Bible Review – “The Memorization Study Bible” by Thomas Meyer

MSB main

I love various study Bibles.  I also love memorizing the word and looking at different techniques and methods people use.  When I found out that fellow Wordsower Tom Meyer was releasing a Bible that could help guide people through methods on memorizing God’s word, I was excited for an opportunity to review it.

Tom Meyer is a great person to put together a Memorization Study Bible, as he has personally memorized over 20 books of the Bible.  He has also studied memorization techniques used over Jewish and Christian history.

Meyer establishes his techniques on what he calls the “three pillars of memorization”: Seeing the text in 8 words or less, reading out loud/hearing, and writing the text down.  He has explained that one can use any or all of those pillars, though he personally uses all three as he commits Scripture to memory.

The Memorization Study Bible is a (King James Version) KJV New Testament, but it has a unique layout, which I will discuss later in the review.

MSB Back Cover

There are notes from the author before the Bible text.  These notes include the following (all information in parentheses is mine): Memorization Matters (quotes from other Christians about memorization); a Quick Start guide; Timely Tips; A Word of Encouragement; The Memorization Method; Why It Can Make a Difference; The Process (a breakdown of how the Memorization Study Bible is set up); and Simple Science of Memorization — You Can Do This!  This initial section is very encouraging to read and builds the memorizer’s confidence.

The books of the Bible are next, followed by 7 appendices (all information in parentheses is mine): Seven Short Scriptures (to memorize); Sin to Salvation in Ten Verses; Popular New Testament Chapters (to consider memorizing); Important New Testament Verses; Historical Development of Bible Memorization; Techniques Used to Memorize in Judaism; Techniques Used to Memorize in Christianity.

MSB TOC

Each book of the Bible has an introduction that includes a breakdown of how many chapters and verses are in the book, some basic background to the book, specific aspects of how the book contributes to our understanding of the Bible, and a few quotes from others (such as commentaries) about the book.

MSB Book Intro

The key difference between this Bible and others is its layout.  This Bible is double columned (like most Bibles, although some are single-column Bible now).  Most Bibles, however, either have a verse-by-verse format (each verse is its own paragraph) or a paragraphed layout.  This Bible, in keeping with the author’s goals, breaks verses down into lines of 8 or fewer words.  Each new line attempts to begin with a preposition or conjunction.  Numbers mentioned in the Bible stand alone as their own line.  The goal is to present the Scripture in more memorable lines, lines short enough that the eye can take them in quickly and the mind can retain them.

These lines are what Tom Meyer encourages people to focus on when memorizing; one small bit at a time.  He encourages memorizers to read the line, copy it by hand, and say it out loud repeatedly until they have it, then move on to the next line.

MSB Sample Page

I think the Memorization Study Bible is a great tool to help people memorize Scriptures.  It will be especially useful to those who read the King James Version of the Bible.  Those who use another translation, however, have a few options if they would like this Bible: They can memorize the KJV, even though they do not read that version; they can use this Bible for the intro, book information, and appendices only; or they can use the ideas in this Bible to try to divide up the version they prefer so they can apply these ideas in order to memorize it.  I have not personally tried dividing up another version this way, but it seems like it would work as long as you keep the number rule in mind and try to find prepositions or conjunctions to use to divide the verses up.

The Memorization Study Bible retails for $19.99, and I think it is definitely worth the price.  I, for one, am glad to have another tool to recommend to other believers when they ask me for tips on committing more Scripture to memory.  If you want to be encouraged to memorize more and if you are looking for some techniques that have been tried and successfully used, look no further than this Bible!

You can purchase a copy from the publisher here.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  

Advertisements

Update on the CSB – I Am All In!

csb

Five months ago today I wrote a blog post on my initial thoughts on the CSB.  As of today, that post has nearly reached 1,000 views!  I thought it was time to write an update to my original post to let people know where I have landed.

I have had a lot of time to read through most of the CSB.  I have compared it to multiple versions, commentaries, and the original languages as my limited understanding allows.  The more I read it, meditate on it, and memorize it, the more I love it!  As a result, it has become my primary Bible translation for everything; though, of course, I will always reference other versions when studying.

