January 16, 2019

Jesus' Bible: A Concise History of Hebrew Scriptures


This concise history of the Hebrew Bible by Christopher Dost shows the development of the Old Testament in the biblical texts Jesus and the Apostles would have known. 

As the Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at Alliance Theological Seminary in New York and author of related books, Dr. Dost documented a wide range of resources to give us this slim paperback, chocked with information.

For some, the Jesus’Bible might challenge thinking or even offer more information than wanted! Despite the scholarly nature of the book, however, the author writes in an accessible style that keeps the text from being as dry as an old scroll.

As Dr. Dost quickly points out in the introduction, “There was no Bible in Jesus’ day. The Torah and the Prophets – the first two sections of what would become the Hebrew Bible – were essentially canonized (i.e., accepted as authoritative), but they were still textually fluid. The third section, however, the Writings, was not fixed.”

Another aspect of fluidity arose because of the Hebrew manner of writing words in consonants only with no vowels included.  Dr. Dost gives examples of this, but if we look at the same situation in English, that might help to clarify problems that arise in translation. 

For instance, take the English words “mite,” mate,” “mote,” or “moot” and remove the vowels, as Hebrew scribes would do, and you’d have “mt.” As you can see, each of those words has an entirely different meaning to be determined only by the context in which the word is found. 

In addition, the connotations and denotations of a word can change over time. For example, a “mite” in Jesus’ day brings to mind the widow with a single coin left to her name, while in our era, the word might mean we need to put protective covers on our pillows and mattresses to keep out dust mites!

Besides the fact that a living language does not remain static, there’s the regional dialect to consider. In Virginia, for instance, “a run” doesn’t mean a 5K race but a brook, a creek, or, as some parts of the country say, a crick, which, for me, means an achy neck.

Similarly, “The Hebrew Bible was penned over the course of the first millennium BCE in what is known today as the Middle East. Many of the biblical tests were written in Israel and Judah (roughly modern-day Israel and Palestine), while others were written in Babylonia (southeastern Iraq) and in Egypt.” The author also goes on to say, “…we cannot overstate how significantly foreign domination impacted the growth, development, and interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures.”

Along those lines, we learn “…that the oldest extant (i.e., still in existence) Christian Bible was not limited to the modern Protestant Canon. In fact, when we examine a list of the New Testament’s quotations and allusions to sacred Jewish texts, we see that the writers of the New Testament have a much bigger ‘Bible’ than do twenty-first century Protestant Christians….”

 We’re talking now about the “apocryphal” books (a misnomer, as they’ve never been hidden), which are part of the Greek scriptures (aka Septuagint.) As Dr. Dost explains:

“Because the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, one might expect early Christianity to have revered the ‘original’ much as the Reformers did, but such was not the case. The Septuagint was for all intents and purposes the Bible for many Jews in antiquity. And since early Christianity was really no more than a movement within first-century Palestinian Judaism, it should be no surprise that the Septuagint was immensely important for the writers of the New Testament. In fact, those who regard Paul as the author of 2 Timothy must conclude that ‘all scripture,’ which the letter’s author regards as ‘inspired and profitable,’ includes both the Hebrew and the Greek, since Paul quotes extensively from the Septuagint in his writings.”

If these well-researched thoughts seem at all upsetting, lovers of the Protestant version of the Bible might be glad to know that the beloved King James Version originally contained more books than it does now.  In addition, publishers of the accurate and evangelically oriented English Standard Version of the Bible typically omit the apocryphal books in both reader and study editions, but the ESV translation of the Apocrypha is available as a separate volume, well worth reading – not only for the wisdom to be found but for the historical accounts of events that occurred between the Old and New Testaments.



Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2019, poet-author and Bible reviewer






January 7, 2019

NKJV Premier Collection


As a Bible reviewer on this blog for a while now, I regularly receive free copies of new editions, which keeps me surrounded by God's Word - literally!

I love these versatile voices and choices in translations, each of which says the same truths but in a unique way that helps us to see different aspects of scripture we might not otherwise notice.  Nevertheless, I have continued to look for THE Bible that suits my particular needs and preferences, and so I bought the NKJV (New King James Version) single-column reference Bible from Thomas Nelson’s “Premier Collection.”

