she responded to the events of the nativity and childhood of Jesus by “keeping all these things and pondering them in her heart.” In such things, she “serves as a mirror and living icon of the biblical Christian.”

Understanding the Bible through the Church (pages 1760-1763).

The Orthodox Scriptural mind is “ecclesial,” which means (1) that the Bible is received through the Church, since the Church historically identified and maintained the Scriptures, and (2) the Scriptures are interpreted by the church. Bishop Kallistos hits his stride when presenting the liturgical interpretation of the Scriptures.

To illustrate what it means to interpret Scripture in a liturgical way, let us consider the Old Testament lessons at Vespers for the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25)… At the Annunciation there are five readings:

  1. Genesis 28:10-17, Jacob’s dream of a ladder set up from earth to heaven.
  2. Ezekiel 43:27-44:4, the prophet’s vision of the Jerusalem temple, with the closed gate through which none but the Prince may pass.
  3. Proverbs 9:1-11, one of the great Sophianic passages in the Old Testament, beginning “Wisdom has built her house.”
  4. Exodus 3:1-8, Moses at the Burning Bush.
  5. Proverbs 8:22-30, another Sophianic text, describing Wisdom’s place in God’s eternal providence: “Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.”

In these passages from the Old Testament, then, we have a series of powerful images to indicate the role of the Theotokos [the Greek means “God-bearer,” but its standard translation is “Mother of God”] in God’s unfolding plan of salvation. She is Jacob’s ladder, for by means of her God comes down and enters our world, assuming the flesh that she supplies. She is both Mother and Ever-Virgin; Christ is born from her, yet she remains still inviolate, the gate of her virginity sealed. She provides the humanity or house which Christ the Wisdom of God (I Cor 1:24) takes as His dwelling; alternatively, she is herself to be regarded as God’s Wisdom. She is the Burning Bush, who contains within her womb the uncreated fire of the Godhead and yet is not consumed. From all eternity, “ages ago…before the beginning of the earth,” she was forechosen by God to be His Mother.

Reading these passages in their original context within the Old Testament, we might not at once appreciate that they foreshadow the Saviour’s Incarnation from the Virgin. But, by exploring the use made of the Old Testament in the Church lectionary, we can discover layer upon layer of meanings that are far from obvious at first sight.

(And perhaps in this last comment we have a clue to the appeal to the Evangelicals: whole new vistas of Scriptural meanings are opened up by searching the Scriptures as part of the liturgies and lectionaries of the Orthodox Tradition. The Scriptures become vastly more intricate—and interesting, after decades of dispensational interpretations had become pretty boring!)

Christ, the Heart of the Bible (pages 1763-1764).

What makes the whole Bible Christian is Christ. “He is the unifying thread that runs through the entirety of the Bible, from the first sentence to the last. Jesus meets us on every page.”

Much study of Scripture by modern western scholars has adopted an analytical approach, breaking up each book into what are seen as its original sources. The connecting links are unraveled, and the Bible is reduced to a series of isolated units…. Orthodoxy prefers for the most part a “synthetic” rather than an analytical style of hermeneutics, seeing the Bible as an integrated whole, with Christ everywhere as the bond of union.

The Bible as Personal (pages 1764-1766).

Saint Mark the Monk (fifth/sixth century): “He who is humble in his thoughts and engaged in spiritual work, when he reads the Holy Scriptures, will apply everything to himself and not to his neighbor.”

I am to see all the narratives of Scripture as part of my own personal story. The description of Adam’s fall is equally an account of something in my own experience…. “Where is Abel your brother?” is addressed to the Cain in each of us. The way to God lies through love for other people, and there is no other way.

This personal approach involves three steps in reading the Scriptures. First you read to hear the sweep of the sacred history, from creation, through promised land, to “God Himself incarnate in Palestine,” to the mighty works of the Church’s history. Then you read for the particularity of that history. “If you really love the Bible, you will love genealogies and details of dating and geography. One of the best ways to enliven your study of Scripture is to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land….”

