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Entries in Bible Study (117)


My Favourite Bible

Next weekend, I am moving my desk, bookshelves, and study paraphanelia upstiars to my freshly re-decorated study. I bought lovely blinds, and the light is soft and warm, inviting. We're just waiting for my sons and future son-in-law to help my husband. My desk is very solid wood, and heavy. My dad gave it to me. I've been using it since I was 17 years old; I'm attached.

As I look at my shelves beside my desk, with the books shelved both vertically and horizontally, I know that a purge is going to be in the future. I'm planning a trip to the Christian Salvage Mission. And in that box, there will be some Bibles.

Over the years, we've been to conferences where we get free books, including Bibles. Some of them, we simply don't need. Also over the years, I've bought smaller Bibles which are easier to carry. My 53 year old, bifocal needing eyes don't benefit from them anymore. And some Bibles I bought because Crossway or whoever was advertising a new and wonderful format of Bible that would revolutionize my Bible reading. I have Bible translations on the entire spectrum. Someone gave me a copy of The Message (which I don't read) and I have translations like the NRSV and the NASB.

One of my recent purchases was the ESV Scripture Journals. They are inexpensive and useful if you like writing in the margins and taking notes. The paper is quite thick, so you don't have to worry about bleed through. I have a Cambridge Wide Margin NASB which I purchased a few years ago, thinking it would be great for school. I don't really like it much. I realized after opening up the shrink wrap that it is a red letter edition, and I do not like red lettering. And the paper is quite thin so that my favourite Micron pens bleed through. I'm using the ESV Scripture Journals for my Synoptic Gospels class, and the wide margin Bible, which I pulled out, is sitting rather unused on my desk, taking up space.

I tried a note taking ESV Bible when they first came out, but the lines along the margin were too small even before I was a 53 year old woman with bifocals. I bought an ESV Study Bible when they came out; yes, it is big enough to use as a door stop. I seldom take it anywhere, instead using it at home. I'll keep that one because the articles and outlines are helpful. I bought a Gospel Transformation Bible when it was marketed. I have no idea why other than I wanted the notes. But there comes a time when all the bells and whistles don't necessarily mean I'm getting more out of my Bible reading.

I love the site Evangelical Bible. The Bibles they sell are beautiful. They are Bible luxury. I was given gift money one year, and I decided to buy something. I did not splurge and buy another Schuyler Bible (that is another story altogether; a sad one, involving an expensive Bible, a water bottle, and an hour car ride). Instead, I decided to go for something more compact. I bought the Cambridge Clarion NASB Reference Bible. It is my favourite Bible.

It is a great size: 7.5 in. by 5.6 in. by 1.7 in. It's 9 point type, just a little bigger than Cambridge's wide margin Bible. It is black letter, with two ribbons, single column, and with references in the margin. The Old Testament passages which are quoted in the NT are referenced in the margin, and appear in all capitals. It makes it easy to cross-reference. The paper is quite good, too. I wouldn't try anything more than a .01 Micron pen, but it does hold up well to soft coloured pencils. There is a limited concordance, but nothing special. Best of all, the binding is excellent, and it opens up flat right out of the box. I love this Bible. Some people don't like the NASB, but I do. I use it side by side with my ESV. 

I think I'm done buying Bibles. I have Logos software now, and any other versions I can get from there. I got quite a few with the standard package, and if I want anything else, I'll just buy it for Logos. The only thing I would buy in paper is a side by side Koine Greek/New American Standard edition. There is an ESV/Greek hardcover version, but I'd rather wait for the NASB. 


The world of chicken little

Every morning, while my coffee is brewing, or my tea is steeping, I check my email and I check the news. I have my regular blog reads, and I read those, too. Some mornings, I hear good things, but more often than not, it's a litany of "the sky is falling." Parents are enlightened to the many dangers confronting their children; married couples are warned about letting the fire die; and there are myriads of other warnings that if something doesn't change, all is lost. It can put the focus on fear over all else. 

I love Psalm 46; it's one of my favourites. I love the calm, confident opening.

God is our refuge (v1)
God is our strength (v1)
We don't need to fear in the face of change and chaos (v2)

We are assured that God is in the midst of the chaos and he will not be moved (v5). The Lord of hosts is with us (v7).

This is my favourite part of the psalm:

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the sprear in two;
He burns the charios with fire (v8-9)

All of this power displayed by God is followed by this often misused line (v10): "Cease striving and know that I am God." We don't need to run around like chicken little because God is in the midst of whatever situation we find ourselves in, no matter how desperate it seems.

The glory of God is seen in many ways, and his power is visible in the big and little things. But his glory is not always evident in removal of chaos, but in the reality that he is in the midst of chaos. We do need to be aware of dangers, but we must not forget that God is in the midst of chaos. I love that line "He breaks the bow, and cuts the spear in two." The NIV and the ESV both say he "shatters" the spear. God can and will destroy chaos and conflict.

I tend to fear more than I should. In fact, my tendency to fear the unknown, to fear change, to fear failure, to fear rejection, has been the thing I have stumbled over the most. How thankful I am that as a young married woman with small kids I was not able to feed on the fear that is often generated online through blogs or social media. I would have been more of a basket case than I was. I would have needed this psalm desperately to remind me that God is with us in the chaos. While we need to have a healthy fear, we need to remember that "The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our stronghold."


