For years, I have longed for a study bible that combined the best English translation in print with Patristic commentary from the early church. The Orthodox Study Bible is a great resource that has been in print for years, but it doesn't have enough commentary to satisfy. Concordia's Lutheran Study Bible has some great quotes from the church fathers and the Lutheran reformers but uses the incredibly-awkward and unsatisfying ESV. Recently the NKJV Ancient-Modern Bible has very nearly fit the bill, though its emphasis is on spanning the whole history of the church--something it does very well and presents in an eminently readable format (see my review here).
Now we have the CSB Ancient Faith Study Bible. In a word: Wow! To paraphrase Obi Wan, this is the study bible you're looking for!
Format and Unique Content
Obviously, this study bible uses the CSB translation, which I can't say enough good things about. Regarding format, this edition uses two columns for the bible text and three columns in slightly smaller font for the commentary. As much as I disdain the two column format in general, I don't see any way around it in a study bible like this--there is simply too much text that needs put on the page to be able to enjoy a single-column. In addition to the ACCS commentary, this edition features the incredible CSB textual footnotes found in other editions, a pleasant surprise given the amount of commentary included.
The paper color is unique--it is reminiscent of the manila color of Crossway's Journaling Bibles which other publishers have adopted. For those who study Hebrew and Greek, the color is almost exactly the same as that used by the German Bible Society in their Hebrew and Greek texts. It is very pleasing to the eye and uses line matching in the bible text to make reading easy and enjoyable.
In addition to traditional study bible notes, there are twenty seven page-length articles discussing important theological topics the early church wrestled with. Here are excerpts from Augustine on creation, Irenaeus on Christ's fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham, Ignatius on the true humanity of Christ, and many others. These articles are very well-written and will certainly whet the appetite of many to dig deeper into the early church fathers. There are also two dozen full page biographies of selected church fathers, including all the 'biggies' you'd expect, many of whom I've listed below. There are just over two dozen excerpts from Augustine's Confessions interspersed throughout the bible. There are also sixteen "Twisted Truth" articles that provide a quick summary of some of the major theological heresies that the church dealt with in the early years--ranging from Arianism to Adoptionism to Modalism to Pelagianism. I found these summaries especially helpful because, quite honestly, many of these ancient heresies are present in the church today with different labels.
All the study notes in this bible are drawn from IVP's most excellent Ancient Christian Commentary Series (ACCS), edited by Thomas Oden. Without a doubt, this is the number one commentary series that I recommend to people because it allows us to drink deeply from the well of the early church, with all its incredible richness and quirks. When I'm studying in Logos or Olive Tree, my default setting is my CSB bible with the ACCS commentary in parallel. Now I have this excellent setup in print!
In case you're not familiar with the ACCS series, it is a commentary made up of snippets from the best of the early church fathers, both in the Christian east and west. It includes commentary from such theological giants as Ambrose, Augustine, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Justin Martyr, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Hilary of Poitiers, Ignatius of Antioch, Jerome, Gregory of Nazianzus, Athanasius...and a host of others you've probably never heard of. It is rich and wonderful, but beware, spending too much time with the fathers will quickly show you that the early church didn't look, think, or talk like your plain vanilla American Evangelical church.
Since I initially purchased the ACCS series, I've wished for someone to use it as the basis of a Church Fathers Study Bible...now we have it! What makes it even better is that it is paired with the CSB translation, in my opinion, the single best English translation currently in print.
The entire ACCS commentary series doesn't do justice to the breadth of ideas held and passed down from the early church fathers. Any distillation of an entire commentary series is going to have to pick and choose what it includes in its abridgment. In addition, every study bible is going to reflect the bias of its contributors and publisher. The Ancient Faith Study Bible is no exception. Published by Holman, you would expect the notes to reflect conservative, historic, orthodox (little O) Christianity, omitting any references to issues problematic to Southern Baptists like the episcopacy (i.e. bishops and their authority), allegorical interpretations of Scripture, and a sacramental view of baptism / the Lord's Supper. As it turns out, this is exactly what you get in this bible.
For example, the ACCS quotes Ambrose, Cyril, and Chrysostom on the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, making it hard to escape the fact that the early church viewed the elements as the true body and blood of Christ. Ambrose writes, "Before it is consecrated, it is bread; but when Christ’s words have been added, it is the body of Christ.… And before the words of Christ, the chalice is full of wine and water. When the words of Christ have been added, then blood is effected which redeemed the people." Not surprisingly, none of these quotes are included in the Ancient Faith Study Bible.
Regarding baptism as discussed in 1 Pet 3, the ACCS quotes Cyprian, Augustine, and Andreas, who all view baptism as God's saving work done to us (i.e., the opposite view of baptism as an ordinance). Seventh century Andreas writes, "The water of the flood is a type of baptism because it both punished evil people and saved the good, just as baptism expels evil spirits and saves those who turn to Christ. This shows the great power of baptism, and how much we need it." Again, none of the ACCS sources writing on this passage are included.
These examples are not included to disparage the work the went into the Ancient Faith Study Bible! This study bible is an absolute treasure and one of the best study bibles I have ever purchased. I simply point these out that so that contemporary, Evangelical readers (i.e. the likely target audience for this study bible) don't walk away thinking that the early church taught and believed the same as what they are taught and believe today.
This bias, present in any and every study bible, by no means outweighs the tremendous benefit the CSB Ancient Faith Study Bible brings to readers. This is a bible I can wholeheartedly recommend and which I hope gains great readership. We would all do well to read as much as we can and appreciate the theological heritage we received from the early church. We didn't invent the church, instead we are blessed to have inherited it from those who fought and died that the precious truths of the gospel might endure forever. Anything we can do to learn more about and appreciate our forefathers in the faith will undoubtedly help us in our own walks with Christ.