Since I use my favorite Bibles a lot, my needs and preferences include:  at least a 10-point font to ease eye strain; a poetic translation that's easy to understand but also known for its accuracy; and an edition that shows the publisher's  respectful handling of the Bible through such features as Smyth-sewn pages of good quality paper, bound in a soft, flexible, yummy-to-the-touch premium leather. 

As a Bible discussion leader in our Christian community, I also value the addition of references showing alternate translations of a word or phrase and, especially, showing the dialogue in God’s Word between the prophets and the Person of Jesus as prophecy after prophecy is fulfilled in His life, death, and resurrection. And, because of the placement of the biblical references alongside the single-column text, I now have room  in this edition for my own conversations  with God’s Word as I write down the prayers and insights the Lord inevitably brings to me - and to those who ask.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2019, poet-writer and reviewer


December 11, 2018

Compact but Info-packed Bible Commentary


I love my study Bibles, and Lord knows, I have a bunch! Sometimes, though, I just want a trustworthy commentary packed with information and insights that might not otherwise come up in my Bible study group. So when I saw that Thomas Nelson still published the Nelson’s Quick Reference: Chapter-By-Chapter Bible Commentary by pastor and Bible teacher Warren W. Wiersbe, I ordered a copy.

The contents of this fat little 4x5.5” book do not disappoint. However, the chunky size seems apt to come apart, even though the pages appear to be sewn into the coated paper cover. Despite my wish for a more manageable size that would easily stay open on a desk, you can carry this edition in a purse or book bag.

Since my Sunday School class is studying 1 Samuel, I turned to the comments on chapter 12:

“Samuel’s message was the combination of a coronation address, a revival sermon, and a farewell speech. He pointed out the greatness of their sin in asking for a king and then called for new dedication. A key theme in the address is witness (vv. 3,5).”

The author goes on to list and define:

“The witness of a godly leader (1-5).
The witness of history (6-15).
The witness of God’s power (16-18).
The witness of the covenant (19-25).”


In expounding on the latter, Rev. Wiersbe says:

“The people had forsaken God, but He would not forsake them, for He is true to His Word. They had the assurance of God’s faithfulness as well as the prayers and ministry of Samuel. Had the king maintained his friendship with Samuel and obeyed the Word, he would have led the nation to victory.”

That did not happen, of course, until David replaced King Saul as leader of the nation. Centuries later, King David’s descendant Jesus began His kingly reign over us, as we reside in the ever-present Kingdom of God.

The beloved Apostle John beautifully speaks to the reign of Christ throughout his gospel, but since my Wednesday morning Bible study group is on chapter 20 this week, I’ll focus on that commentary.

John 20

Confusion (1-10). Mary jumped to conclusions and soon had Peter and John on the run. They were busy, but they had nothing to say and were accomplishing little. They saw the evidence for the Resurrection, but it did not change their lives. They needed a meeting with the living Christ.

Love (11-18). Unbelief blinds our eyes to the Lord’s presence. When He speaks His word to us, faith and love are rekindled. Mary was changed from a mourner to a missionary when she met the living Lord.

Peace (19-23). Locked doors will not give you peace, nor will they keep out your loving Savior. He comes with the message of peace based on His sacrifice on the cross (v. 20, Rom. 5:1).

Faith (24-31). The Lord tenderly deals with our doubts and unbelief. We today cannot see Him or feel His wounds, but we have the Word of God to assure us (vv. 9, 30-31). When your faith falters, do not ask for signs. Open His Word and let Him reassure you.”


Besides ordering this recommended commentary for deeper study of God’s Word, search through the posts on this blog to find THE edition of the Bible that best suits your present needs and those of the people on your Christmas list.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer and Bible Reviewer


Nelson's Quick Reference Chapter-by-Chapter Bible Commentary: Nelson's Quick Reference Series
, paperback




September 28, 2018

ESV Story of Redemption Bible


Those of us who love reading the Bible and learning more about God’s Word most likely enjoy having a variety of study editions to add light and insight to our readings. If that’s the case for you, the Story of Redemption Bible: A Journey through the Unfolding Promises of God from Crossway might be one you’ll want to add to your collection.

