The Newberry Study Bible

While sitting in a local assembly’s regular weekly Bible study, it is not uncommon to hear a brother say, “Mr. Newberry says …”. The reason it is not uncommon is that Thomas Newberry produced a masterful work which many continue to profit from, more than 125 years following its publication.

Mr. Newberry regularly read the Scriptures from his youth, but in his late twenties, he began to also study Hebrew and Greek. This required self-discipline and sacrifice, as learning normally does. This lifelong adventure stemmed from a desire to study his Bible in more depth, that he might discern more of Scripture’s beauties in its original languages. His deeper study of the Bible led to his identification of the non-Scriptural basis for much that took place in traditional churches. He then began to fellowship with Christians who wanted to meet simply according to the New Testament. In time, his ministry became more appreciated, and he preached alongside other well-known names from the 19th century, such as George Müller and Robert Chapman. Notice what resulted from more serious Bible study: appreciation of more truth and greater fruitfulness for God. “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (John 15:7-8, KJV).

In 1863, Mr. Newberry (now in his early fifties) was given a copy of Constantin von Tischendorf’s transcription of The Greek New Testament, based on Tischendorf’s discovery of Codex Sinaiticus (a 4th century copy of the New Testament, and a very significant find in the fields of textual criticism and Bible translation). Newberry was thrilled with this gift, and immediately made good use of it. As he read it, he began to make abundant notes within the text. He enjoyed his study of the Bible so much that he wanted others, who did not know Hebrew or Greek, to benefit from the treasures he observed. He carefully developed his own unique notation system, within the lines of the text itself, with a view toward bringing to light underlying details of Scripture for the benefit of those who read only an English Bible. This took an immense amount of painstaking Biblical study. His self-developed notation system was a great accomplishment and was published in The Englishman’s Bible – known more popularly today as The Newberry Study Bible. While many of the benefits of a Newberry Bible are available today in Bible software, Newberry’s system put the information right into the printed text; and remarkably, he produced it all in a pre-digital age.

Newberry’s desire was not to fill the pages of Scripture with his own opinions. Another English Biblical scholar, F. F. Bruce, said: “He was a careful and completely unpretentious student of Hebrew and Greek texts, whose one aim was to make the fruit of his study available as far as possible to Bible students whose only language was English. His procedure tended to make the Biblical text self-explanatory as far as possible; he had no thought of imposing on it an interpretive scheme of his own.” His system of marking and additional notes point out, among other things, instances where the same word in the original language is translated by different English words in a given passage; alternative translations; plural nouns where it isn’t obvious in the English text; English phrases that are actually one Greek word in the original; which Greek preposition is used; and which Hebrew title is being used for the names of God, and what they mean. All of these can be highly relevant to precisely understanding what God is saying in the text.

Often overlooked is the bottom section of notes in the New Testament, where Newberry points out minor differences in readings amongst the various Greek manuscripts.[1] Newberry maintained a preference for the Textus Receptus, but his Bible is a testimony to the consideration of older Greek manuscripts. Recall that his study Bible project was triggered by his reading the ancient Codex Sinaiticus.

Perhaps the most impressive aspects of Newberry’s notation system are those less frequently used. He developed different symbols to indicate grammatical details of the original language. It takes time to learn the meaning of these symbols, though not nearly as much time as Newberry invested in developing the system and implementing it throughout the Bible. But there is also a positive side to these aspects of the study Bible being used less: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Having a Newberry Bible doesn’t make an individual knowledgeable in New Testament Greek. For believers who have invested more time in studying Greek, Newberry’s symbols reveal further layers of wealth. Such individuals are the ones better equipped to use those symbols. For others, use caution. Consider two simple examples: the presence or absence of a definite article can convey more than one thing, and at times, much more is made of the aorist tense than is warranted. Also bear in mind that Greek prepositions can also be used in various ways and are often not, by themselves, a conclusive argument for one interpretation over another. While Newberry sincerely desired to make precious details of the original languages available to the English reader, detailed knowledge will still require diligent study. This is part of the abiding legacy of Newberry’s work; there is precious fruit for those who invest the time to search for it. “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter” (Prov 25:2, KJV).

Newberry’s study Bible project was a labor of love. He loved the Lord, and he loved the Lord’s people – he wanted to help them to be enriched in their own Bible study. He used £1,600 of his own funds[2] to publish the Bible (approximately $170,000 USD today) and it took him more than 20 years of hard work to produce The Englishman’s Bible. God inspired the details of His Word, and Thomas Newberry teaches us that the Lord’s people are blessed by the fruit of Bible students’ careful consideration of those details. “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt 13:52, ESV). Are you bringing out any treasures of your own Bible study to share with others?

[1] See Mark Sweetnam’s January, 2018 article and Justin Pratt’s February, 2018 article in Truth & Tidings.

[2] Cargill, R.W., Believers Magazine, February 2010