But the third step is to apply this history and its particularity directly to ourselves. We are to say to ourselves, “These are not just distant places, events in the remote past. They belong to my own encounter with the Lord. The stories include me.”

The Bible is not merely a work of literature or a collection of historical documents, although certainly it can be approached on that level. It is, much more fundamentally, a sacred book, addressed to believers, to be read with faith and love. We shall not profit fully from reading the Gospels unless we are in love with Christ. “Heart speaks to heart”: I enter into the living truth of Scripture only when my heart responds with love to the heart of God.

Orthodox Interpretations: The Notes

The Orthodox interpretation of the Scriptures is presented mainly in the running Notes and in the Study Articles. Some early reviewers complained that the study notes were too simplistic, that they often amounted only to crib-notes re-stating the content of the Biblical text. In this connection, it may be noted that the editors have emphasized that they aimed the study materials at the comprehension level of a high-school graduate—not at scholars (“Introduction to the Orthodox Study Bible,” page xii).

Another complaint of early reviewers, especially critics guarding the Orthodox heritage, was that not enough quotations were given from the great classic “Fathers” who established the Church’s readings of the Scriptures in ancient times. Bishop Kallistos had especially recommended “the biblical homilies of St. John Chrysostom, which are available in English translation in the series Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, reissued by Eerdmans” (page 1763; “A second step [in finding the “mind of the Church”] is to consult the writings of the Church Fathers, especially St. John Chrysostom,” page 1761). For better or for worse, many Progressive people have learned in the last half century to think of John Chrysostom as one of the most anti-Jewish of the ancient Church Fathers, though some emphasize that Chrysostom’s sermons “Against the Jews” were only aimed at Christians who were attending Jewish liturgies and festivals (see Wikipedia, “John Chrysostom,” under “Writings”).

Nevertheless, the editors of the complete OSB sought to include lots of quotes from the Fathers. The Index to Annotations shows 185 Biblical passages in which St. John Chrysostom is cited, compared to 71 for St. Athanasius, 35 for Basil the Great, 37 for Pope Gregory the Great, and only 18 for the great Western counterpart to Chrysostom, St. Augustine of Hippo. Here are a couple of examples of John Chrysostom comments:

On Joshua 1:2: Moses, the lawgiver, could not bring Israel into the promised land, which shows that the Law of Moses cannot save the people. But Joshua [in Greek the name Joshua is pronounced “Jesus”] brought them in, and in this he was a type of Jesus Christ [= the Anointed Joshua], who brings His own into heaven through grace.

On Joshua 5:10-12 [the manna ceases because the people have eaten the first unleavened bread in the promised land]: Manna was a type of Christ as the bread of life. So was the unleavened and new wheat. We now eat this bread of life in the mystery of the Eucharist. This life is the divine life of God, which sets on fire those who partake of the bread in a proper manner. Those who do so leave the Eucharist breathing the fire of divine life, which is terrible to the devil and his angels.

St. John Chrysostom was using the Scriptures in homilies. Thus, each verse or so may be the occasion for a homiletic remark that ranges anywhere over the liturgies, creeds, or hymns.

A comment on the quantity of the Notes. There are long stretches of the Old Testament where practically no comments are needed. Thus there are pages in IV Kingdoms (II Kings in the Hebrew text) with no comments at all, though things pick up when Elijah comes on the scene. Interestingly enough, the book of Proverbs gets lots of Note space, though these are often just little homilies expanding the point well made in the Scripture text (for example, Proverbs 16:1). In Proverbs the Notes take up about one-third of the page on average. In Kingdoms it is more like one-fifth. In the Gospels, the Notes usually take up half the page, and Romans is about the same. A lot of verbiage accompanies and surrounds the Biblical text.

