Many people read the King James Version of the Bible because they love the connection it has to historical Christianity. The Authorized Version “speaks” to us in a way that is classic, timeless, and beautiful.
This is the Bible the Puritans, the Colonial Calvinists like Jonathan Edwards, and fiery golden-mouthed preachers like Charles Spurgeon used and loved. It was the Bible of the founders of the America and of Billy Graham. Until the advent of the “modern translation,” the King James Bible was the Bible of the English speaking world.
Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible
For this reason, Reformation Heritage Press has given the conservative, evangelical Christian world a major gift in the new KJV Study Bible. This will be a Bible that KJV readers, especially those of a Reformed and Confessional perspective, will treasure for generations. Because of the theological perspective of the editors, though, it may not be for everyone. (More on that below).
- Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
- Layout: Double column; verse-by-verse; full study Bible annotation
- Binding: Hardback, sewn binding
- Font: text, 10pt. Notes 8pt. (approximate)
- Ribbons: none
- Extras: Presentation pages, theological articles, one to three page book introductions, several historic creeds and the Reformed Confessions (Dordt, Belgic, Heidelberg, Westminster, etc.), twenty centuries historical overview, concordance, Bible reading guide, color maps.
- Price: $29.oo (hardback)
Let’s jump right into the theological position of the Bible to determine if it is the right one for you. There is no doubt that the editors of this Bible (Dr. Joel Beeke et. al.) have a particular theological perspective. It is Reformed, Confessional Christianity, otherwise known as Calvinism. This is not a problem at all for me (a Presbyterian pastor). In fact it is a blessing. But those of Pentecostal, Arminian, broadly evangelical, or liberal perspectives will likely find themselves wandering around in a strange Narnian world of unusual words, terms, historic confessions, and theological jargon.
My guess is that the common, “every day” evangelical will either love this Bible and be enamored by its fresh approach as I am (It’s certainly a far cry from most common “life application Bibles”!) or else be totally overwhelmed by it’s deluge of theological particularities.
(Note: For the uninitiated, Reformation Heritage Books, rooted in Grand Rapids, Michigan [the unofficial capital of the Dutch Reformed tradition in America] is a publisher that specializes in giving expositions of and republishing the works of the Puritans. Dr. Joel Beeke the General Editor of this volume, has himself written many volumes on the works of the Puritans, so if that genre ignites a passion for you, this book is a can’t miss edition of the Bible).
Let’s consider what I think is a real strength of this book, given my own theological moorings: the theological articles are very often excerpts of brilliant theologians of the Reformed perspective. I love this. For example, Genesis is fitted with an article from Calvin’s Institutes on “Creation” just a few pages in. Many readers will say “Yes!” Others will cry, “Who?” The reader will also find his journey through the KJV Bible enlightened by the insights of English Puritans such as John Owen, Anthony Burgess or simply contributions written by the editors and contributors themselves.
Just to give the prospective buyer a taste, article topics in this volume will include such things as: election, the means of grace, God’s immutability, regeneration, justification by faith, adoption, and many more. If those topics get you fired up, this Bible is going to be a true joy. These are often the headings in longer systematic works of theology such as those by Berkhof, Hodge, Frame, and Grudem. The reader won’t, however, find any articles on loci foreign to Reformed/Calvinistic thinking. You’ll search in vain for an article on the so-called “second blessing,” Christian perfection, credobaptism, or female ordination!
The study notes themselves focus on exegetical insights into the Biblical text, often peering behind the KJV to the original languages. Here, they are more objective than the articles, but still the Calvinism of the editors creeps in. Again, for me, that’s a plus not a minus. Others won’t agree. The notes on Roman 9 and Ephesians 1, for instance, do not flinch on the conviction that salvation is a free gift, determined by God, and granted to the elect. Reprobation is upheld rather than denied or explained away.
For example, the KJV Study Bible gives this explanation of Romans 9:10-13, “God’s sovereign election was entirely based on his good pleasure and unearned by any merit. The idea of foreseen good works or faith does not even enter the apostle’s thinking. God knows the future because He has planned it, including who will be the heirs of salvation and who will not. There is no such thing as foreknowledge independent of fore-ordination. God foresees what He will do” (p. 1630).
Throughout the notes, the editors do a wonderful job explaining difficult, elusive, or archaic terminology for the modern reader. One beautiful addition to the notes is that many passages include a helpful suggestion entitled, “Personal & Family Worship.” Family worship of course is an emphasis in the historic Reformed Christian heritage. These give readers, assumed to be fathers or heads of household, a good trajectory for dinner time devotions or Sabbath day teaching between services. Other books and writings in the series of publications of Reformation Heritage Books likewise encourage family worship together as the Covenant people of God, in the home and church. For this reason, it is not a surprise to see it encouraged here as well. I like that.
This Bible includes a number of special features that set it apart and make it highly useful for the Christian. The “read through the Bible” feature employs a unique approach: four columns; two chapters for personal reading, and two chapters for family worship. It is based on the reading plan of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (another Scottish Presbyterian connection!).
I really like the feature called “Twenty Centuries of Church History.” Here, the contributors give us a one-page summary of each of the centuries of history beginning with the first century AD. In these pages, originally given through the teaching ministry of Sinclair Ferguson, readers can learn about major outbreaks of persecution, the transformation of Rome, major theologians such as Augustine, the Reformation, and missions. These are helpful to place some of the article contributors from ages gone by for those who many not be familiar with all the authors cited in the articles and notes.
Also included are several helpful one-page articles on “How to Live as a Christian.” Topics found here include: coming to Christ, growing in sanctification, enduring criticism and affliction. Of course many of these touch on great themes of Reformed theology too: justification, union with Christ etc.
Several of this catholic (universal) creeds are included: The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed are there for quick reference or further study.
I personally love the inclusion of the creeds and confessions. For me, these are some of the most consistently orthodox renderings of Christian truth ever written. My denomination uses the Westminster Confession of Faith. Others use the “Three Forms of Unity,” which are comprised of the Canons of Dort, the Belgic Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism. These are excellent places to find definitions of concepts such as justification, sanctification, election, and the sacraments.
They are also warmer devotional pieces than many realize. Consider Heidelberg Catechism #1:
“What is thy only comfort in life and death? Answer: That I, both in body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready henceforth, to live unto him.”
The physical form of this Bible is good, not great. The hardback edition is attractive but unremarkable. The paper is generally opaque, but felt wispy to me. It’s not as good as the paper in the renowned ESV Study Bible. Ghosting is minimal and not distracting, but the paper has a cheaper feel. Text runs ruinously close to the top of the pages. Gutter and edge margins are negligible and not sufficient for note-taking. Worst of all, the sewn binding (stitching every 32 leaves) is terribly crinkly on my review edition. Running my finger down the gutter makes significant noise.
Unfortunately, I am not sure this edition (at least the one I was given) would even make a good rebind for those who like that sort of thing (as I do!). It does come in a polyurethane and real Montana leather edition. I would be very interested to examine a Montana at some point. Pages are white in the hardback and not gilded or rounded. It looks like a desk reference Bible rather than a warm, devotional Bible.
My overall impression is that Reformation Heritage Books accomplished exactly what they specialize in: putting out books that those in Calvinistic, Reformed, Confessional, and Presbyterian settings drool over. This Bible edition will not disappoint. The KJV Study Bible is excellent in content if not form. Though I would have loved to get a real leather (or even faux leather) edition, this hardback will serve as a good desk reference edition for years to come. Dispensationalists, egalatarians, liberals, and Arminians will want to search elsewhere.
-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647.