A Reading Life (pt 6): Second-Hand Books

My 1969 Broadman Commentary with the 1973 RSV Annotated Oxford Study Bible in the background, both second-hand books that I treasure more than most!

By Joe LaGuardia

A Reading Life is a blog series focused on the literature that has shaped my life and call to ministry. Find the introduction here.

Any pastor will tell you that a part of being a minister is receiving books or book recommendations from parishioners.  Most people can attest that they have second-hand books on their shelves, but none more so than clergy.  This is for two reasons: One, we are obliged to take books people give us; and, two, we are too broke to get new books, so we scour unwanted books, church rummage sales, and used book stores whenever we come across them.

So, I have two pieces of advice for freshman pastors:  The first is to avoid telling your church what kind of things you like to read unless you want books pertaining to that subject or genre.  The second is  to befriend pastors nearing retirement because they are likely to give you books they no longer need.

The first piece of advice came in handy when I first arrived in Florida to pastor my current church. I wanted to read Florida history because when I was in Georgia, I read The Archaeology and History of the Native Georgia Tribes by Max White, and it enriched my ministry for years to come.

I mentioned this to fellow naturalists at my church, and the recommendations and books started to flow.  The first recommendation (or affirmation, as it were) was Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’ The Everglades: River of Grass.  Since I am a graduate of Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, (yes, that Douglas high school), I always wanted to read Douglas’ work, so I purchased it within the first six months of arriving to Florida.  Another recommendation was Marjorie Rawlings The Yearling, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  After that, however, I was finished reading about Florida but books and recommendations kept coming.

“Here, Pastor Joe, I think you’ll like this,” is commonplace in ministry.  Since I am a book snob to begin with, I have found polite ways of rejecting those books or perusing enough of a book to make light conversation.  In other cases, people will send self-published books that are political or have some crazy agenda.  Those things go right to the “donate” pile.

If you take my second piece of advice, then your library will be full of second-hand books that become gems.  I recently received a long-awaited 1973 Revised Standard Version Annotated Oxford Study Bible from our Associate Pastor who is retiring at year’s end.  It inspired this article, in fact!  What a treasure!

Then there was the white whale for which I longed–that peculiar, sought-after item that one only obtains by prayer, patience, and persistence.  Mine was the original 1969 Broadman Bible Commentary with the Genesis volume by G. Henton Davies.  This volume, along with then-Midwestern Theological Seminary professor Ralph Elliot’s book, The Message of Genesis, launched a near forty-year battle and eventual split between conservatives and moderates in the Southern Baptist Convention (known either as the “Conservative Resurgence” or the “Conservative Takeover,” depending on your point of view) regarding historical-critical approaches to scripture and, more recently, the place of women in ministry.

The Davies “Genesis” commentary set is rare because the Southern Baptist Convention recalled the set shortly after publication and replaced it with a set that replaced the Davies commentary with one by Clyde Francisco.  That made the original “Davies” set hard to come by.

Thankfully, a retired Home Mission Board administrator who was a co-minister at my last church had not one, but two original sets.  Praise God for the Reverend Michael R., who blessed me with one of his First Edition (you read that right!) “Davies sets”–with his marginal notes–when I became pastor of the church in 2010.

Moving forward, I am on to my next prey.  It is a Nelson, cowhide leather Revised Standard Version Bible, circa early 1960s.  There are many RSV Nelson editions circulating out there with vinyl (gag!) or hard covers (many served as pew Bibles), but the leather-bound edition seems near impossible to find.  I got one from a retiring pastor years ago, but (after many funerals and a month-long mission trip to West Africa) it is falling apart, and I would like a replacement.

I think we can all agree that whether a second-hand book is either beloved or loathed, it adds a rich tapestry to any home or office library.  Each book has a story to tell or reflects the character of its original owner, and for that we should be grateful.  Each book speaks to the generosity that defines readers worldwide.  But, take it from me, pastors get the brunt of them, and that’s not always fun!

What are some second-hand books that you either treasure or loathe?  Comment below!

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Premier Bibles are in Fashion

By Joe LaGuardia

Several weeks ago, I discovered the esoteric, slightly geeky, intensely interesting world of premier Bibles.  I have been a Bible nerd for some time–researching various translations and study Bibles, perusing bookstores for editions and bindings–but I learned only recently that a world like this existed.

You see, for over twenty years I’ve been an Oxford man.  By Oxford, I mean those Bibles published by Oxford University, specifically the Annotated New Revised Standard Version Bibles for which Oxford is best known.  I have five Oxfords: My first was the softcover student edition required for college; then the hardcover of that same edition once the softcover edition died; and then the third and fourth editions in leather.  My most recent purchase was a leather NRSV thinline for everyday use.

With the Oxford, I meant business when it came to Bibles and Bible studies–but then (thanks to YouTube) I realized that a whole other world existed, that of the “Premier Bible.”  Let me explain:

My last Oxford Study Bible cost $90.00.  It was the fourth edition, genuine (vs. bonded) leather, with two ribbons and personalized embossing.  It was costlier than the third edition, but vastly superior in binding, notes, leather, and gilding (that’s the gold on the side of the pages).  I thought this price placed it squarely in the “premier” category.  Not so.