Orthodox Interpretations: the Study Articles

The Study Bible contains a few general essays, by named authors. These are “Overview of the Books of the Bible” (The Right Reverend BASIL, Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America); “The Bible: God’s Revelation to Man” (The Right Reverend JOSEPH, Bishop of Los Angeles and the West); and Bishop KALLISTOS on “How to Read the Bible.”

There are also two articles without named authors, presumably by the editors. These are “Introduction to the Orthodox Study Bible,” one and a half pages, and “Introducing the Orthodox Church,” eight pages. This latter essay ends with an invitation to non-Orthodox folks to Visit, Read, and Write to learn more. Presumably the editors also produced the six-page Glossary at the back, which includes a mixture of Biblical names and terms with a few other terms important in Orthodox Tradition.

The major interpretation materials, besides the Notes, are the Study Articles. These are one-page summaries or essays on forty-seven topics strategically located throughout the Bible. No authors are cited so they are the final responsibility of the editors. They apparently are intended as statements of Orthodox Tradition and belief.

The Study Articles start off with a bang—immediately addressing “Creation,” “The Holy Trinity,” and “Ancestral Sin,” articles which accompany Genesis 1-3. The Trinity has to be introduced immediately because the God who acts, anywhere anytime, is the Holy Trinity. This short essay has four sections:

  1. The Holy Trinity Created the World, citing Genesis 1:1-3 and 1:26, where God says Let “us” make man in “our” image, clearly speaking among the personas of the Trinity;
  2. The Holy Trinity Saves the World, citing the Father as Redeemer in Isaiah 63:16, the Son in Psalm 2, and the Spirit in Isaiah 44:3 (read as a prediction of Pentecost);
  3. The New Testament Affirms the Holy Trinity in the Old Testament, citing John 1:1-3; John 8:58 (“before Abraham was I AM”); Acts 2:17; and Hebrews 1:8-10.
  4. The Incarnate Son Fully Reveals the Holy Trinity, citing Luke 1:35 (“the Holy Spirit” and “the Power of the Highest” will overshadow the Virgin, conceiving the Son, thus acting as the Trinity) and Matthew 3:16-17 (at the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit descends on the Son and the Voice of the Father names the Son).

The first work of the Holy Trinity was Creation. The article on Creation includes the following:

Regarding questions about the scientific accuracy of the Genesis account of creation, and about various viewpoints concerning evolution, the Orthodox Church has not dogmatized any particular view. What is dogmatically proclaimed is that the One Triune God created everything that exists, and that man was created in a unique way and is alone made in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:26, 27). The Church Fathers [not official dogma] also consistently affirm that each species of the animate creation came into existence instantaneously, at the command of God, with its seed within itself. (Page 2.)

The Study Article on Ancestral Sin is the Orthodox treatment of what the West emphasized as “original sin.” Orthodoxy plays down the guilt aspect of this Sin: “We who are of Adam’s race are not guilty because of Adam’s sin, but because of our own sin” (page 7).

Following Augustine, the West made sin and guilt the center of the drama of redemption. The East did not look down at Sin so much as it looked up at Deification—humans being elevated to the heavenly Lord. The Study Article on “Deification,” page 1692—not likely to be found in Protestant Study Bibles—is therefore very important for the Orthodox perspective on salvation.

When the Son of God assumed our humanity in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, the process of our being renewed in God’s image and likeness was begun. Thus, those who are joined to Christ, through faith, in Holy Baptism begin a process of re-creation, being renewed in God’s image and likeness. We become, as St. Peter writes, “partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4).

Other Study Articles treat a range of Old Testament topics, such as “Christ Our Passover,” given at the Passover text in Exodus, and other aspects of Israelite cultic life: priesthoods, festivals, Sabbath, sacrifices, and “the Saints of the Old Testament” (“…remembering these saints in her liturgical calendar, the Orthodox Church demonstrates her understanding that the Body of Christ transcends limitations of time and space,” page 652).

