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Friday, April 30, 2010

NLT Bible Contest Entry #2

So, since you are allowed to enter the NLT Bible Contest more than once if you like, I decided to throw another entry into the hat. (Here's my first entry.)

Here's the passage I chose this time:

1 John 4:7-10
Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

And here's what I had to say about it:

When I read the verses from 1 John 4:7-10 in the New Living Translation, it got me thinking about the nature of love, and the nature of God. Love, according to the passage, is sacrificial; God sent us something precious because He loved us. God's love is central to His nature. God and Love cannot be separated: "God IS love." Love flows out of Him to us, and is ours to receive.

The passage also says to me that you can't know God without becoming more like Him. If you don't become more like God - if you don't love - then you really don't know Him. You can't truly know God without becoming a lover like He is.

The passage says to me that love gives without being given to first; God loved us before we loved Him. But love gives with a purpose: God gave His gift to show us His love, to provide eternal life for us, and to take away our sins. It seems almost impossible to live up to that kind of love... but the passage not only says that we can, but that we should! Let's keep loving one another with the love that flows to and through us from God!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Deleted Scenes

A few nights ago we had just finished watching a DVD, including some fun "bonus materials", when I went into my room to do my daily Bible reading. I was a day behind, so with six chapters a day I had chapters 19-24 of 2 Samuel (the last in the book) to read. Chapter 19 is David's return to Jerusalem after the long narrative of how he was almost dethroned by his own son Absalom, and chapter 20 describes one final brief rebellion after that (this rebellion was stamped out pretty quickly). It's pretty clear that things are winding down, and at the end of chapter 20 there is a clear note of finality in the story.

After that, though, there are four more very interesting chapters; they take place totally out of the time line of the story, and seem to have only a very tenuous connection with the continuing narrative. The first part is a story of David executing some of Saul's descendants in order to stop a drought. This incident could possibly be the reason Shimei cursed David for spilling "the blood of the house of Saul" in chapter 16, and if that is a true assumption, then this happened much earlier than it is reported in the story. Regardless of the exact order of events, it seems pretty clear that chapter 21 is not chronologically taking place after chapter 20.

The last few verses of chapter 21 report some anecdotes about some of David's soldiers, specifically about them beating Philistines in battle. Chapter 22 is a psalm that David wrote (actually, it is pretty much duplicated in Psalm 18) "...on the day the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul." Saul's death is reported in the final chapter of first Samuel, so clearly, again, outside of the timeline of the book.

Chapter 23 begins with another psalm, "the last words of David." David's death does not occur until the second chapter of the next book, 1 Kings. It ends with the exploits of David's "mighty men," including a list of their names. The last name is "Uriah the Hittite," and David had made quite sure that Uriah was stone dead way back in chapter 11. Only chapter 24 appears to me to be within the main flow of the narrative; David takes a census of his fighting men, angering God and causing a plague which kills a whole bunch of Israelites.

So I was reading this and thinking, why is all of this stuff stuck at the end of this book instead of right in the narrative? Certainly 2 Samuel sometimes doubles back on itself, telling part of a story and then cutting away to another mini-story happening somewhere else and then returning to where it started, but this stuff seems almost random at the end. Then I realized something. The author of 2 Samuel invented the Deleted Scene! Who knew that one of the most popular features on DVDs was actually invented a thousand years before the birth of Christ?


Monday, April 5, 2010

Study Bible Junkie

On Easter of 2005, everybody in my family got new Bibles.

My baby girl wasn't born yet, but my little boy was almost 5 years old at the time, and we decided that it was high time he had his own kid Bible. My wife needed a new Bible too, and I had my eye on an ESV Bible (I had been a long-time NIV reader, but I wanted to switch to the more literal translation - and I've never looked back!) I had done some looking around and I had discovered what I believed (and still believe) is the most awesome kid Bible ever created: the NIrV Super Heroes Bible. Take a look at that cover: that's Moses parting the Red Sea! The Bible has forty of those incredible, comic book style illustrations of Bible "Super Heroes" like Elijah, John the Baptist, David (and Goliath), and even some of the awesome female super heroes of the Bible like Mary, Queen Esther, Deborah, and Ruth. The pictures are filled with action and humor, but are never irreverent. Perfect for getting a kid interested in looking at what's in their Bible! There are also over 200 profiles of Bible characters, written at a kid's level of understanding. (The ironic thing about these well-written profiles is that the vocabulary and sentence structure are actually harder than the NIrV translation itself is!) We bought this Bible for him partly because the translation is very easy for beginning readers. When he turns ten next week, we might think about upgrading to an NIV.