What led me to make it my main version?

First, I truly believe they have struck a great balance between readability and accuracy to the original languages.  I know, all versions basically claim the same thing.  Still, there is a spectrum between extremely formal (interlinear) and extremely free or dynamic (paraphrases), and I truly believe the CSB falls toward the center of that spectrum.  It may even be a little more toward the formal side, which I appreciate.  As I have dug in, I have found many times where the CSB may veer from a traditional rendering, only to realize that it seems to be better capturing what the original intended, whether in wording, meaning, or even in conveying verb tense from the Greek to the English.  In many cases, I almost feel that the CSB is an easier-to-read NASB, as it often parallels it quite closely.  While I did feel, for a while, that a strictly formal translation was the best to use all the time, I have come to question that a little, as I have thought about how translation works between other modern languages.  I think I have come to a point where (at least for now) I feel that a middle-of-the-road approach may be ideal; that way, one can always move to a more formal version for deeper study and a more dynamic one for clarification/commentary and easier reading, if necessary.  The CSB really seems to hit that middle-of-the-road ideal.

Second, it has been remarkably easy to memorize.  While I had used the ESV for several years to memorize, I decided to consider the CSB.  At first, I was concerned that the CSB would be harder to memorize because it wasn’t as literary or elegant sounding.  In reality, the fact that the CSB often sounds like the way we would say something today has made it easier to memorize than the ESV to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I do like the ESV.  But stepping back after a while of using the CSB, it almost seems like the ESV, in an attempt to retain some of the sound of the KJV, can occasionally create readings that sound odd to modern ears.  Some people may love that aspect of the ESV, and as an English teacher, I can respect the fact that it remains close to such a literary and historic translation in sound.  But for presenting dramatically, I believe the natural wording of the CSB will be a great asset.  So far, I have memorized Philippians and the first four chapters of Revelation in the CSB, and I am loving it!

Third, they have quite extensive translators’ footnotes throughout the translation.  These notes give alternate translations, more literal renderings, and manuscript variants.  I haven’t compared all of the various English versions, but it seems that the CSB’s notes may be some of the most in-depth.  That is something I appreciate as I am studying the word.

Fourth, without going into great detail, I have grown to know and experience the heart of the publisher.  Holman’s desire to get the word of God out in order to create disciples is very apparent.  That is something I truly appreciate about them.  Again, that is not to say no other version has this same goal; far from it.  I believe that all versions ultimately have the desire to see disciples made.  But there have been a few things about Holman that have simply won me over.

I do see the CSB growing in popularity.  A local friend that I introduced it to adopted it before I did, and she introduced it to another friend.  A poll in a Facebook page I am a part of showed that it is growing beyond merely being a Southern Baptist Bible (as it is often erroneously considered since the publisher is connected to the Southern Baptist Convention); people from a wide range of denominations have made the CSB their primary Bible.  I have also seen many posts of people switching to the CSB from other versions as their primary.  Many of the search terms on my blog also show that people are researching and digging into reviews that are comparing the CSB to other versions that have been firmly established for a while.  This is all very encouraging to me.

[While I am on this topic of whether the CSB has strong Baptist tendencies, I think one example may suffice to show that it strives to be a Bible anyone can use.  As Baptists believe that the proper mode of baptism is by immersion, it would have been very easy for the CSB translation team to have translated the Greek “baptizo” as “immerse” instead of transliterating it as “baptize.”  The fact that they left it transliterated seems, to me, to show that they were not trying to push a certain theological agenda.]

Yes, it is true that the CSB occasionally breaks with traditional renderings in verses.  But the more I study and read them, the more I have grown to appreciate what they have done.  Their choices often reflect what seems to be a more accurate rendering of the original languages.

For example, choosing “For God loved the world in this way” in John 3:16 instead of the traditional “For God so loved the world” seems to bring  out the original intent better.

In the Sermon on the Mount, “Hallowed be thy name” (or some variation thereof) becomes “your name be honored as holy” (6:9, CSB).  I think that the change brings out the meaning of “hallowed” very well and very clearly.