In the New Testament, besides the obvious items such as the Sermon on the Mount, Parables, John the Baptist, and the Seventy of Luke 10, there are Study Articles on ecclesiastical matters such as Chrismation (anointing with oil), Ordination, Holy Baptism, the Eucharist, the Church, Marriage, the Priesthood, and “the Four ‘Orders’ in Church Government.” The Orders of the Church are documented in I Timothy. They are (1) the Laity, (2) the Deacons, (3) the Presbyters, and (4) the Bishops. On the bishops, “The Twelve were the first to hold this office (in Acts 1:20 ‘office’ could literally be translated ‘bishopric’) and they in turn consecrated other bishops to follow them” (page 1635). Thus the Apostolic Succession of bishops still carried on by the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Rome, and by default Moscow, is directly descended from the twelve Apostles.

Overall, the Study Articles, as well as the Notes, are well done, given the goals and the restrictions the planners and editors set themselves. There is a vast amount of ancient theological and ecclesiastical lore packed into the study materials. However some strict Orthodox ecclesiastics may object to the Evangelical “tone” and the way Orthodoxy is sometimes presented, these folks have produced an impressive—and for many ordinary Orthodox church people who are writing blog comments and buying the expensive book—a welcome and enjoyable religious work. They have almost certainly launched a new phase in the growth of Orthodox Christianity in the English-speaking world. (No doubt skeptics will say sooner or later, It would have happened without the 2,000 from Arrowhead Springs.)

Some Evaluative Comments

There are two areas here. Evaluating the OSB from the viewpoint of established Orthodox church people would mean assessing how well the Study Bible digests and presents familiar and traditional materials—including the etiquette of Orthodox speech and decorum. Certainly the planners and editors hoped to meet this need, but evaluating their success in this area is not for this writer to do. On the other hand, the book is also certainly aimed at non-Orthodox but interested Bible readers.

1) The Orthodox Study Bible is a new kid on the block. It is significantly different in content, if not in format, from other study Bibles of the current scene. For general Bible students the new English version of the Septuagint is a major feature (on which more below). The interpretative comments on passage after passage are going to be taken as representative Orthodox views of Scripture. In the first instance that is useful general orientation for non-Orthodox students—who then have the scholarly obligation to confirm its representative character if they are going to attend to it more closely. A mine of notes and articles not previously or easily available is given to the Bible study world. Thanks!

2) The story behind this Bible is an intriguing chapter in recent American religious history. The publication of the Study Bible, with significant sales, gives Orthodox Churches a higher profile in American life. The journey from Arrowhead Springs to Antioch is an eye-opener. Vast numbers of Evangelical Christians are being made aware of a major option for Christian life not previously on their horizons. The Orthodox Churches, which used to be predominately immigrant-based communities, have now reached the third and fourth generations, and they are becoming as American as a revival meeting.

3) The craftsmanship of The Orthodox Study Bible is excellent. The articles are well written—whether one likes their contents or not. The organization of the work is clear—though one wonders why the “How to Read the Bible” article was not at the beginning instead of at the end of the book. (Being the most substantial and challenging article in the book, the editors probably did not want to intimidate readers until they had gotten them oriented.) The hardbound volume of 2008 is good quality binding and paper, with an attractive dust jacket. The fonts are large enough and easy to read. (One reviewer complained that there is no room on the page for notes, which is true. Your notes have be on pages you stick in for markers.) Thomas Nelson, the publisher, made a quality item and charged a quality price, $50, for it.

Mother of God, by the hand of Jan Isham.  Orthodox Study Bible, Opposite page 738.

