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.

Advertisements

Slapping the Bible Around

August 4, 2017

Evolutionnews.org is a web site that deals with evolution, neuroscience, bioethics, intelligent design and other science-related issues. It is a work of the Discovery Institute which promotes a Judeo-Christian worldview. Recently, they posted an article that is actually about archaeology and DNA studies, but the point of the article was not the science, but how the science was reported in the popular press.

The science of the story seems reliable. DNA was taken from ancient Canaanite remains dating some 3700 years ago. The study found a startling overlap with modern-day DNA among the Lebanese. So far, so good.

But how was this story reported in the popular press. Here is a sample of headlines as given by evolutionnews.org.

  • “Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out” (The Telegraph)
  • “Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon” (The Independent)
  • “Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim that the Canaanites were wiped out: Study says their genes live on in modern-day Lebanese people” (Daily Mail)
  • “Scientists Find Evidence That Ancient Canaanites Survive Today: Was The Bible Wrong?” (Tech Times)
  • “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim” (Mother Nature Network)
  • “The Bible was WRONG: Civilisation God ordered to be KILLED still live and kicking” (Express)
  • “Genetic evidence suggests the Canaanites weren’t destroyed after all” (Ars Technica)

What’s wrong with the headlines? The headlines fail basic Bible knowledge. First, although Israel was supposed to completely destroy the Canaanite people in the cities they captured (Deut. 7:2), this is also pictured as driving these people out of the land (Exo. 23:28-31). In other words, flight was an option open to the Canaanites. People who flee can pass on DNA to their descendants. Second, Judges makes clear that Israel failed in removing the Canaanites (Judges 1:27-36). So, the Bible does not claim that the Canaanites were completely annihilated.

Some retractions have occurred, but I wonder how many people see the original headline versus those who see the retraction. The Bible has been under extreme scrutiny since the beginning of the Enlightenment. In my opinion, the Bible has stood up under the testing. But knowing our Bibles well will help us defend against those who are slapping the Bible around.


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.


The Bible and Archeology

October 18, 2016

Archaeology reminds us that the Bible speaks of real people, places, and events. Admittedly, archaeology does not interest everyone, and some aspects of archaeology may be tedious. I suspect that I don’t want to be the person who moves dirt away from an ancient artifact with a small brush. But I am thankful for the people who do such research. Many of the results of archaeology are exciting for the student of the Bible and are helpful in a number of ways.


Background.
Archaeology has helped us understand ancient customs and the background to certain passages. The Nuzi tables, for example, contain marriage contracts which obligate a childless wife to give her husband a female servant who would bear children for her. This doesn’t make the practice moral, by the way, but it helps us to better understand the actions of Sarah in giving Hagar to Abraham (Genesis 16:1 ff.) and of Rachel in giving Bilhah to Jacob (Genesis 30:1-3). They weren’t dreaming this up on their own but were following the established customs of the times.

Translation. The meaning of the Hebrew word pim was unknown in 1611. The KJV translator conjectured from the context of 1 Samuel 13:21 that it meant “file.” The KJV reads, “Yet they had a file for the mattocks ….” Archaeologists have found small weight stones in Palestine with the word pim on them. The name of the weight was evidently the expression of the price for sharpening plowshares, making a pim about 2/3 of a shekel. The ESV has “and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks” (1 Samuel 13:21, ESV). They also provide a footnote indicating that “two thirds of a shekel” is the translation of pim.

Defense. The criticism of alleged inaccuracies in scripture have been refuted by certain discoveries. For example, the Hittites were unknown outside the Old Testament, and many thought this was a case of historical error in scripture until the discovery of the Hittite city of Hattusas. Before the ivory finds in Samaria, some skepticism was expressed over the phrase “houses of ivory” in Amos 3:15. We now know that ivories were used either to adorn the walls as paneling or were inlaid in furniture. “Houses of ivory” were houses decorated with ivory not built out of ivory.

Archeology has limits. Grant Osborne notes the fragmentary nature of material remains, “Yamauchi estimates that being supremely optimistic we could have one-tenth of the material in existence, six-tenths of that surveyed, one-fiftieth of that excavated, one-tenth of that examined, and one-half of that published. This means that we have only .006 percent of the evidence.”1 So gaps in knowledge from archaeology should not surprise us. But the information we do have reinforce the reality of the biblical world.

1Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 159


Handling Accurately the Word of Truth

August 27, 2016

Charles Shultz had a great “Peanuts” cartoon where Charlie Brown is so busy reading his Bible that he forgets to feed Snoopy. Snoopy bangs on the door, enters and fixes his own meal, but before leaving has Charlie Brown read Psalm 50:12: “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee.” Charlie Brown cries out in reply, “Give me two weeks and I’ll find a verse to answer you.”

In his cartoon, Schultz poked fun at an all too common approach to scripture. Many people take the verses of the Bible as if they were a string of unrelated statements which can be pulled out to prove just about anything.

We must guard ourselves against this danger. Even though the Bible is inspired by God, we must use the same kind of common sense approach that we would use in understanding other books. We need to ask what kind of writing is this? For example, is this part of the Bible narrating history? Is it a letter? Is it prophecy? Is it poetry? After determining what style of writing it is, there would be further questions. To whom is it written? (In answering this question, we would want to include in our answer whether it is written to people under the old covenant or the new covenant.) And we need to ask who is speaking. After all, Satan is quoted in the Bible.

We would want to understand the verse within its immediate context (the surrounding verses and chapter), the wider context of the book, and the overall context of the whole Bible. We would want to interpret difficult and obscure passages in the light of clearer passages on the same subject.

