Review of Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible – Prof.R.Cammenga

RHKJVBible-2014Prof.R.Cammenga, professor of Dogmatics and OT Studies at the Protestant Reformed Seminary, recently published a review of the newly released (October, 2014) Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible (see details below). This review ran in the most recent issue of our PRC Seminary Journal. He has also submitted a slightly revised version for the Standard Bearer, which I plan to run as soon as I can.

In the meantime, he has given me permission to post it here for the benefit of our readers. We thank him for this, and trust that you will find this Bible something worth investing in. Read on and see why!

I may also add the PRC Seminary bookstore is carrying this Study Bible and has special pricing on it. Call the Seminary or email Prof.Cammenga for details (cammenga@prca.org).

Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible, ed. Joel R. Beeke, Michael P. V. Barrett, and Gerald M. Bilkes (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014). Pp. xix + 2234 (hard cover), $40.00. [Reviewed by Ronald L. Cammenga.]

Reformation Heritage Books is to be commended for one of their most recent publications, The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible. This new study Bible promises to be the leading study Bible of English-speaking Reformed Christians who treasure the King James Version.

This is the first King James Version study Bible written from a distinctively Reformed perspective. There have been other King James Version study Bibles, but these study Bibles have been written from Arminian, Baptistic, or Dispensational perspectives. The outstanding example that comes to mind is the Scofield Study Bible. Now at long last there is a KJV study Bible whose editors are committed Reformed theologians. All of the editors are on the faculty of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They all embrace the historic confessional doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scripture, and they all regard the Bible as the infallible and inerrant Word of God. General Editor Joel R. Beeke expresses this conviction in his “Welcome to the Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible.” He begins his “Welcome” by saying: “God has spoken, and His written Word is the Bible. In an age of uncertainty, this is good news. His Word is light in our darkness. You can know God and hear His voice today by reading the pages of His Book. Here is pure truth—truth you can trust…. These are the very words of God, breathed out by Him (II Tim. 3:16), given to us through the prophets and apostles as they were infallibly moved by the Spirit (II Pet. 1:21), and faithfully translated into English. All they say is true” (ix).

A good study Bible ought to do two things; The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible does both of them well. First, a good study Bible must aid its readers in understanding the Word of God. It must help its readers to know the meaning of what they have read. What is the meaning of the text, the verse, and the chapter? What is its meaning in its immediate context, in the context of the book in which it appears, and what is its meaning in the context of the whole rest of the Bible? The question that Philip asked the Ethiopian eunuch was, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” (Acts 8:30). The eunuch’s response was, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:31). That is the purpose of a study Bible—to guide its readers into a proper understanding of what they have read.

But besides assisting its readers in understanding what they have read, a good study Bible ought also to assist its readers in applying the Word of God. Its purpose must be to indicate how a particular truth, how a certain doctrine, how this history or that event applies to Christians who are called to live for the Lord in the beginning of the twenty-first century. Not only the hearers (readers) of the Word, but the doers of the Word are blessed by God, according to James 1:22. A good study Bible ought to assist its readers in making the jump from the text to today. It ought to help in the movement from the Word in its first application to those to whom the Word was originally addressed to the Word as it applies to contemporary Christians facing the issues of our day. It ought to aid in bridging the gap between the first disciples of Christ living in Palestine under the rule of the Roman Caesars at the beginning of the New Testament times and Christ’s disciples living in our technologically advanced by morally degenerate age. As I said, The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible does both of these things well.

The text of this study Bible is the King James or Authorized Version of 1611. This, to begin with, is a laudable feature of this new study Bible. We are convinced that the Authorized Version of 1611 remains the best version available to English-speaking and English-reading Christians. Not only is it the most faithful translation, but it is based on the best manuscripts. After more than four hundred years, this version is still the preferred English version of the Bible, both for public worship and for personal and family worship, of a large segment of evangelical Christianity, including the Protestant Reformed Churches.

