Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review: The Matthew Henry Study Bible


Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible has been a blessing to the body of Christ for over 300 years and remains one of the best loved and well-respected commentaries on the market. It has not only stood the test of time but earned a place in almost every church library and features endorsements from Charles Spurgeon, "Every minister ought to read it entirely and carefully through at least once," and many others. In addition to its timelessness, it may be the most popularly enduring work of puritan literature and theology and preserves the exegetical genius of a spiritually militant man whose life produced a work that proves both passionate and practical.

Hendrickson celebrates the anniversary of the King James Version with a beautifully designed and well executed second edition of the Matthew Henry Study Bible. While a number of study Bibles have emerged from the works of a single man, few garner the respect that Matthew Henry's name does in longevity, foundational originality or spiritual spark. In the vast overflow of the information age, it is possible that Henry's work would fall under the shadow of new scholarship; however, Hendrickson has chosen the perfect time to come out with a new vessel for this classic work. The King James Version's birthday has created a fresh interest in the life and history of the English Bible and coincides with a revival of interest in puritan literature and theology. The Matthew Henry Study Bible stands out as the only distinctly puritan study Bible on the market. Spurgeon acclaimed Henry's commentary as "a Christian's companion, suitable to everybody, instructive to all." By condensing Henry's work and joining it with the King James text, Hendrickson has created a truly companionable edition of Henry's classic commentary.


BINDING

The Bible is available in hardback and flexisoft leather and Hendrickson makes use of greatly improved faux leather material to create a suitably handsome binding. The imitation leather is soft and highly flexible with a subtle grain and a high gloss finish. It remains as flexible as any of the other imitation leather editions I have handled, and while the texture may seem somewhat more rubbery, the smoothness seems appropriate for the glossiness of the cover.


The dimensions are actually equal to the ESV Study Bible (10.1 x 7.5) with the exception of the spine which is noticeably smaller at 2.1 inches. Though the size is nearly identical, the Matthew Henry Study Bible seems smaller and is quite lighter in the hand. The width of the spine makes a big difference, but the similarity to the ESV Study Bible will come back again when approaching the layout of the text.


The paper used in this edition is strong and fairly opaque, though with most study Bibles a certain amount of ghosting is present. This paper seems to be a little more prone to wrinkles and dog ears and seems to be lightweight though not necessarily thin. 



 The sewn binding is highly flexible allowing it to twist and conform to a number of shapes, including being folded in half. This flexibility is impressive and illustrates the integrity and suppleness of the binding and the flexisoft; however it won't guarantee what these contortions will produce over time if repeated. This Bible can lie flat from Genesis One. You can also see from these pictures that the cover curves away from the spine significantly rather than curving with the spine, which means that the binding and text block is unsupported by the strength of the cover like a Cambridge or high quality leather version. That said, this is a sewn binding and should last well under normal use.


LAYOUT

The layout of the Matthew Henry Study Bible is nothing short of phenomenal. It's clear that there were some cues taken from the ESV Study Bible or at least a quick study of the field and some much needed improvements were made to the standard study Bible format. The text itself is double column, which may not be ideal, but is traditional and probably more appealing to KJV fans. The font is about and 8/9 pt serif font which is narrow, but highly readable. A sizable portion of line spacing is allowed and this adds to the text's readability and flow. The study notes are presented in a smaller 6/7 pt sans serif font, which helps make them distinct and readable, while still allowing the main text to hold the most attention. One of the most important layout choices was the inner column of cross references, which does not break up or distract from the text. The side column reference format allows optimal reability and access to the references and I hope more publishers adopt this layout. In addition, the side column allows a large portion of space for the inside gutter so the text does not curl into the gutter at all, which is a vast improvement in readability over many versions which feature large portions of text curling out of sight into the interior of the gutter. While I could nitpick some small details (the large bold in text superscripts which distract from the text), this layout is a great success, it offers a suitable number of compromises to present a pleasantly readable text, which offers equal readability and access to the main text, the study notes and the cross references.


The addition of gray shading to the text block may present unnecessary ghosting, but it also helps divide the text and highlight portions of the notes and references. Multiple shades in printing is becoming something of a new innovation in Bible design and while it can be overused this is overall a fair and muted use of shading.
Click here for a PDF of the layout.






