Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ephesus: January Roundup

I started off on this project with some mis-steps, but THE place to start reading and studying the Bible is the Gospel According to Luke.

I wrote about why I started this project, and although I had intended to create them in booklet form, but it has become clear they will not fit into a booklet. I am posting these essays on the Internet because I am writing this for people who generally will not sit down and read a book. Hopefully, this format will allow people to read in "bite sized" chunks, and read only the sections that they need.

I have already had to go back and update one article, and some others need update, thus the reason for the monthly roundups. This is where I intend to list the new articles, and list the updated or expanded articles. I will include a little about their subject matter; maybe a sentence or a paragraph. I will also list plans for "Future Articles."

I need to expand Ephesus Project: Cheats and helps.

I plan an article on why Christians need to read and study the Bible, a second article on Dictionaries, a further article on study, and an article on other tools to help with understanding the Bible. Then I will post an essay I wrote a couple years ago about how the Bible got from the hands of the authors into our hands.

And yes, I know ALL of this is "if the Lord is willing" so I ask now that anyone who sees this prays for me.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Monthly Heroes and Slimeballs

I decided that since Counterpane has his doghouse, and privacy international has the big brother award, that I could have a Slimeball of the Month award.

Here comes the hard part. I decided that I would only do this if I could also post something positive, so I have a hero of the month in the same posting. Finding Slimeballs isn't hard, but finding heroes is, so this will only contiinue if I can find a hero each month.

The Hero of the Month for this month is the 14 year old who foiled a burglary with a ball bat. (Hat tip to Combat Effective)

Slimeball of the Month award.
This one is for people, agencies, or organizations that:
  • promote zero tolerance
  • steal the rights of citizens
  • take money from the poor by slight of hand
  • destroy our national sovereignty
  • undermine the defense of our nation
  • promote myths about ...

The award this month goes to Jackson-Heiwitt for their aggressive marketing of their "Money Now Loans," which have come with fees of $70 and up. I think it ironic that last year their ads showed GhostRider on fire (he only lights up in the presence of evil) and this year their ads show dysfunctional people, both the ones using their services, and those needing their services but having gone somewhere else.

Links of interest:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ephesus: Study Methods pt1

Words and phrases and paragraphs.

This is the beginning of actually studying the text of the Bible. Most of the Ephesus project will be geared to reading the Bible, or even reading about the Bible, but from time to time some passages will get some close attention. This is one of those times.

The study of Ephesians will involve a great deal more reflection. It was written by the most highly revered teacher of Christian living, to the Church in the city of Ephesus, and it was written about what it is to live "the Christian life."

Every phrase in this letter has an easy meaning - and a deep meaning. I recommend first reading through, a chapter at a time, to get the overview - then go back and read one paragraph at a time. It is good to note that no word is in the Bible by accident (well, with English translations, this may only be 98% true) and each word is worth pondering.

As you begin this process, it will be helpful to look up each word, sometimes even if you think you know what it means (I strongly recommend looking up every word of four or more letters). Also look closely at each "Him" or "His" to see what they are really referring to. (If you can remember diagramming sentences, it will come in handy here - I can't remember how, but after taking a class in Bible interpretation I now know why they taught it in English class.)

This is the reason I preceded this article with one on Bible Dictionaries. Every word in the Bible will likely be in either a Bible Dictionary, or in an ordinary desk dictionary. Many will be in both.

As you read one paragraph (see below for paragraph divisions) at a time, look and think about each and every word and each and every phrase - and how they relate to the entire book. This should normally take several weeks.

If you find you cannot study a good half hour on each paragraph, you seriously need to get together with a mentor who can help you learn how to do this. But don't fret too much, your skills will improve with practice.

Because this process takes so long, you will need to read through the book on occasion to refresh yourself of the overall picture. On the days you read the whole book through, you may notice some things. One is that (after the two verse greeting) Paul starts with who God is, then what God has done and then goes on to what our duty is, as part of the Body of the Church. This is a constant with Paul - all of his books, from Romans through Philemon, begin with doctrine and end with duty.

Note On Paragraph Divisions:
I break up the letter to the Ephesians slightly differently than most Bibles - in their original form there were no verses or paragraphs (these are "historically recent" inventions, developed in the past thousand years, to help us locate and read stuff)

I would begin study at each of the 25 verse numbers listed below:

  • chap 1: 1,7,11,15
  • chap 2: 1,8,11,14,19
  • chap 3: 1,8,14
  • chap 4: 1,7,11,17,25
  • chap 5: 1,8,15,22,30
  • chap 6: 1,5,10,13,21

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ephesus Project: Dictionaries Part 1

In a previous article, I mentioned that many of the words and phrases in the Bible meant something different when they were written than they would mean today, or would at least have a different shade of meaning. A good Bible dictionary will help bridge the cultural differences surrounding words and descriptions in the Bible.

