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Review: The C.S. Lewis Bible

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Those of us raised in biblical literalism blanch every time we see a Bible with editorial notes integrated into the biblical text. After all, the Scripture is very clear about the consequences to those who add to the words of the Bible, or take any of them away. It’s all there in Revelation 22:18-19.

Yet, when sales wane with any given translation, Bible publishers seem to trot out a new edition with notes aimed at some particular narrow vertical market. There are special “study editions” of the Bible for men and women, boys and girls, prisoners and prosperity seekers, married people and singles, and for those of every theological fashion and flavor.

cslewisBibleIn this process of adding notes to fluff-up God’s Word, that horrid enemy of verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible–Redaction–raises its ugly head. We Evangelicals have bet our theological boots on the precept that the Bible was not edited into its present form, yet we see the process of extra-biblical assimilation happening before our very eyes. In modern times there has been a blurring of content since the appearance of the Scofield Reference Bible, when people ceased to interpret the Bible for themselves and were happy to consult a Scofield note, as if it had the same authority as Holy Writ.  It was then no longer a matter of, “What does the Bible say?” –but rather, “What does C.I. Scofield say about what the Bible says?” That trend continues.

So, you may accurately say that I am, in principle, against editions of the Bible that have interpretive notes. If people want notes, they should buy a Bible commentary, right? But then along comes a jewel like The C.S. Lewis Bible, and all principle is thrown out the window.

Why am I so quick to abandon my bias against editions of the Bible that include extraneous text? It is because The C.S. Lewis Bible does not seek to inform (or indoctrinate) as most reference Bible’s try to do, but rather it illuminates the biblical text, much like the iconography of a Byzantine Bible. The C.S. Lewis Bible, published by HarperOne, is a jewel within a jewel.

A large number of C.S. Lewis scholars have come together to select passages from his works and place them in proximity to the appropriate biblical text. For example, we find this Lewis gem located at Matthew 5:8: “Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure of heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.” (from The Problem of Pain).  At Hebrews 9 there is a portion from Miracles, where Lewis speaks about how humanity must embrace death freely and with humility.

There are other well-placed treasures as well. Among the Lamentations (1:16), there is a quote from a letter Lewis wrote to Sir Henry Willink in 1959. Lewis says “It is quite useless knocking at the door of heaven for earthly comfort; it is not the sort of comfort they supply there.” In the Book of Acts, we are reminded that, “Every story of conversion is the story of a blessed defeat” (from the foreword to Smoke on the Mountain).  As you see, The C.S. Lewis Bible is a treasure chest and the jewels within come tumbling out.

In the Preface, Douglas Gresham, the step-son of Lewis and overseer of his literary legacy, answers the question, “Why a C.S. Lewis Bible?”  The answer is the one that those who love Lewis have known all along—he was a Spirit-empowered man who had the ability to touch and heal though his writing, whether it was in his books or his massive correspondence. Gresham said that Lewis was an example of what a man with “an honest mind, working with the guidance of God…with the purest motivation” can do. That is, make, “obscure meanings hidden within the biblical texts suddenly become simple and glaringly obvious to those of us with lesser minds.”  It is this very notion that makes this edition of the Bible worth owning.

There is an aspect of The C.S. Lewis Bible that I am almost reluctant to mention to my fellow Evangelicals, but I do so with the hope of edification. Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Wall Street Journal and the Fox News Network, also owns a number of book publishing companies under the HarperCollins banner.  As a result, Murdoch owns the publishing rights to the New International Version (NIV) through his Zondervan division, and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) through his HarperOne division.  Even though the dust mites in Christian bookstores know this C.S. Lewis edition would sell better in the NIV, it is only available in the NRSV.

That said, I want to commend the NRSV to you. It is a gentle and good translation of the Scriptures, even though a few passages have been attacked by Fundamentalists in the past. It was the precursor of the NIV in that it freed readers from the thundering diction of the King James Version (KJV), and allowed for the NIV’s later wide acceptance by our more conservative brethren.  I was cheered to see the name of the late Dr. Bruce M. Metzger still in the “To the Reader” introduction, which explains the history and purpose of the translation. He headed the RSV/NRSV translation committee for many decades. Dr. Metzger was my New Testament professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, and I attest that he was the godliest man I ever met, and I have met many Christian leaders over the years. Evangelicals should feel free to rest in the arms of the NRSV, especially with the added joy of the theological and literary ornaments provided by C.S. Lewis.

The C.S. Lewis Bible
HarperOne
$34.99, 1529 pages, hb
Copyright 2010
ISBN 978-0-06-198208-8

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