One last example is in Psalm 1:1.  Traditional renderings say “Blessed is the man.”  The CSB says “How happy is the one.”  I believe the gender change here is welcome, as the verse is clearly not limited to men.  But the biggest change is the word “blessed” to “how happy.”  I have seen a lot of people questioning that.  But from what I understand, there are two Hebrew words that are often both translated “blessed” in the Old Testament.  The issue is that one of the two words actually means “blessed,” while the other has a better meaning of “happy.”  The one that appears in this verse is the one that means “happy,” so the CSB, while breaking tradition, actually brings out the original more clearly.  (For more information on this, I highly recommend Randy Alcorn’s book Happiness.)

I want to put a few clarifications here.

First, the CSB, like all translations, is not perfect.  There are areas that can be improved, as is the case with any attempt at translating from one language to another.  Which leads me to my second clarification.

We are very blessed to have so many versions in the English language that we can cross reference and check against one another.  We should never forget the blessings we have, even as we may look for that one version that can become our primary translation for use. (And I do think we should look for that one version that is our go-to version.  It helps if we are very familiar with one version when we do have to check against others.  If we constantly jump from version to version, we fail to get the deep familiarity that I think is a benefit of sticking with one primary translation, especially as it relates to internalizing the word.)  While I think the CSB should be considered strongly as an ideal translation to use, that is not to say we should not use the other versions or that anything is wrong with them.  Far from it.  They all have their place.

I do not hesitate to recommend the CSB to you as an amazing candidate for your primary Bible translation.  I think it is a phenomenal work that will only get better over time.  I think it is an ideal version for everything: reading, studying, memorizing, teaching from, and preaching from.

If you haven’t checked it out, I encourage you to do so.  You can read it online free here, or on YouVersion’s Bible app or on Bible Gateway.  I think you will find it both refreshing and accurate.

No matter what version you choose, dig deep into the word.  Treasure it in your heart.  Dwell in it and let it dwell in you.

 

Thoughts on the CSB (and they are good!)

csb

*Update (4/24/18): I have recently posted a follow-up blog post to this one.  In the new post, I explain that I have decided to make the CSB my primary Bible.  You can read the new post here: Update on the CSB – I Am All In!

________________________________________________________________________________________

So, the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) was released this year.  It is something of an update to the HCSB that was previously released, but the revisions are so extensive that it has become its own translation, replacing the HCSB all the way around.

Let me give a little background on myself so that there can be some context to the rest of my post.  I mainly read the NIV (1984) for many years after becoming a Christian.  It was my  main Bible, while I would look at and compare others.  When the TNIV came out, I remained with the 1984 NIV (occasionally using the NASB or KJV) as my main translation.  In 2011, when Biblica revised the NIV and completely replaced the 1984, never to be supported or published again, I was not too happy with it.  I didn’t like some of the choices of how they chose to treat gender, and some of the ways they handled it in writing simply didn’t sound right to me.  While I understand the importance of making context clear (maybe saying “brothers and sisters” instead of merely “brothers” for the Greek word “adelphoi”), it seemed that the NIV went too far in some cases.  (This is personal preference, and I am aware that there are great scholars who feel the NIV got it just right.  I would not put myself on the same level as any of these scholars, and I don’t fault anyone who loves the NIV.)

For my purposes, I also found the permissions a little harder to obtain for the NIV.  So I began looking for a translation that would grant the permissions I needed to present Scripture dramatically.  After checking several translations and publishers, I ended up settling on the ESV.  I have used it for the last several years almost exclusively.  I have studied it, taught from it, and memorized large portions of it for presentation.

I did look at the HCSB, but some of the readings seemed to be a little too “new” for my liking.

When I heard the CSB was coming out, I was certainly interested.  I requested a sample, and was graciously given an entire copy to review.

Before I go further, for those who have not searched my blog a lot or don’t know me, I am in a different situation than some.  I have taught Sunday School and preached before, so I tend to look at translations from a teaching or scholarly perspective.  But my main form of ministry is presenting large portions of Scripture from memory in a dramatic way.  These two forms of ministering to others have caused some struggles in me as I try to look at translations.  From the teaching side, I want to be as close to the original text as possible, because I can explain anything that is culturally separate from our time, hard to understand, etc.  But from a presenting side, I don’t get to do that.  I get one shot to communicate as much meaning as possible, so a translation that clears up confusion for the reader by translating cultural issues into our current understanding is better.  To borrow Paul’s musing, which shall I decide?  I cannot tell; I am torn between the two.

