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.


Good Gifts

December 21, 2018

Giving gifts doesn’t necessarily come naturally. We give because we have first received. Gift giving means that we have learned to overcome selfish desires and greed. Gift giving means that we have learned to love, honor, and appreciate others. Good gift giving comes from being considerate of other people’s needs, wants, and desires. In gift giving we learn the joy of service — it is more blessed to give than to receive. I suspect that just as we love because God first love us, we give because God has richly given to us.

James describes God as the perfect giver of gifts.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17, ESV)

What good gifts have you received?

God is our creator, and he has created a world that is very good, even though it has been cursed because of sin. It is a world that is full of beauty and wonder. It is a world that teems with life. I have enjoyed sunrises and sunsets that were magnificently beautiful. I have felt the awe of storms. I have felt the peace of blue skies and sunshine under the green canopy of trees. I have tasted the bounty of the earth, and I have gazed into the night sky with wonder. I have received good gifts.

God has revealed himself in the Bible. I have received the gift of wisdom that begins with reverence for God and humbly listens to his word. In the Bible I find a message that fills a void in my life. It is as if it is a missing puzzle piece that fills that hole and makes the puzzle complete. Now the world, and life, and values, and meaning make sense. I have received a good gift.

God has given his Son. The Word who knew the glories of heaven became flesh and dwelt among. He became human to save us from our sin. He learned suffering. He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. He died in our place, so that we might have forgiveness of sin and eternal life. I have received a good gift — a priceless and precious gift.

Love and gratitude should be the responses to good gifts. May we experience joy because with grateful hearts we recognize the gifts we have received. May we also learn to be like our heavenly Father and grow as givers of good gifts.


Basic Bible Study Tools: Cross References

December 14, 2018

A study Bible is likely a reference Bible, but a reference Bible is not necessarily a study Bible. The reference part of the name refers to cross references which are footnotes to other passages which are provided to be of help in understanding the passage you are reading. The basic idea behind them is the old adage: the Bible is its own best interpreter. The footnotes are usually indicated by superscript letters and are found either in the center column or a side column of the page. Better mobile software like OliveTree will also have cross references which bring up pop-up windows. A reference Bible will have these cross references but lack the commentary of a study Bible. Most study Bible have cross references too. Cross references are also independent of translator notes which provide alternate translations or alternate manuscript readings.

Several things need to be kept in mind as a user of cross references. Cross references are not inspired. They will reflect the doctrinal orientation of the compiler, and so they must be tested just like any commentary on the text. Jack P. Lewis gives an example of this problem. One set of cross references link antichrist/antichrists of 1 John 2:18, 22, 4:3, and 2 John 1:7 with the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The linking of these two things belongs to premillennialism/dispensationalism.1 For the reader trying to understand either one of these passages, the linking of them by cross reference will likely bring confusion not clarity.

The other problem that Lewis notes is when cross references to English words are not actually corresponding occurrences of the same Greek or Hebrew words, and as he says, “… merely lead the reader along the arbitrary choices of English words made by translators.”2 The point is that like commentary, the user of cross references must be cautious and test things against scripture itself. We must always check the context of the cross reference to make certain that it is actually talking about the same thing as the passage we started with. Also, beware that a cross reference may refer to only a part of a verse and not to the whole verse. Finally, if all we are doing is going from one cross reference to another, we may be failing to study the text at hand. We may end up with a string of passages which we don’t understand in context. Cross references may at times be helpful, but they are not always needed.

How can cross references be helpful?

  • They may provide the Old Testament scripture reference that is being quoted or alluded to in the New Testament. The New Testament author often intends us to read more of the context.
  • The may provide parallel passages to a narrative. In Matthew 14:13 which begins the feeding of the 5000, the ESV gives a cross reference of Mark 6:32-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-13. These are the parallel passages of the feeding of the 5000 in the other gospels. A similar situation occurs with 1 and 2 Kings having many parallels to 1 and 2 Chronicles.
  • They may provide additional passages for a theme. The NASB on Deuteronomy 4:2 which deals with adding to and subtracting from God’s commands provides the following cross references: Deut 12:32; Prov 30:6; Rev 22:18.

There are different systems of cross references. These will vary from translation to translation and from publisher to publisher. This warns us that not all cross-referencing systems will be the same. Used wisely, they provide a basic tool for Bible study.

1Jack P. Lewis, “Are Cross References Reliable?” Questions You Have Asked About Bible Translations, pp. 182. Dr. Lewis’s book chapter came from a Gospel Advocate article. It is well worth reading, and can be found online at http://lakeside-church-of-christ.org/articles/guest/guest.php?id=cross-ref [accessed 12/14/2018].

2Ibid, pp. 183-184.


