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Saturday, June 07, 2008



A Review of Leland Ryken & Philip Ryken (Editors), The Literary Study Bible, English Standard Version (ESV)
(Wheaton, IL: Good News Pubs. [Crossway], 2007)
ISBN: 978-1-58134-808-8 1913 pp. $49.99

By Forrest Wayne Schultz

I first encountered Leland Ryken as an excellent commentator on C. S. Lewis, one of my favorite writers and thinkers. With the passing of Clyde Kilby, Ryken assumed the mantle of the leading American authority on Lewis, and, indeed, quite appropriately, Ryken, is now the Clyde S. Kilby Professor of English at Wheaton College. I learned of Phil Ryken after he became the senior pastor of "Tenth Pres" (The Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA), which I discovered by means of a visit to the Tenth Pres website. Tenth Pres was the church I attended until I left Philly, and it was by far the best church I have ever attended, and it appears to be flourishing now under Phil Ryken's leadership even more so than previously. Other achievements worth mentioning is his doctorate from Oxford and the position he holds as a theology professor at Westminster Theological Seminary's California campus. He is the son of Leland Ryken.

The task undertaken by the Rykens in the work under review here is more significant than many people might suppose: it involves showing the RIGHT way to study the Bible as Literature, which must be carefully distinguished from the two WRONG ways which gained popularity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries -- doing literary studies to AVOID studying the theology of the Bible and doing literary studies in order to REPLACE the theology of the Bible. The first of these is often done in "The Bible As Literature" courses; and the latter has been done to replace the doctrine of creation with evolutionary theory and to replace the doctrine of salvation with existentialist philosophy by employing the ruse of regarding Genesis and the Gospels as "mythology" rather than accounts of what really happened. In contrast, as the Rykens show, the RIGHT way to do a literary study of the Bible enhances one's ability to understand and appreciate the theology of the Bible. In short, the Rykens rightly maintain that the various literary forms employed by the Scriptural authors are intended to lead us into the truths in the Biblical world-view -- not as a means of ignoring or rejecting these truths. And the serious way in which ordinary things and daily life is treated by the great literary artistry of Scripture bears witness both to the importance of ordinary things and of daily life as well as to the importance of beauty in verbal expression, as many scholars such as Auerbach have shown. Detailed discussions of the Rykens' literary principles can be found in the Introduction and in the books authored by Leland Ryken noted in his author's bio on the book jacket, and definitions of the technical literary terms can be found in the Glossary following the Bible.

Following this Introduction is a Preface explaining the principles involved in the English Standard Version translation of the Bible (the ESV), which was first published in 2001, by Crossway, and is a registered trademark of Good News Publishers. Some of the content of the Literary Study notes found here first appeared in Ryken's Bible Handbook, which was published in 2005 by Tyndale House (and used here by their permission), according to the Copyright page. According to the Preface the principle underlying the ESV is that of an "essentially literal" translation that seeks to capture both "the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer". The ESV, like the NASV and the NRSV, attempts to retain the style and literary beauty of the KJV, and regards itself as being the latest in the lineage of English Bible translations starting with Tyndale and the KJV, although, unlike the KJV, the New Testament of the ESV is not translated from the Textus Receptus, but from the latest edition of the Nestle Greek text of the New Testament.

It is difficult to say just how useful the Rykens' notes in this Literary Study Bible will be. First of all, in the overwhelming majority of Scriptural passages one does not need to be a literary scholar to know whether he is reading a geneology or a psalm or a letter or a law code or a dialogue or a parable or whatever. The ordinary Bible reader may not know the technical terms for the various literary forms he encounters, but he usually can distinguish them without any help from an English Professor. Secondly, it would appear to be doubtful that the Literary Study method could ever be used to settle a major theological controversy. For example, the Rykens provide a discussion of the various symbols used in the Book of Revelation and of the meaning of the apocalyptic genre but they are unable to settle the millennial debate. This is clearly indicated in their note on p. 1876 which merely STATES the three millennial views (pre-, post-, a-) but makes no attempt to use the Literary method as a means of determining which of these views is the correct one. So, while their Bible as Literature approach is clearly valuable for the reasons shown here, it apparently cannot be used to settle theological debates such as the Millennial issue and is usually not needed to determine what literary form one is reading, although an appreciation of that form may be encouraged.

The commentary of the Rykens is well written and easy to read. The ESV was produced following good translation principles and the text is easy to read. The ESV eliminates the archaisms of the KJV but its language does not have quite as powerful an impact as the KJV does. Finally, as the Rykens themselves say, their literary commentary is not intended to replace the traditional methods of study but to supplement them and lead to an appreciation of the importance of the literary-artistic aspect of the Word of God.

By highlighting the importance of the artististic aspect of Scripture the Literary Study Bible should be helpful in bringing to attention the artistic aspect of God Himself. By inspiring the writing of Scripture as a work of literary artistry God shows His concern for the the literary arts just as the artistic aspect of His creatures shows His concern for the visual arts. These together with God's dramatic artistry as the Playwright of history leads us to realize that God is a very creative, beautiful, imaginative, and interesting Person -- a great truth which has heretofore usually been egregiously omitted in the Doctrine of God in our systematic theologies.

Written Under The Auspices Of Active Christian Media

Forrest Wayne Schultz has degrees in engineering and theology, including a Th.M. from Westminster Theological Seminary, where he wrote his thesis on the Biblical view of ecology. He has had articles and book reviews published in The Chalcedon Report, The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, The Bent of Tau Beta Pi, and several space magazines. He served as President of the C.S.Lewis/J.R.R.Tolkien Society of Philadelphia in the late 1960s and as President of the Southside Science Fiction and Fantasy Society in Riverdale GA in tha late 1980s. He was the President of the Environment Chapter of the National Space Society and its delegate to the Georgia Earth Day 1990 Committee. He writes news releases covering the arts scene in Coweta County, GA, where he resides, and this will be the second year he will be leading a workshop on the writing of news releases at the international Muse Online Writers Conference. He can be reached by telephone at 770-583-3258 or by email at


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