Let me also add very clearly that my critiques of the CSB are not the final word in any way.  I believe Bill Mounce has said, “There is always a reason” for any translation choice, and just because it doesn’t make sense to me, doesn’t mean that it is wrong.  There is a lot I am not aware of with the translation process in general and, of course, the CSB in particular.  Still, as I compare, some of the thoughts that have come to mind are listed below.

I have taken a lot of time to read through large portions of the CSB, and I have also spent a lot of time comparing individual verses and words to the ESV, NASB, NET (with its extensive notes), and the original Greek (with what very limited knowledge I have).  Time and again I am seeing how the CSB has seemingly gotten a translation right where I may have originally questioned it.  Now, that is not to say it is perfect, but the more I look at it, read it, and examine it, the more I find where their translation decisions make sense.  It is also helpful that a representative of the CSB has taken several opportunities to respond to emails I have sent asking about translation decisions when I cannot find information to help me understand their choice.

A few examples are Revelation 5:6, where John writes “Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb…”  Most translation say “a lamb that had been slain” or something like it.  While “slaughtered” is very different, it conveys more of the visual of what John would have seen; this lamb was not pretty.  And the Greek does allow that as a possible meaning of the word.

Revelation 7:17 in the CSB says “For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them.”  I believe the ESV says (and this is from memory, so if it is not correct, it is my fault) “will be their shepherd.”  Gramatically, the CSB has it here from what I can tell.  The word in the Greek is a verb not a noun.

While “propitiation” may be a great theological term, and one we need to know, the CSB’s choice in 1 John 2:2 of saying “He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” is clearer to the average reader, and, to me, ties it in to the Old Testament concept of sacrifice more clearly than the word “propitiation” does.

Revelation 5:4 in the CSB has John saying “I wept and wept.”  The ESV says “I wept loudly,” I believe.  As far as I can tell, the Greek is closest to saying “I wept much,” so the CSB seems closer to the Greek here.  (To me, someone weeping loudly does not imply how much they are crying, just how intense at that moment.)

In 1 Corinthians 13:5, the CSB says love “does not keep a record of wrongs,” versus the ESV’s “is not resentful.”  I believe the CSB, from my study, brings out the original word picture more clearly.

In Matthew 6:32, the CSB clearly brings out the tense of the verb by saying “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things.”  The ESV says “For the Gentiles seek after all these things.”  The same is true regarding the tense of the verb in Hebrews 12:2.

Now the CSB does translate “adelphoi” as “brothers and sisters” when they feel the context requires it, but unlike the NIV, I feel the CSB has a good balance here.  They are not afraid to still use “he” instead of switching to the plural “they” to avoid sounding gender specific.  They also don’t translate everything this way, but only when they think it is truly warranted by the context.  I find the CSB has a good balance of when to translate it inclusive of both men and women or not.

I could keep going with areas I think the CSB really gets the text right, but this post is already getting quite long.

That being said, there are areas I think the CSB could have gotten things a little better.  For example, in Matthew 13:13, the CSB says, “That is why I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand.”  In my limited knowledge, the Greek here gives a play on words by saying something like “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear or understand.”  I like that word play, and I really wish I saw it here.

I also found a word missing (confirmed by someone from CSB) in Acts 22:3.  There should be some sense of a word “strict” or “thorough” related to Paul’s training in the law.  This was, as I understand it, a mere oversight while typing everything out, and it will be corrected.

In 1 Kings 18, the ESV has Elijah taunting the prophets of Baal by insinuating that their God had gone away to relieve himself, but the CSB says “maybe he has wandered away,” relegating the ESV’s text to the footnotes.

Psalm 19:5 in the ESV says something like “a groom coming from his bridal chamber,” whereas the CSB says “like a bridegroom coming from his home.”  I’m sure there is an explanation for this, and I have not asked yet, but most translations seem to align with the ESV, from what I can tell.