Since the publisher kindly sent me a review copy this week, I’ve had a chance to skim through, but not read the entire book. My first impression, however, is that this edition of the English Standard Version (ESV) will be most helpful to new Christians, young people, or readers new to the Bible. For example, the Introduction says:

“The goal for the ESV Story of Redemption Bible is to allow the reader to see the majesty and beauty of the Bible. May this resource launch the reader into a lifetime of reading, cherishing, learning from, and better understanding the Scripture. Our hope is that the reader will increasingly stand in awe at what God has done to save humanity from its sin. Most of all, we pray that the reader will come away with an understanding of how Jesus Christ stands at the center and pinnacle not just of the Bible’s storyline but of human history itself.”

The Preface then goes on to discuss translating the Bible from Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic languages into English and to explain the decisions translators must make to use a “thought-for-thought” method or “word-for-word” (as the ESV aims to do) or something in between.

With almost 900 notes from pastor Greg Gilbert scattered throughout this edition, readers get an introduction to each book such as this one prefacing Genesis:

“The whole history of the universe begins right here in the book known as Genesis.The word genesis literally means ‘origin’ or ‘beginning,’ and that is exactly what this book describes – the beginning of everything.”


Other notes, however, offer background information not obvious in the text. For example, a note in Psalms says:

“Psalm 72 is the only psalm attributed to Solomon, and it is doubtlessly placed here at the end of Book Two for a reason. Throughout this section, David’s cries for divine help have focused a bit less on his own personal distress and more on the nation’s need for God’s deliverance. Further, it has become clearer and clearer that the ideal of God’s king worshiping in God’s temple in the center of God’s city would finally be realized through God’s reign over Israel. Psalm 72 represents, without doubt, the high point of that vision…”

Other features include an attractive and reasonably readable 9.25-point font, a single column format, and over 80 new maps and timelines designed by illustrator Peter Voth. In addition, a “Story of Redemption” foldout in the back of the book produces a timeline that’s helpful but a little hard to follow as it seems to read up and down, rather than linear.

Also, the “Intertestamental Period” between 400 and 5 B.C. is labeled as “400 years of silence” – an assumption many will be likely to protest if they find any spiritual value whatsoever in the “Apocryphal” (aka deuterocanonical) books written primarily in Greek during those particular years.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer


ESV Story of Redemption Bible, hardback




July 30, 2018

God’s Word: The Apocrypha


Using natural English and the closest equivalent to the primary languages of the Bible, God’s Word to the Nations Mission Society has provided a contemporary version of The Apocrypha, which they kindly sent me to review.

The word “apocrypha” means “hidden” or “secret,” but the books really weren’t. They first gave hope and inspiration to God’s people during their exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, where the people learned to speak, think, and read in Greek, rather than Hebrew. However, Jewish scholars decided not to include the books written in Greek when they canonized the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) many centuries later.

Nevertheless, during the time of Jesus most people - both Jews and early Christians - accepted the books as inspired, and New Testament writers even quoted them. Many more centuries later, the King James Version (KJV) of an English translation of the Bible included the books, where they remained until the Reformation.

Happily, these “deuterocanonical” books are now being returned to many English versions, giving us a clearer view of biblical times and situations that occurred between the old and new testaments. In addition to those historical texts, such as 1 and 2 Maccabees, the apocryphal books include wisdom writings relevant to today. Consider, for example, this passage from the God's Word translation of the Book of Wisdom, Chapter 1:

Verse 1. “Love justice, you rulers of the world.
Consider that the Lord is good.
Be sincere in your search for him.
Verse 2. Those who don’t test him will find him.
He will reveal himself to those who obey him
.”

Verses 6b-7. “God is a witness to people’s hidden feelings.
He has keen insight into what they think,
and he listens to what they say.
The Lord’s Spirit fills the world.
The Spirit holds everything together
and understands everything people say.


For another example, Wisdom 3 begins, “People who worship the true God are in God’s hands.” And verse 9:

Those who trust the Lord will understand what truth is.
Those who are faithful will live in a loving relationship with him,
because he is kind and merciful to the people he has chosen.


Another spiritually insightful book, Sirach, (one of my favorites) has this to say in Chapter 1, verse 13:

Everything will end well for people who fear the Lord.
They will be blessed on the day of their death
.”

Or Chapter 4:20 & 21:

“Don’t be ashamed to be yourself.”
“Don’t remain silent when one word could make things right.”


