ESV: The Literary Study Bible

JP: Helpful review from Chuck Bumgardner.

The Literary Study Bible

Leland Ryken and his son Philip Graham Ryken have edited a study Bible with an interesting twist. Instead of focusing on exegetical footnotes, this work is concerned to set forth matters of genre, plot, and so forth. In their words, “the commentary focuses on the literary features of the Bible, as distinct from historical, cultural, or linguistic features” (”Editor’s Preface,” vii). The literary commentary seeks to show the unity of various passages and the way in which they fit into both the flow of the book in which they are contained, as well as into the Scriptures as a whole.

One of the premises upon which this project is built is that “the content of the Bible can be mastered only if we pay attention to the forms in which that content is embodied . . . the content of any piece of writing is communicated through form.” (”Editor’s Preface,” viii; “Introduction,” ix). Another is that the traditional format of study Bibles, with a plethora of notes, actually distracts the reader from grasping the literary whole of a particular passage. As a result, The Literary Study Bible formats the text in a single column by paragraphs (in prose; poetry is versified in format). Literary commentary is found in a introductory portion, usually about a paragraph long.

I do recognize that at times the study of genre has suffered from overclassification. Still, Ryken and Ryken are correct to note that in order to grasp the import of a passage, it is helpful for the reader to have a general understanding of what to expect from a particular literary form. This may be an informal understanding, and is more necessary for some genres than others, but the Rykens are correct to emphasize the importance of understanding literary form.


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