I break Bible Dictionaries into four catagories:

First is scholarly dictionaries. The pastor who taught me to study the Bible recommends Vines. I don't: for beginners it is far too advanced. These dictionaries are too detailed for the average Christian, and often require looking up a word in more than one section to fully understand the definitions.

As the goal of this project is for first year students to gain understanding the need is for something with lots of pictures, drawings, diagrams, tables, and maps. Many "Study Bibles" will have some of this already in them, but usually only a few pages.

The second catagory are those that are great for beginners: These dictionaries - at least 500 pages in length, have many picture and charts. They are also detailed enough the average Christian beginning serious study will not "grow out of" them for several years. The definitions also should refer back to the Scriptures.

I recommend Zondervan's Pictorial Dictionary. There are others (and I will review them in time), but this is the one I use extensively. It is available in four or five varieties: compact, pocket, paperback, and full. If you are serious about studying, I recommend the full one. It is about 875 pages, and has over 5000 entries, over 700 picture, and many charts and maps. I give the others for gifts, which leads me to the ...

Third category - those that are great as a gift: Same as above, but less than 500 pages so as to not overwhelm the recipient. These still must be theologically accurate (see below). If the recipient gets serious about studying, they may outgrow these quickly.

In addition to the Zondervan Compact Bible Dictionary (see above), I have found "The Student Dictionary" (about 250 pages by Karen Dockery, Johnnie Godwin, and Phyllis Godwin). This one meets my basic criteria as a good beginners book - but is a little one the light side. On the plus side, it has wonderful pictures, graphs, charts and explanations. In this, it attempts to cover some territory of a Bible Handbook. Great as gift, especially for younger people.

A good price on these at the end of 2007 was $20 for the serious ones (for beginners) and about $9 for the ones I give as gifts.

The forth category are the ones I have found that are not very useful: These either don't have enough pictures and charts, or provide definitions that don't refer back to the Scripture, or the definitions are either theologically shallow or simply inaccurate.

Nelson's Pocket Reference Series Bible Dictionary is one that I would not recommend buying. This is a 3.5 inch by 5 inch book of 314 pages. It sells for about $6 at several grocers and supermarkets in my area. While it does give easy to understand definitions, it is actually aimed "too low" to be of any real use. The pictures are too few in number, and not of good enough quality, and several of the words I looked up are not in it. It states it has "over 1500 entries" and I guess that is proof that 1500 is not enough. In addition, the copyright is too restrictive if you would ever try to quote it (actually, if you take it literally, you can't even "use" it), and it is printed in China. While I would not throw this dictionary away, if you already have it, it is in no way worth the $6 price. I wouldn't even pay $1 for it, but if you already have it, there is a series of articles in the back of it that are worth reading.

Two that I "thumbed through" in the book store are "Unger's Bible Dictionary" and the "Layman's Bible Dictionary" I haven't really looked at the definitions in these dictionaries, since they don't have enough pictures to suit me.

This got a bit longer and more involved than I expected, and there are a few more dictionaries that I want to review, so I will pick up the topic again in a few weeks.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ephesus Project: Cheats and helps

What do you do if you are still struggling to understand what you read in the Gospel according to Luke?

The video game industry would not be what it is today without a set of "helper tools" known as Cheat Codes. They were originally used to allow programmers and some who were not so adept at the game to reach levels of play they otherwise would never have reached.

Don't we wish there were cheat codes for Bible understanding? Well, there some things that can help.

Most people know that Charlton Heston made (at least) a dozen Bible based movies like the Ten Commandments and Exodus. Most people don't know that he made them amazingly accurate. A couple of them are virtually word for word out of the Bible.

Also there are some comic book style books that have the Bible text illustrated. The Picture Bible by Iva Hoth has the storeys of the Bible layed out in story fashion, with, obviously, pictures. It is not "The Bible" word for word, but gives a picture style feel for the people and events of that day. Available thru Family Christian Book Store or thru Amazon.

There have also been other "comic book" style texts from the Bible. I ran across some in Family Christian Book Stores last year that each one contained the complete text from one book of the New Testament in illustrated form. Unfortunately they don't seem to be around any more. But I will keep looking.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

After Luke: Beginning Study

I debated long and hard about which epistle should be next, but settled on Ephesians. Here is the difference between reading which a beginner should do a lot of, and studying, which is also necessary for a beginner.