Basic Bible Study Tools: Study Bible

December 7, 2018

What is a study Bible? It is a Bible printed with commentary. The goal is for the commentary to be brief enough, so the study Bible is still manageable in size to carry (although some study Bibles get to be pretty hefty). The format of commentary printed on the same page as the Bible text is designed to be helpful to the reader. It is there to provide quick answers. The creation of study Bibles has exploded in recent years. I count 22 study Bibles in my personal library, most of which are electronic. On a bookseller’s site I counted about 35 different study Bibles, and I suspect the real number is larger.

Study bibles have commentary for different purposes. Some provide basic commentary on the text. Others focus on helping the reader apply the text to daily life. Study bibles have been written to provide the reader with archaeological information, cultural background information, and even doctrinal background. Study bibles may treat themes like stewardship and justice.

Remember on this page layout you have the inspired text of scripture and uninspired comments. The text of scripture should test the comments. As a teacher, it is frustrating to ask a question about the text and receive the answer, “My study bible says.” Focus on scripture and use the helps of the study bible wisely. The helps of a study Bible (or any commentary) may provide the following.

  1. It provides context for a book: date, authorship, original audience, and overview of the book.
  2. It provides historical and cultural background information.
  3. It provides information on the context of the passage by reminding the reader of context within the book, the particular author, or the Bible in general.
  4. It may treat a difficult passage by explaining how different authors have understood this passage and giving the evidence for you to think through the issue on your own.
  5. It provides helpful information on the original language or aspects of grammar in the original language that impacts the interpretation of the passage.
  6. It provides helpful genre information, e.g., the nature of Hebrew poetry, characteristics of proverbs, characteristics of parables, etc.
  7. It may help you see literary patterns or structure in the passage or book.
  8. It may provide useful maps and charts.

Used wisely, the study Bible can be a useful part of the Bible student’s toolkit.


Basic Bible Study Tools: Concordance

November 30, 2018

A great deal of Bible study can be done with a few basic tools. One of the basic tools for Bible study is a concordance. A Bible concordance is a list of words occurring in the text of the Bible with the Bible reference given for where this word occurs. A concordance is the name we apply to a printed work with a Bible word list. In a world where many people are accessing the Bible on a phone, tablet, or computer, the search feature in Bible software corresponds to the print concordance.

A concordance or search is based on a particular translation of the Bible or original text. So, you want to choose a printed concordance by the translation you are using for study. Printed concordances are either abridged or exhaustive. Concordances printed with Bibles are always abridged. An editor has selected important words and their occurrences to be helpful. Abridgment allows for a handy size. The printed exhaustive concordance will have most every word except for things like articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and pronouns. A search could give you the answer for any word, although it may not be significant to know how many times the word “and” occurs in the Bible.

In the nineteenth century, James Strong developed Strong’s Numbers for his printed concordance. He gave a number for each Hebrew and Greek word. A Strong’s number occurs beside a verse reference letting the English reader know what Hebrew or Greek word stands behind the English translation. This is accomplished by going to a Hebrew and Chaldee (Aramaic) dictionary and Greek dictionary printed at the back of the concordance and looking at the corresponding number. From this dictionary you learn the usage of the word and how else this particular Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word is translated into English. Goodrich and Kohlenberger developed an update to the numbering system, but you use G-K numbers the same way as Strong’s numbers. Some Bible software will allow you to access and search on Strong’s numbers or G-K numbers giving the English student a little more access to the original languages.

Besides getting back to the original languages, we use a concordance in a number of helpful ways. Sometimes we are thinking of a passage, but we can’t recall where it is. By remembering some key words in the passage, we can search for them or look them up in a concordance to find the passage’s location. We also use the concordance to do topical and word studies. By looking up every occurrence of a word or topic, we gain a better understanding of this word or topic. We may also see patterns in the text from looking at a concordance or search. The word love occurs the most in the New Testament in 1 John, the Gospel of John, and 1 Corinthians. This pattern suggests those books as fruitful places to study the concept of love. A concordance or software search remains a basic Bible study tool.


Is It a Criticism or a Compliment?

November 24, 2018

A recent class dealt with Paul’s speech to the Areopagus in Acts 17. A private question was asked me: was Paul critical or complimentary of the Athenians in the beginning of the speech? The class had mentioned that Paul was commending them, but the questioner had a KJV in front of him, and it looked like Paul was criticizing them. The KJV and the ESV of Acts 17:22 follow, so that we see the issue: are they superstitious or religious?

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. (Acts 17:22 KJV)

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. (Acts 17:22 ESV)

If we bring in other translations, the ASV also has superstitious as well as some earlier English translations, but modern translations since 1901 fall on the side of “very religious” (NKJV, NASB, NET, NIV) or “extremely religious” (NRSV, CSB).

