Improving Your Bible Literacy

August 22, 2014

By Bible literacy I simply mean having a good working knowledge of what is in the Bible and feeling comfortable reading and studying the Bible. Bible literacy in our country is at a low according to recent surveys. How do you buck this trend in your own life? First, make a commitment to read the Bible. Here are a few tips for improving your Bible literacy by improving your reading.

Get an Overview of the Bible Story. The Bible is a library of books divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament. We need to become familiar with this library. The first step is to become familiar with the historical narrative of the Bible: the overall story of the Bible I would recommend beginning with the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and Acts. They provide the story overview of the New Testament. Reading Genesis through Esther provides the story overview of the Old Testament. With this historical framework, you are better prepared to explore the whole library.

Look Up Words in a Dictionary. The Bible has unfamiliar words: apostles, disciples, redemption, justification, propitiation, and the list could go on. Look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary. I would start with a Bible dictionary, but a regular English dictionary is helpful too. Every good reader I know uses a dictionary frequently.

Ask a Reporter’s Questions. The Bible is understood in the same way we understand any other book. Yes, I value the Bible as inspired by God, but because God has chosen to communicate in written language, we use the normal tools for understanding something written. We ask the same questions a reporter asks. In “The Elephant’s Child,” Rudyard Kippling made the questions memorable:

I keep six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

There names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

Asking and answering these questions is an important part of reading for understanding.

Context, Context, Context. Sentences mean something in context. Lifted out of their context, they may appear to mean something they do not. That’s why we need to read books of the Bible and not just proof texts here and there. Examine the context of the passage, the broader context in a given book, and the context of the Bible as a whole. We also attempt to learn what we can about the historical context. All these are important strategies for reading and understanding.

Construct a Timeline. The Bible covers a lengthy period of history. It can help your understanding to look at a timeline or construct a timeline with major events and people on it. The NIV Study Bible has a very nice timeline in it. The ESV Study Bible also provides a timeline via tables with dates and events.

Look Up Places on a Map. The Bible has unfamiliar places. Looking them up in a Bible atlas aids in understanding. Journeys and battles may make more sense once we see things on the map.


What Are Strong’s Numbers?

August 15, 2014

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible was first published in 1890. It is a concordance of the King James Version. The concordance was compiled under the direction of Dr. James Strong, but more than 100 colleagues aided in the production of the concordance. Produced in the nineteenth century everything had to be done by hand. It was a very labor intensive project, but it has been useful to Bible students ever since.

The unique feature of this concordance was that it exhaustively cross-referenced every English word of the KJV with the word in the original languages. Each word in Hebrew and each word in Greek were assigned a number. These numbers are known as Strong’s Numbers.

Strong’s numbers allow the English readers to get back to the original language without knowing Hebrew or Greek. If they are curious about a particular word, they can look up the English word in the concordance, locate the verse reference, and then find the Strong’s number. This number tells them what original language word stands behind the English translation. With the number, the word can be looked up in the Hebrew and Greek dictionaries at the back of the concordance. This feature is helpful in digging deeper in a passage, evaluating translations, and doing word studies.

With a Strong’s number a student can do a word study on the original language word. He or she could find every occurrence of the particular Greek or Hebrew word regardless of how it may be translated. Most translations render the same Greek or Hebrew word with some variety due to the range of meaning each word has. But doing a word study on the original language word may help the reader see this range of meaning. It may help the reader see connections within the text that become lost in translation.

For example in John 21:15-17, John uses two different Greek words for love in Jesus’s question and Peter’s reply. Does that have significance or not? Some say that it does. I tend to think it is just a case of synonyms, and the main concern is that the question is asked three times (reminiscent of three denials). By using Strong’s Numbers a reader could look at John’s use of these two words for love in the entire gospel.

Strong’s numbers have been applied to translations beyond the KJV. The numbers have also become searchable in some Bible software packages and apps (e.g., Logos, Accordance, and Olive Tree Bible Study App to name a few). In computer-based searches, the search can be done much more quickly than with Strong’s Concordance and looking up all the references by hand in a Bible.

In addition some dictionaries and word studies use Strong’s numbers, so the reader can find additional information (e.g., Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (by Harris, Archer & Waltke), or The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology: Abridged Edition.)We are blessed with tools that help us carefully look at the text of the Bible.


I Will Not Be Afraid

July 26, 2014

If I am honest with myself, I have to confess that my life has been lived in relative safety. What fears I’ve experienced have been in the big scheme of things little fears. So how do you learn courage when you’ve experienced safety? You look to the lives of those who truly have experienced danger. You attempt to analyze their courage and learn from it.