A comment on the Icons is appropriate. Archimandrite Ephrem mostly hated the icons, for what are presumably “good Orthodox” reasons. He did like “the Transfiguration of Christ,” opposite page 1314, which is one of the more traditional ones. There are twelve brilliantly printed Icons, some of which have very sharp contrasts between dark spaces and glowing, “metallic,” colors for the main subjects. (They are not all modern; “The Three Holy Youths in the Furnace” is a print of a wall painting on Mount Athos, Greece, dated 1312 AD.) My favorite is “Mother of God,” facing page 738, a Theotokos one could really love. The one I despise (for the implied theology) is “Pentecost: The Coming of the Holy Spirit,” opposite page 1634, which portrays twelve haloed Apostles sitting placidly in a large semi-circle forming a Byzantine council, with nothing at all suggesting the liveliness of the Holy Spirit!

4) The Orthodox Study Bible presents a new translation of the Septuagint—or not. Apparently the original intentions of the editors to produce an actual translation of the ancient Greek Bible—currently in use in all Greek-speaking Orthodox churches—proved impossible to achieve. It’s not easy to see why that should be such a problem—except, perhaps, in the case of the Psalms (as seen above).

Adopting the Septuagint for the Old Testament introduces some novelties for American Protestant readers: The last book of the Old Testament is Daniel, not Malachi; Job comes after the Psalms, not before; there are no books of Samuel, but four books of Kingdoms; and the numbering of the Psalms is lower by one in much of that book. (The Lord is my Shepherd is not the twenty-third Psalm in the Septuagint.) The editors provide some charts at the front to help this strangeness, but mostly the reader will be on her own.

For some, it is regrettable that the editors made the New King James Version the basis for the Septuagint translation. That English version adheres to both an inferior Greek text and to some old-fashioned English. A fresh translation of the Greek would have added a valuable resource for both scholarship and devotion.

It’s true that we have recently acquired A New English Translation of the Septuagint (edited by Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright, Oxford University Press, 2007), but that is a super scholarly work from the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, Inc., and its renderings are often not conducive to liturgies and devotions. The NETS (as it is abbreviated) will stand—in its very inadequacy as a religious version—as a critique of the St. Athanasius Academy’s abandonment of its challenge: to make a really religious translation of the Septuagint.

5) But now about the Elephant in the Room: the Lack of History. The Orthodox Study Bible is a fresh and innovative presentation of some really old religious traditions. The editors have succeeded relatively well at the objectives they set themselves. But how timely are those objectives? The dust jacket says, “Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World.” But does it? Most likely, it speaks only to those who desire to escape this world!

Perhaps if you are somewhat jaded Evangelical enthusiasts who have grown battle-weary with the recalculations of the end-time, you may look out with enthusiasm on an entirely new horizon, enhanced with chanted Scriptures, Small and Great Entrances, incense and icons, a calendar full of saints and holy days—a large, mysterious, and awesome world, ringing with heavenly sounds and symbols. Evangelicals have tended to live in this world focused on the next one for a long time. They have been deeply tempted to live for heaven and pass by this world’s misery. One suspects that what Orthodoxy offers them is a vastly more venerable, rich, and multiplex way to keep on living for Heaven.

The Orthodox Study Bible is a flight from history, not a return to history. The liturgies and the typological interpretations simply dissolve away the “particularity” of Israel’s history—which Bishop Kallistos claimed was so important to Orthodox Bible readers. The introductions to the Old Testament books in the OSB are weak and uninteresting—because they have NO HISTORY in them, either the history of the literature and the tradition process, or of the actual history of communities with demographics, imperial aspirations and fears, or religious movements that reshape the human images of God. Needless to say you will learn nothing of the modern quest for the historical Jesus from the notes in the OSB.

The world that made Orthodoxy basically stopped around 1050, or perhaps 1453, of the Christian Era. It never knew what the world is like without emperors. Its religious traditions were never tested by the humanist awakening to the earthly world (Renaissance) , and its Church orders were never upset by stern Swiss, Dutch, and English republicans (Reformation).

The world that made Orthodoxy never knew the modern world.

Perhaps that’s why a couple thousand late-twentieth century Evangelicals found Orthodoxy so attractive!

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