There are many words in the Bible (and sometimes in other things we read) that we really don't know the meaning of. Many times we decide on a meaning that fits with our understanding of the context, and usually we are at least close. But at times we can miss a lot by assigning the wrong meaning to words, and in the case of the Bible, that is increased by the differences between the culture of the authors and our own.

Remember the goal here is to UNDERSTAND the Bible, and getting some basic groundwork is important, so that is what I will concentrate on in the near future. Exploring some tools and methods to overcome the basic hurdles that can trip up a beginning Bible student is a primary goal of this project.

Of course, the first step in studying Ephesians is to read it through. As it is a fairly short letter, it can be read in a few short sittings. (If you read through it in one sitting, you may find this whole guide to be somewhat oversimplified.) After reading it through, go back and begin a detailed study of each paragraph, verse and word in it. How to go about this detailed study I will cover in an article in a week or so.

To study the text, however, you will need to understand the words, and towards the goal of understanding the words, I will explore Bible dictionaries soon. In the mean time, you will also need a regular dictionary. I prefer Oxford, but Webster will do fine also. Desk size dictionaries are fine, but I would stay away from "pocket," "abridged," or "college" dictionaries.

The next article, however, will be aimed at those struggling with the simpler things. It will be for those who are either unChurched, or are in Churches that do not teach the Bible at all.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Translations 2 - Study Bibles.

The question of which translation is best is somewhat sticky, because there are so several good ones. I always tell anyone who is studying the Bible they should eventually have at least two translations. Since a Bible you don't read and understand is less than helpful, one of those translations should be chosen for ease of reading. The second translation is to compare wording in case you have a question about the meaning of a passage.

In addition, at least one of them needs to be a "Study Bible." A Study Bible is one of three basic tools to help you understand the Bible. These tools are very helpful in comprehending the time, places, and social differences the Bible discusses. They should also help with fitting some of the various pieces together to get at the understanding of the Bible.

If you have a translation that is easy to read, and is a word for word translation, and is a Study Bible, there is absolutely no hurry to get a second translation.

The following are a few Study Bibles any of which I would recommend.

The NIV Study Bible by Zondervan is one I have reviewed myself, and it is a good one, both from the standpoint of easy to read and having an abundance of good notes. It is made for beginners and fairly middle of the road theologically.

The Scofield Study Bible was an old and trusted source for many conservatives in the past. There is a newer version, and also a Scofield III version today. The Scofield III is available in some newer translations, such as NKJV, NIV, NASB, and Holman translations.

The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version by R.C. Sproul and Keith Mathison is likely to be a good one. I haven't reviewed it, but I have read some of Sproul's other work, and it is good.

The Holman Illustrated Study Bible: Holman Christian Standard Bible has had several good reviews. I have seen some other Holman Bible products and they are good, so I would trust this one also.

It is important to note that any study reference is going to have their own slant as to the interpretation of some particular doctrine. The ones above are fairly middle of the road, from a Baptist point of view.

UPDATE: A friend pointed out to me that I didn't discuss "Life Applications Study Bibles," and she is correct. I have not yet really looked at any Bibles in this catagory and don't know much about them. I may look into them in the future, especially if someone leaves a comment asking me to look into them.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Versions or Translations of the Bible

I often hear two related questions regarding different translations of the Bible. One is why are there so many versions, and the other is which one is the best to use. Entire books have been written on the subject, so I won't go into detail here, and anyone who reads this can ask questions by way of the comments.

The first question is mostly a misunderstanding. The Bible has been translated into English by several different groups of scholars over the years, mostly because English continues to evolve. It is a little like translating it into different (but similar) languages. There is, of course, some differences in how the text is represented. Some of these scholars wanted to make it more reliable for study, and some wanted to make it more appealing to less scholarly readers. Hence, it is more correct to say these are different translations, than different "versions."

There are also, of course, some truly different Bibles. Bibles used by the Catholics and the Masons actually contain different added or subtracted passages. I am not addressing these, as I use only the Bible recognised by the Protestant, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran Churches. There are some additional writings (like the apocrypha and writings of Josephus) that others will encourage you to read, but for a beginner, these are more of a distraction than a help.
(I will write more on this subject later, if asked)

Michael Johnson maintains a list of Bible translations here:
In general, his assessment of these translations seem a little bit on the liberal side to me, but close enough to be useful.

There are basically three kinds of translations worth discussing.