The Greek word in question is δεισιδαίμων (deisidaimōn, G1174). The classical Greek lexicon of Liddell, Scott, and Jones gives the etymology as “fearing the gods” and the definitions as (1) in good sense, pious, religious, (2) in bad sense, superstitious.1 The standard koine Greek lexicon of Baur, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich notes both of these definitions, but comments on Acts 17:22 “but in the laudatory introduction of Paul’s speech before the Areopagus Ac 17:22 it must mean devout, religious.”2

The NET Bible contains many helpful footnotes with insights about translation issues. In its footnote on “religious” in Acts 17:22, they note: “The term δεισιδαιμονεστέρους (deisidaimonesterous) is difficult. On the one hand it can have the positive sense of ‘devout,’ but on the other hand it can have the negative sense of ‘superstitious’ (BDAG 216 s.v. δεισιδαίμων). As part of a laudatory introduction (the technical rhetorical term for this introduction was capatatio), the term is probably positive here. It may well be a ‘backhanded’ compliment, playing on the ambiguity.”3

Before we leave this question, I want to share J.W. McGarvey’s comments on this verse.

The audience were worshipers of demons, or dead men deified. Nearly all their gods were supposed to have once lived on the earth. They regarded it, therefore, as an excellent trait of character to be scrupulous in all the observances of demon worship. Paul’s first remark was not that they were “too superstitious,” nor that they were “very religious;” though both of these would have been true. But the term he employs, deisedaimonestirous, from deido to fear, and daimon a demon, means demon-fearing, or given to the worship of demons.4

I’ve already mentioned the Greek word, δεισιδαίμων (deisidaimōn, G1174). The word δαίμων (daimōn, G1142) is a part of this word. It does mean demon in its one occurrence in the New Testament in Matthew 8:31, but it was also used in Greek for gods and goddesses of Greek and Roman mythology. This word is related to the word δαιμόνιον (daimonion, G1140) which usually means demon in the New Testament, but in Acts 17:21 is rendered “gods” (KJV, NKJV, NIV), “divinities” (ESV), and “deities” (NASB). Paul would agree that pagans were worshipping demons (see 1 Corinthians 10:20 and Deuteronomy 32:17), but as much as I respect McGarvey, I think he is relying too much on the etymology of the word here rather than usage.

Paul appears to be seeking some common ground at the beginning of his speech in Acts 17 and does so by his quotations from Greek literature. Probability seems to favor understanding this term as a compliment rather than a critique in keeping the rhetorical expectation of a laudatory beginning while keeping in mind the NET footnote’s comment that it has ambiguity and may be a “backhanded” compliment.

1LSJ, p. 375, 2BDAG, p. 216, 3NET, see footnote with Acts 17:22, McGarvey, A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, Acts 17:31.


Thanksgiving Reflections

November 16, 2018

My Grandmother Holden was born in 1886 and died in 1972. Let me just list a few of the changes that came during her lifetime:

  • 1900 – Kodak introduced the Brownie camera. The US had 10 miles of paved roads and 8000 cars.
  • 1903 – First flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk.
  • 1907 – First electric washing machine.
  • 1908 – The first Model-T by Ford.
  • 1909 – Plastic was invented.
  • 1913 – Henry Ford created the assembly line.
  • 1923 – Talking movies invented.
  • 1928 – Television was invented.
  • 1929 – Car radio was invented.
  • 1930 – Bringing electricity to rural America occurred from the 1930s to the 1950s!
  • 1932 – Air conditioning invented and scientists split the atom for the first time.
  • 1939 – First commercial flight over the Atlantic. The helicopter was invented.
  • 1942 – Although Penicillin was discovered in 1928, it did not become viable as a treatment until 1942.
  • 1945 – The first computer was built. The microwave oven was invented.
  • 1953 – DNA discovered.
  • 1960 – Lasers invented.
  • 1961 – First man in space.
  • 1967 – First heart transplant.
  • 1969 – Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon.
  • 1972 – Pocket calculators were introduced, and the first ones cost over $100.

Listening to older people, you hear stories of the past. None of us are that far removed from a very different time. They recall a time when people had furnaces that had to be stoked by hand, out-houses, horses and early motor cars with bad roads to name but a few items. An older generation lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They experienced rationing and a time before many modern conveniences we simply take for granted.

My kids had a hard time imagining such a time when listening to older relatives, and the truth was so did I. I like thermostats, in-door plumbing, and autos that start with a key or a button and have a heater and air conditioning. When we count our blessings, the difficulty may be to notice them. We take a great deal for granted. It is only as we begin to imagine a different time or place where those conveniences don’t exist, that we can begin to see the magnitude of what we have.

Having received much, let us be wise enough to give glory to God accepting our blessings with prayer and thanksgiving.