Showing posts with label Bible resource. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bible resource. Show all posts

April 17, 2018

Review of the reader-friendly guide: Biblical and Theological Studies

Some people refer to incredible timing as a coincidence, but I find God-incidence much more plausible and easier to believe! God is with us. God cares about our lives. And God knew when my son would be ready to unpack a dozen heavy boxes of books kept in storage for over seven years.

Most of those books came from his religious studies at Stetson, Vanderbilt, and Marquette, providing a range of perspectives in theology I wanted to know more about but feared were over my head! And then “suddenly” I received an email from Crossway, announcing the availability of an advance reader copy of Biblical and Theological Studies: A Student’s Guide to review.

Not only did the title appeal to me, the purpose stated at the topic of the cover challenged me: “Reclaiming The Christian Intellectual Tradition.” What a great idea!

We’re not dumb! But when it comes to theological premises, we (at least, I) might be ignorant. So, before tackling two or three huge boxes of texts on the topic, I dove into this study guide by Michael J. Wilkins and Erik Thoennes, who apparently knew I needed something accessible, conversational, concise and to the point (without tangents), making what could be difficult concepts understandable to me and, undoubtedly, to you.

In the Introduction, for example, we read:

“God has spoken. This whole book is about those three simple words. That God has personally, truthfully, and sufficiently revealed himself in the Bible is the assumption of our understanding of the study of the Bible….”

Biblical studies is an academic discipline that seeks to understand the Bible as God intended when he inspired its human authors. The study of theology is the effort to summarize the overall teaching of the Bible so it can be meaningfully applied to our lives.”

This practical application begins with our need to focus on what God emphasizes, rather than what we think or expect. As the authors point out:

“Your basic beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes will determine how you approach your quest for truth. How you define God, humans, and the purpose of life will shape your experience in learning and also determine your methods of learning.”

With “theo” referring to God and “ology” to the study of, our theology will be based on who we believe God is and how we read God’s Word to us in scripture. Hopefully, we’ll read the Bible with humility, prayer, awe, praise, worship, and prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit to enlighten us and guide our understanding.

The back of the book contains a glossary, additional resources, and “Questions For Reflection” that will help us to focus on God as revealed in the Bible and, perhaps, even redirect our thinking, especially if our fears, prejudices, or opinions, which began in childhood, haven’t been updated into an adult view of the Christian faith and our Father in Heaven.

As the authors state: “Both the purity and unity of the church are at stake in this matter.”

Why? We ARE the church! Before we draw others to Christ or minister accurately, lovingly, and well in His name, we need to settle within ourself our beliefs from a prayerful, biblical point of view. This book will help us to do that as we reclaim Christian intellectual traditions for ourselves and the church Body of Christ – so in need of truths meant to heal, embrace, and unite us in Jesus' Name.

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

Biblical and Theological Studies: A Student’s Guide

July 8, 2017

How To Read & Understand The Biblical Prophets

In his new book How To Read & Understand The Biblical Prophets, author and OT professor Peter J. Gentry discusses the many literary styles Bible prophets used to wake people up to God’s ways and calling on their lives – so many in fact, he suggests “We might well ask if the literature of the biblical prophets actually constitutes its own genre or type of literature.”

For example, “a Hebrew author begins a discourse on a particular topic, develops it from a particular perspective, and then concludes his conversation. Then he begins another conversation, taking up the same topic again from a different point of view.”

In general, the Old Testament prophets reiterated what God had already said or revealed then showed how that word applied to a situation in their era in hopes of encouraging faith and obedience to God.

The prophets also exhorted the people to seek God’s will and rely on God to help them find it. In Deuteronomy 18, for example, Moses strongly warned against contacting mediums, fortune-tellers, sorcerers, witches, or the dead as other nations had done when wanting to know about or, perhaps, control future events. Such control and oversight belong only to God.

Therefore, biblical prophets often gave predictions “to demonstrate publicly that only Yahweh knows and determines future events.”

In addition, “prediction of the future was necessary to explain the exile.” Also, the prophets wanted to reassure God’s people that deliverance takes time, but God can be trusted – not only by them but by everyone. For example, a message “not only announces future judgment for a particular nation but also indicates how it may find deliverance by seeking refuge in Zion.”

