The new Andrews Study Bible was released last month at the 59th General Conference Session in Atlanta, Georgia. Featuring a wide range of study tools and classic NKJV text, the new Bible was produced by an international team of Adventist scholars in cooperation with denominational leadership. Spectrum asked General Editor Dr. Jon Dybdahl about the process and vision that guided the new Bible to completion.
RD: You are the general editor of the newly released Andrew’s Study Bible. How did the project come about and how did you get involved?
JD: Ronald Knott, director of Andrews University Press, discussed the concept of a study bible with a number of church leaders including Mark Finley, evangelist and vice president of the General Conference and Angel Rodriguez, director of Biblical Research Institute.
Finding an enthusiastic response he broached the subject with Niels-Erik Andreasen, president of Andrews University and chair of the Andrews University press board. Dr. Andreasen not only eagerly embraced the project but was willing to assume leadership of the endeavor. A project committee was formed to plan the general shape of the Bible. Shortly thereafter Dr. Andreasen, authorized by the committee, asked me to be the general editor and a member of the committee.
RD: Who worked on the project with you and how were those participants chosen?
JD: Recognizing that we are a world church, we tried to recruit contributors from across a wide cultural and geographical spectrum. Six continents and eleven different countries were represented on the writing team. We hoped that by involving a good mix of scholars the Bible would have an international flavor in its content. All the contributors are listed in the Bible. Each has a doctoral degree and most wrote in the area of their specialty.
The project committee originally asked me to submit a possible list of contributors, which I did. After committee discussion, writers were chosen. Those who accepted the invitation were invited to a one-day retreat at Andrews University. At that time we worked out the general guidelines, book assignments, target dates and all of the myriad details that go into a project like this.
RD: What kind of study aids have you included in the Bible?
JD: There are many helpful things! There are marginal references and introductions to each book including outlines and discussions on setting, dates, message, etc. There are also over 12,000 study notes, charts, illustrations, maps and some general articles on the inspiration and message of the Bible. We’ve also included an annotated theme index and a concordance.
It’s been interesting—people hear but they don’t hear. I’ve had several people say to me, “When is your Bible translation coming out?” And I laugh and say, “This is not a new translation!” We took the New King James text from Thomas-Nelson. The NKJV text has not been changed in any way—we just wrote notes and explanations on that text, comparable to what was done with the NIV study Bible.
RD: So what makes your Bible different from the NIV Study Bible? What is “Adventist” about it?
JD: The theme index at the back definitely has an Adventist slant, highlighting parts of the Bible that Adventists have always seen as important. All the contributors are Adventists, so obviously you can see the influence of that particular lens on the themes that are emphasized and in the notes. But this was not an effort to be sectarian. Adventists need to look at the Bible as it is, just like everyone else.
RD: What central themes in particular were of interest to your team as you produced the new Bible?
JD: I can just give you a list from the back of the Bible. Annotated themes include The Bible, Trinity, God the Father, Jesus: His Person and Work, The Holy Spirit, Creation, Sabbath, Law, Sin, Assurance, Sanctuary, Remnant, etc., and it goes on to The New Earth. The index includes just a brief statement on the nature of each theme and then lists related texts. We’ve also included symbols so that if you are just reading through the Bible and come across a theme-related text, you will see references to other related texts.
RD: People who hear that a new “Adventist Bible” has come out will naturally think back to The Clear Word. Recently, the NKJV Remnant Study Bible was also released by Remnant Publications. How does the Andrew’s Study Bible compare to these works?
JD: We’re really quite a bit different from those two Bibles. The Clear Word is like a new paraphrase or translation of the Bible text itself. We have notes down below referring to the text, but that’s quite a bit different. We have not touched the text at all.
The unique feature of the Remnant Study Bible is that it highlights Ellen G. White quotes in connection with various biblical texts. Ellen White is not mentioned in the Andrews Study Bible so that people can use it evangelistically while studying with others.
