The Life Application Study Bible is a new study Bible that came out October this year. I’ve been test driving it for about a month now and want to write about three things that stand out to me.
Freshness of Design
First, the page layout and design is fresh and visually pleasing. Font size, line spacing, and margin width work together in perfect balance to create a page that breathes with white space and is easy on the eyes. This is no small feat considering the amount of text crammed into a study Bible.
For an online generation raised on Apple’s aesthetic and accustomed to attractive and uncluttered web pages, the look and feel of the sacred page is important. God Himself took into consideration the visual appeal of creation, “the book of the universe,” and designed a garden that was “pleasant to the sight” (Gen. 2:9). There are already too many obstacles to reading to add poor design choices to the list.
The only downside here, for me, is that the publishers decided to go with a red-letter edition (words of Jesus in red). The red text is harder to read, and it potentially sends the message that these words are more important or more inspired than the others. Quite honestly, it’s just visually jarring to me.
Fullness of Content
The second thing that strikes me is the amount of content. This Bible is feature rich—notes, charts, maps, character bios, timelines and more fill these pages and provide countless surprises. This is a Bible that asks to be read in full discovery mode. You never know what’s going to pop up next when you flip the page. I wonder if this too is a benefit for a younger generation that is so used to scrolling through feeds that deliver unending novelty. Providing a variety of study aides avoids the dense monotony of older study Bibles and keeps readers engaged, inviting them to keep flipping.
Here are some of the top features I like:
1. Charts make learning material easier than if it is just spelled out in a footnote. Study Bibles are intended for study, so this is an obvious plus. Study Bibles that provide charts take the first steps of synthesis and compilation that Bible students can fruitfully build on. The Life Application Study Bible has lots of helpful charts, for instance: parallels between Jospeh and Jesus (p. 88), the plagues on Egypt (p. 108), the offerings in Leviticus (p. 157), the names of God (p. 302), the main references to Christ in the Psalms (p. 865), etc.
2. The timeline of the Kings of Israel and Judah with the overlapping ministry of the prophets is really nicely done (pp. 556-559). This is one of the best versions of this I’ve seen. The timeline of world events is also handy (pp. A18-A27).
3. The harmony of the Gospels (pp. 1853-1857) is helpful for studying the four Gospels together. What makes this feature unique is how the Life Application Study Bible numbers the 250 events of Jesus’ life recorded in the Gospels and includes those numbers in the section headings within each Gospel as those events occur in the text. This makes it easy to get a sense of where you are in the overall trajectory of Jesus’ life as you read each Gospel’s different presentation and arrangement of the material. So for instance, Mark is the shortest Gospel and leaves out much of the teaching material of Matthew and many of the stories of Luke and John. With this numbering system you are always aware of where you are in the overall timeline. For example, Mark 1:1-8 is event 16, Mark 1:14 is event 30, and by Mark 3:20 we’re already at event 74. So by chapter 3 of Mark, we’re already at the 30% mark of the entire gospel material.
4. Personality profiles is a really cool idea and provides the basic building blocks for character studies. This would be especially helpful for children and young people lessons. Over 100 profiles are included. Ex. Judah (p. 85), Korah (p. 221), Abigail (p. 445), Mordecai (p. 771), Pilate (p. 1707), John Mark (p. 1909), etc.
5. Embedded maps allow readers to quickly glance down and find their bearings. This is not a unique feature to the Life Application Study Bible, but I think they pull it off better than others I’ve seen. The ESV Study Bible probably has just as many embedded maps, but the arrows and dotted lines are harder to read against the full color backgrounds. They look prettier at first glance, but I find them harder to use. The Life Application Study Bible’s maps are not in color but they are very readable. In the middle of Acts, Paul’s four missionary journeys are displayed side by side in four maps, rather than all superimposed on one map.
Focused on Application
The main impetus behind the production of the Life Application Study Bible was, as the title suggests, helping readers practically apply what they’re reading. The publishers rightly note that many Christians, “cannot find a connection between the timeless principles of Scripture and the ever-present problems of day-to-day living” (p. A18). Witness Lee agreed with this general diagnosis of much of modern Christianity, that “there is little practical application of the doctrines.” Without application, reading the Bible remains an intellectual pursuit (even more so with a study Bible) that can paradoxically result in “spiritual dryness, shallowness, and indifference” (p. A18).
The Life Application Study Bible aims to remedy this problem, stating that over 75% of this Bible’s features are application oriented. (p. A19)
Here’s how the introduction defines application:
A good application brings the truth of God’s Word into focus, shows the reader what to do about what God is teaching, and motivates him or her to respond with action and appropriate change. (p. A20)
What is good application?
The phrase “good application” is a value-laden term. This begs the question, what counts as good or proper Christian application?
There are all sorts of applications that can be derived from a passage. Some are fanciful, some are pragmatic, some are ethical. But good application depends on understanding what the Bible is ultimately aimed at producing. Judging what is good or proper presupposes a standard, and that depends on a telos, an understanding of an ultimate end.
Certainly the Bible is aimed at ethical change, salvation is inescapably ethical. Therefore, application will be aimed at how we live. The thirteen virtue lists in the New Testament bear this out. But in the Bible, virtue and wisdom (and its correlate, application) are inescapably tied to salvation. The application the New Testament has in view, the distinctly Christian application, is salvific. I think 2 Timothy 3:16 highlights this connection well: “you have known the sacred writings which are able to make you wise unto salvation.” Right after this verse, Paul mentions “teaching, conviction, correction, and instruction,” terms that expand the concept of application.
In the final analysis, application is not just about understanding how a biblical text embodies principles that are still relevant to the complexities of modern life. Application is about understanding how a biblical text leads us to experience Christ and live Him out in the complexities of modern life. Not just how does this text relate to my situation, but how does this text relate to the experience of Christ.
Application by the Spirit
The application the New Testament talks about is ultimately based on the life-giving Spirit. Application is the distinct function of the Spirit in God’s economy. Witness Lee comments: “The application of God’s economy is altogether hinged on one word—Spirit.” This makes perfect sense when we think of the phrase, “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22). Fruit is organic expression. All the ethical applications Paul expects to see stemming from his writings are products of the Spirit’s work in believers.
So when Bible readers ask, “How does this passage apply to me?,” what they should be looking for is how can the Spirit apply Christ to me through this passage in the concrete realities of modern life and what that application will look like in my life and conduct.
As I dig into the footnotes in the Life Application Study Bible, I hope to find this kind of application. And where it’s not explicit, this fundamental work of the Spirit must be assumed.
I received a review copy of the Life Application Study Bible for free as a member of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid. #BibleGatewayPartner
1. Augustine, Expositions of the Psalms, 45:7. “It is the divine page that you must listen to; it is the book of the universe that you must observe. The pages of Scripture can only be read by those who know how to read and write, while everyone, even the illiterate, can read the book of the universe.”
2. Witness Lee, Perfecting Training, Ch. 4
3. 2 Cor. 6:6–8; Gal. 5:22–23; Eph. 4:32; 5:9; Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:12; 1 Tim. 4:12; 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22; 3:10; James 3:17; 1 Pet. 3:8; and 2 Pet. 1:5–7
4. Lee, Elders’ Training, Book 02: The Vision of the Lord’s Recovery, Ch. 13: “The governing vision—the Triune God is working Himself into His chosen and redeemed people to be their life and life supply, to saturate their entire being with the Divine Trinity… . This is the vision that should govern and direct how you interpret any portion of the Bible… The application of this principle in interpreting any portion of the New Testament is endless.
5. Lee, A General Outline of God’s Economy and the Proper Living of a God-man, Ch. 2