Bible Literacy – Explore the Ocean

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)

2022-04-02 Flight RecorderMost jets are outfitted with an orange “black box” flight recorder that can help investigators figure out what when wrong after an airline crash.  The bottom line on most crashes is “miscommunication.”  The pilot or navigator failed to get important information, either about the weather, another aircraft, the runway or some other factor that resulted in the deaths of most or all of those on the jet.

There is much about eternity and the nature of God that is like that black box; we do not understand on this side of the grave.  And there is much about God we will never understand, even after we begin to live in Heaven.  After all, HE is the Uncreated God and we are not.

But there is much about eternity and God that we CAN understand, as He loves us and wants to share our lives for all of time, and He has revealed to us what we need to know.  What He has revealed is so simple a toddler can understand, yet so profound that the greatest philosophers and scientists can still miss it.  “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Matthew 11:25-26)

However, to get to know Him well we need more than the simple experience a child can fathom.  As C.S. Lewis pointed out, “If a man once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he will be turning from something real to something less real… The map is admittedly only colored paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based upon what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary.” (in Mere Christianity)

2022-04-02 Bible ContentsSuch is the Bible: a map for those wanting to know The God Who Is.  Like “cartography,” the study of maps, there will be much in this map of God that we will not understand at first, just as the novice explorer will not understand all the details of topographical or nautical instruction on his maps.  But to fully understand the terrain or ocean on which the explorer roams, he must learn to use his maps.

In the same way, to fully understand The God Who Is, as much as we can understand him from this tiny blue ball we call earth, we must learn to use the Bible, with care, accuracy and precision.  Biblical literacy is vitally important to fulfill all that Father intends for us to be and do while on earth.  Jesus warned, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)

Some complain there are so many translations, which one is best?  My “best” recommendation is to explore multiple translations any time you embark on Bible study, as various ones bring different innuendo to the text.  See https://www.biblegateway.com/ for some excellent tools, including side-by-side translations, devotionals, blogs and other resources for Bible study.

There are three basic methods of translation: word-for-word, thought-for-thought, and paraphrases.
Word-for-word can be very awkward as languages have different syntax and structure.  However, you can find “interlinear” Greek and Hebrew texts online if that is what you wish to explore.  You will quickly see why translators for common folk such as us do not use word-for-word translation, but more thought-for-thought.

Of course, thought-for-thought can get dangerous if the underlying philosophy or theology of the translator is aberrant.  Fortunately, there are so many translations available, these will usually be easy to ferret out; e.g., if a translator discards masculine or feminine pronouns or dismisses the miraculous power of God to overrule His laws of physics or biology.

Paraphrases are the most subject to the translator’s personal opinions, but often can provide insight into cultural phrasing and attitudes that straighter translations will miss.  An example of this is The Cotton Patch Version’s treatment of John 1:5: “The light shined in the darkness and the darkness couldn’t do a blessed thing about it!”  This captures somewhat the idea, but puts it in a particular vernacular of southern US culture.

The following is a graphic illustrating the degree of “accuracy” of several English language translations, listing some translations as word-for-word, although they are not interlinears.  Note, for those who prefer King James English of 1611, the KJV remains one of the best translations for accuracy of the words.  My only concern with KJV is that the Old English employed can leave one feeling like you are reading a foreign language if you are not schooled in Shakespeare.  The poetry and beauty of it is unmatched by the NASB or ESV, but remember, when it was translated, THIS was the way common people talked!

2022-04-02 Biblical Literacy

The NIV is one of the most popular because of the excellent marketing the publishers did when it first came out in 1978 by one of the most prominent Bible translation groups around at the time, and its list of scholars were some of the greatest minds in evangelical circles.  The ESV came out in 2001 and utilized updated research and linguistic scholarship in an attempt to render as literally as possible what was in the original autographs (which have long been lost to antiquity), including recognizing different writing styles of each different author of the various books.

As you read and study the Bible, expect there will be things that are difficult to accept or understand, but the Scripture is the proven Word of God just as surely as Jesus is the Living Word.  It is not anti-science; it is not fantasy or myth; it is not racist or misogynistic or patriarchal.  When understood it will reveal a God who is holy and loving, gracious and truthful, and transcends cultures and ages of the world.

As I have noted in previous blogs, There is no book in history that has been more reliably preserved and translated than the Bible.  There is no book in history that has more power to change the human condition than the Bible.  There is no book in history that is more important for knowing the God Who Is than the Bible.