With world events worrying many of us, this book from Crossway, who kindly sent me a copy to review, will help us better understand the God’s prophetic word, which speaks to us even now.

Mary Harwell Sayler
, ©2017, poet-writer and Bible reviewer

How To Read & Understand The Biblical Prophets, paperback

March 9, 2017

NIV Faithlife Study Bible

When Zondervan announced the new NIV Faithlife Study Bible (FSB), I wondered if this would be a repackaging of the ever-popular NIV Study Bible or the more recent NIV Zondervan Study Bible, both of which I’ve previously reviewed. However, as I look at the complimentary copy of the NIV Faithlife Study Bible Zondervan kindly sent me to review, I see a new study edition, edited by John D. Barry, whose preface says: “Our ultimate goal is to help you engage with God’s Word – and with God himself.”

With that goal in mind, Editor Barry explains, “we have curated the most relevant data to illuminate the biblical text, from archaeological findings to manuscript research. Historical, cultural and linguistic details help you understand the background of the Bible so you can interpret its significance.” In addition, the FSB “looks at the Bible as a work of literature, explaining how different genres, narrative structures and literary devices shape the text.”

Readers who want to know if the FSB focuses on a particular Christian perspective will be interested to hear that the “FSB stands in the Christian tradition summarized by the ancient Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed. It is committed both to the authority of Scripture and to the challenge of wrestling with its full meaning.”

In the article “How To Study The Bible” at the beginning of the book, Douglas Stuart reminds us “There are several different ways to look at any piece of literature.” He then goes on to list “11 such angles, or steps, in the study process,” including a closer look at “the correct meaning of individual words and phrases found in a passage” and “the literary category and the characteristics that make any passage special.” Most important is the application by which readers “Act on what the Bible says.”

Additional articles discuss the formation of both testaments and introduce each book with in-depth information about the background, structure, outline, and themes on which the writer(s) focused. To further aid our understanding of the context, this edition includes timelines, illustrations, charts, maps, and verse-by-verse notes – so many, in fact, that the Bible text may take up only a third of the page!

Although jam-packed with information, this edition is not as bulky or weighty as some, which makes it an excellent choice to carry to a Bible study discussion group for adults of all ages – from teens to elderly readers – and all levels of study – from beginners to long-time students of God’s Word.

In the latter group, I turned to the FSB as I prepared for the mid-week study group I lead. Looking up Mark 6 (our next lesson as we make our way through the New Testament), I saw the most helpful treatment of “Coins of the Gospels” I’ve ever seen. In addition to illustrating the size of the coins commonly used, the notes explained that a silver denarius “was considered a fair day’s pay for a common laborer in the first century” and went on to say that one denarius could buy 15 lbs. of wheat.

Similarly, the information on a silver shekel says: “Minted in Tyre, the shekel and half-shekel were the only coins accepted for the temple tax in Jesus’ time because of the high purity of the silver.” A half-shekel paid an individual’s temple tax for the year, while a whole shekel could buy “A tunic, a liter of olive oil, two 1 lb. loaves of bread, and a half-liter of cheap wine.” By contrast, the widow’s mite (a small bronze lepton) could only pay for “A bath at the public bathhouse.”

The same chapter of Mark my group will be studying this week includes the story of Jesus walking on water. Although very familiar with that event, I’ve often wondered why Jesus intended to pass by the disciples. It just didn’t make sense to me – until now! In explaining “pass by,” the FSB footnote note says: “The same expression appears in the OT when God displays his glory to people,” for instance as recorded in Exodus 33:17-34:8 and 1 Kings 19:11-13.

As you’ll recall, the passage in 1 Kings relays the story of Elijah on the mountain where God passed by – not in the wind or earthquake or fire, but in that still, soft voice that speaks to each of us who want to hear.

And the scriptures in Exodus 33? As God-incidence would have it, that’s the very chapter the Sunday School class I attend will be discussing this week! It's the passage where God passes His glory by Moses -- and us, even now, as we read.

Bible Review by poet-author and lifelong Bible student, Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017

NIV Faithlife Study Bible, hardback

Media link to the FSB

August 31, 2015

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

When the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible arrived, which the publisher kindly sent me to review, all I could say was, “Wow! Oh, wow!” Besides the impressive size (2,880 pages!), I first noticed the deliciously soft but sturdy premium leather cover with its beautifully reinforced spine to secure a wealth of smyth-sewn pages.

