Bible Names

December 13, 2019

I was recently reading in 1 Chronicles as a part of my daily Bible reading. And I came across, “Abigail bore Amasa, and the father of Amasa was Jether the Ishmaelite” (1 Chronicles 2:17 ESV). I had to mentally stop and look at the context a bit, since the Abigail I’m more familiar with was the wife of David and widow of Nabal. The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles are genealogies, so the reader is going through a great many names in a text that is packed with names.
Stopping and rereading a bit, I realized that this Abigail was David’s sister. Had I read this before? Absolutely. I have over a thirty-year habit of reading the Bible through in a year. Did I remember that David had a sister by the name of Abigail? No. But this incident reminds me that just as in real life, multiple people can share the same name. According to the Biographical Bible, there are 3,237 individuals named in the Bible with 1,443 who share a Bible name with someone else.

Recently, someone came to me with this same kind of issue about the name Zechariah. The two Zechariahs he was thinking about were not the same person, but he wasn’t certain. When we stopped and looked at the Bible contexts, it was clear that they could not be the same man. Actually, there are 32 Zechariahs in the Bible. This is the kind of helpful information the Bible dictionary can provide.

Bible dictionaries can help us keep names straight. We probably won’t remember every Zechariah in the Bible. Some of the men by this name are just barely mentioned. But there are some prominent Zechariahs: (1) Zechariah the prophet, see the book of Zechariah, (2) Zechariah, king of the northern kingdom, 2 Kings 14:29, (3) Zechariah, the last martyr of the Old Testament, 2 Chronicles 24:25, and (4) Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.

The name Zechariah also reminds me of one of the peculiarities of the King James Version. In the KJV, Zechariah is Zacharias (Luke 1:4). A number of Bible names are transliterated from Greek and thus in a different form than what we expect from our reading of the Old Testament in English. Since many people read the KJV, it is important for readers to pick up on this peculiarity. The reader needs to recognize that Elias=Elijah, Eliseus=Elisha, Rachab=Rahab (although Rahab in Hebrews 11), Booz=Boaz, Ezekias=Hezekiah, Charran=Haran, Madian=Midian, and many other names. A Bible dictionary keyed to the KJV can help the reader make the proper connections to the Old Testament.

Bible names can also be hard to pronounce. Bible dictionaries sometimes give pronunciations. I like the pronunciation guide by W. Murray Severance, That’s Easy for You to Say, and there is even an app called Biblical Pronunciations.

I will probably never remember every individual named in the Bible. But it is important to remember the main characters because God used people to bring about his salvation. And just as he used people in the past, he continues to use people today to bring the good news to a world that desperately needs it.

— Russ Holden


What Translations Are People Reading?

November 29, 2019

What is the best Bible translation? I like the reply that says, “The one that’s read.” I’ve read many different translations in my Christian walk, and, clearly the statistics indicate we live in a multiple translation environment, so as we attempt to teach, we have to take that into account. Translation differences can often lead to interesting investigations to help us better understand a passage. But I’m curious about what people are reading.

What are the most purchased Bible translations? The following list is from August 2019 and compiled by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.

  1. New International Version
  2. King James Version
  3. English Standard Version
  4. New Living Translation
  5. New King James Version
  6. Reina Valera (Spanish)
  7. Christian Standard Bible
  8. New International Reader’s Version
  9. New American Standard Bible
  10. The Message

The Barna Group did a survey in 2018 of the most read Bible translations.

  1. King James Version 31%
  2. New International Version 13%
  3. English Standard Version 9%
  4. New King James Version 7%
  5. Amplified 7%
  6. Christian Community 4% (originally produced in the Philippines)
  7. New American Standard 3%
  8. New Living Translation 2%
  9. Revised Standard 2%
  10. Contemporary English Version 2%
  11. New American Bible 2%
  12. All others (1% or less combined) 9%
  13. Not sure 8%

Dr. Jack P. Lewis did a review of Bible translations called The English Bible from KJV to NIV*. Lewis had the knowledge of the languages, and the book is a detailed oriented book. But one of his concluding thoughts may help us in our multi-translation world.

While versions differ in translating specific statements, all of the available English translations present the basic duties toward God and man. By comparing one with the other, the person with no language training can be warned about going astray because of the peculiarities of one translation. He may be challenged to new ideas by reading a new translation. The religious problems of the world are not caused by people reading different translations; the most serious problem is that many read no translation!*

— Russ Holden

*Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible from KJV to NIV, p. 412.


Why Do We Read and Study the Bible?

January 25, 2019

I encourage regular Bible reading and study. But our motivation will be enhanced as we think about what we should gain. I said “should” because I realize that a skeptic may read the Bible and profit little from it, although skeptics have been known to be converted by their Bible reading. I think much depends on an attitude of honest searching and enquiry. I’m reminded of Jesus’s teaching, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17, ESV). Several passages speak to the why of Bible reading.
Deuteronomy 17:18-20 provide instructions for a future king of Israel.

