“Theme” Bibles were a big trend in the 70’s. There were, of course, the red letter Bibles (words of Jesus in red, even if scholars can’t completely agree on what Jesus really said), and there were a lot of youth Bibles with bright colors and splashy graphics. Children’s Bibles got makeovers, too.
The visuals for most of these Bible projects were terrific. If bright colors help get people over their fear to really read the Bible, that’s great. But the marginal commentary in many of these editions was less helpful. Often it focused on getting people saved or proving that humans are sinners, rather than really opening up the passage for thoughtful discussion.
The CEB Women’s Bible (Copyright 2016 by Common English Bible) is a theme Bible with substance. Based on the readable CEB text, this edition has marginal notes from a variety of female scholar/ teachers, most of whom are pastoring churches as well. The commentary is of various kinds: introductions to texts, pastoral reflections on the text, sidebar discussions of issues raised in the text and biographical portraits of every woman named (and nameless) in the Bible.
These reflections are not sappy. Literature written for women in the church often tends toward the saccharine, but these writings are not in that genre. They offer textual criticism, historical perspective and alternative readings. Difficult issues are addressed from the clear perspective of many women’s lived experience in the church and society. This is clearly an in-house edition; meant for use by those who are studying the text from a mainline Christian perspective and from within the church community. It does not reflect the kinds of questions asked from Catholic or Orthodox traditions or by non-Christians, or those who are outside the church, or those who stand on the margins of society.
When I served as a Christian Education director in the 1990’s, we had a Tuesday morning ladies’ Bible Study called Women Together. I was a twenty year old college graduate, and the ladies in the study had raised their families and were free on a weekday morning to read and wrestle with the Scriptures. And wrestle we did. They had all kinds of questions, and as we read through Genesis, there was no topic that was off the table. I scrambled every week to be prepared, using the church library, and occasionally calling pastors I knew to help me interpret the text we were reading. Without a seminary education, there was a lot of material I had to learn on my own. I wish that I had this Bible edition at my side then. Not only would it have saved some time (in the pre-Google era), but it would have given me some scholarly conversation partners to offer to my Bible study.
And that is probably the biggest contribution that this Bible edition makes to the study of Scripture in the church. Many of the marginal notes are very short; too short, in my opinion, to do justice to the topic at hand. But for me, the greatest strength of this edition is the roster of female scholars who contributed. I found myself wanting to read more and more deeply of the work of these sisters. Now that we can access scholarly writing electronically, I plan to include their scholarship in my own study and teaching practice, based on the biographical data in the index.
This Bible edition would be a great gift for a man who wants to examine his bias in reading Scripture. It would be helpful to a lay teacher leading Bible studies in a local church. It could open up new worlds to someone preparing for seminary, and it is a helpful adjunct resource for those of us who lead Bible study as parish ministers. It has fulfilled its stated goal of inviting the reader into “ a deeper conversation with Scripture”.