Review: ‘Word on Fire Bible (Volume III): The Pentateuch’

‘Word on Fire Bible (Volume III): The Pentateuch’
Word on Fire, 2023
830 pages
$99.95 (leather bound)

The church has historically embraced the “three transcendentals” of truth, beauty and goodness. Even apart from any expressly theological references, when something is true, beautiful or good, it necessarily participates in, and is an expression of, the eternal mind of God. We Catholics believe that God created our hearts to crave these transcendentals, and that they may lead us to love him or to live him more deeply.

This is, at least in part, what St. Augustine meant when he famously declared that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. Truth, beauty and goodness transcend our earthly created existence, beckoning us toward something higher and, eventually, the highest — the very vision of beauty himself.

Sacred Scripture in and of itself is the greatest expression of the true, the beautiful and the good. When the pages of Scripture are adorned with lovely art, incisive commentary and enriching interpretive essays, their inherent purpose of revealing God’s goodness is magnified, and their effects are multiplied. This is why Word on Fire Ministries’ ambitious Bible publication project is such a gift to the church and to individual Christians. The previously published first two volumes, “The Gospels” (2020) and “Acts, Letters and Revelation” (2022), have now been followed by Volume III of the projected seven, “The Pentateuch,” the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

One is confronted by the beauty of this splendid volume even before opening its heirloom-quality leather cover or perusing its scores of reproductions of paintings, drawings, prints and photographs. Just as an exercise in quality book publishing, The Word on Fire Bible is a work of great planning and meticulous execution.

To be clear, The Pentateuch (like the volumes before it) is not simply another “study Bible.” Rather, it uses the pages of Scripture as the context for an exploration of the beauty of the faith and the wisdom that has sustained it. Important events are accompanied with commentary by important spiritual and theological authorities from the first century of the church to 2022. Painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry and music inspired by these events are woven throughout, both as reflections and explanations of their meanings. And without fail, each of these contributions demonstrate the beauty of the Bible, the goodness it inspires and the truth it conveys.

Take, for example, the text and treatment of Genesis 28:10-22, the story of Jacob’s ladder. Accompanying this passage are an insightful comment by Bishop Robert Barron, a Christological type/anti-type analysis by St. Caesarius of Arles (470-542), a similar suggestion of the ladder as a type of the Cross of Christ by St. Chromatius (fourth century), a passage from Dante’s Paradiso, and a photograph with interpretive essay of a sculpture representing the ladder at Bath Abbey in England (c. 1520). This pattern is repeated scores and scores of times throughout.

Simply put, nothing else like this is available. It is truly a unique project.

Being unique, of course, does not make a thing good. But Volume III of “The Word on Fire Bible: The Pentateuch” is exceedingly good, indeed. No other Bible edition so effectively communicates the goodness, truth and beauty by which God reconciles us to himself. It is a work of art itself — a participation in, and reflection of, the glory of God.

Kenneth Craycraft is an associate professor of moral theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and School of Theology in Cincinnati.


Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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