See https://capost2k.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/the-reliability-of-the-bible-part-1/ for the beginning of a series on The Reliability of the Bible.  Remember always that the Bible is the map, however, not the Atlantic Ocean!  Use it wisely, but do not get caught in the trap so many theologians fall into of studying the map in their offices in such detail that they never get in a boat to go sailing.

2022-04-02 Sailing With Jesus“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”  (John Shedd)

Marked by Bible Reading and Bible Study (Part 1)

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A Man (or Woman) of God will live a life Marked By Bible Reading and Study. Be sure and understand, knowledge about God is not the same as knowing God. This is an important distinction to make because far too many people think that because they can quote volumes of Scripture or name all 66 books of the Bible or discuss theology like a . . . well, a theologian, that they know God.

IMG_7072But you could just as easily read all of Genghis Khan’s biographies, become an expert in the history of Mongolia, explore all the archeological digs, and become the world’s foremost authority on Genghis Khan, and you would still never know the man. After all, he is dead and gone, and all we can know is about him. You can never look into his eyes, share a meal together, talk over the day’s events, or know him by experience. In the same way, there are theologians who know much about God, but do not know Him. Be careful in reading and studying the Bible that you do not become like them.

Sugar BabyEven an infant knows his mother or daddy, though he cannot even speak their names. That is why we talked about prayer before Bible study. It is more important that you know the Creator than it is to know about Him. And He made this possible by revealing Himself through Jesus, the Christ, or Anointed One. He that comes to God “must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6) All it takes to know Him is to “call on His name.” (Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21) And we will address later His name, but for now, just call on Him as you understand Him to be, Father, Creator, God, Jesus, Lord.

A man or woman who wishes to be a man or woman of God must read and study the Bible. One who does not read and study the Bible will be like a baby that never gets out of his crib nor learns to eat solid food. How sad when we see an adult, who because of mental disability remains an infant, always dependent on a caretaker to feed, bathe, clothe, and nurse him.

In John 4:32 Jesus told His disciples, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Paul later lamented about the Corinthians (I Corinthians 3:1-2), as did the writer of Hebrews, that when they should be eating solid food, he had to feed them with milk like babies (Hebrews 5:12-13). This leads us to recognize that milk is predigested food. This is what you are receiving when you attend a church where a pastor/teacher “feeds” you; he has fed on God’s word, eaten it, digested it, and now gives you milk. It is what you are receiving when you read this blog, or any other Bible scholar’s work; or when you attend conferences to learn from teachers.

Then what was Paul wishing he could give the Galatians as “solid food?” He wanted to give them assignments to do to expand God’s kingdom on earth. The author of Hebrews wanted them to be teachers instead of just hearers. Jesus “food” in John was that He was doing His Father’s will, accomplishing the things He was sent to do.

We begin to grow in grace and knowledge as we read the Bible (II Peter 3:16). It is God’s written word. His “markings” left for us to follow so that we can understand as much about Him as we are capable.

IMG_2559The Bible is NOT one book. It is a collection of books, most of which can be read aloud in less than four hours, more quickly if you read silently, some of which might take only a few minutes. This means that with good planning you could read the entire library we call the Bible in 66 days, reading just one book per day. In any case, if you plan your day for your job, your family, your responsibilities, your recreation, why not include some time to read the Bible? A few minutes a day will take you through the library in a year. Whether you read it aloud or silently, and whatever version or language you read, simply set aside some time so that a year from now, you will have read the entire Bible.

There is no particular order for reading. I recommend the “easier” books first, such as New Testament books about Jesus and letters to disciples. Then skip back to history books of the Old Testament (Joshua to Ester), and then the Wisdom Literature (Psalms to Ecclesiastes) and the Prophets. Finally, you can approach the books of the Law, Genesis through Deuteronomy as some of the more difficult passages. We will talk more in future blogs about times, methods and order of reading the books of the Bible.

Bible Study is another matter. There are many guides available in bookstores or online that can guide you in methods of study (of which there are several), and details of cultural and historical accuracy that will enhance your understanding. You may wish to study alone or with a group, but your activities should change with Bible study. If you only study for knowledge you run the risk of becoming “a blind guide for the blind” (Matthew 23:24), knowing more and more about Father, but knowing Him less and less.96

Study should be to develop a taste for the meat of the word, the assignments He will give you to share His word with unbelievers, with “new-born” disciples, and to serve others. Like newborn babies, desire the spiritual milk of the word so that you may grow up, and someday teach others (II Peter 2:2). Look for Bible reading and study to reveal more about Father to you, but more importantly, allow it to get into your spirit so you know Him better.

See April 6, 2015 for Part 2.