Concordia’s Complete Bible Handbook for Students, Introductions by Jane L. Fryar, Edited by Edward A. Engelbrecht. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011. 449 pages.
Jane L. Fryar is an author and editor of adult and children’s books. Her work includes Today’s Light Bible. Edward A. Engelbrecht is senior editor for Bible resources as well as professional and academic books at Concordia Publishing House. He is the general editor for The Lutheran Study Bible.
“What’s the Bible All About?” This question is the title to the introduction of the Bible Handbook. The answer’s wording is unsatisfactory: “The Bible is all about Jesus and the salvation God made possible for us through Jesus” (xvi). Lutherans do not usually speak of salvation as something that God made possible, as if we now need to finish the work. In Christ, God has made salvation complete. Nevertheless, the answer given throughout the book is correct; in every introduction to every book of the Bible, this handbook points us to Jesus Christ.
The Bible Handbook is a book of introductions. The introduction to the book is an introduction to the message of the entire Bible. The book also contains introductions to the Old Testament, intertestamental period, and New Testament. The bulk of the Bible Handbook is made up of introductions to each of the Bible’s books, which explain the circumstances of the book’s authorship, highlight key chapters and verses, etc. These introductions are heavily supplemented with articles about the Bible and its times, including articles on animals, food, coins, names, sacrifices, the temple, customs, occupations, feasts, locations, sacraments, and many other subjects. There are also many maps, charts, and diagrams that illustrate family trees, messianic prophecies, buildings, empires, miracles, and much more.
The Bible Handbook has one characteristic that makes it more than a typical introduction: its strong gospel emphasis gives it a devotional character. The preface and introduction to the Bible Handbook make clear that the Bible is the Holy Spirit’s inspired, inerrant Word about Jesus Christ, the world’s Savior. In the introductions to each of the Old Testament books, there is a paragraph: “How does [this book] point to Jesus?” In the introductions to each of the New Testament books, there is a paragraph: “How can I best grow in grace as I read [this book]? The Bible Handbook does not simply teach facts. From beginning to end it teaches the law and the gospel.
There is much more to the Bible Handbook that makes it a valuable resource. It is laid out in an interesting and eye-catching way. The artwork is striking. Its articles, illustrations, and charts explain difficult concepts like Old Testament festivals, the tabernacle and temple, and ancient farming practices. It makes helpful applications to 21st century Christians, for example, showing how the same temptations that led the Israelites to idols in the Old Testament chase us today (76-78). The Bible Handbook is primarily intended for teenage students, but it would be useful for adult students of the Bible, as well, and contains information that would also help pastors teach Bible history in Bible classes. For example, the pastor preparing a Bible class on Esther would benefit from “The Historical Chronicle of Esther” (154,155), which contains timelines on “The Reign of Ahasuerus,” “The Book of Esther,” and “The Final Years” of the book of Esther.
There are several factors that limit the usefulness of this book. The authors mostly avoid allegory when they explain how the Old Testament points ahead to Jesus. In a few places, however, they say more than WELS teachers have been willing to say, for example that Abraham’s prayer for Sodom (Genesis 18) “foreshadows Jesus, our great High Priest, interceding for us” and in this way Abraham is a type of Christ (15), or that the jar of manna in the ark of the covenant “foreshadows Christ’s body given for the forgiveness of sins (65). In a few places the authors make interpretations that disagree with the way WELS teachers have taught, for example applying all of Isaiah’s book to his time and making no mention of his future audiences. There are also places in the book where its information is disorganized. The article about the flood, for example, is misplaced in the middle of the Genesis introduction (13-14). Articles about “Children in God’s Kingdom” and “The Bronze Serpent” occur in the middle of the article about Elijah (130-136). One minor heading was accidentally incorporated into the text of the paragraphs (250), what should be major article headings appear as minor headings (e.g. 116), and in general the headings have little consistency (e.g. 314-316). The same information about Herod is included in two different places within the introduction to the intertestamental period. Typographical errors include the omission of a bullet point (447), inconsistent spacing (445), inconsistent italicizing (409, 414), and misspelled words (263, 313). The villain of 3 John is identified as Demetrius (438), whereas Demetrius is actually commended; Diotrephes is the villain. It is beyond the scope of this review to list all of the errors in this book, but there are more. Some are merely frustrating. Others are confusing. A few are misleading.
Most of the errors contained in the Bible Handbook could easily be fixed in a revised second edition. A revision of this book would be a valuable tool for any student of the Bible; from confirmands, who will be studying the Bible more in depth in high school, to new adult Christians, who are seeking an introduction to basic message of the Bible’s books, to mature Christians, who study the Bible on their own but want help understanding some of the more distant details of the Bible’s times. The current edition of the Bible Handbook has gone into its second printing, so a second edition is not imminent at this time. An introduction to the Bible such as this, containing a wealth – but not an overload – of valuable information is a useful tool to help students read and understand the Bible. A second edition would make this book more useful and understandable, which would help people to understand the Bible even better.