King David was a man of action. He was a warrior. He knew battles. He had learned how not to be afraid. Psalm 3 makes for interesting reflection. The psalm heading says that the context of the psalm was Absalom’s rebellion. David found himself fleeing. David found himself with many rising up against him. But notice his response.

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,

my glory, and the lifter of my head.

I cried aloud to the LORD,

and he answered me from his holy hill.

I lay down and slept;

I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people

who have set themselves against me all around.

(Psalms 3:3–6 ESV)

His relationship with God gave him courage to face his circumstances. God was his protection (shield) and victory. The reference to glory and lifter of my head convey the idea of God as the source (my glory) and giver of victory (the lifter of my head).

Because he has this confidence in God he could go to sleep. Have you ever had worries that kept you up at night? Fears can give us insomnia. David had the confidence that he could sleep. David is also not concerned with the odds. The ESV’s “many thousands” is the same word as in the little ditty: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” (1 Samuel 18:7, ESV) David could confidently be in the minority because he was on God’s side.

As a modern reader, I stumble a bit with “breaking the teeth of the wicked.” But this is likely a wild animal image (see Psalm 58:6). Breaking the teeth is to render powerless the enemies of God. The people of God have the assurance of God’s victory.

Like David we can learn to be courageous in our faith. We can be courageous even if the odds are ten thousands to one, because salvation belongs to the Lord. Walking with God, I will not be afraid.


The Adventure of Christian Youth Camp

July 4, 2014

A new generation of campers is beginning the adventure—the adventure of a Christian youth camp experience. What’s in store for them?

The surroundings of camp are an adventure. How many times do kids get to have six “overnighters” in a row with nine other friends in the same room. (By the way, that’s also quite an adventure for the counselors too!) But the adventure also includes hills to climb, a lake to swim in, a field to run on, canoes to paddle, and wonderful trees to sit under in the heat of the day.

The activities of camp are an adventure. How often in a kid’s life does the day’s activities revolve around kids? Camp is a busy place just for them. Games, arts and crafts, nature walks, archery, swimming, campfires, and the list goes on. In fact, the campers are so busy, you can begin to see the exhaustion by Wednesday, if not before. Somehow we all catch a second wind and make it through the rest of the week.

The spiritual emphasis of camp is an adventure. Bible classes, prayers, singing devotional songs around the campfire, and sometimes those heart to heart talks make for a wonderful spiritual experience. It can truly be life changing, because camp provides a unique opportunity for the Bible not only to be taught, but also lived and applied. No, camp isn’t heaven. People still make mistakes and have problems, but it is about the closest thing to it that I’ve ever experienced. Sometimes you witness a child blossoming from the simple things of time, attention, and loving Christian fellowship.

For some reason, being in nature and away from the TV, iPods, and other noises of modern life makes it easier to think about God and life. The retreat from the day to day can make it easier to reflect on what is really important. This reflection can be a wonderful adventure whether you are 8 or 80. It’s the chance to notice the green of the trees, the blue of the sky, and the beauty of a butterfly. Simple pleasures that sometimes we are in too big of a hurry to notice. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1, NIV)

I visited another congregation for a gospel meeting, where a young man introduced himself to me and said, “You had me as a camper.” I was touched that he remembered and introduced himself. (I have to admit I struggle with the fact that someone I had the first year I managed camp could be 42 now, but that is another issue.) It reminds me that a Christian youth camp puts an imprint on the life of the campers and staff that last a lifetime. Campers make friends that they will always remember. It’s a wonderful adventure!


“Pass It On”

June 27, 2014

The British and Foreign Bible Society has launched an initiative called “Pass It On” for 2014. The idea is to encourage adults to read the Bible to children or to tell them the stories of the Bible. This major push arose from a survey that was done of children between the ages of 8 to 15 and parents of children age 3 to 16 in the United Kingdom. Here is what they found.

In the Survey of 8 to 15 year olds in the U.K.

  • 23% had never read, seen or heard Noah’s Ark.
  • 25% had never read, seen or heard the Nativity.
  • 54% had never read, seen or heard Joseph and his coat of many colors.
  • 60% had never read, seen or heard the Feeding of the 5,000
  • 61% had never read, seen or heard the Good Samaritan
  • 63% had never read, seen or heard the Creation account.
  • 72% had never read, seen or heard Daniel and the lion’s den.
  • 85 % had never read, seen or heard the story of Solomon.

In the Survey of Parents of Children 3 to 16 in the U.K.