There are in fact two distinct steps: (1) what does the passage mean, and (2) how does the passage apply to me. In the first step, we are asking what did the passage mean when first written and read by its first readers. After determining that, we may ask how do we apply this to ourselves.

Let us go back to the example of Psalm 50:12: “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee.” In the psalm this quote is spoken by God. He is rebuking his people for combining wickedness with worship. They continue to offer the sacrifices, but it is not matched by right living. He reminds them that the sacrifices are not made because God is hungry or has needs, “for the world is Mine, and all it contains” (Psalm 50:12b). In application to us, this psalm can remind Christians that we must serve God in all things, both in our worship and in our everyday behavior. God doesn’t need us; we need him. But clearly the verse means something different in the context of scripture, than it did in the context of the conversation between Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Their error is an easy one to commit, but with care an easy error to avoid.

The Bible is not an impossible book to understand as long as we approach the Bible the right way. May we follow Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB).


Reflections on an Old Bible

August 5, 2016

When I was at my Mom’s house, I found the Bible I had as a teenager. It was a King James Bible that my grandparents had given me as I entered my teen years. Later, I purchased a NASB right before I headed to college. The complete NASB (Old Testament and New Testament) was first published in 1971, which coincides with my high school graduation and first year of college. So somewhere along the way this old Bible was left on a bookshelf at my Mom’s house.

It was fun to look through my old Bible after so many years. It’s a bit dilapidated. I may have been rougher on it than I should have been, however, Bibles are meant to be worn out. Our frequent use of them should take a toll on them. I once read that Bible publishers suggest that the life expectancy of a bonded leather Bible is about 10 years, 5 years for a hardback, and 1 year for a paperback.

I was interested in the notes that I had placed in it. Bible knowledge is not gained in a day. It takes a life time of study. The notes that I had made as a teenager were very basic. It contained scripture references that today I probably wouldn’t need any help finding. I had written down concepts that back then I probably understood very imperfectly. For example, I misspelled the word “Pentateuch” — a word that means 5 scrolls which is normally applied to the first five books of the Old Testament, and I don’t believe that 1 Timothy has 15 chapters the last time I checked. I was told not to write in a book as a child, which meant do not write in the school owned textbook, because someone else is going to use it. We should ignore that order when it comes to books we own. One important was of learning the content of a book is underling or highlighting passages and making marginal notes.

All these notes represent an effort on my part to learn. Learning always involves effort. We cannot be passive listeners and expect to gain much from the lessons we hear. I am afraid that a verse that is true of many is 2 Timothy 3:7 — “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (ESV). Listening to sermons and Bible class lessons is not like watching television. It should not be a passive experience. Our Bibles need to be open, notes need to be taken when appropriate, and our minds need to be engaged in active listening. Active listening searches for the main points, the evidence for the points advanced, and an evaluation of the truthfulness of what is presented. A biblical example of just this sort of thing is found in the case of the Bereans in Acts 17:11: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (NASB).

Finally, in looking at my old Bible I remember that I had some teachers who really cared. They worked hard at teaching. I still have taped in that Bible a handout from one of my teachers. Teaching is more than filling a 45-minute period. We are doing something that may help shape the spiritual lives of our students. It is a great responsibility. We must be students of the Word ourselves in order to be good teachers. Likely, we will have to go beyond the printed prepared materials in order to give our students everything they need. Teaching requires the commitment of time and study, but it gives great rewards.

“You have heard the things that I have taught. Many other people heard those things too. You should teach those same things. Give those teachings to some people you trust. Then they will be able to teach those things to other people” (2 Timothy 2:2, Easy-to- Read Version).


Submission to God’s Written Word

June 3, 2016

Dr. Harvey Floyd was my Greek teacher at Lipscomb as well as having him for many important Bible classes like Romans. I recently came across an interview of Floyd from the Gospel Advocate (October 1993). His words are still instructive though said over twenty years ago.

My greatest emphasis in life is to convince everyone of the complete authority of Scripture. If churches of Christ ever abandon submission to God’s written Word, we’ve lost everything.

Restoration only makes sense with an authoritative source. Without the guidance of Scripture, life becomes a sea without a shore.

Today’s religious leaders are far too interested in trendiness. They float from one fad to another without any clear emphasis or substance. Instead of the Bible, they fill their teaching with insight into “many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings” very entertaining, perhaps, but not distinctively Christian.

In the past, you could accept that our brethren were inerrantists — that cannot be assumed today. We are moving into a vague religiosity instead of a passion for restoring New Testament Christianity. This is more dangerous than anything else.1

Rodney Stark gives a memorable illustration of the loss of confidence in the authority of Scripture in his book, The Triumph of Faith. After World War I, the majority of missionaries to Africa came from the United States. At that time, ninety percent of these American missionaries came from Congregationalists (today known as the United Church of Christ), the Presbyterians, the Methodists, and the Episcopalians. By 1935, they were only sending half of all American missionaries. By 1948, it dropped down to 25 percent, and today, the number is only 4 percent. Stark explains:

Why the decline? The liberal denominations stopped sending missionaries because they lost their faith in the validity of Christianity.2

If there is one thing Floyd taught me, it is that there are good, satisfying reasons for believing in God, the Bible, and the resurrection of Jesus. When questions are raised about our faith, you only need to search for answers, and they will be found. Making fun of faith is nothing new (“a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles”), but the wisdom of God is always stronger. It is a vital thing to learn submission to God’s written Word.

1Gregory Alan Tidwell, “An Interview with Dr. Harvey Floyd” Gospel Advocate (Oct. 1993):14. The quotation in Floyd’s interview is from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

2Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Faith, Kindle location 2260.