As a study Bible, The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible is` filled with all sorts of valuable aids. Those aids include more than fifty “In-Text Articles.” These articles are divided into seven main categories: The Doctrine of God, The Doctrine of Creation, The Doctrine of Sin, The Doctrine of Christ, The Doctrine of Salvation, The Doctrine of the Church, and The Doctrine of the Last Things. Included in these “In-Text Articles” are articles entitled: “The Only True God,” “God’s Foreknowledge,” “Creation and God’s Glory,” “”Angels,” “The Image of God,” “The Soul,” “The Fall of Man,” “Total Depravity,” “Human Responsibility,” “The Evil World,” “God’s Covenants,” “The Angel of the Lord,” “Christ’s Satisfaction of God’s Justice,” “Election,” “The Uses of the Moral Law,” “Justification by Faith Alone,” “Experiential Knowledge,” “Assurance of Salvation,” Perseverance of the Saints,” “Worship by the Word,” “World Missions,” “The Day of the Lord,” “Hell,” and “Heaven.”
Included in the front matter of the new study Bible is an article entitled “The King James Version: Its Tradition, Text, and Translation.” This article traces the history of the KJV, its tradition, and its text. The article includes not only a defense of the inspiration of the original manuscripts of Scripture, but also the work of God through His Spirit to preserve the text of Scripture throughout history both through copying and translation. This article also includes a good response to those who object to the use of the KJV because its language (vocabulary and syntax patterns) has become archaic. And this article defends the text upon which the KJV was based, as well as the accuracy and beauty of the translation.

Following the front matter is the text of the study Bible itself. Every book of the Bible contains an introduction, which identifies the human writer(s) and date of the book, its theme and purpose, issues relating to translation, a synopsis of the book, and a general outline of the book. The study notes are at the bottom of every page. Every chapter begins with a chapter summary. The notes follow the chapter summaries, and although not every verse has notes connected to it, the vast majority of verses do. The notes are helpful, full of useful information. Sometimes the notes explain the meaning of words in the original Hebrew or Greek. At other times they reflect on the meaning of the text, or relate a text to its context. Cross-references are sometimes given. Old Testament prophecies fulfilled or New Testament fulfillments are noted. And many other things besides make up the content of the study notes.

One praiseworthy feature of The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible in this reviewer’s opinion is the use in all the articles, notes, and introductions of capital letters on the personal pronouns that refer to deity: “He,” “Him,” and “His,” including the personal reflexive pronoun, “Himself.” Reformation Heritage is not the only major publisher that retains this mark of deference when referring to deity; there are others. But, sadly, some publishers are allowing the Chicago Manual of Style the last word in Christian publishing and the conventions that are accepted in the world’s publications are made determinative in Christian publishing. These publishers are conforming, rather than transforming and reforming on this issue. Much like the use of “Thee,” “Thou,” and “Thine” in prayer, this is one way when using the written word that we can show special respect towards God; for that very reason, it ought to be retained. I would encourage readers to write their favorite publisher(s) on this matter and express this viewpoint, especially if they are one of the publishers that has recently abandoned this practice. Let them know how you, their customers, feel on this issue.

Of significance as a distinctive feature of The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible are the “Thoughts for Personal/Family Worship” at the conclusion of every chapter of the Bible. The fact that these thoughts and questions are designed for personal and family worship underscores an important use of Scripture in the Reformed and Presbyterian traditions. At the same time, it calls attention to a very important calling that Christian parents have, a calling that arises out of God’s gracious covenant with believers and the children of believers. It is a neglected calling in our day. That calling is to lead their families and children in the worship of God. It is the calling to rear up a family altar in the home, at which daily worship is brought to the Lord God. These thoughts and questions are designed to assist parents in making their daily family devotions profitable and God-glorifying. This is an altogether unique feature of this new study Bible, and something that sets it apart from other study Bibles. It may be hoped that this will facilitate parents in carrying out this important calling.

The text of the study Bible proper is followed by a significant section of back matter. Included, first of all, in this back matter is a section containing thirty-six one-page articles under the heading “How to Live as a Christian.” Among these are articles entitled “Coming to Christ,” “Experiencing Justification and Adoption,” “Growing in Sanctification,” “Assured and Persevering,” “Reading the Scriptures,” “Why and How We Pray,” “Worship and the Means of Grace,” “How We Regard Ourselves,” “The Fear of God,” “Living by the Ten Commandments,” “Godly Contentment,” “Self-Denial,” “How We Kill Pride,” “Coping with Criticism,” “Fighting Against Backsliding,” “Family Worship,” “Being A Christ-Like Husband,” “Being A Godly Wife,” “Raising Children in the Lord,” “Being a Christian Grand Parent,” “Serving God at Work,” “Using Leisure Time Well,” “Witnessing for Christ,” “Defending our Faith,” “Facing Sickness and Death,” “Living Positively,” and “Living for God’s Glory.”

