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


The Interrupted Jesus

March 23, 2018

Jesus preached in the open where crowds would gather, so it is not surprising that he might be interrupted by someone in the crowd. Luke 11:27 depicts a woman shouting out this interruption: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” It’s a nice compliment to Jesus’ mother, but Jesus is quick witted and has the last word. He counters with this beatitude: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

The blessing of hearing God’s word is great. The Book of Revelation also begins with a blessing on the one who reads and the one who hears the words of “this prophecy.” It takes humility on our part to hear the word of God as we should. The challenge is expressed in Isaiah 55:8-9.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8–9, ESV)

God’s word convicts us. It makes demands on us.

I believe hearing and reading God’s word is a blessing. I’ve come to see it as “sweeter than honey” (Psalm 119:103) and as “a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). God’s commandments are for our good (Deuteronomy 6:24). But we have to become oriented to this library of books. It takes effort. We begin by understanding little, but with diligence the Bible becomes clearer to us, so that it becomes a source of comfort and strength.

So, if you believe that hearing God’s word is a blessing, what are you doing about it? Are you reading your Bible regularly? Are you a part of the Bible studies when the church assembles? It is an empty thing to say it is a blessing and then not partake of the blessing.

But notice that the beatitude Jesus gives is not just on hearing the word of God, the blessing only comes if we hear and keep it. In fact, the blessing in Revelation is the same: “blessed are this who hear, and who keep what is written in it…” (Revelation 1:3, ESV). Notice in Luke 11, it is not enough to be Jesus’ mother as great a privilege as that was. One needs to hear and keep. When his family came seeking him, he made the same point: “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35, ESV). James also warns about being “hearers only.” He compares being merely a hearer to looking in a mirror and then walking away and forgetting what we are like (James 1:22-25). Scripture is profitable to us only if we allow it to teach, reprove, correct, and train us in righteousness (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The interrupted Jesus is not gotten off track. He provides a wise beatitude for us to ponder: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”


Plan to Read the Bible

December 29, 2017

The Bible is a big book—really a library of books. Although I have valued Bible reading since I was a teenager, I’ve never succeeded at it without some sort of plan. The plan could be very simple. I will read a section of scripture before I go to bed. The plan could be more involved—I will read the Bible through in a year. The plan should fit you.

  1. Choose a translation that you are comfortable reading. Translations fall into two categories: formal equivalent (e.g., KJV, ASV, NASB, NKJV, ESV) and functional equivalent (e.g., NIV, Easy-to-Read, NET, CSB). Formal equivalence attempts to match the forms of the original language as closely as possible in the receptor language. Functional equivalence attempts to achieve the same effect on the reader. Formal equivalent translations usually have a reading level of 8th to 12th grades and are harder to understand. Functional equivalent translations may have a reading level of 3rd to 8th grades, but leave more opportunities for bias from the translator. My advice would be start with the ESV or NKJV which have lower reading levels (about 8th grade) than the NASB or KJV (about 10-12th grades) and see how it goes. If you are having difficulty with comprehension, then switching to something like the NET, CSB, or NIV makes sense (about 7th grade). For people still having difficulty, the New Century Version or God’s Word have even lower reading levels (about 3rd to 5th) .
  2. Personalize your plan. Reading through the Bible in a year is a wonderful goal, but maybe that isn’t the proper starting place for you. My first time through the New Testament was without a time goal involved—I just set as a goal reading through the New Testament, and kept at it until I was finished. Reading through the New Testament in a year takes about five minutes a day. The next thing I did was read through the narrative portions of the Old Testament (Law and History), which gives you the basic story of the Bible.
  3. Listening may be a great alternative. Some people have difficulty sitting still to read. God needs action-oriented people too. Maybe you should consider listening to the Bible on mp3 files or CDs as you drive or do other activities. The YouVersion Bible app has audio Bibles for free as do some others. If you want CDs, local bookstores or Christianbook.com are sources for these.
  4. Define success. If success is defined as reading a particular portion of scripture on a particular day, then I’m a failure, although I’ve been reading the Bible through in a year for decades. I claim to be a regular Bible reading but not always a daily reader. Expect to get behind and have to play catch up. Get ahead if possible. If your goal is more knowledge of the Bible, then skimming or skipping a section may allow you to keep going. How many people have gotten bogged down in the first seven chapters of Leviticus (sacrificial laws) or the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles (genealogies)?
  5. Add variety and scope. If you succeed in reading the New Testament, then go on to read other portions of the Bible. Maybe you will work up to reading the entire Bible through in a year. I like reading guides that provide an Old Testament and New Testament readings on the same day for variety. I’ve also used different translations for variety.
  6. Do it. If you have come up with a personal plan, then the next step is doing it. As in forming any new habit, it takes time and you will have setbacks, but if you keep at it, reading the Bible brings many rewards.

Barriers to Bible Reading

October 5, 2017

The American Bible Society did a poll in 2013 where they found that 88 percent of respondents own a Bible, 80 percent think it is sacred, 61 percent wished they read it more, and the average household had 4.4 Bibles.

Lifeway did a survey to find out how much of the Bible people had read. Clearly from the pie chart, 53% have read very little of the Bible.

How much bible read

Biblica, the Bible society which owns the copyright of the NIV, did a survey to find out why Bible reading is down. They discovered three barriers to Bible reading. People read the Bible in fragments, a-historically, and in isolation.

