Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 7, 1999
A useful introduction to the Bible
The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Bible., by Jim Bell and Stan Campbell. Alpha Books, 1999. 328 pages.
Review by DEAN SARNECKI
Special to the WCR
My son recently participated in the sacrament of Confirmation.
In addition to receiving the usual variety of religious gifts such as medals and chains he received two important books. The first was a copy of the Bible and the second was a Bible companion, The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Bible.
What an excellent pair of gifts! While I am pretty sure that I have taken advantage of it more than my son has, I have on occasion seen him look through the books and read parts of them.
To clarify what this resource is and what it is not is important. This is part of the Complete Idiot's Guide series by Alpha books. Books in this series range from books on computers to cooking to money management.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Bible is a companion to, not a replacement of, the Bible. This is not a commentary, which provides a detailed academic explanation of the Bible verse by verse, but more of summary of each book or important chapter or book. It introduces some background information, and highlights main points or things to look for in that particular book or chapter.
This book would complement your reading of Scripture by providing definitions, simplifying difficult texts and enabling the Bible reader to get the most out of the Bible. This is not an academic study of the Bible; it does not replace a good commentary, but it is interesting to read.
The first two chapters of the book provide some basic information about the Bible, why you should read it and what it tells us as Christians.
It informs the reader about different translations of Scripture, explains how to pick a Bible for your specific situation, briefly explains how the Bible came together, and briefly outlines some common misunderstandings about the Bible.
It provides a list of other useful resources such as commentaries, historical atlases, concordances and biblical dictionaries (also lists more details in the appendices).
Each chapter covers anywhere from a few biblical chapters to a collection of books depending on the theme of the work. The chapter, while providing valuable information in the form of brief commentary provides valuable little "extras" in the margins and throughout the text.
These four extras are divided into:
. Snapshots which are references to a fascinating stories or passages to delve into in more detail on your own - "The next time you think life isn't fair, try perusing Ecclesiastes 6-7."
. Manna from Heaven is like food from heaven. These "pop up in spots where you may need further explanation of who, what, or where something or someone is."
For example, "God had said that David's son would be the person to 'build a house for my name' (2 Samuel 7:13). The name God symbolizes all that there is. In dedicating the temple to the name of God, Solomon acknowledged that God could not be confined to the Temple or any other building (1 Kings 8:27)."
. Potent Quotes focus on familiar biblical quotes or especially significant passages. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).
. What Saideth Thou provides answers to frequently asked questions about the Bible or a particular passage. Explanations include topics such as, Why did Jesus teach in parables rather than just saying what he meant? Or an explanation of what it means to "receive the Holy Spirit?"
Each chapter begins with an explanation about the contents and meaning of the chapter and ends with a box that describes "The Least You Need To Know."
These summaries at the end of each chapter can be helpful for the average person. They help us recognize what is important and valuable in our reading of the Bible.
My only concern regarding the book is that, while recognizing that different churches interpret and understand Scripture in a particular way, the writer fails to recognize some differences in the Protestant and Catholic Bibles.
The great many resources listed in the first chapter and the appendix contain few Catholic resources. There are a great number of good Catholic references to Scripture available and these have not been included.
Also, the interpretation of some passages and themes have a definite evangelical Protestant leaning. But this does not detract from the overall benefits of reading the book.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Bible is a valuable tool to helping all people open a somewhat mystifying book for many. I believe everyone, people of all ages and educational background, could benefit from owning this book. A highly entertaining and educational resource.
(Dean Sarnecki teaches religious studies at Archbishop Jordan Catholic High School in Sherwood Park.)