One of the hardest to get used to is in Daniel 5:6, where the king is so frightened after seeing the writing on the wall that “his face turned pale, and his thoughts so terrified him that he soiled himself and his knees knocked together.”  Most translations imply his legs gave out or something along those lines.  I have read an article explaining why the CSB went the way it did, and I can see it, though a scholar of ANE languages said he felt it was a stretch.

In the 23rd psalm, they chose to switch from “I shall not want” or even “There is nothing I lack” (both of which I have seen before) to “I have what I need.”  Ultimately, the meaning is not obscured, but I wonder why the switch to get rid of the negative word from the Hebrew that I believe is there and is reflected in the first two options mentioned here.

The CSB also says “He lets me lie down in green pastures” as opposed to the more common “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (ESV).  I like the idea of making/causing more than merely permitting (which seems to be implied in “lets”).

Deuteronomy 10:12 is another verse I am not sure about.  The ESV says something like “…and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.”  The CSB says “…and to worship the Lord your God will all your heart and all your soul.”  Most translations agree with the ESV here, and from what I can tell, the Hebrew word seems to usually mean “serve.”

Again, in all of these critiques, I understand that the translators had a reason.  Maybe I will be able to find out what it is through study and maybe emailing someone.

Because of my ministry, I also tend to think about presenting out loud.  That is the one area where the ESV, for example, is a great translation: it is very poetic and rhythmic, and it retains a lot of that from the KJV.  For presenting out loud, that rhythmic, literary sound is great.  But it is not always natural.

The CSB definitely sounds more like how we would normally communicate with each other.  They use contractions (don’t we all?), and its word order is more like common English speech, breaking with Greek and Hebrew word order to do this.  Some people like this, while some do not.

But there are times where the CSB becomes a little more difficult.  Jeremiah 31:31-34 is an example.  Most translations say “thus says the Lord” or “says the Lord.”  The CSB says “this is the Lord’s declaration” or “the Lord’s declaration.”  It says it 4 times in these 4 verses, for example.  What’s interesting is that it is very accurate to the Hebrew, from what I can tell.  (The NET notes specify the Hebrew says “the Lord’s oracle.”)  The problem is, it doesn’t flow as smoothly when speaking out loud, in my opinion.

Another example of where the speaking out loud comes in to play is when someone’s quotes are interrupted by saying who is talking.  John 1:21 in the CSB says “‘What then?’ they asked him. ‘Are you Elijah?'”  The ESV puts who is speaking first always (as does the Greek, from what I can tell).  In this verse, for example, it says “And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?'”  When reading, there is no issue here; if anything, the CSB keeps things fresh and from getting too repetitive.  But when presenting out loud from memory, it can be easier to preface with who is talking to show transition in speakers.

Where this has been difficult for me is that for the last few years I have been conditioned to think of the most formal/literal translation as the best.  But as I have presented dramatically, I have questioned that somewhat.

If I am presenting to a crowd of people, all of whom are at various stages in their Biblical literacy, is it better to say “not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law” as the ESV does (since not everyone may understand what an iota is), or should I say “not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter” as the CSB does?  What about “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (ESV) instead of “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (CSB)?

When I present, I cannot stop and clarify hard-to-understand ideas and terms like I could if I were preaching or teaching.  So I have grown more to think that it may be better for me to present something that will more clearly communicate meaning without hindrance to hearers.

What’s really interesting is that it seems you have to possibly stop either way.  If you use a formal translation, you often have to stop and explain what the text means to communicate to your hearers.  If you use a dynamic translation, however, you may have to do the opposite, stopping and explaining what the original text said.  So it sort of becomes a toss up as to which way you go.

Of course, the CSB is willing to break with tradition for the sake of accuracy (look at Psalm 23, for example), and that could be jarring to some people who are so used to hearing “Yea, though I walk through valley of the shadow of death” (KJV) as opposed to “Even when I go through the darkest valley” (CSB).  The CSB is more accurate here.  But people are so used to hearing it the other way that I wonder if they might reject hearing the CSB version just because it sounds so different.  But I am also wondering if I should elevate tradition above clarity and accuracy?