In fragments means that people are reading verses rather than reading the larger units of thought: sentences, paragraphs, and books. Chapter and verse divisions did not come from the authors of the biblical books. Chapter divisions date from about the 13th century and verse divisions from the 16th century. My advice to readers is to ignore them in reading. Yes, they are helpful for finding things, but they do not show units of thought and sometimes arbitrarily break up units of thought.

My advice to beginning readers is to read a book of the Bible all the way through. I always suggest beginning with the gospels, then Acts and the epistles. In the Old Testament, reading through the historical narratives is of first importance: Genesis through Esther.

A-historical reading means the reader does not know where the book fits in history. Each book of the Bible is a piece of a larger story, and we need to know where it fits in this larger story. A Bible dictionary or study Bible may help you with this historical context. Good reading always involves asking and answering the reporter’s questions: who, what, when, where, and why?

Finally, people struggle with reading because they are reading in isolation. I read the Bible in the context of being a part of a church family. Enlist someone to start a reading plan with you, so that you have mutual support. Use a Bible class as an opportunity to read your Bible outside of class so that you are ready for the class discussion. The community of believers is the place to receive encouragement to read our Bibles.


The Bible in Your Pocket

September 15, 2017

Microfiche Bible

Someone cleaning out a drawer sent me “The Smallest Bible in the World.” I remember seeing these in bookstores in the early 1970s when I was in college. It’s a Bible on microfilm. I would look at them in the bookstore, but since I had no microfilm reader and few dollars, the practicality of buying one on a lark escaped me. It was a novelty item at best. And the truth is, even though I now have one, one day I will clean out my drawer (or my heirs will), and it will get passed on to someone else. It’s not a practical Bible even though it is small.

But back then, I wanted a Bible that I could easily carry around. I had a pocket New Testament, and even a pocket Bible. You had to have a good-sized hip pocket and young eyes to see the small print, but it was convenient.

Since 2000 carrying a Bible around has gotten easier. I purchased a Palm IIIxe as my first PDA. It had a whopping 8 megabytes of RAM, but that was plenty to do calendar, to-do lists, book reading, and have a Bible. I began using Olive Tree’s Bible Reader on that early Palm device and have watched that software become more powerful and migrate to various operating systems just as I migrated from Palm to Pocket PC to iPod Touch to iPhone.

The advantage of having a Bible with you all the time is that you can use waiting time for reading. All of us wait in lines, at the doctor’s office, and the department of motor vehicles. As long as I have my device with me, I’m never bored. And it also means when you have the unexpected Bible question asked or an opportunity to share the good news, you have a Bible with you.

Recent stats suggest that 50% of the US population access a Bible online at some point in time. Yet, we still need more people to read their Bibles. We need people who will read books of the Bible all the way through. Fragmentary reading, a few verses here or there, will not bring about the knowledge we need.

The Bible is now easily transported with print adjustable to even my older eyes. My advice is to take advantage of the opportunities we now have available around us. If you are new to electronic Bibles on smart phones and tablets, let me suggest a few to consider.

You can learn about what is available at the above sites, and then find the app at your respective app store. The Bible is small enough to carry with you everywhere. Take advantage of the Bible in your pocket.


The Path to Understanding

April 4, 2017

A few years ago, I found the Bible I had as a teen-ager. I was interested in the notes that I had placed in it. Bible knowledge is not gained in a day. It takes a lifetime of study. Matters that today I probably wouldn’t need any help finding were concepts that back then I understood very imperfectly. For example in a note, I misspelled the word “Pentateuch”—a word which means 5 scrolls and is normally applied to the first five books of the Old Testament. I don’t believe that 1 Timothy has 15 chapters the last time I looked, but I have a written note for 1 Timothy 15.

Understanding takes time and repetition. I compare it to a net. The first time through a book of the Bible the mesh on the net is extremely course. Many things get by us. We struggle to understand. But as we continue to read, the mesh gets finer, and we notice and understand more and more. Alexander Campbell noted the same thing in his publication called the Christian Baptist. After observing that God revealed Himself in understandable language and that our approach to the Bible should be the same as for understanding any other book. He wrote:

You will then take, say, a New Testament, and sit down with a pencil or pen in your hand. Begin with Matthew’s gospel; read the whole of it at one reading, or two; mark on the margin every sentence you think you do not understand. Turn back again; read it a second time, in less portions at once than in the first reading; cancel such marks as you have made which noted passages, that, on the first reading appeared to you dark or difficult to understand, but on the second reading opened to your view. Then read Mark, Luke, and John, in the same manner, as they all treat upon the same subject. After having read each evangelist in this way, read them all in succession a third time. At this time you will no doubt be able to cancel many of your marks.

[Then] read Acts of the Apostles, which is the key to all the Epistles; then the Epistles in a similar manner; always before reading an epistle, read every thing said about the people addressed in the epistle, which you find in the Acts of the Apostles. This is the course which we would take to understand any book. You will no doubt see, from what you read, the necessity of accompanying all your readings with supplications to the Father of Lights….In pursuing this plan, we have no doubt, in getting even three times through the New Testament, that you will understand much more of the christian religion than a learned divine would teach you in seven years. Christian Baptist 1 (December 1, 1823)

Be patient with yourself. Learning takes time. Be assured that God has written an understandable message. What you first do not understand will become clearer in time. Read, pray, think. The path to understanding is taken one step at a time.