by Salwa Khoddam
The C.S. Lewis Bible is a unique, rich work by dedicated editors and scholars well-versed in Lewis’s works. It is first and foremost the New Revised Standard version of the Bible. However, the fact that it is interspersed with carefully selected readings from Lewis’s works, 600 to be exact, makes it a valuable source on Lewis for three reasons.
First, this work explains and attempts to link Lewis’s “great gems of wisdom” which fill his works with their biblical sources, sending the delighted reader back to re-read and enjoy the biblical text. Some of the most common images in Lewis’s works are revealed to have their sources in the biblical text. The ubiquitous image of light in his works is linked to Ps. 36: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (593). These lines echo Lewis’s memorable passage: “We cannot see light, though by light we can see things” in Four Loves. One passage from an essay in God in the Dock explains Lewis’s understanding of the word “rich” in Mark 10:23 ( “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”) (1123) as an essential state for training or correcting humans in this world. The river of the water of life is linked to Lewis’s image of “God’s creative rapture implanted in matter” from The Weight of Glory. At every step Lewis’s lines illuminate the Biblical verses and shine a light on his own beliefs in a creative way.
Second, The C.S. Lewis Bible shows, sometimes indirectly, that Lewis was inspired, nay enamored, not just with the words of the Bible, but also by the Maker of all texts, the Creator, a feeling that Lewis readers encounter in his works again and again. The scholars/editors intersperse the psalms with Lewis’s reflections on the beauty of the world created by God and the need to appreciate this beauty for the sake of God and send it back to Him. This method of interweaving reveals one of Lewis’s beliefs that the goal of the soul is to praise and unite with God. The editors include Lewis’s reflection on Ps. 42 in Letters to Macolm to illustrate his belief that “The soul that has once been waked, or stung, or uplifted by the desire of God, will inevitably (I think) awake to the fear of losing Him” (599).
Third, and most importantly, by using this unusual device of interweaving Biblical passages with readings mostly from Lewis’s apologetic works and his letters (not so much from his fiction), the editors and scholars have achieved a more significant purpose, i.e. to show both the syncretistic and typological cast of Lewis’s mind, interpreting past events in Old Testament history as prefiguring later events in the new dispensation. The device of juxtaposition assists in this purpose, revealing how a Christian in a modern Anglo-Saxon culture can apprehend the Hebraic ancient culture of the Old Testament through his understanding of the New Testament and vice versa. Several texts are involved in this method of linkages: The Old Testament, the New Testament, and the interpretations of Lewis and the scholars/editors of each of these texts. Universal issues are pointed out in this complex manner and explained: fear, doubt, wickedness, trust in God, prayer, beauty, collaboration of God with his creatures and the created world of Nature (reminding readers of Aslan here), and the like. For example, the intense fears of David in Ps. 27 are presented side by side with a passage from Lewis’s Present Concerns on the modern fear of the atomic bomb and ways to transcend this fear (584). The editors/scholars indirectly suggest that Lewis interprets the fear in the ancient text as prefiguring a modern fear, which parallels Lewis’s typological thinking. Through the method of syncreticism, they tie these two events together in order establish the connection between the Bible, Lewis, and the readers. This is a good example of the major purpose of this work: to bring the Biblical text to modern readers via Lewis’s works.
Not being a Biblical scholar myself, I cannot comment on the controversy regarding the use of the NRSV. I do believe, however, that Lewis’s main purpose is to attempt to focus on the common doctrines in all denominations, i.e. “mere” Christianity. He states that in comparing all versions of the Bible (at least by reformed authors), he found that there are “a very small percentage of variants” made for stylistic or even doctrinal reasons (The Literary Impact of the Authorized Version 11). Although he found the Authorized Version to have a literary impact on subsequent writers, to him the Bible is a sacred book primarily. And thus, as he writes in the Afterword to The C.S. Lewis Bible, excerpted from Reflection on the Psalms, we must “receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message”(italics mine). Accuracy of intent, appropriateness of tone, added with usability to a modern audience, all make this work acceptable for the study of Lewis.
Though some books of this Bible seem to drag on without any inclusions of readings from Lewis, as in Genesis, making this work seem like any other Bible, the editors have succeeded, on the whole, in making this Biblical text engaging and enriching for Lewis readers because it gives them a window into Lewis’s Christian beliefs and his ways of thinking and reading the Biblical text. Furthermore, this work has an index and a concordance for the hurried reader. The parallel passages are laid side by side helping the reader make the link between Lewis’s works and the Biblical text. It also has a beautiful cover and helpful notes.
Salwa Khoddam is Professor Emerita of English at Oklahoma City University.