The main joy, of course, came in opening the pages of the updated NIV (New International Version), which is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine for reading silently or aloud.

Prior to the NIV text, the Table of Contents includes an Introduction for each book as well as articles introducing the Old Testament and New. Next comes a list of many maps placed in relevant positions throughout the text to help readers better envision the locale, but a quick check of the back matter showed that, yes, full-page color maps have also been included.

In addition to info on the geographical terrain, other sidebars illustrate the text with a timeline of “Old Testament Chronology,” a diagram of the “Tabernacle Floor Plan,” a chart of “The Eight Visions of Zechariah,” and much more. For example, illustrations show a model of the Ark, an “Artist’s Rendition of Babylon,” a “Model of the Pool of Bethesda,” and I could go on and on.

Leafing through the yummy pages, I see a color photograph of “Mount Nebo, where Moses gave his speech to the Israelites” as told in Deuteronomy 32:49, which helps me to envision the rocky terrain awaiting nimble feet. A page turn reveals a photo of a “Life-size replica of the tabernacle,” whereas the adjacent page shows a fourteenth-century tapestry of the New Jerusalem.

Many pages later, an actual picture of the “En Gedi, where David hid from Saul” helps me to see how difficult movement would have been on those rugged, barren slopes, but, oh, what a view! Later still, a photo shows “Part of Nehemiah’s Wall in Jerusalem,” which I doubt I’ll get to see in person but am glad to know how it looks.

I’m also happy with how the format looks. With poetry and poetic prophecies set in poetic lines, a single column used for the biblical text, and cross-referencing placed in the outer margins, each page has at least an inch of white space on its outside edge, which could be penciled in with brief notes. (I highly recommend a mechanical pencil for such notes-to-self and also underlining as the graphite doesn’t bleed through and can be erased if needed.)

This edition has so many notes itself, however, that many pages have more notes than scripture! Although I haven’t yet read them all, the content helps to expand the context and expound on passages that might otherwise be difficult to understand. I found the font a bit hard on the eyes, but, nevertheless, readable.

Appropriately placed as the title implies, an article entitled “The Time Between the Testaments” presents interesting information about the rise of various powers and sects with an instructive chart and color illustrations to clarify even more. Then, over 60 pages of additional articles appear in the back matter, ranging from “The Story of the Bible” to such topics as “The Glory of God,” “Worship,” “The Kingdom of God,” and “Love and Grace.”

Much more can be said about this Bible and biblical library packed into one hefty volume, but perhaps the most important is to let you know that this edition is not a revision or expansion of the ever-popular NIV Study Bible, also published by Zondervan.

Over 60 contributors from diverse backgrounds worked with editor-pastor-professor D.A. Carson to produce this impressive new edition with the aim of being “Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message.”

As I mentioned earlier, my copy came covered in premium leather, which I haven’t yet found on Amazon, probably because it’s already on backorder due to all the readers who have been eagerly awaiting its release. However, if you think you might have trouble with the size and weight, a hardcover copy works best on a desk, so I’ll add a link for that too.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, a lifelong student of the Bible, is a freelance and assignment writer, who likes to write Bible-based poems and manuscripts.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible, hardcover

NIV Zondervan Study Bible, premium leather

June 2, 2015

NASB Study Bible

When the Bible Reviewer blog started, I initially reviewed Bibles I’d bought over the years. Then Bible publishers kindly began to send review copies of new translations, study editions, children’s Bibles, and storybooks for Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Liturgical, Charismatic, and other Christian readers of all ages.

Occasionally, though, I welcomed a review copy with such enthusiasm that I would order the same edition, covered in leather to stand up to heavy use. Or, my husband would buy me a new Bible, such as the exceptionally helpful NIV Study Bible, which I previously reviewed.

Sadly that compact edition eventually proved too difficult to read after eye surgery. So, instead of getting a large-print version, I opted for the NASB Study Bible, which Zondervan publishes with the footnotes adapted to fit the New American Standard Bible (NASB) text.

