Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Bible (page 3 / 3)

Live in Grace

Between Two Worlds: All of Grace:

Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (p. 19):

Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace.

And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace.

And from pp. 22-23:

Pharisee-type believers unconsciously think they have earned God's blessing through their behavior.

Guilt-laden believers are quite sure they have forfeited God's blessing through their lack of discipline or their disobedience.

Both have forgotten the meaning of grace because they have moved away from the gospel and have slipped into a performance relationship with God.

Together for Adoption: The Forgotten Part of James 1:27

The world tells us that our fundamental identity is determined by our performance not by the performance of another (i.e., Jesus). It seduces us to believing (often unknowingly) that our main sense of significance is found in what we do or in what we're involved in.

It might look like this: "God is pleased with me because I have given my life to caring for the least of these." Now, does God smile at us when we care for orphans? Yes, but if the main way we sense his smile is by our efforts to care for orphans, then chances are we've become stained by the world.

If our primary sense of God's smile upon us comes from our involvement in caring for the least of these, then it's highly likely that to some extent our lives are performance-based rather than grace-based. In other words, it may be that my functional paradigm of Christian living is: "I share God's heart for the orphan; therefore, God is pleased with me," rather than "God is pleased with me because of Jesus; therefore, I am freed to care for the orphan." There is a massive difference between these two ways of thinking. To think the first way is to be stained by the world. To think the second way is to be unstained by the world.

Visiting Sin to the Third and Fourth Generation

John Piper offers some helpful insight on some confusing Bible passages.

Does God visit the sins of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation? Some texts seem to say he does and others seem to say he doesn't. Our job is to figure out the sense in which he does and the sense in which he doesn't.

How do these passages fit together? This matters for the sake of God's character, and the Bible's coherence, and how we counsel those whose parents were wicked or just garden variety sinful.

This entry was tagged. Bible John Piper Sin

The Problem with Gender Neutral Bibles

I stumbled across a very interesting essay by Vern Poythress. In it, he talks about gender neutral Bibles (like the TNIV, the Good News Bible, the CEV, etc) and how they can change the meaning of the Biblical text in subtle ways.

Language nerds will probably understand and enjoy it the most, but I think his examples are worth thinking about it -- even for those of us who aren't language nerds.

We may illustrate by considering the complex challenge of translating sentences with gender-marked generic pronouns. In English the issue comes to a head only with the third-person singular personal pronoun, because all the other pronouns are unmarked for gender. The third-person singular has three genders, "he," "she," and "it." Until recently the masculine forms, "he/him/his/himself," served as default forms in generic statements. But now some people frown on this use, and so-called gender inclusive translations have sought substitutes.3

Changing from "he" to "you"

One possibility they have tried is the use of the second person "you" instead of the third-person singular.4 Consider Proverbs 12:14. The New International Version (NIV) reads: "From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him." The Good News Bible (GNB, 2d ed.) reads: "Your reward depends on what you say and what you do; you will get what you deserve." The NIV and the Hebrew, by using the third person, invite readers to see a sample case "out there," and then to apply the truth to anyone whatsoever. Certainly each reader may apply to the truth to himself. But he may also apply the truth to others whom he is counseling, just as the father counsels his son in the early chapters of Proverbs. By contrast, the second-person in the GNB invites each reader to apply the truth first of all personally. Applying the truth to others by offering them counsel is an afterthought. The directness of focus on application to the individual reader is different in the two cases. The same differences crop up again and again in changes from third person to second person in Proverbs.

Read -- or at least scan -- the whole thing.

(And, yes, it's one reason that I'm reading out of the ESV and not the TNIV these days.)

Single Column Bibles

I'd really like to buy a single-column Bible in the near future. Of all of my Bible wants, I think this is the biggest. Of course, I also want a black letter Bible, that's printed in a paragraph-by-paragraph format rather than a verse-by-verse format. Here's a quick rundown of the major candidates:

ESV Study Bible (Crossway)

  • 9-point type, single-column layout for the Bible text; 7.25-point type, double-column layout for the notes
  • Size: 6.5" x 9.25"
  • 2,752 pages

It looks like a good candidate and I'll probably buy a copy just for all of the "study Bible" features. But the pages themselves look really busy and distracting. That's mostly due to those same "study Bible" features.

