New Geneva Study Bible: Bringing the Light of the Reformation to Scripture. Edited by Luder Whitlock, Jr., R. C. Sproul, Bruce Waltke, Moisés Silva, et al. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995. 2058 pp. + 128 page concordance + 20 introductory pages. Cloth, $47.99.
The editors of this study Bible are a veritable Who’s Who of Reformed theologians, including, General Editor R. C. Sproul, OT Editor Bruce Waltke, NT Editor Moisés Silva, and Associate Editors James Boice, Roger Nicole, and J. I. Packer.
This study Bible is packed with notes, taking up about one-third of the average page. By my count the average page has about ten notes. While this seems a bit heavy when compared to other study Bibles, it does give the reader lots of brief comments. The danger is that some readers will be put off by the large amount of notes.
Since these notes are done by many scholars, it would not be surprising if there were some unevenness in terms of doctrinal position or quality of writing. Yet my examination of the notes shows that they are relatively even in quality and in doctrinal position.
I surveyed a number of crux passages which either deal with the gospel or which are mistakenly taken in that way by some. Many of the notes contracted the gospel. Most of those which did not were not clear as to what the passage actually meant (e.g., Jas 5:19-20, p. 1966). However, see the comments on John 12:42-43 below for one example where the notes adopt a Free Grace understanding.
When Paul said, “if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection of the dead” (Phil 3:11), he meant, “that the believer’s perseverance depends on the will and working of the sovereign God” (p. 1879). The goal that Paul was striving for in Phil 3:14 was “salvation in all its fullness,” which is further explained as “life in glory” (p. 1880). In other words, Paul was striving so that he might finally be saved.
Paul’s lack of personal assurance is more clearly and forcefully asserted in the note on 1 Cor 9:27, “It would be wrong to dismiss or minimize Paul’s concern (cf. 15:2; Phil 3:11; Col 1:23) by suggesting that it is merely hypothetical or relates only to rewards and not salvation. Paul was confident that absolutely nothing would be able to separate him from God’s love (Rom 8:38-39), but he never presumed that he was saved regardless of what he did. No Christian can afford to take lightly the warnings of Scripture (10:12)” (p. 1810).
Failure to inherit the kingdom is described as referring to those who “will not take part in God’s kingdom” (Gal 5:21, p. 1857). Eternal salvation, not rewards, is seen to be in view in Gal 5:19-21 and the parallel passages.
Reigning with Christ is viewed as “the eternal glory that Christians receive through Christ” (2 Tim 2:12, p. 1920). Thus reigning with Christ is not a reward in addition to salvation but is salvation itself.
The Reformed view of assurance is found in the explanation of 2 Cor 13:5, “Paul’s words help clarify the doctrine of assurance of faith. Paul asks the Corinthians to examine their own lives for evidence of salvation. Such evidences would include trust in Christ (Heb 3:6), obedience to God (Matt 7:21), growth in holiness (Heb 12:14; 1 John 3:3), the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22, 23), love for other Christians (1 John 3:14), positive influences on others (Matt 5:16), adhering to the apostolic teaching (1 John 4:2), and the testimony of the Holy Spirit within them (Rom 8:15, 16)” (p. 1844). In other words, believing Christ’s promise is not enough to be sure you have eternal life (John 11:25-27). Much more must be added, leading even apostles to be unsure of their salvation (1 Cor 9:27).
Hebrews 6:6 refers to those who have proved that they were “not really a member of the household of faith, although they may have seemed to be. Judas Iscariot is the clearest example…” (p. 1942).
“God’s promise of salvation is to those with a genuine, persevering faith (Matt. 10:22; 24:12, 13; Heb 3:6). True faith perseveres to the end and will inevitably bear fruit (Gal 5:6, 22, 23)” (comment on 2 Pet 1:10 on p. 1980).
However, I did find that some of the notes of simple gospel texts were reasonably clear on the gospel. For example, concerning Gen 15:6 we read, “This verse provides the early core doctrine of justification by faith, not by works (Gal 3:6-14). Abraham believed the promise of the birth of an heir from the dead (Rom 4:17-21; Heb 11:11, 12), and God counted Abraham to be righteous, to be meeting His covenant demand. Abraham’s justification by faith is a model of our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s sacrifice for sin, and God’s crediting His righteousness to us by faith (Rom 4:22-25)” (pp. 34-35). Whoever wrote this note doesn’t seem to have the same theology as the people who wrote the notes cited above. We find no mention of works, love, or perseverance here, as we repeatedly do in the other notes. This note is remarkable in its simplicity, clarity, links to the NT, and in its inference that Abraham believed in the coming Messiah, not merely in God in some general sense.
John 3:16, certainly no problem text, is explained as referring to “the world” of “the elect from all over the world,” and not to all people (p. 1665). That the editors would choose to defend limited atonement (or particular redemption) in the discussion of John 3:16 is indeed unfortunate. It serves to confuse the point of the verse and to make the reader wonder if the gospel actually applies to him.
As one might expect, John 2:23 and 8:30-31 both are said to refer to people who, though they believed in Jesus, were not true believers and hence were not regenerated (pp. 1663, 1678). However, it is surprising that John 12:43 evidently is viewed as referring to those who exercised genuine saving faith, even though they didn’t confess Christ, “Isaiah’s announced judgment came true, yet even some leaders (e.g., Joseph and Nicodemus, 19:38-40) were believers despite the threat of excommunication by their unbelieving peers” (p. 1688). Why there would be such inconsistency in this study Bible is not clear. Most likely it indicates that more than one person wrote the notes on the Gospel of John (and that the editors failed to catch this inconsistency with normal Reformed interpretation of John 12:42-43).
The note on Isa 7:14 suggests that the virgin Mary and the birth of Jesus were in view by Isaiah (p. p. 1035). This is unusual and very welcome since most OT (and NT) scholars today suggest that this verse refers primarily to a child born in Isaiah’s day and that it only has secondary application to Jesus.
This will be a resource that I keep handy on my shelf for those occasions when I would like a presentation of the Reformed understanding of a given passage. While this commentary does not always present the typical Reformed understanding (e.g., John 12:42-43; Jas 5:19-20), it nearly always does so.
I recommend this study Bible to those well-grounded believers who wish to read the Reformed views of passages. Let the buyer beware, however, that the notes repeatedly promote Lordship Salvation.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society