As you probably know, The Lockman Foundation brought us the NASB in 1960 with periodic updates as the English language changes and new archeological discoveries are made. With the last copyright date shown as 1995, the text continues to be one of the most accurate translations into English.

The lay-flat edition I ordered in top grain leather and standard type includes a hefty concordance, 23 pages of color maps, and articles on such biblical categories as wisdom books, prophets, Gospels, letters, and the era between the two testaments. In the front matter, timeline charts present the chronological sequence of important events, helping us to get grounded in each biblical setting relevant to the text.

What I most welcome, however, is access to 20,000 footnotes! Not only are those notes intuitive in their responses to the text they accompany, they have a way of bringing together the information and insights I might have to search through a half-dozen or more other study Bibles to find.

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

NASB Study Bible, leather

February 23, 2015

The Bible from Scratch

When Saint Mary’s Press kindly sent me a review copy of the Catholic edition of The Bible from Scratch: A lightning tour from Genesis to Revelation by Simon Jenkins, I could see I was in for a fun read. Some readers might wonder “What’s this?” which is exactly what the opening text addresses, saying:

“The Bible’s characters themselves weren’t shy about using different methods of communication to get across what they had to say. Jeremiah smashed crockery. Ezekiel performed weird, one-man plays. David sang songs. Nathan told a trick story. Jesus talked in pictures.”

In that same spirit of getting people’s attention so they’ll actually listen, the book has youth in mind in this “beginner’s guide to the Good Book, something to help readers start their own explorations in the Bible.” After reading it myself, however, I think that any teen or adult, who doesn’t know their chapters from their verses, would do well to let this lively little book provide a guide.

To give readers an overview of the inspired word of God, one section takes you “Around the Bible in 30 days” and “introduces 30 significant Bible passages that will take you quickly from Genesis to Revelation.”

After that month-long challenge, the “Intro to the Old Testament” encourages Christians to read the whole Bible and not just parts. As the text says, “if we don’t read the Old Testament, then we miss out on a lot. Sticking to the New Testament and ignoring the Old is like walking into a movie when the film is two-thirds of the way through.”

Besides “a great deal of humor, tragedy and some startling encounters with God,” the Old Testament shows us “people arguing with God, wrestling with God, haggling with God, trying to get the best deal from God; people who struggle and will not let go of God – and a God who in turn will not let go of them.”

In addition to touching on interesting stories, poetry, and prophesies in the Bible, the book provides timelines of the Kings of Israel and Judah, quick sketches of Bible characters, brief summaries of each book, and a recap of what went on in the times between the testaments.

Then, the “Intro to the New Testament” defines its four sections as focused on:

 Jesus (Matthew to John)
 The Church (Acts)
 Letters (Romans to Jude)
 The End (Revelation)

With profuse use of cartoon drawings, silly sidebars, and overall good humor, the book presents sense instead of non-sense and gets serious as needed too. In discussing “epistles by apostles,” for example, the text explains that “Most of them were written to fix the big problems facing the young churches. The letters are full of details about real people and situations – and yet they also speak to us today.” Written by "people on the move," the letters (aka epistles) continue to help us:

 combat wrong ideas (Galatians, Colossians)
 tackle crises in the churches (1 & 2 Corinthians)
 explain important teaching (Romans, Hebrews)
 encourage Christians under pressure (1 Peter)
 make a personal appeal (Philemon, 3 John)

As “The End” comes, the author emphasizes the “classy ending” in the “cast of (literally) thousands, choirs of saints and angels, a pitched battle between the forces of light and darkness, a smoldering lake of fire for the wicked and paradise regained for the righteous.” More important than all that, “the Bible begins and ends with God and with the promise that the human story, despite its chapters of suffering and despair, will have the ultimate happy ending.”

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

The Bible from Scratch: A lightning tour from Genesis to Revelation, Catholic Edition, paperback

November 29, 2014

Catholic Bible Dictionary for every Bible lover and Christian reader

If you want a Bible dictionary with entries on the names, places, and topics in the deuterocanonical aka apocryphal books, the Catholic Bible Dictionary, edited by Scott Hahn and published by Doubleday, provides that and more.