ESV Literary Study Bible (Crossway, Amazon)

  • 8.5-point type
  • Size: 6" x 9"
  • 1,952 pages

The ESV LSB is smaller than the ESV Study Bible, with a slightly smaller font size. The text is printed in a paragraph-by-paragraph format rather than a verse-by-verse format. The font size is slightly smaller than I'd prefer, but I don't think it would be too small (sample pages).

I'm afraid that I'll get annoyed at the embedded literary study notes. I have no doubt that they'll be very useful and educational. Unfortunately, they break up the text and make the Bible larger than it otherwise would be. That will distract me from using this Bible as a pure reading Bible.

ESV Personal Size Reference Bible (Crossway, Amazon)

  • 7.4-point type
  • Size: 5" x 7.25"
  • 1,308 pages

I think this Bible is exactly what I want -- except for the tiny font size. (Sample pages.)

TNIV Reference Bible (Zondervan)

  • 9-point type
  • Size: 6.9" x 9.8"
  • 1408 pages

I generally prefer the ESV over the TNIV. This Bible would have to really impress me, for me to purchase a TNIV instead of an ESV. This Bible comes close, but I think the verse numbers and footnote letters are distracting. (Sample pages.)


Right now, I think I'd like to purchase the Literary Study Bible as a "bedside" Bible and an ESV Personal Reference Bible as an "out and about" Bible.

This entry was tagged. Bible Christianity Esv

Reading and Understanding the Bible

The Bible is old and complex. How can I possibly expect to understand it? Every time a pastor gets up, he seems to teach something from the Bible that I've never even seen before. Why should I even bother trying to read it myself?

The truth is, I can learn to read the Bible for myself. It takes practice -- but I have my whole life to get it right. I don't have to develop into a theologian overnight. My church recently taught a session on how to read the Bible. I wasn't able to attend, but a friend did. I'll share a portion of her notes.

  1. Begin with the context: historical - the writer - the audience - the culture - other events
  2. Read headings before/after this chapter. What is going on? Whose life is being chronicled?
  3. Is this a minor or major incident?
  4. What else do we know about the people involved?
  5. List questions that occur to you as you read this passage. Try to forget past messages you have heard or books and studies you have read about this. Read with fresh eyes and think about someone telling you this story. What would you ask them before you go on? What do you need further clarification on?
  6. What?
  7. Why?
  8. When?
  9. How?
  10. Where?
  11. Who?
  12. Look for repeated words, details, unfamiliar terms.
  13. What are differences/similarities between the original audience and us.
  14. What principle(s) cross cultural divide? What is applicable to us in our culture?

I'm not a Bible expert. Answering the Who, When, What, Why questions can be tough. It can even be tough to know who the writer and audience are or what the culture was. Even with those principles, how can I really know what's going on?

I start with the realization that the Bible was written for me, but it wasn't written to me. I first heard this idea when Dr. John Walton spoke at Blackhawk. His sermon -- Why Didn't God Call the Light, Light helped me to see that the Bible doesn't necessarily speak in the way that I expect it to speak. I can't simply pick it up and read it the same way that I would read a novel or a science textbook. I have to read it the way that the original audience read it.

Fortunately, Dr. Walton helped me to do just that. He didn't personally help me, but one of his books did. Old Testament Today is an Old Testament overview that helped me understand the Old Testament in a way that I never had before. It has a very unique style:

Old Testament Today is unique among Old Testament surveys. It not only provides an orientation to the world of the Old Testament but also builds a bridge between the original audience and modern readers, demonstrating why the ancient message is important for faith and life today.