“How to Live as a Christian” is followed by “Twenty Centuries of Church History.” One page is devoted to the history of each century of the New Testament from “First Century: Apostolic Foundations” through “The Sixteenth Century: Luther, Calvin, and the Reformation” to “The Twentieth Century: The Age of Paradoxes.” There is no question about it that there is in the church today widespread ignorance of the history of the church. There is little awareness of “the rock whence we are hewn,” little understanding of the significant doctrinal controversies through which God has led the church of the past. And along with that, little appreciation for the development in doctrine that has been the result of these controversies. For more than one reason the church of the present needs to have a good understanding of the church of the past.

Included next in the back matter of The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible is a section entitled “Creeds and Confessions.” The creeds and confessions that are included are, first of all, the ancient creeds: Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed. Included as well are the main Reformation creeds, in their two main families: the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession of Faith, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort) and the Westminster Standards (Westminster Confession, Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms). The creeds, too, are underappreciated in our day. This is a study Bible aimed at Reformed Christians. Among Reformed Christians the Reformed Creeds are authoritative. Reformed Christians regard the Reformed confessions as faithful summaries of the truths of the Word of God. We read the Scriptures from the perspective of the Reformed standards.

The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible’s back matter concludes with Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s (1813-1843) famous Calendar for Reading Through the Word of God in a Year. I often handed out this schedule or other similar schedules to my congregation at the beginning of a new year when I was in the active pastorate. Having a plan to follow both facilitates and serves as an incentive, I have found, to accomplish the goal of reading through the entire Bible in a year’s time. Following the schedule for reading through the Bible in a year, The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible includes a list of biblical weights and measures, biblical currency and a “Concordance to the Old and New Testaments.” The new study Bible concludes with several color maps of the Near East and the Holy Land throughout the eras covered by the history of the Bible.

Here and there this writer found things with which he did not agree, or improvements that could be made. The article entitled “God’s Covenants” (83) is somewhat confusing and flawed. The Old Testament berith does not mean “agreement.” That is not its root meaning and that is not its use. The article, and several notes throughout the Bible, articulates the erroneous position that includes more than only the elect in the covenant of grace. The articles and notes also make plain the commitment of the editors to the erroneous theology of the well-meant gospel offer. Any church history article that surveys the nineteenth century and makes no mention of the Afscheiding of 1834 and the Doleantie of 1886 is guilty of serious oversights, especially in a Bible that is published by a group that has its roots in the Dutch Reformed Tradition. The article on “Total Depravity” contends that man’s total depravity is mitigated by “the kindness of God,” so that men are not “as wicked as they could be” (1060). Neither is the description of total depravity as penetrating as it could be, the natural man being “so corrupt that [he is] wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 8).

It is my conviction that the “Thoughts for Personal/Family Worship” could be greatly improved. For one thing, they involve ordinarily a too length introduction to the question or observation that is going to be made. For another, the thoughts and questions are too often over the heads of all but the theologically astute. Parents need to be equipped with questions for their children and young people. It is especially from parents with younger children that I hear of the struggles to make family devotions profitable. The questions overall could be simplified, and the younger children should be targeted in many more of the questions than they are. And there are other criticisms of varying importance that could be made.

But I do not want too severely to criticize, lest my criticisms detract from my overwhelming support for The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible. This ought to be the study Bible used in our homes, the study Bible used for our personal and family devotions. We have used it in our home for our family devotions over the last several months. And my wife and I are both of the opinion that it is the best that we have yet seen. I would like to encourage the pastors to give this Bible as a wedding gift to the couples at whose marriages they officiate. It also makes for a wonderful gift on any occasion, including upcoming high school and college graduation.

What helps to encourage its use is that it is eminently affordable. Reformation Heritage Books is obviously doing everything it can to place this Bible in the hands of the people. The cost of this new study Bible varies, depending on the binding. From the basic hardcover, which serves well as a family Bible, to the more expensive fine, soft leather bindings, The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible is reasonably priced. The publisher has made sure that no one will be able to say that they are not using the new study Bible because they cannot afford it.

The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible is available directly from Reformation Heritage Books. The interested reader can consult their website and order directly from the publisher. In the Grand Rapids area, the new study Bible is available at Reformed Book Outlet, the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary bookstore, and the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary bookstore, as well as the Christian bookstores throughout the area.
I highly recommended The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible!

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Dr. Beeke is also the editor of the newly published Reformation Heritage Study Bible (KJV). For more information on that Bible, visit the RHB website, or read this review by Prof.R. Cammenga. […]

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  2. […] 1. The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible, Joel R. Beeke, General Editor (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014). Nothing beats the best book in the world – and a good study edition such as this one makes its use even better for spiritual growth. If you need to know more, read Prof.R. Cammenga’s review, posted here. […]

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