When I first saw and ordered the review copy offered for free on the Blogging for Books site, I thought this dictionary might define the rites, rituals, and liturgy of the Catholic Church. Come to find out, others have made this mistake, too, but, as the title clearly states, this is a dictionary on the Catholic Bible. Therefore, the text includes information on Judith, Tobit, the Angel Raphael, and others mentioned in the deuterocanonical / apocryphal books but generally omitted from most Bible dictionaries.

Like any dictionary, religious or otherwise, this one has no need for an index as each topic is already alphabetized for an easy A to Z search. A clear font and spacious leading make the conversational entries easy to read, while clear maps in the back of the book make the movements through biblical places easier to envision. Also, in the back matter the chronologies of kings and historical movements help us to get grounded in what happened, with whom, and when, whereas the entries themselves offer insight into why.

For those insights and other information, we have the extensive research of former Protestant pastor, Scott Hahn, who has become well-known as an author, Christian apologist, and Catholic theologian. To further ensure accuracy in the material, the book has the official Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur of the Church to show freedom from doctrinal or moral errors.

To give you an example of the entries, I turned to a word rarely found in a religious dictionary “purgatory.” The closest entry in most Bible dictionaries might be “purge,” which eliminates or eradicates some type of impurity. To definite “purgatory,” however, the Catholic Bible Dictionary says:

“PURGATORY (Latin, ‘cleansing’ or ‘purifying’) Defined by theologians as the condition of those who died in the state of grace but with lingering attachment to sin. In purgatory these souls are purified for a time before being admitted to the glory and happiness of heaven. In this period of passive suffering, they are purged of unrepented venial sins, satisfy the demands of divine justice for temporal punishment due for sins, and are made ready for the beatific vision."

As the entry goes on to say: "The doctrine of purgatory is found in Scripture but is not fully developed. The two passages most clearly related to it are 2 Macc 12:45 and 1 Cor 3:12-15.”

For another example, let’s look at the entry for Tobit, a book unfamiliar to many Christians:

“TOBIT, BOOK OF The story of two Israelite families whose lives were touched by God in the Assyrian Exile. They were brought together by marriage and the intervention of the angel Raphael. Tobit is one of the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament that is deemed scriptural by Catholics but not by modern Jews or Protestants” – the key word being “modern” as both Jewish and Christian readers originally accepted these books from the Greek Bible or Septuagint.

And, as the entry for “Septuagint” explains:

SEPTUAGINT (Latin septuaginta, ‘seventy’) The most ancient and important translation of the Old Testament into Greek. It was produced between the third and first centuries B.C.,” so Jesus and the Apostles would undoubtedly have been familiar with these books, which came about because “King Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt requested a copy of the Jewish Bible to be placed in his famous library at Alexandria 9ca. 250 B.C.) Unable to read Hebrew, the king brought seventy-two scholars from Palestine to Alexandria to make a translation of the Hebrew Torah….”

That desire – to present the Bible in the language of the reader – has led to many translations of Holy Scriptures into English with excellent resources such as this to clarify our understanding and electrify our interest in embracing the Bible as an everyday part of our worship, our faith, and our lives.

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

Catholic Bible Dictionary, hardback

August 26, 2014

Reviewing The Life

At first glance, my review copy of The Life, kindly sent to me by its publisher Tyndale House, appears to be just another magazine in a handy size for carrying. Inside, however, most of the slick pages have been filled with Holy Scriptures from the Gospels of the New Living Translation (NLT) to reveal the life we’re to live in Christ.

The table of contents summarizes “The Life: What’s Inside.”

Surprising Encounters with Jesus
Jesus’ Message Isn’t about Easy Religion
Death Is No Match for Jesus
What Does It Mean to “Remain” in Jesus?
Ordinary People Given God’s Power
The Choice

With colorful illustrations, wise words from “Youth For Christ,” and the highly readable NLT text, young people and new readers of the Bible receive a warm “Welcome to The Life,” where they “begin to get acquainted with God’s story through reading the story of the life of Jesus and his earliest followers straight from the Bible – or at least part of the Bible” and begin to see “there’s plenty more where this came from.”

Staying strongly focused on the person and power of Jesus, a brief magazine-type article challenges readers to remain in Christ then asks “What Does Remain Mean In John 15?” A sidebar beside the biblical answer adds illustrative examples such as:

• In order for a lamp to shine, the light bulb must remain in the fixture.