Old Testament Today goes beyond basic content to help students understand what the Scriptures mean and how to apply them personally. [T]his text takes the reader section by section through the Old Testament using a progressive, three-step format:

  1. Original Meaning presents the details of the content, focusing on the story line, historical background, and literary information that address the original setting and audience.
  2. Bridging Contexts focuses on theological perspectives and on issues of the authors purpose and the universal message of the text, building a bridge between the original audience and todays audience.
  3. Contemporary Significance develops an understanding of the relevance of the Old Testament writings to todays Christian, showing how they can be applied in personal faith and practice.

It covers the major sections of the Old Testament: the Fundamentals of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, Historical Literature, Prophets, Wisdom Literature, Psalms, and a wrap-up. It really helped me to understand where each book fits and how the different parts of the Old Testament mesh together. (Google Books will give you a bit of a sneak peak at the book.)

After reading Old Testament Today and seeing how the three-step process worked, I wanted to get more than just an overview of the entire Old Testament. I wanted to understand each book, using that same method. The NIV Life Application Commentary series fills that need perfectly. Each commentary focuses on one book of the Bible and uses the same three step method (Original Meaning, Bridging Contexts, and Contemporary Significance) to explain what's happening in the text.

If you're like me -- you want to both read and understand the Bible, I'd highly recommend buying a few of these books.

This entry was tagged. Bible Christianity

Designing the Perfect Bible

As I've started actually reading my Bible more, I've become pickier about which Bible I read. Since this is my blog, I'm going to spend some time talking about what goes into my decision. Be warned: this is slightly long winded.


I prefer the English Standard Version. The ESV website describes the translation this way:

The ESV is an "essentially literal" translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on "word-for-word" correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

Every translation is at many points a trade-off between literal precision and readability, between "formal equivalence" in expression and "functional equivalence" in communication, and the ESV is no exception. Within this framework we have sought to be "as literal as possible" while maintaining clarity of expression and literary excellence.

Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original; and, as far as grammar and syntax allow, we have rendered Old Testament passages cited in the New in ways that show their correspondence. Thus in each of these areas, as well as throughout the Bible as a whole, we have sought to capture the echoes and overtones of meaning that are so abundantly present in the original texts.

That's very important to me. I've read other translations that chose to emphasize readability and understandability instead of literalness. They weren't bad translations -- I liked them. But when it came to "difficult" passages (such as the issue of women in leadership), I felt like the translation was hiding the author's original meaning. After a while, that started to bother me. I feel that the ESV strikes a decent balance between being understandable in the 21st century and staying true to the original text.

Black Letter

Whichever translation I use, I want a black-letter edition of the Bible. Many popular editions of the Bible choose to print Jesus's words in red. I don't like that practice, for two reasons.

Printing the words of Jesus in red implies that they are more important than the other words in the Bible. It sets them apart from the rest of the text and draws extra attention to them. The publisher, in effect, chose to highlight those words for you. But I don't think that's what God intended. Paul and Peter explicitly say that all of the Bible comes from God.

[esvbible reference="2 Timothy 3:16" format="inline"]2 Timothy 3:16[/esvbible]

[esvbible reference="2 Peter 1:21" format="inline"]2 Peter 1:21[/esvbible]

Secondly, printing the words of Jesus in red assumes that the Gospel quotations are direct quotations. I don't believe that they are. First century writers weren't concerned with getting direct quotations or properly attributing every source. They didn't make material up, they just weren't as rigorous as we are about documenting it and relaying it precisely. We can also see that the quotations aren't exact. Compare Matthew 9:4-6 with Mark 2:8-11.

[esvbible reference="Matthew 9:4-6" format="inline"]Matthew 9:4-6[/esvbible]

[esvbible reference="Mark 2:8-11" format="inline"]Mark 2:8-11[/esvbible]

The differences are subtle but real. While the gist is the same, the exact words differ. Both texts were inspired by God, but related by men. I want a Bible that prints the Jesus's words the same as everybody else's words.

Not Distracting

I want a Bible that doesn't distract me from the meaning of the text. Chapter headings, subheadings, and chapter / verse divisions are all modern innovations. People throughout history created multiple different ways of breaking up and organizing the text. Our modern chapter and verse divisions first appeared in the Geneva Bible in 1599.

