Mess of Pottage Blog

Luke's "Pro" Blog

The Bible as an Enjoyable Reading Experience

The Bible as an enjoyable reading experience — does that sound wonderful to you? Or maybe even ‘unimaginable?’ Watch this video:

Bibliotheca Kickstarter from Good. Honest. on Vimeo.

I’m not enthusiastic about doing so much work on the reading experience while using an older translation. The ASV, for example, predates the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Still, it’s much better than the KJV, and the archaic word forms are being eliminated, so it’s not bad.

What do you think? Should the Bible be enjoyable to read, as well as practical to study?

(I was originally alerted to this project by Jason Morehead, via Tim Chailles.)

(Cross-posted from Pastor Luke’s blog at JLP.)

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It really is better to give…

The Apostle Paul cites a saying of Jesus (not recorded in the gospel accounts):

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

According to this New York Times profile of Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant, Jesus just might have been on to something:

For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity. In some sense, he has built a career in professional motivation by trying to unpack the puzzle of his own success. He has always helped; he has always been productive.

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Tools for Bible study

I was puzzled about a verse I read this morning, and decided to write about it. I also thought it might be useful to share here some of the tools that are available for doing Bible study.

We live in the golden age of amateur Bible scholarship. Thanks to sites like Bible Gateway and Bible.CC, if you have an internet connection, you can compare dozens of translations with the click of a mouse. My church uses the NRSV, which is available online, but not in as many places as the ESV, which I find is a pretty reasonable substitute.

Sometimes, a quick comparison only leads to more questions about which translation “got it right.” There are two ways to answer that kind of question. First, you could ask an expert. If you don’t know any experts personally, you could go read one of their books instead. Those are called commentaries.

The problem with commentaries is that there’s almost always another scholar who takes a contrary position, and the ones who get their commentaries published are usually able to construct a pretty compelling argument. (Stop and consider: the people who make these competing translations are all experts, and the whole problem is that they don’t agree on how to translate something.) So, of the reading of commentaries there is no end: you have to keep reading until you find one that supports your presuppositions. (I kid.)

If the topic is about something important — grace vs. works, for example — you really do need to ask an expert. But a lot of the time, you just want make sure you’re not leaning too hard on what might be an idiosyncratic translation, or — especially with older translations like KJV — a word whose meaning has evolved over the years.

In those situations you can do a word search to see what the word appears to mean in other places where it appears. It’s best to search by the word used in the original biblical language, because translations don’t always translate one word uniformly, because it’s a poor word that has only one shade of meaning. (The word for “angel” is also the word for “messenger,” but not every messenger has wings and a halo. The word for “heaven” can be translated as “sky” and “air,” depending on the context. And so forth.)

Fortunately, you don’t have to know the biblical languages to do this kind of “casual” search. You can look the underlying words in Strong’s Concordance, which assigns each one a unique number.

I was looking for a word (sometimes translated “justice” or “what is right”) in Proverbs 28:5. The Blue Letter Bible has tagged Bibles that let you see the Strong’s number for each word. (It offers both the KJV and NASB, and, while I’m not a fan of either, the NASB at least offers somewhat more modern English usage.)

With the tagged verse in front of me, it was easy enough to pick my word. As it happens, what I wanted was a Hebrew word numbered 4941.

Clicking on 4941 brought me not only a definition but a list of search results showing me all the places the word appeared. There were 421 appearances all through the Hebrew scriptures, so I concentrated my search in the wisdom literature (Proverbs, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes).

My purpose in this article is to describe how I did my Bible study, rather than to tell you what it taught me. That’s for another article.

When I first began to read the Bible 20 years ago, I was frustrated by all the page-flipping. Today, you can flip through not just one translation but any number of them, as easily as clicking a mouse.

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Fascinating Data in the Bible, Yahoo Listings, Etc.

I just stumbled upon a site called OpenBible that has the most fascinating blog. I just spent about half an hour reading one article after another, and finally decided I needed to share something. Fascinating place. Give it a look. I just added its RSS feed to my Google Reader.

So what am I sharing? How about an analysis of church names in the United States?

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Bible Translation

Joel Hoffman has posted a series of articles about Bible translation at his “God Didn’t Say That” blog. A good place to get started is with this one about the false dichotomy between accuracy and readability.

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Being less Biblical

I liked this point by Don Miller in his blog post “Being Less ‘Biblical’ and more ‘like the Bible.'”

Even Christ’s biographers depict Him without sparing us His humanity. He gets angry, He gets annoyed, He is hard to understand (and indeed hard to follow) and while He seems to love the world, He’s as alien as E.T., pointing always toward the heavens rambling about going home. It’s brilliant stuff when you stop reading it to figure out if you’re right or wrong about something. It’s life-changing, actually, the way your life gets changed by a friend over time.

I don’t do it enough, but I’m always rewarded when I just read the gospels. (Or really, any of the Scriptures, but it’s especially true in the gospels, as you read about Jesus.) Not to find that passage where he says this or that, or where it teaches us about this thing or another. Just to read the story and enjoy it.

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Mistakes in the Bible

The blog “God Didn’t Say That” has a useful discussion of three types of errors that occur in Biblical manuscripts.

We’re used to mass-produced Bibles printed by machines, so we forget the type of errors that are found in handwritten manuscripts. (Try, someday, to copy a page from the Bible by hand, and when you’re done, count the errors you made. Then take a moment to give thanks you only have to copy a single page.)

Generally speaking, these errors aren’t all that significant, because they occur in a few manuscripts (duplicates of an ancestral manuscript where the error first occurred) but not in others. The article is interesting, though, because it describes the different types of errors and discusses the different approaches that translators use to deal with them.

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Bible Translations Keep Coming

This story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel looks at two freshly-revised translations (the NAB and the NIV) and does a fair job of describing some of the issues involved in translating (or updating a translation of) the Bible. Consider, for example, the discussions that might have led to these decisions:

In the Catholic Bible, for example, “booty” becomes “spoils of war” and “cereal ” is now “grain.” The NIV substitutes “foreigner” for “alien” and, to describe those crucified alongside Christ, “rebels” instead of “robbers.”

Those word choices remind me how Bruce Metzger mentioned somewhere that the NRSV, which updated the 1950’s-era RSV, changed Paul’s comment in 2 Corinthians 11:25 from “I was stoned” to “I received a stoning.”

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Lost and Found in Translation

N.T. Wright, a distinguished New Testament scholar, has an interesting article about the issues involved in translating the Bible. Well worth your time.

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King James Bible at 400

From a couple of weeks ago, a brief article in the New York Times on the importance of the King James Bible. This year is the 400th anniversary of its printing. I’ve been writing short articles about the King James Bible, and I suppose I should upload them here.

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