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18–20, ESV)

The king is to have an approved copy of the law which he reads all of his life. This reading should lead to a fear of the LORD. We probably should feel terror if we are going away from God, because God is a consuming fire. But normally we think of this word “fear” in the sense of reverence and awe. Reverence leads to respect and a willingness to hear God’s word. This leads to obedience: “keeping the words” and “not turning aside … either to the right hand or the left.” The king should also learn humility before God and in dealing with others: “that his heart may not be lifted up above brothers.” One of the dangers of holding political power is that a ruler may think of himself as above the law. This is not just an ancient problem. It is a human problem that manifests itself even now, and it doesn’t have to restricted to rulers. People sometimes expect others to play by the rules from which they are very willing to exempt themselves. Finally, the king will be blessed in his reign by his meditation on God’s instructions.

I think this command to Israel’s king has instruction and application for us. Reading and meditation on God’s word may lead to reverence, obedience, humility, and blessings for us too. The blessings may differ, but God still blesses those who listen to him.

I have often pondered this command to the king, and Israel’s actual history. I suspect many of the kings failed to follow this instruction, and Israel’s history was a disaster because of it. Failure to read has consequences too. Deuteronomy 17:18-20 is a command fit for a king, but it also instructive to us who are brothers and sisters of King Jesus.


Basic Bible Study Tools: Maps and Atlas

January 18, 2019

The narratives of the Bible deal with real people, places, and events in history. Maps and atlases help us better understand the places of Bible events. With a map, I find the stories come alive in a way that wouldn’t happen without the map. When we read accounts of journeys, seeing a map of the journey and distances involved aids our understanding. This happens when you look at a map of the Exodus and Wilderness wanderings in the Old Testament or the Missionary Journeys of Paul in the New Testament. When reading the description of the tribal allotments in Joshua, it helps to see those tribal allotments on a map. It makes the descriptions become more meaningful, which otherwise might be a bit dry and meaningless to read. We read of military campaigns and political pressures on Israel. Maps help us visualize the situation. Some atlases may even give detailed maps of important battles. Seeing the various empires surrounding Israel and how those changed over time, helps us understand this history better. It is hard to understand the Babylonian Captivity, if you don’t know where Babylon is?

Many Bibles will contain a few maps at the back. Looking at those may help you understand the kinds of things you will find in an atlas but with greater detail and description. You typically find a topographical map which shows elevations and climate. Often your read of people going up to Jerusalem. If you use a map, you will find sometimes they are coming from north of Jerusalem. I typical say when I’m going south that I’m going down. But when you see the topography of the land, you realize they are talking from the standpoint of elevation. They are going up in the sense that they are at a lower elevation, and they are climbing to a higher elevation in Jerusalem. Climate information helps us recognize deserts and wilderness areas as opposed to places with more water or fertile plains and valleys.

Maps are also given for various historical periods. Typically, you will find a map for the Patriarch period, The Exodus and Wilderness Wanderings, a map of the tribes, the United Kingdom, the Divided Kingdom, the Assyrian Period, the Babylonian and Persian Periods, the Roman Empire, Israel during the Ministry of Jesus, and Paul’s Missionary Journeys. An atlas may also give you maps of the Hellenistic and Maccabean periods between the testaments as well. You may also find a map of Jerusalem, and in atlases maps of other cities of interest.

Using a map correctly means going to the right historical period in which you are studying. It’s helpful to notice the distance scale on a map. Remember there may be multiple cities with the same name. Be aware that some sites are questionable as to location because the memory of them has been lost in history, and a map may give you several alternatives.

My favorite Bible map at the moment is a mobile app called Bible Map from http://www.ploughboy.org. It gives the ESV text on the left with locations underscored as hyperlinks. Clicking on the location puts a pin on a Google map on the right. You can change the view of the Google map between standard, hybrid, and satellite. Clicking on the information button at the site pin will take you to a detailed description with photos. The app is free, but unfortunately, it is only available in Apple’s iOS operating system. I would still recommend using other maps and atlases, but this app provides quick answers when reading.

Maps and atlases are a basic Bible study tool which will enhance your study and knowledge of the Bible.


Finding Time for Bible Reading

December 28, 2018

One of the transformative habits in my life has been regular Bible reading. I use the term regular as opposed to daily, because I miss days on occasion, and I suspect that everyone does. We have days when we are crushed with activities and days when we are exhausted. But even with missed days, I’ve been able to complete my reading goals.