STUDY NOTES


The study notes' source text is a holistic commentary and the comprehensive and exhaustive nature of the notes reflect the completeness of their source. Henry accomplished a massive feat in detailing interpretation and information on the entire scriptures in poetic and poignant prose. The puritan sensibility of the text is in no way lost and the strong emphasis on personal holiness is present as are numerous notes featuring encouragement and exhortation. The notes have been editing occasionally for conciseness and diction but the editor emphasizes the desire to remain as close as possible to Henry's original work. This edition also features brief book introductions which occasionally use Henry's words, but often seem to be brief introductory information from the editor; Henry himself did not include book introductions in his commentary and his notes do not always provide suitable content for an overview of a whole book.

Jude 22-23

22 of some have compassion: We ought to do all we can to rescure others out of the snare of the devil that they may be saved from, or recovered, when entangled in dangerous errors or pernicious practices. We are not only our own keepers, but every man ought to be his brother's keeper. We must watch over one another, must faithfully, yet prudently, reprove each other and set a good example to all about us. This must be done with compassion, making a difference. We must distinguish between the weak and the willful. We must treat them with all tenderness, restore them in the spirit of meekness, not be harsh or severe in our censures of them and their actions, nor proud and haughty in our conduct towards them. If God has forgiven them, why should not we?
23 others save with fear: Urging upon them the terrors of the Lord. "Endeavor to frighten them out of their sins, preach hell and damnation to them." Or, "Fear, lest you frustrate your own good intentions." We are often apt to overdo, when we are sure to mean honestly, and think we are right. Yet the very worst [sinners] are not needlessly, nor rashly, nor to extremity, to be provoked, lest they be further hardened through our default. garment spotted by the flesh: That is, keeping yourselves at the utmost distance from what is or appears evil. Avoid all that leads to sin or that looks like sin, 1 Thess. 5:22.
Henry's strong literary style remains present in the text in prompting, urging tones, exhorting the reader to obedience as well as understanding of the scriptures. His words and thoughts may seem outdated to  some, but in many ways this edition is continued proof of his relevancy. His explanation of verse twenty three violates many modern sensibilities, but illuminates a meaning in the text that was an important lesson for the reformers, the puritans and the revivalists of the past three centuries.


FEATURES

The Matthew Henry Study Bible does not contain a wealth of extra features or added helps. The main content of the edition are the text, the notes and the cross references. This edition features a thumb index, which is well arranged and divided. I personally dislike thumb indexes but this one is a fine representative of the feature, providing enough categories to make it properly useful. The Bible also includes a 113 page concordance and eight well designed maps.



The puritan concern for holiness and eternal judgment emerges from Henry's exhortations and finds new relevancy in the modern movement among reformed youth and members of other theological backgrounds who are rebelling against the "easy believism" gospel of modern popularity. Generations rebel against each other and the true church passes from refining fire to refining fire as God purges dross from each generation. In this vital process, great works fall into obscurity and return again at the beckoning of the Spirit and the hunger of the generation. Matthew Henry's work has been a mainstay through the refining of the church over centuries and they continue to inspire generations of radical disciples. The pairing of his notes with the full text of the scripture in a manageable and portable format is a blessing to the body of Christ and is fully useful as both an everyday Bible and as a reference work. I would whole heartily recommend this edition to all but those who would prefer to read in an electronic format where Henry's commentary is presented for free. For those intent on reading and studying Henry's work, this is Bible which provides optimal access to Henry's commentary without separating it from the Word it was meant to expound upon and exalt.


My thanks to Hendrickson for providing this free review copy. I was not required to give a positive review, but an honest review.

   

3 comments:

  1. I thought about getting this Bible, but then found the complete Matthew Henry commentary at a used bookstore for $40! I'm taking Spurgeon's advice and reading it through.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very good review. I like the Ryrie Study Bible myself and would like to see a detailed review of this bible. Is that possible? Comments on the Ryrie?

    ReplyDelete
  3. A review on the Ryrie is possible for the future. We'll see what happens.

    ReplyDelete