Chapter and verse divisions are necessary, to quickly locate a given passage. But they can break a text in the middle of a narrative, leaving the reader with a false impression about where a thought begins or ends. Headings and subheadings can be even more intrusive and distracting.

One example: the parable of the prodigal son. Many people are familiar with the parable, from [esvbible reference="Luke 15:11-32" header="on" format="link"]Luke 15:11-32[/esvbible]. Most Bible editions have a helpful subheader that indicates "The Parable of the Prodigal Son". But that subheader hides the fact that the parable was told as the third in a series.

In [esvbible reference="Luke 15" header="on" format="link"]Luke 15[/esvbible], the Pharisees complain about Jesus choosing to hang out with non-religious people. Jesus responds to them by telling three parables, each with a different point. Jesus intended each parable to be a partial response. We misread the text if we try to take the parables one at a time and read them separately.

I think we also risk misreading the text if the publisher formats the text in a verse-by-verse style instead of a paragraph-by-paragraph style. In a verse-by-verse style each verse starts on a new line. This unnecessarily -- and arbitrarily -- breaks up the text. It destroys the flow of the narrative and makes the text harder to read. Conversely, a paragraph-by-paragraph style combines multiple verses into one block of text. It is much more natural to read and helps to keep the text as a series of coherent thoughts.

Headers, subheaders, and intrusive verse divisions can encourage misreading. I prefer a Bible edition that formats the text into paragraphs and has few headers dividing up the text.


I want a Bible that's easy to read: not too heavy, not too thick, and easy on the eyes. I have two primary criteria for readability: single column pages with at least a 9pt font. I take this preference from J. Mark Bertrand. In this review of The Message: Remixed Bible, he explains his fondness for single-column layouts.

The fact that The Message Remix is laid out in single columns deserves a point all its own. This is what readers are accustomed to, and it makes more visual sense than the traditional double column layout. I don't know why so many publishers are committed to double columns. The practice creates all sorts of problems. For example, the ESV's narrow columns force unintentional line breaks on passages set in verse. The problem is solved in the standalone edition of the Psalms, which is set in a single column. But for some reason, the single column format that works so well in the ESV standalone editions of the Psalms and the Gospel of John is not available in a complete edition of the Bible. Designers take note: single-column formatting makes a world of difference in terms of the reader's experience.

If a Bible is going to have a single column layout, the lines need to be kept relatively short. Studies have shown that most people prefer reading text that has 60-75 characters per line. (About 12 words per line.) Using a larger font is the best to keep the lines short and the text easy to read.

As someone who loves to read, I prefer single column text. As someone who loves to read for long stretches of time, I prefer text that's large enough to read without requiring me to squint or strain to see the text.


Finally, I want a strong binding that will last for a while. My goal is to find a Bible that I'll use daily for the next 10-20 years. The binding should last as long as the Bible does. Ideally, I'd like pages that are sewn together, not glued together. Again, J. Mark Bertrand explains why:

This means that the pages are folded over into little booklets called signatures and then the signatures are stitched together. The individual page -- say page 993 -- is actually one of four pages that are printed together on a single sheet, then folded. What's the advantage of this? For one thing, the pages don't fall out with heavy use the way adhesive bindings do. For another, a sewn binding has the potential to be more flexible in the hand.

To be honest, I'm not yet sure what the Bible cover should be made out of. I'm not up on the differences between genuine leather, calfskin and TruTone materials. Rest assured, I'll have an opinion soon and I'll let you know what it is when I discover it.


Here's the short version of my "perfect" Bible checklist.

  • ESV
  • Black letter
  • Paragraph layout, not verse layout
  • 9+ pt font
  • Single Column
  • No subheadings
  • Sewn, not glued, binding

Yes, that's very picky. As I write this, I'm incredibly grateful that I live in a society wealthy enough to enable me to be that picky about my copy of the Bible. I'm thankful that not only do I have access to a complete copy of the Bible -- something that many Christians worldwide still don't have -- but that I can be discriminating about what that copy looks like. As I read each day, I thank God for the text I have and the freedom I have to worship Him.

This entry was tagged. Bible Christianity Esv