Remain within coverage areas to use cell phones.

• A fish that wants to breathe must remain underwater.

As we remain in Christ, we're alive in Him and can live NOW in the power of His Spirit, knowing, “Jesus is able to fight his own battles. He specializes in reversing the course of enemies so that they become dedicated followers.”

And as they believe, as I believe, as you believe and choose to remain in Christ and The Life, “Jesus will work miraculously within you to help you become more and more like him.”

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a traditionally published author of 26 books, including the Bible-based book of poems Outside Eden and poetry book Living in the Nature Poem.

The Life, paperback

April 26, 2014

Essential Guide to Biblical Life and Times

Over the years I’ve acquired a number of hefty books on Bible times, peoples, and places with lots of color photographs and all sorts of information to refer to as I study for my Bible discussion group or write about a Bible topic. When the slender review copy of the Essential Guide to Biblical Life and Times arrived from Saint Mary’s Press, however, I just started reading and enjoying it as I would almost any interesting book.

With short articles ranging from Afterlife, Agriculture, and Anointing to Torah, War, and Women, the author Martin C. Albl reminds us that the Bible not only came to us in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, but people “lived in societies and cultures…very different from our modern American experiences.”

In “Approaching the Biblical Societies and Cultures,” the author defines society as “social structures of institutions...established by a particular people,” whereas “Culture refers to the basic values, beliefs, and practices...shared by a special group.”

With the subjects of society and cultures clearly in focus, the book covers these major areas:

• social and political institutions, including study of the family or kinship system and political structures

• social customs, including dance, music, and hair and dress styles

• general cultural beliefs and values, including beliefs about human nature, sexuality, sickness and healing, and beliefs about the structure of the universe(cosmology)

• religious beliefs and institutions, including beliefs about purity, sacrifices, sin, and spiritual powers, as well as the synagogue and Temple systems in which these beliefs functioned

• economic structures, including professions in agriculture, fishing, and shepherding, as well as a consideration of the money, tax, and debt systems within the context of patron-client structures

Reading the book will give you a good idea of how the apostles went fishing or how the women did their hair and how everyone celebrated certain feast and festivals.

On a more spiritual level, I read with interest the “Afterlife” section, which depicts heaven from a particular perspective that may be unfamiliar to some of us now. For example, the article “Heaven” explained: “Whereas modern Christians tend to think of heaven as a spiritual reality only, the biblical writers did not distinguish clearly between the physical reality of the sky and a spiritual heaven.”

Later, a section on “Human Nature” shows the “New Testament View: Body, Soul, and Spirit,” saying, “We see the holistic nature of the New Testament view most clearly in Paul’s description of the resurrection body. It is not only a person’s spirit that is raised from the dead; the body will be raised as well...” so “a person’s body is renewed and perfected by being made alive through the spirit.”

Similarly, in the section on “Sickness and Health,” we read in “Healing and Salvation” that “Jesus’ healings in this world were a sign of the ultimate healing brought about by the Kingdom of God, inaugurated with the coming of Christ….”

Whether you’re just curious or ready to research a Bible-based saga, I highly recommend this book as a reader-friendly way to immerse yourself in the environment, envision Bible stories, and catch those little nuances that might be missed if we only “translate” what we read from our own lives and culture.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer

Essential Guide to Biblical Life and Times, paperback, Saint Mary’s Press

December 30, 2013

Talking with the Bible

Most of us make New Year’s resolutions with hopes of starting fresh or doing what we meant to do last year. For many Christians, each year’s clean slate begins with a resolve to read the Bible all the way through, but distractions occur or we get discouraged when we reach chapters that seem too heavy or hard or, well, boring, and so we never get pass those passages.

Instead of getting caught up in that guilt trip, try these suggestions:

. Prayerfully read previous posts on the Bible Reviewer and find a translation that speaks to you.

. Read Talking with the Bible by Donn Morgan and get to know the many inspired voices that speak to us as One Voice from the pages of Holy Scripture.

As the author explains: “To have real conversations with the Bible, we must be able to recognize the voices of scripture, to know what they sound like and what they want to tell us.”