First there is word for word translation. None of the translations listed below are perfectly word for word, but strive to be as close as possible, while still being readable. Ancient languages were so different in syntax and grammar from our own, that true word for word translation is difficult to achieve and would be next to impossible to read. The following are nearly word for word:

The King James Version (KJV) has an almost "cult" following that claims all others are a compromise. I don't subscribe to that thought, but the KJV is very accurate, and has some advantages for study, such as showing differences between "you" singular and "you" plural.

The New King James Version (NKJV), and the Webster Bible are both taken from the KJV, but use somewhat more modern words to make them more readable.

New American Standard Bible (NASB95, most recent, 1995 version is most recommended) is the one my Church keeps on hand. Accuracy is exceptional, and it is very easy for modern readers to read.

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). Of the four in this group, I haven't reviewed this one personally, but it comes with high recommendation from people I trust.

The second kind: Phrase by phrase or thought by thought translation provides much better readability, and if the Bible is to be read out loud to those who are not used to reading it for themselves, New International Version (NIV) is an excellent translation that is highly accurate. (see also my discussion on Study Bibles, will posted in a couple days). I have personally reviewed this translation and recommend it.

I have also reviewed the New Living Translation (NLT), and it is good for reading out loud. It does however, depart significantly from the original text, and therefore is more suited for storytime than studytime.

There third kind is Online Bibles.
The only two I know of at this time are World English Bible (WEB) and New English Translation (NET). Both seem to be excellent translations (I have not yet done a thorough review of them yet).

There are a few translations you should avoid.
One where I disagree with Michael Johnson (author of the above named FAQ) is Today's English Version (TEV), also called the Good News Bible or Good News for Modern Man. The translation has so many departures from the original language that I can not recommend it. He and I both agree the following should be avoided: The Living Bible (TLB) and The Message.

The question of which one is best is somewhat sticky because there are so many good ones. In addition, every Christian should have a "Study Bible." I will try to get to those questions in the next couple days.

UPDATE: In discussing this with my pastor, I discovered I had ommitted one more good word for word translation: the English Standard Bible (ESB)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ephesus: Reading Luke

I got off to a somewhat confusing start with this project, by announcing it just before Christmas and recommending the Gospel according to Luke as a starting point (and how to read it). Then I discussed why I started the project and where I came from to get here.

True, I probably should have wrote those in a different order, but I think the highest importance is just to get started. I might get some flak from my teachers on that note, because I have forgotten to say that an important step before attempting to study the Bible is to pray to God for peace and understanding.

Maybe because I wrote this for Christians, I began thinking that goes without saying, but really it doesn't: especially for men, who tend to have a hard time learning to pray. Men, myself included always think we can do it on our own, and that sometimes extends to thinking we can gain understanding without God's help. Not so easy, without God's help, most of us (myself included) will flounder.

As soon as Bible study begins, someone always brings up: which translation of the Bible is best? That is where I expect to go next. Any questions or comments are welcome.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Why the Ephesus Project?

The reasons are many.

All Christians should study the scriptures (Bible), but many of us do not. There are too many of us who go to Church each Sunday, more to be entertained, than to learn.
"The Bible is the best selling, least-read and least-understood book." (attributed to Andy Dzurovcik of Faith Lutheran Church)
One of the main reasons I began this project was that I spent several years mostly spinning my wheels (see discussion here) trying to learn the Bible. And when I DID find a pastor who taught a class on Beginning Bible Interpretation, he was teaching just below the semanary level. Great. But ...

From that course, I did learn the basics (I never did really rise to the level of his course) and more importantly, got turned on to several tools to learn. The tools are important because the Bible was written long ago in a civilization that was so different that most Americans do not even understand how they lived. And because, in any endeavor, there is an amount of jargon that must be learned so the things you read and the people you talk to make sense.

Well, maybe you are one of those who sat in the pews, sang, and listened, but never read the Bible. Now, for some reason, you are seeing the light. You just realised you need to know what is in that Book, and maybe you need to become a teacher.

Maybe your reasons are a little more mundane. You have heard too many people "quote" the "good book" and wonder if those things are really in the Good Book. There is a running joke among some of my friends, about things found in the book of Hezekiah. The joke is because there is no book of Hezekiah, and we say that when someone provides a "quote" that is no where in the Bible. There are also those who will quote things so far out of context that the quotation is completely without its original meaning.

Ultimately, this study is for those who want a real, but realistic, understanding of the Bible, but don't want to spend years spinning their wheels looking for how to make heads or tails of it. It is a beginning point, to start a journy of discovery of the Bilble and all of its riches.

I, myself, am only a few miles down this road,
but I invite others to come along.

It is well worth the effort.