The real “premier” Bibles run between $175.00 – $250.00.  These Bibles have covers that range from Moroccan fine leather to calfskin.   The inside of the cover also includes leather end pages.  The binding is often hand-sown.  The materials, including the paper, is of either European (from Norway, for instance) or Italian origin.  You can run over these things with a truck, and they will last.

I also learned that there are three companies that produce these Mercedes Benz of Bibles: Cambridge University (one of the oldest publishers in the world), Schuyler (pronounced “sky-ler”, get it right!), and Allan.   They have limited runs, select translations (usually, NKJV, KJV, ESV, or NRSV; Schuyler also produces a NLT, pictured above); and they take months to produce, order and ship.  There are waiting lists.

Some collectors scour the internet searching for editions that are vintage, out of print, or at a reduced rate.  And even the most used of these Bibles can run over $100.00.

There is a community of people on the internet — YouTube, really — who review the Bibles.  They own, buy, sell, and trade multiple copies.  They compare and contrast them, show multi-year “crash” tests (to see how Bibles hold up to the test of preaching and usage); and go into minute details as to binding and features of each one.  Some of them purchase a version in every color leather.

I told you it was esoteric, but I find these videos captivating, and I confess I have spent many late nights watching reviews of pitt minions and reference Bibles and quentel (I’m not sure what that means–I think its a typesetting of some sort) versions, of rebound Bibles, and of the newest King James Versions (how many times and how many ways can one publish a Bible that’s been around since 1611?).  Very few, if any, premier Bibles are study-Bible versions, though many include concordances and Bible maps.   This goes deep, folks.

Over the last month, I had a chance to purchase a new Bible.  I dislike purchasing new Bibles (although I love looking at them, my version of retail therapy), but I needed to replace two Bibles in my arsenal of God’s Word.  I took my time reviewing these and other Bibles.

I chose another Oxford NRSV (the travel version I mentioned earlier– I’m so loyal!), but it was hard to bypass some of these beautiful Bibles that really stand the test of time and capture–if not for sake of aesthetics, then for tradition–the sacredness and value of God’s Word, which neither withers nor fades.

 

The year of the Bible [translations]

As the 400th birthday of the King James Version comes and goes this year, several new Bibles are hitting stores to offer “fresh” translations to a timeless word.  Whether these newbies will find a captive audience and dominate the Bible market as did the KJV is yet to be determined.

Regular readers of my column know that I have an affinity for Bibles.  Every year, I devote a column or two to Bible translations and point out the various nuances that make the world of Bible publishing an exciting one.  For this column, I offer a short report to keep us up-to-date.

One version due in September is called the Common English Bible, published by a consortium of denominational printers ranging from the United Methodist Church (Abingdon Press) to the Disciples of Christ (Chalice Press).  As a “paraphrase” translation (a mixture of word-for-word and thought-for-thought translation), it intends to reach a wide audience of all ages.

According to the CEB committee’s website, the version will be a “bold new translation designed to meet the needs of Christians as they work to build a strong and meaningful relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”

Although I think the use of the word “bold” is a bit brash, the New Testament (available in paperback and ecoleather since 2010) does seem to offer a rich structure and a clear, concise voice to God’s good news.  It has a single-column “readers” format, so it makes for easy reading in a favorite armchair.

I am interested to see how the CEB holds up to congregational worship, and it can’t be all that bad: One of the board members, Sharyn Dowd, is a noted New Testament scholar on staff at the First Baptist Church of Decatur.

The second translation coming out this year is a bit more controversial.  It is the “2011 edition” of the New International Version (NIV) published by Zondervan.  Unlike the Common English Bible, which is a new translation altogether, the NIV 2011 is a revision of the bestselling 1984 edition.

The NIV 2011 is already causing a stir because it utilizes “gender-neutral” language. This move on the part of the translators recalls the curse of the Today’s New International Version (TNIV), which came out in the late 1990s.  It, too, had gender-inclusive language and apparently flopped.  Many evangelicals and conservatives despised the tampering of God’s word, and they insured the TNIV’s death in 2009.

The same conflict is resurfacing now even though the NIV 2011 committee (according to their website) reconsidered and voted on each verse in which gender-inclusive language was used.  That, despite the fact that the new edition retains over 95% of the NIV’s original language.

At least one denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, practically banned the Bible.  Last month in Phoenix, messengers at the SBC general convention passed a resolution that warns fellow Baptists of the new translation and “respectfully requests” that Lifeway bookstores (the Baptist chain) avoid selling it altogether.

For others, there is the fear that Zondervan–the sole publisher of the NIV–will cease publication of the 1984 version once the 2011 edition hits bookshelves.  This spells the end of nearly three decades of one of the best selling Bibles in recent history, and it ironically insures the exclusive reign of the gender-inclusive enterprise.

Yet, a third hurdle for the ill-fated edition is the current phone-hacking news scandal by media conglomerates tied to Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp.  Fact is, Murdoch owns Zondervan, and the accusations can potentially tarnish the Zondervan brand for many a Christian.

My guess is that translations will continue to rise and fall with the times.  None will replace the beloved King James Version; none will be without its particular controversies.  My encouragement to you is simple and always the same: No matter what Bible you decide to use, read it and read it often.  That’s what counts in the end.