Or Chapter 10:11:

“All authority on earth is in the Lord’s hands.
He will appoint the right leader for the right time."

Amen!

Mary Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer

God’s Word: The Apocrypha





June 23, 2018

God’s Word: The Bible in clear, natural English


Translated directly from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts, GOD’S WORD Translation Large Print Bible: The Bible in Clear, Natural English comes to us as CNE:

Clear, Natural English

and

Closest Natural Equivalent


Even the title of this translation is clear, natural, and the closest equivalent to the anthology of books we call the Bible -- God’s Word (GW.)

To produce the fresh, reliable, relevant translation aimed for, biblical scholars and reviewers followed these guidelines established by God’s Word to the Nations Mission Society:

“The first consideration for the translators of GW was to find equivalent English ways of expressing the meaning of the original text, ensuring that the translation is faithful to the meaning of the source text. The next consideration was readability; the meaning expressed in natural English by using common English punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and vocabulary. The third consideration was to choose the natural equivalent that most closely reflects the style of the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek text.”


What more could we ask?

And yet, there is more! Not only does this quality paperback use a 12-point font that aids our eyes and understanding, the single-column format provides the natural flow of text with which we’re familiar as we read any book in English. Chapter headings and sub-headings then help us to locate a passage easily and keep our place as we read privately or study with a discussion group. The book lays flat when opened too.

Free of distracting footnotes, the “Bible Study Helps” in the back of this reader edition offer such unique features as an A to Z topical guide with scriptural references on “The Teachings of Jesus” followed by an “Application Index” of Bible verses and the topics to which they refer.

But it’s the translation itself I love and appreciate. For example, Jeremiah 17:14-15 says:

“Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed.
Rescue me, and I will be rescued.
You are the one I praise.
People keep asking me,
‘Where is the LORD’s word?’
Let it come’.”


Yes! Let it come! And, as it does, may we truly listen and readily understand what God is saying to us.

Mary Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer

God’s Word: The Bible in clear, natural English, paperback




June 11, 2018

365 Trivia Twist Devotions


As soon as I saw a review copy of 365 Trivia Twist Devotions: Fun Facts and Spiritual Truths for Every Day of the Year on the BH/Lifeway Bloggers website, I immediately ordered the book as a fun way to splash into summer with “Fun Facts and Spiritual Truths.”

Published by B&H Publishing, this large paperback offers children of all ages (and young-at-heart-adults!) interesting trivia from history along with relevant mini-devotionals based on God’s Word.

For example, in “Stamp of Approval,” this portion of text for May 6 talks about the beginning of mail in England and adds:

“In 1874, the U.S. Post Office printed its first stamps, a 5-cent stamp picturing Benjamin Franklin and a 10-cent stamp picturing George Washington."

The text then goes on to say:

“Did you know that you have been stamped! It’s true. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is our guarantee, our stamp, that we belong to God, and that we will receive all his benefits. (Ephesians 1:13-14). Because we bear the stamp of the Holy Spirit, we know that salvation is ours and that we will live forever with Jesus in heaven.”

“The best news, though, is that the Holy Spirit’s stamp is not only the prepayment of all that is promised to those who believe in Jesus. Right now, Christians have the power and the comfort of the Holy Spirit living in them. We can depend on the Spirit to guide us and enable us to live as God wants us to while we wait for Jesus’ return.”


That page concludes with 2 Corinthians 1:22 as translated by The Message (MSG):

“By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge - a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete.”


Going to today’s date, June 11 “Extra-Terrestrial” gives a lively look at E.T. - a super-popular movie from 1982 then says:

“The real visitor to Earth from the outside came about two thousand years ago. We know tons about Him, even His name - Jesus. And He didn’t come from another planet or galaxy; He came from Heaven, from His Father.

“Jesus not only visited Earth, He actually became an ‘earthling,’ a human being. Fully God, He became fully man and was born as a baby in a manger. After living a perfect life, Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Then He rose from death and returned to His heavenly home.”


Lord willing, we’ll be there someday too. Meanwhile, God knows we’re not perfect! But His Son is. As we believe in Jesus Christ and confess our wrongdoings, He sets things right with God and empowers us for a life forever lived in Him.

Mary Harwell Sayler
, ©2018

365 Trivia Twist Devotions, paperback