Is the CSB a perfect translation?  No.  Believe me, while I would like one, in my studies I have quickly found it does not exist.  Is the CSB a good translation?  Absolutely!  It stays very literal (sometimes more so than even the NASB or ESV) while still being very readable and clarifying ideas when needed.  It sounds very natural while reading aloud, which is a big consideration for me with what I do.

I have not decided completely whether I will be making the switch from ESV to CSB yet or not, but I am certainly leaning toward it greatly.  The more I read the CSB, the more I like it.  Yes, it loses some of the literary quality of the ESV, and yes, it sometimes loses the cultural distance of a formal translation.  But it gains readability and understandability, which are very important factors as well.  The translation reminds me very much of what the 1984 NIV used to be, although the CSB is a little more literal.

I look forward to continuing to dig in to the CSB more, to learn more about it, and to keep comparing it to other translations and the original languages as I am able.  I must say I am quite impressed.  I think, last I saw, it was already #6 out of the top 10 Bibles in terms of sales, and that is only after less than one year.  They are producing some great editions (some of which I hope to review eventually), and the translation is a sheer joy to read.

If you haven’t checked out the CSB, I strongly encourage you to do so!

 

Update on the ESV (No Longer) Permanent Text Edition

copyright

In an interesting decision, Crossway has decided against their former plan to have a permanent text edition of the ESV.  You can read about their decision here.

I must say that the response to their original decision to establish a permanent text has been interesting.  I was not aware of just how many negative responses there were.  I read at least one that questioned one of their changes in terms of the impact it had on understanding the meaning, but that is to be expected in just about any translation, in my opinion.  I am not aware of a translation that perfectly captures the original Greek and Hebrew with no parts that are questionable.

It appears that all of the negative feedback caused Crossway to reconsider.  They have decided to follow after other translations in occasionally making minor updates as new linguistic and manuscript evidence leads, or to keep current with English usage.

I understand the reasoning behind it.  We will always make more headway in our understanding of the original languages, and I am sure there are more manuscript variants waiting to be discovered.  Sure, we need to take those into account.

But I have to say that in an other way, I am a little disappointed.  As someone who has worked on committing Scripture to memory, and since the ESV was my translation of choice for doing that, I was excited to think that translation, at least, had reached a point where I would not have to worry about future changes.  I could rest assured that what I had memorized would stay the same for the rest of my life.

My saving grace is that I have obtained permission from Crossway to continue to memorize and present the 2011 text edition, regardless of future changes.  Knowing myself, however, the draw of keeping up with the most current edition may override my desire to stick with one edition.

The other problem with changes is that even if I were to stick with a 2011 text edition, online editions and audio editions will always be changing to keep up with current editions.  Unless I have a dedicated back up of the audio, I will eventually no longer be able to find the 2011 edition, and whenever I look something up online, it will be the newest edition, not my usual.

We have seen this with the NIV.  If you still prefer the 1984 NIV (as I tend to) over the 2011 edition, you will be hard pressed if you want to find it digitally.  Biblica no longer promotes or supports the 1984, so any online or digital Bible will use the 2011, to the best of my knowledge.  The print editions are getting more scarce, and I imagine the audio editions may be as well.  If not now, they will eventually.  The hardest part is that the digital changes are often not signaled clearly, so digital editions can change without one’s realizing it until he or she starts to study deeper.

Is it a huge deal?  I suppose not.  But I still prefer to think I can have a text I can use for life with no changes that is easily accessible across all platforms.  Honestly, it is one reason I considered moving to the KJV.  The KJV has not changed since 1769, I believe, so it is a safe bet it will remain unchanged for at least the rest of my life.  Granted, there is still a question over the Oxford or Cambridge edition of the KJV, but most, I think lean one way predominantly.

So, while it is not unusual for a Bible publisher to decide to continue to update their translation rather than leaving it unchanged, a part of me is sad that Crossway has followed the same pattern, even though they had previously announced they would not.  I don’t hold it against them in any way; it is just my personal preference.

What are your thoughts?