For someone who has not yet established a habit of regular Bible reading, the Bible itself is intimidating. A Bible printed with a standard font will run about 1200 pages. 1200 PAGES! But we must remember that our printed Bible is actually a library of books. If I were to hand you one of the gospels printed by itself, it would be pamphlet to small paperback in size. It wouldn’t be intimidating at all. 24 books can be read in 15 minus or less. 8 books will take about 30 minutes. 9 books will take an hour or less. 14 books will take 2 hours or less. 6 books will take 2 ½ hours. 3 books will take 3 ½ hours. Jeremiah will take about 4 hours, and Psalms will take about 4 ½ hours. Here’s a chart that gives you an idea of how long it takes to read the Bible.

Bible Reading Times

Source of chart is https://www.crossway.org/articles/infographic-you-can-read-more-of-the-bible-than-you-think/. The article contains other interesting charts.

You can make an important life change with 6-12 minutes a day. I would encourage you to start small. Set a goal of reading the New Testament for example. Challenge yourself to become regular in your reading.

Seventy-seven percent of the U.S has a smart phone. Great Bible apps exist. I would encourage YouVersion because of its audio collection, and it’s free. I would also suggest OliveTree which has a free starter version but is better for study and has resources at a reasonable price. The beauty of the smart phone is that you can use wait time for reading your Bible. You can always have a Bible with you. Listening to audio also helps many people. They may listen to the Bible on their commute. You can’t beat the free audio in YouVersion. Audio mp3 files and disks are available too, but free streaming is the cheapest way to go.

Finding time is a matter of setting Bible reading as a priority and commit to a time in your day that works best for you.


The Parable of $100,000

October 5, 2018

The Bible reader must be careful. The message must be properly understood and not distorted. Sometimes passages do need further enlightenment that will change our perspective. This may come from considering all that scripture says on a subject, allowing scripture to interpret scripture. It may arise from new insights gained from history, customs, geography, understanding literary forms, or the biblical languages.

Yet, there is also the danger that we will fail to understand and apply simply because we don’t like what it says—our own willfulness gets in the way. Maybe scripture challenges our beliefs and attitudes, and we shrink away. Søren Kierkegaard told a challenging little parable of $100,000:

Suppose that it was said in the New Testament—we can surely suppose it—that it is God’s will that every man should have 100,000 dollars: Do you think there would be any question of a commentary? Or would not everyone rather say, “It’s easy enough to understand, there’s no need of a commentary, let us for heaven’s sake keep clear of commentaries—they could perhaps make it doubtful whether it is really as it is written. (And with their help we even run the risk that it may become doubtful.) But we prefer it to be as it stands written there, so away will all commentaries!”

But what is found in the New Testament (about the narrow way, dying to the world, and so on) is not at all more difficult to understand than this matter of the 100,000 dollars. The difficulty lies elsewhere, in that it does not please us—and so we must have commentaries and professors and commentaries: for it is not a case of “risking” that it may become doubtful to us, for we really wish it to be doubtful, and we have a tiny hope that the commentaries may make it so.

Let us be careful readers and students of the Bible searching for the truth (see Acts 17:11). Yet, let us not protect our hearts from scripture’s rigorous demands, but allow it to challenge and change us. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NASB).


Better than Silver and Gold

May 4, 2018

With so many English Bible translations to choose from, we may be under the impression that everyone in the world has easy access to the Bible in their own language. However, that is not the case. Statistics from the Wycliffe Bible Translators put this in perspective. There are about 7000 languages known to be in use today. More than 1,500 languages have the New Testament and some portion of the Bible in their language. More than 650 languages have a complete Bible in their language. More than 2,500 languages across 170 countries have active Bible translation projects for their language. Approximately 1600 languages still need a Bible translation project to begin. At least 1.5 billion people do not have a complete Bible in their first language. More than 110 million do not have a single verse of the Bible in their language.*

English speaking people are fortunate from the standpoint of history. In the 1300s if an Englishman wanted to read the Bible, he needed to know Greek, Hebrew, or Latin. The first English Bible was that of John Wycliffe in 1382. But translators had a great resistance to overcome, because the mood of religious leaders of the day was that the Bible should not be in the common language of the people. As a matter of fact, the Council of Constance in 1415 angered at Wycliffe order his body to be disinterred, burned, and his ashes thrown into the river Swift.

The first printed English Bible was published in 1525 and was the work of William Tyndale. In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a dispute with a learned man is given in which the man argued that it would be better to be without God’s law than the Pope’s. Tyndale is said to have replied: “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” But due to opposition, Tyndale had to flee England to do his work. The first printed English Bible was published in Germany and had to be smuggled into England in bales of cloth. Tyndale was later betrayed, tried for heresy, and executed in 1536.

The easy availability of the Bible in English is a blessing that is easy to take for granted. However, history testifies to the fact that some have risked and given their lives so that we may have it, and others must still wait for it to be given in their own language.

May we cultivate the attitude of the Psalmist: “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalms 119:72, ESV). Have you read your Bible recently? Having and reading the Bible is better than silver and gold.

*https://www.wycliffe.org/about/why