My wife Cathy picked out an NIV Life Application Study Bible. It has book introductions, maps, all of the regular Study Bible stuff, but the text notes on each page are focused on "How does this really apply to me? What does this mean to my life?" She actually had a tough time concentrating on the message in Church for a while because she would get distracted by the study notes! (This is the main reason I still to this day bring a more plain-jane Bible to church with me!)

That was my first brush with a study Bible... well, as a high school student I owned a New King James "Open Bible" (they are out of print now) and I really loved it a lot. As I remember, I gave it away to someone that I felt needed it more than I did. I really wanted a study Bible in the ESV translation, but at the time there really wasn't one! I went with a small ESV Compact Trutone Bible which is almost the opposite... no study notes, no book introductions, no cross-references. It actually served me very well for many years, but I still wanted a study Bible in the ESV translation.

The first ESV-translation study Bible I remember hearing about was the ESV Reformation Study Bible. I actually checked a copy out from the library, and enjoyed it quite a bit, but I was a little bit nervous that it is self-classified as a "reformation" Bible; I was concerned that the notes might be slanted toward "reformed" Theology, and I wasn't quite comfortable with joining that camp whole hog. I wouldn't at all mind having this Bible in my library, but it wasn't really "the one" that I wanted to have for my primary study Bible.

The next ESV study Bible that came out was The ESV Literary Study Bible.. This Bible focuses on the Bible as a book, a work of literature. This might trigger red flags for some, but really, it shouldn't. The Bible is a book. It's got characters, settings, and plots. It's also got poetry, historical accounts, and letters. The Bible is a book consisting of dozens of genres of writing, and it is valuable to understand those genres in order to truly understand the Bible. I was very interested in this Bible, but I really wanted something as my primary study Bible that would explain things like historical details, settings, that sort of thing, and this Bible focuses on the literary aspects. I wanted something that I could approach at a more basic level. I still want to pick one of these up, but it will be a future purchase.

Finally, I heard that The ESV Study Bible was coming out! This was the Bible I was looking for. It didn't look to be focused on one slant on the Bible to the exclusion of others, although it was conservative in its point of view. It had book introductions, study notes, cross-references, and articles about Bible topics. I picked up a sample of the Gospel of John from Mardel and read it straight through... I was hooked! I preordered a copy and picked it up on the day of release. It's my all-time favorite Bible! One of my first projects was to make my way through the book of Revelation, and I came away understanding it in a way I never understood it before. I started to see it as almost symphonic in nature, with a prelude, movements and interludes, loud sections and quiet sections. I'm a trained musical composer, so the fact that the ESV Study Bible caused me to see the Word in a way that made sense to me as a musician was a big deal!

When I decided at the beginning of this year to read my way through the whole Bible, cover to cover, of course my ESV Study Bible was at the center of the whole idea. But I never anticipated just how much having study notes to give me context and background would really help me to engage the Scripture. Reading the Bible isn't like reading the latest Tom Clancy novel; the Bible is a book that was written thousands of years ago in a different language in an ancient culture. There are things that would have been obvious to a Hebrew reader on 1,000 B.C. that just aren't obvious to an American in the year 2010. Some historical and geographical context is critical to really understanding what's going on.

I was so excited about the things I was learning in the Bible that I wanted more! I checked out The NIV Study Bible from the library to give it a test drive.I added it into my study times, reading the ESV text, then the ESVSB notes, then the NIVSB notes. To my surprise, the NIVSB was teaching me additional things that the ESVSB wasn't getting at! Occasionally there are notes in the two that disagree on some small point, but in general, the two simply have a different focus. This seems to be the case with study Bibles; no reference work will tell you everything there is to know about the text, so consulting different sources will often give you more insight into the passage. I bought one from CBD one day when they had it on sale (sometimes they announce one-day sales from their Facebook page), and now my Bible reading time includes two study Bibles!

A few weeks after I added the NIV Study Bible to the mix, I got a sale paper from Lifeway Christian Stores which led to another study Bible purchase. I had seen a video on the Internet talking about the Apologetics Study Bible for Students (you can view the video at that link if you like) and I was pretty impressed with the idea that a study Bible would have its focus specifically on explaining things about the Bible that people have a hard time understanding. I had seen the Web site for the (non-"Student") Apologetics Study Bible already, and so when I saw it on sale in the Lifeway flyer, I knew I needed to pick it up. The weekend of the sale at Lifeway was kind of crazy; it was a "spring sale" on the literal first day of spring, but the day before we had a freak snowstorm and there was like six inches of snow on the ground! I went anyway and picked up another new study Bible for less than twenty bucks, and it's been great. I did not try to add it into my daily Bible reading regimen (two is plenty... I could spend hours just reading notes and following links in those two study Bibles!), but this won't be my last trip through the Bible. The Apologetics Study Bible will probably be my companion on the trip next year, or the next, or the next! It was a good purchase anyway; we didn't have a full copy of the Holman Christian Standard Bible in the house yet, so it was another translation to add to our collection. The Holman translation is a good, solid translation, too... it's probably my second favorite now, next to the ESV. The NIV still holds a place in my heart, though; it's probably my #3 favorite translation.

