Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On Reading the Bible in 2012

This is the time of year when people make resolutions to read through the Bible in the coming year. If this is your intent, I hope this post will be of some help to you. Even if this is not your intent, I hope this post will be of some help to you.

First, there is nothing magical, or even necessarily particularly sanctifying, about reading the Bible through in a year. If you recognize from the beginning that the important thing is to read regularly in the Bible, with prayer and meditation, then reading through it in a year becomes simply a helpful tool to accomplish that goal. There are any number of “read through the Bible in a year” programs. Justin Taylor discusses some here: For those who have had trouble in the past reading through the Bible in a year, the Plan for Shirkers and Slackers might be the place to begin. If you have a smart phone, the youversion Bible app has more than 200 different reading plans available. You can even set it up so that it reminds you each day to do your reading. There are also a number of reading plans available at the Zondervan website: the Beginning...

If you look at the Zondervan list, you will notice that many of the plans are not plans that will take you all the way through the Bible in a year. Rather, they are limited plans that deal with more focused goals. If you are new to Bible reading, I suggest you might start with one of these plans, such as the 180-day guided tour. This plan gives you an overview of the Bible in six months. Or you might want to begin with the two-week guided tour and then move on to some of the 30-day plans. The main point is to get yourself into the Word daily in a useful fashion.

Recently, a friend on Facebook was asking about smart phone Bible reading plans. Another friend cautioned against one of the plans that takes you straight through from Genesis to Revelation, since you get stuck for days on end in the Minor Prophets. I understand the point that this person was trying to make: that finding helpful material for meditation in the Minor Prophets (or even in the Major Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel) can be difficult. However, I think it reflects some level of ignorance about the Minor Prophets. It also highlights, however, the fact the many sections of the Bible are difficult to read and to effectively meditate on, because we are not sufficiently familiar with what we are reading. Thus, we feel like the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), who said, “How can I [understand], unless someone guides me.” There is nothing wrong with admitting that we don’t understand what we read, and that we need some help.

So where do we go for help? First, I recommend against study Bibles. I find that they offer minimal help, usually the least help when you want it the most. Instead, you should invest in several practical commentaries that you can read along with your Bible reading. That may slow down your Bible reading, but that’s all right. The Bible Speaks Today series from IVP has a number of useful volumes, as does the Welwyn commentary series from Evangelical Press. These are non-technical commentaries that are designed to help the reader understand and apply what he reads.

May you have happy Bible reading in 2012.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Punctuating the Bible: Ephesians 4:11-12

In speaking, we indicate emphasis and pauses simply by the way we pronounce the words. Punctuation and other ways of marking a text are used to attempt to accomplish with the written word what it cannot do, that is, imitate the spoken word. Thus someone might say the three simple words “I love him” in three different ways. He might say, “I love him,” putting the emphasis on “I,” which is indicated here by putting “I” in italics. The meaning communicated is that “I” as opposed to others, love him. Or he might say, “I love him” putting the emphasis on the verb (again, indicated here with italics). Thus the meaning is I love him as opposed to “hate” or “like” or “put up with.” Or he might say, “I love him;” communicating the idea of loving that particular person as opposed to others. The pauses and emphasis indicated by punctuation therefore help clarify the meaning of what is written, in place of the emphasis provided by voice and facial expression in conversation.

The importance of proper punctuation is well-illustrated in Lynne Truss’s recent bestseller, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. This is particularly pointed out in the publisher’s note (p. xv) to the effect that the book is written in English English as opposed to American English, and so follows the rules of English rather than American punctuation. All of this is to say that the punctuation of the text of the Bible in English serves an important interpretive function that might be easily overlooked by the causal reader.

Ephesians 4:12 provides a useful example. For context, I have also included verse 11. In the KJV, the verses read, “11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” Notice that the commas in verse 12 indicate three purposes for the work of the officers listed: perfecting the saints, the work of the ministry, and the edifying of the body of Christ.

In the NKJV, the passage reads, “11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” In this version, there is only one comma in verse 12, indicating a two-fold purpose for the work of the officers: equipping the saints for the work of ministry and edifying the body of Christ. The whole range of modern translations, from the NASB to the NLT, does exactly the same thing that the NKJV does, indicating two purposes for the work of the officers.

The modern reader probably reads only one English version, and for the most part probably pays little attention to the punctuation. Therefore, he might not notice the different possible understandings that the verse provides. Next time we will look into the matter of determining which punctuation of the verse is probably right, why, and what it means for the reader.