  • 30% did not recognize the story of Adam and Eve
  • 31% did not recognize the story of David and Goliath
  • 27% did not recognize the story of the Good Samaritan

Besides being tested on the plot lines of Bible stories, they were also given the plot lines of various stories outside the Bible to see if they thought they were in the Bible. Would the recognize that these stories are not found in the Bible? Here’s how it went with the parents.

  • 34% thought the plot line of Harry Potter was or might be in the Bible
  • 54% for the plot of the Hunger Games
  • 27% for the plot line of Superman
  • 46% for the plot line of The Da Vinci Code

Yes, this is a survey for Great Britain and not the United States. There is an obvious difference between the two countries. Currently, the U.K. has a church attendance rate at about 12% while the rate in the U.S. is at 43%. But it is a cautionary tale. What happens when one generation fails to pass on the Bible?

“We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done. Psalms 78:4,ESV

Sources: “Church Attendance Statistics by Country
http://www.biblesociety.org.uk/about-bible-society/our-work/pass-it-on/


A Well-Worn Bible

June 20, 2014

A Well-Worn Bible

Our church met in a park last Sunday night, and I snapped the above photo of one our elder’s Bible before he spoke. You notice his Bible is marked and falling apart. It reminds me of the Charles Spurgeon quote: “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” A well-worn Bible is what you want to see in a church leader.

I still think he needs a new one, but he is going through the trauma that I have also experienced. I had a wide margin Bible that was beginning to fall apart after a decade of use. I knew the bookstore manager and asked him about the lifetime guarantee. He would gladly give me a new Bible if I turned in my old one. I couldn’t part with it, although I did move to a new one. You spend years with a Bible making notes in it. You have treasures in your margins that you don’t want to loose. Notes and underlining are a way of making the book your own.

I read a publishing statistic somewhere. A paperback Bible is expected to last one year of daily use. A hardback Bible is expected to last five years, and a leather bound Bible is expected to last 10 years of daily use. Leather is not to make the Bible into a religious relic. It is used because it makes for a durable binding. In fact, if you scan through any old libraries, you will find many leather bound books for that reason.

I have also seen pristine Bibles that shouldn’t have been. I once made a visit to home. The person had a Bible they wanted to show me. It was brought to me with obvious pride. It was still in the box with the white paper wrapped around it. It was like new. Inwardly, I was a bit horrified. I think I mumbled something about Bibles are to be used.

My Bible is now on my iPad. It is what I use on a daily basis. It won’t have the signs of a binding’s wear. But it still has signs of daily use: checked off Bible reading guides, highlighting, and notes.

Which is it for you? Does your Bible look new even thought it isn’t or do you too have a well-worn Bible?


Being There

June 13, 2014

Fatherhood! It is the most challenging and rewarding role that a man can have. I suspect that none of us ever feel adequate to the task. After all, it is on the job training, and we carry our own relationship with our fathers around with us with all of its help and its own set of inadequacies.

The story is told of a young preacher who had a sermon entitled “The Ten Commandments of Parenthood.” Of course, it was written before he became a father. As his children became older, the sermon was re-titled, “The Ten Principles of Parenthood.” The reality of rearing children made him a little less sure of himself. By the time his children became teenagers, the sermon was entitled “The Ten Suggestions That May or May Not Work.” The feeling of inadequacy may just be part of the territory.

Despite such feelings, I’m now the proud father of adult children. It is hard for me to believe. It is trite to say that time flies. When your kids are squabbling with one another in the backseat of the car, it’s hard to believe that this will ever pass by quickly. But it does. So what wisdom have I learned?

The world needs fathers – not just perfect fathers, if such a species exists. And one of the most important job qualifications is being there. Children need a lap to climb into for a story to be read. They need Dad to wrestle with them on the floor. They need to be tucked into bed. Someone needs to go to school conferences and programs, ball games and concerts. They need someone to take them to Bible class and worship. They need someone who is active in the life of the church, so that they will be too.

That is the rub, isn’t it? We must somehow balance job and activities with family time. I’ve had lots of evening meetings through the years, so I know how it can be. None of us are perfectly available. But we must communicate to our children that they are important by our presence. Our participation in their lives matters!

Being with our children is a vital part of communicating our values. Discipline and instruction occur with interaction from parents. One researcher found that feelings of closeness and high levels of time spent together are vital to sharing our values. They are three times more likely to reproduce our values in our children than parental emphasis on those values alone. We have to walk the walk with our children, and that takes being there.

That shouldn’t surprise us. It is the picture of parenthood in Deuteronomy 6.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:6-7, ESV

Christian, spiritual children do not happen by accident. Our participation is vital. One of the most important things you can do as a Dad is being there.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26 other followers