Now that I've become a bonafide Study Bible Junkie, I have my eye on some other study Bibles. I still want to pick up that ESV Literary Study Bible that I mentioned above; my plan is to buy one of those for myself as a reward for making it all the way through the Bible this year (or maybe I'll ask for it for Christmas!) A few years ago I spied an NIV Archaeological Study Bible that someone had accidentally left on the seat at church, and I leafed through it. It has full-color photographs to support the information it contains about the archaeology of the Bible. It's a beautiful Bible; although I haven't looked at one long enough to be able to report on the quality of the in-text notes, it's another one that I'd like to pick up a copy of sometime.

I've had an interest in the New Living Translation for a while, and the best way to satisfy my desire to have that translation and also to get a new study Bible would be to pick up a copy of the NLT Study Bible! The New Living Translation is kind of the child of the Living Bible Paraphrase from the 70s; the NLT is supposed to be a Bible with the clarity of language of the paraphrase, but with the precision of a new translation from the original languages (the paraphrase is a rewording of the text of the American Standard Version, with no reference to the original language texts. Kind of like "The Message" except from the 70s). I've briefly read some passages from the NLT and I liked what I saw; my concern is fidelity to the source texts. I'll just have to spend some time reading it to have a verdict on that. I hope to pick up this sampler of Genesis sometime and spend some time with it; it helped me get the feel of the ESV Study Bible to read a sample, so maybe that will help me with this one too! (If you don't mind reading on your computer, or if you have a Kindle or similar reader that can handle PDF files, you can download that Genesis sampler here.)

In my research about study Bibles, I ran across the NRSV New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha. I haven't actually seen one, so I'll probably want to spend some time browsing it before I buy (I expect a slightly liberal bias), but it sounds like a well-respected reference work. Plus, I would really like to have a copy of the Apocrypha in my library, again for reference. ("Bel and the Dragon?" What's that? And who is this "Susanna?" Oh wait, didn't she come from Alabama with a banjo on her knee?) Of course, I might just wuss out on that one and pick up the Apocrypha parts by themselves instead.

The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible sounds pretty cool for in-depth study. I would probably pick it up in the New American Standard version; I already have a beautiful NASB which I carry to church, but there is certainly no shortage of KJV Bibles around here, so since those appear to be the only two choices, probably I'd go with the NASB. I haven't seen one of these Bibles yet, though, so I can't recommend it (same with the Oxford one, and others in this post that it's clear I haven't spent time using).

If you are interested in study Bibles, CBD has a Study Bible Store that you could use for doing a little bit of research on what's out there. I got my NIV Study Bible and my Apologetics Study Bible each on sale for about $20 apiece; watch for sales and you can sometimes get a fabulous deal, particularly if you're cool with hardback copies (I prefer them, actually; they seem to do better on shelves, they're generally a little cheaper, and the covers have some personality to them!) For a deal from CBD, check the Slightly Imperfect Study Bibles store. That doesn't mean study Bibles with faulty Theology, or missing the book of Esther, or anything like that; it just means Bibles with maybe something wrong with the cover or some other minor manufacturing defect. Copies with a flaw that does not detract from their usefulness, but that makes them impossible to sell as though they were new. You can often get them for 40-50% off regular price, and sometimes never even notice the flaw.

There are tons of great Bibles out there, in zillions of translations, styles, designs, colors, and sizes. I've got probably a dozen different English translations in my library (and a couple in languages I don't even speak!), three study Bibles so far, and even one with the events of the entire Bible in chronological order. I even have a metal Bible! (I haven't picked up a waterproof Bible quite yet... then again, I don't read the Bible in the swimming pool!) But all the Bibles in the World can't help you a bit if you don't read them. When we picked out those Bibles five Easters ago, my goal was to find a Bible for each of us that we would like enough to open them up and read them. Pick a version and Bible that you enjoy reading, and get into the Word. These great study Bibles can help, but if cartoons of Bible characters are what it takes to get you to open up The Book, go with the cartoons. Just get into the Bible!

Useful Links
ESV Study Bible
ESV Literary Study Bible
ESV Reformation Study Bible
ESV MacArthur Study Bible
NLT Study Bible
HCSB Apologetics Study Bible

ESV translation
NIV translation
NIrV translation
HCSB translation
NLT translation

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What It's All About

Happy Easter! He is risen... He is risen indeed!