Besides being communal expressions of faith collected in the Bible canon, “Biblical voices come from prophets, seers, apostles, cultic leaders, storytellers, poets, and many more. These voices are expressed in individual prayers, as stories about patriarchs, as epiphanies, as letters, as records of one variety or another, as oracles, and much more [laws, letters, visions.]”

As we read what God says to us through these voices, scripture begins to shape how we see the world. For example, “The Bible as storyteller exposes us to values, character traits, salvation events, sacred spaces, foreigners, threats to unity, God’s purposes for the people, and more.”

Since I enjoy reading and writing poems, the chapter on “Talking with the Bible as Singer and Pray-er” especially spoke to me. Often expressed through poetry, “The voice of singer and pray-er is also a voice of consciousness-raising, prompting us to recall the things we need to complain about or praise God for.” In addition, “This voice can function as a spiritual director, encouraging us to adopt a rule of life filled with regular prayer and reflection, integrating faith and practice in the midst of difficult times and challenges.”

Bible prophets often spoke through poetry, too, but rather than focusing on the personal or lyrical, “cries for social justice abound” with such attention-getting words as “Woe” or “Behold!”

Those inspired to write books of history usually chose less dramatic language as they wrote genealogies or episodes intended to give a larger view of the ongoing relationship between God and God’s people. However, to hear the voice of the historian clearly, we must “listen to it and hear it on its own terms.”

As we listen carefully to these many voices expressing the voice of God, we separate the sounds of poetry and history and biblical truths in story, noticing, perhaps, how “the visionary voice of scripture thinks and speaks in polarities.” Similarly, the voice of the sage might come across as judgmental at times, but “wisdom is often a topic of discussion, with the sage reflecting on experience to enlighten us.”

When troubles arise, however, and no clear answers exist, the voice of the lamenter or skeptic may be heard, riddling God with questions and trying to make sense of things that challenge our faith in order to return to a position of praise.

And, isn’t that how it is for us? Don’t we also moan and groan and sing and pray and praise? Don’t we tell our family histories and give our children sage advice? Don’t we also hold dear our clearest visions – of Christ’s return or the Spirit of Love reconnecting the Body of Christ?

Through the Bible, God speaks for us! The Bible also speaks to us and with us through a diversity of inspired voices who encourage us to keep on reading, believing, and Talking with the Bible every day.

As we apply these insights to our own lives, we might also ask what stories we have to tell as we write fiction, nonfiction, and poetry – or as we spread the Good News of God’s good gifts and the mercy we have received.

©2013, Mary Harwell Sayler

Talking with the Bible, paperback

Talking with the Bible, Kindle e-book edition

November 25, 2013

What is Biblical Theology?

Waiting for new study editions of the Bible to arrive, I received a review copy of the newly released book, What Is Biblical Theology? published by Crossway. Author James M. Hamilton, Jr. teaches on this topic at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I encourage Christians from every church background to pick up this slender volume and read it straight through.

As our denominational preferences connect to one another in the Body of Christ, the stories in the Bible connect to one another, too, coming together in one body of stories about the same story – The Story – of God’s redemptive love.

Often, though, we view Bible stories from our own 21st century perspective, which means we might miss what the original writers intended to convey. Dr. Hamilton addresses this throughout the book, explaining, for example, in Part I, “If we can see what the biblical authors assumed about story, symbol, and church, we will glimpse the world as they saw it.”

That glimpse is what this book enables us to see. Divided into “Part I. The Bible’s Big Story,” “Part 2. The Bible’s Symbolic Universe,” and “Part 3. The Bible’s Love Story,” the book shows us how to “adopt the perspective of the biblical authors” so we can “read the world from the Bible’s perspective, rather than reading the Bible from the world’s.”

As part of the “Big Story,” the chapter entitled “The Narrative” discusses the setting, characterization, and plot found in any well-written story, which shows us, for example, that “the Bible’s plot can be summarized in four words: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration,” culminating in the return of Jesus. Meanwhile, an understanding of biblical conflicts, episodes, and themes helps us to recognize the overall plot of this ongoing story of our relationship with God.