Why we need biblical commentaries

In our daily reading of Scripture, it should be our goal to assess the implications Scripture has for us. Or to put it another way, to apply it to ourselves. Some parts of Scripture are easier to understand than others, and therefore, the implications are more straightforward. When Jesus says "If you love me, you will keep my commandments," it's pretty easy to see how that phrase affects me. Other parts are not so straightforward.

When we read the Bible, as good as our modern translations are, we are reading something that as written in a time and place very far removed from ours. And the New Testament was written at a time very far removed from the Old Testament. There are parts of the Bible we need help understanding.

I was reminded of that as I read Revelation 2:12-17, the letter to the church at Pergamum. I can't remember the first time I ever read those verses, but as I have been reading that passage in my study time this week, I could not help but wonder how a first time reader would regard that passage. Who were the Nicolaitans? Where can I find more information about them? Is an actual sword going to come from the mouth of Jesus? What is the "white stone" and why does it seem like some kind of secret? How do I apply that passage to my life? 

This is one of the reasons we need commentaries. There is historical background that we simply do not have on our own. If we want the full impact of those verses, we need some help. I have always found commentaries a way to watch someone else handle the text; someone with a lot more experience than I have. We are fortunate that we have lots of kinds of commentaries: technical, pastoral, devotional.

No, we do not need to have a seminary education to understand the Bible, but every little bit of help is good. Commentaries are tools in our study efforts. We are not less spiritual if we need them. I remember being made to feel guilty because I wanted to read a commentary the first time I studied Revelation. How can I apply something if I don't know what it means? Revelation is also a very particular kind of literature, and that means that not all of it can be read as if I was reading a gospel. 

We need the community of the Church as we study God's word. It makes no sense to ignore scholarship. That doesn't mean we don't think about the text ourselves, but getting help is valuable.


Bring your hammer to the argument

I love it when things I have heard from a lecture pop up again in my reading. In March, at my school's Ministry Leadership Day, our president encouraged preachers and teachers to make their teaching an act of worship by ensuring that our content is the text, not what we bring to it. As I was reading Andy Naselli's How to Understand and Apply the New Testament, that sentiment was echoed:

The main question we should be asking when approaching a text is not "What can I say about this text" or even "What does this text mean for me?" but instead "What does this text say?" And the single best way I know of to answer that question -- especially for New Testament letters -- is to trace the argument.

That task of following the argument is something I have been working to do for the past few years. While I got my feet wet with Precept Ministries' Bible studies, its emphasis on marking individual words, while initially helpful, ultimately did not help me follow the argument of a text. Learning how to do phrasing (Bill Mounce teaches this on his website) was more helpful. In the chapter I am reading, Naselli goes into detail on this topic.

Naselli quotes a letter from C.S. Lewis to a friend shortly after his conversion:

I should rather like to attend your Greek class, for it is a perpetual puzzle to me how New Testament Greek got the reputation of being easy. St. Luke I find particularly difficult. As regards matter -- leaving the question of language -- you will be glad to hear that I am at last beginning to get some small understanding of St. Paul: hitherto an author quite opaque to me. I am speaking now, of course, of the general drift of whole epistles: short passages, treated devotionally, are of course another matter. And yet the distinction is not, for me quite a happy one. Devotion is best raised when we intend something else. At least that is my experience. Sit down to meditate devotionally on a single verse, and nothing happens. Hammer your way through a continued argument, just as you would in a profane writer, and the heart will sometimes sing unbidden.

As an aside, don't you love the way he describes Paul as being "opaque" to him? 

I have found my heart also singing "unbidden" when I have been wrestling with a difficult passage. The malaise of most readers today is that we rush through things. Sometimes, in our efforts to get through a book quickly (so we can contribute to that big number of what we've read by the end of the year) we may miss things. That has carried over to our Bible reading. At least it has for me, and I'm not unique in any way. But to wrestle through an argument in Scripture means we have to slow down. 


Non nobis domine

One of my favourite movies is Kenneth Branagh's Henry V. There is a scene after the battle of Agincourt where the battered and bruised sing in Latin the first verse of Psalm 115: Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory. In Latin, it is: Non nobis, Domine, non nobis; sed nomine tuo da gloriam. That moment is one of the best scenes from that movie.

Psalm 115 is a favourite of mine. If you're praying through the Psalms, that opening verse is always a good thing to pray. The verses following talk about the danger of idols. The nations ask, "Where is your God?" The Psalmist goes on to describe the idols of the nations. They are material objects; silver and gold. They have mouths, but don't speak, eyes, but can't see; ears, but can't hear; noses, but can't smell. They are basically useless.

We all have our own idols. We know the typical ones: money, beauty, power. We can turn just about anything into an idol. And many of us find out to our detriment that they are useless things in the end. One of the most persistent idols even among Christians is the idol of recognition. We can excuse our efforts of erecting that idol by saying that we just want to minister to people; we just want to share the gospel; we just want to be a good example to other Christians. We're not seeking recognition; we're just serving God, right? Perhaps. There is a difference between those who are recognized for their service, and for those whose service is a means to get recognized. And the latter are easy to spot. 

If I'm irritated when I don't get recognized, or if I have to remind everyone that I'm the one who did this or that, I may be getting close to wanting the glory for myself. If I'm not willing to be regularly unrecognized, what is my true motive? If someone doesn't tell me "That was a good lesson," or "That was a good point," will I become disgruntled? If no one responds to my Tweets, will I simply start saying more and more to increase my chances of being recognized? How does that attitude affect the service I do for God? What is the motive for my service?

It's part of our nature to desire the recognition that is only due to God. For some, it's more of a weakness. But we all could use a little more of an attitude of Psalm 115:1.