RD: How would you respond to those uncomfortable with the idea of putting out any kind of “Adventist” Bible?
JD: The committee deliberately chose the title Andrews Study Bible instead of the "Adventist Study Bible" because they were sensitive to that issue. I suppose some people will start to call it the "Adventist Study Bible," but we were very intentional about not calling it that simply because we didn’t want to have that confusion. As I mentioned before we wanted to be faithful to the text but honest about our Adventist perspective.
RD: Mark Finley has stated his hopes that the new Bible will “Help scholars in the church to think as evangelists and help the church’s evangelists think as scholars.” How do you see this happening? How do you expect the new Bible will be used within the denomination?
JD: There’s a variety of ways. First, we hope that general members will read it and use it to enhance their personal Bible study and spiritual life. We have specifically and deliberately tried to avoid unnecessary theological jargon and to make the notes and introductions understandable to the general reader. But we believe that trained teachers and ministers will also be helped by the Bible.
Second, there has also been talk of perhaps using an inexpensive edition as a gift Bible during evangelistic meetings. It could be used in a lot of different countries in that way. Elder Finley is a thinking evangelist and I imagine he probably sees the need for careful contextual Bible study in areas of the church where evangelists have not always taken scripture seriously in its context. I think the new Bible will help evangelists and their hearers do this more seriously.
RD: As a missiologist, do you think the new Bible will have any particular impact beyond the English-speaking church?
JD: I definitely do. I’ve already heard that there’s interest in translating it into Spanish and Portuguese. Some thought we should have used some other version than the NKJV, but that was the one we started with. I would not be surprised to see it come out in other English Bible versions as well. Many Adventists in the global south have little money for books. I’m praying that this Bible will fill a need to support serious Bible study in such places.
RD: Is there any time trajectory for these projects?
JD: I don’t know but I’m guessing from initial enthusiastic response that it will be soon.
RD: What effect do you hope the new Bible will have on the combined intellectual and spiritual life of Adventist church members?
JD: I believe that this study Bible will have an effect in the Global North ("Western world"), but my deeper and broader vision is that this Bible will have an impact where the vast majority of Adventists actually live internationally in the Global South. I think there are some very basic things that this Bible will speak to. One is a contextual reading of scripture. A lot of people have a Bible but the only Bible they have is one where the verses are separate: the very topography of the pages lends itself to proof-texting! I think having a study Bible that encourages a contextual reading of scripture will make a real difference in people’s spiritual lives. I also believe that the Bible is going to help large sections of the world understand grace and the gospel where the temptation may be toward legalism.
Here’s an example I just thought of this morning: Most Adventists know where the Ten Commandments are in Exodus 20, and accept them. Many, however, start their explanation of the commandments after verse 2. Here’s a note on this text from page 98 of the new Bible:
´I am the Lord.´ The identification of the Lord as deliverer from slavery must never be separated from the Ten Commandments. Jews considered this verse part of the first commandment. Obedience to the commandments is based on the experience of God’s gracious deliverance, which the first 19 chapters of Exodus explain. The Old Testament as well as the New Testament emphasizes God’s grace as the basis for obedience.
Now that will come as a revelation to some. It’s a very simple thing, known by many people but unrealized in many places. Just to have it written in a trusted study Bible will make, I think, a tremendous difference in peoples’ lives. That vision and dream is really what made me want to spend time working on this project.
The Andrews Study Bible is available for purchase at the Andrews University Press website.
Jon L. Dybdahl, Ph.D., has been an evangelist, church planter and pastor in Thailand and Singapore and a theology professor at colleges and universities in Thailand, Singapore, Michigan and Washington State. From 2002-2006 he was president of Walla Walla University before retiring to teach part time at Andrews University and Walla Walla University. Jon also writes and speaks widely in the areas of mission and the spiritual life. He and his wife Kathy have three children and nine grandchildren.