In Part 2, we see how symbols, imagery, and patterns use the known to help us envision the unknown. From the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden to the tree in Revelation whose leaves will be for the healing of the nations, we get an image of the well-rooted, fruitful life God intends us to have. As Dr. Hamilton explains: “These symbols are given to us to shape our understanding of ourselves. They show us who we are. They give us our identity. They tell the story of our lives in the real world.”

In community and in our common union, that story continues in Part 3 where we see the identify, setting, plot tension, and resolution of the church, biblically and metaphorically drawn as the “Sheep of the Shepherd,” “Bride of Christ,” “Body of Christ,” “The Adopted Family of God,” and “The Temple of the Holy Spirit” – images that cause us to reflect on such questions as: “What part does the church play in the Bible story? Who is she? What is her setting? What creates the tension in her part of the plot as the wider narrative develops? How is that tension resolved?”

With the Bible as the primary resource for such crucial questions, Dr. Hamilton helps readers to see that “Biblical theology is not just an interesting topic. It informs who we are and how we live.”

©2013, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved.

What Is Biblical Theology? paperback

What Is Biblical Theology? e-book

November 12, 2013

Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible

Waiting for review copies of new study Bibles to arrive from a couple of publishers, I attempted to free up some needed space on the bookshelves by my desk, but I did not get too far before a reference book I’ve referred to for several years caught my eye - the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Thinking about the Bible teachers, students, writers, and other communicators for Christ who might want to hear about a highly recommended resources like this, it occurred to me to intersperse such reviews with discussions of the new translations, children’s Bibles, and study Bibles I especially love to talk about and read.

Beginning with biblical reference books I have on hand, the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible gave me an outstanding place to start, not only because of the eclectic list of outstanding biblical scholars who contributed to this massive work but also because of the awards for “Outstanding Reference Source” and “Outstanding Academic Title” by the American Library Association.

With over 1400 pages, this hefty volume (yes, it’s heavy!) defines and discusses approximately 5,000 entries on such subjects as the influence of archeology and extra-biblical writings. As you might expect, the A to Z topics also include virtually all of the people and places mentioned in the Bible with references, too, to pertinent cultural events, literary features, and geographical concerns.

When I opened the book to look for an example of the interesting discussions you’ll find, I immediately spotted an unexpected entry on “Coat of Mail.” Frankly, I think of that type of armor as originating sometime around the Middle Ages, long after Christians ceased fire on the Bible canon (pun intended.) However, the entry on page 266 described “Coat of Mail” as being “Armor consisting of 400-600 plates of metal, which were pierced and sewn to a cloth or leather undercoat. The plates overlapped to provide maximum protection; the armor was weakest at the joining of the sleeve to the tunic body and between the scales (I Kgs.22:34=2 Chr. 18:33). Such armor was probably developed to free the hands from having to hold a shield, thus enabling charioteers to drive and soldiers to wield the bow and yet still have protection.”

Does this matter to you or me? Maybe not. But as a re-teller of Bible stories in poems and other writings or in Bible study groups, this unforeseen entry adds interesting, intricate detail to, say, the story of David and Goliath as found in I Samuel 17 or the lesser known story of Uzziah, King of Judah, as told in II Chronicles 26.

Also, after the exiles returned to Jerusalem, Nehemiah 4:16 says the leaders stationed themselves around the wall, wearing coats of mail as they protected the laborers trying to rebuild. In addition, the Prophet Isaiah (59:17) and the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 6:14 and I Thessalonians 5:8) talk about putting on armor as a metaphor for protecting ourselves spiritually, most likely intending a coat of mail, rather than the Knight in Shining Armor many of us envisioned.

If that doesn’t interest you, pick any Bible subject that does, and you’ll surely find information you’ll be glad to know. I certainly did. For example, the back pages of most of my Bibles have maps of biblical places, which I appreciate, but I kept wanting one showing modern sites, and, yes, that’s included. The downside is that the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible has such thorough information, this reference book will definitely not be chosen to free up any of the needed space on my crowded bookshelves.

©2013, Mary Harwell Sayler, who despite the lack of shelf space, remains eager to receive review copies of new translations (English), new children’s Bibles, new study Bibles, and new formats or treatments of older translations. However, the hotlinks to Bible passages mentioned above came from a highly recommended Internet resource, Bible Gateway, whose numerous translations and reference materials need no shelf space.