February 7, 2019

Mary Harwell Sayler : Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary:

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary by Brant Pitre gives Christians from all backgrounds a better understanding of the biblical view of the Mother of Christ. Does this matter? Yes, when we consider this Mother of the Lord is often a dividing line between Christians, this scholarly yet easy-to-read book arrives with the potential of healing that rift!

January 29, 2019

The NKJV Study Bible from Thomas Nelson


If I were forced to choose a single Bible over the many study editions lining my desk, I’d probably pick this one!

Actually I have two copies of The NKJV Study Bible to review as Thomas Nelson kindly sent me one in bonded leather with full-color illustrations and another less expensive leathersoft edition without the images. However, both are presently discounted on Amazon and both seem to have the same comfort print text, footnotes, and articles.

Regarding the text, the New King James Version (NKJV) retains the poetic style of the KJV but with contemporary language incorporating recent scholarship, such as the wealth of information found in archeological digs and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid-20th century.  Unlike the KJV, however, the NKJV capitalizes pronouns referring to God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which I prefer but may be the choice of the publisher, rather than the translators.

With sewn pages and comfort print font, this study edition includes the typical features found in most well-done study Bibles but with an impressive two-page list of the brief articles scattered throughout the testaments. For example, insights and information are offered on “The Noahic Covenent,” ‘The Abrahamic Covenant,” and the “Mosaic Covenant” in the Old Testament and articles on “The Lord’s Supper,” “Parables: More than Stories,” and “A New Way to Worship” in the New.

In addition, the section “Bible Times and Culture Notes” give us a quick acquaintance with "Ur," "The Code of Hammurabi,” “The Music of the Psalms,” “The Province of Galilee,” “The Origin of the Synagogue,” and much more.

Other features include “Charts and Diagrams,” ranging from “The Feasts and Sacred Times of Ancient Israel,” “Job’s Counseling Sessions,” and “The Christ of the Psalms” to “Grace vs. the Law,” “Right Living in a Wretched World,” and “The Facts of Love In 1 John.”  And “In-Text Maps” help us to locate “Abram’s Travels” as well as Paul’s missionary journeys.

In the front matter, “Word Studies” refer us to the descriptions and initial appearances of key words in their biblical order, while an extensive “Concordance” has been included in the back.

In most Bible study discussion groups I’ve attended, members often have no idea of the wealth of aids their study editions include, but these back pages bear close attention. Besides the “Table of Monies, Weights, and Measures” and color maps generally included, this edition offers lists such as:

  •         Teachings and Illustrations of Christ
  •         Prophecies of the Messiah Fulfilled in Jesus Christ
  •         The Parables of Jesus Christ
  •         The Miracles of Jesus Christ
  •         Prayers of the Bible (OT and NT)

My favorite addition, however, is the 8-page chart “From Biblical Book to Contemporary Hook,” which lists the book, theme, Christ-focus, implications, and hook. For example,

Biblical Book
Habbakuk
Comfort in God

Theme
God is my only comfort in life and in death in a world of seemingly unchecked evil.

Christ-Focus
Jesus offers true comfort and rest to those who come to him (Matt. 11:28).

Implications
In any trouble, we may find comfort in God and in his care for us (1 Pet. 5:7).

Hook
When things go wrong, where do you turn for comfort? Do you really believe that God knows what he is doing?

From Genesis to Revelation, these book-by-book major themes provide us with prompts for Bible study discussions, sermons, nonfiction books, devotionals, and (my preference) poems.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2019, poet-writer reviewer









January 22, 2019

Running from Mercy: Jonah


In the book Running from Mercy, published by B&H Publishing, who kindly sent me a copy to review,  pastor-author Anthony J. Carter provides pertinent study questions in the back pages of his discussion of “Jonah and the Surprising Story of God’s Unstoppable Grace.”

Having read the Bible story numerous times, I didn’t feel like I discovered any big surprises in this book. Then I realized the conversational style is deceptively light as Rev. Carter’s words and wisdom fill us with insight into scripture and into ourselves.

The Introduction starts by grounding us in the fact that “Jonah is an actual person established in Scripture. We know he had a family and a father, whose name was Amittai (Jonah 1:1, 2 Kings 14:25). God had commissioned Jonah on another occasion to prophecy good news to the national of Israel. According to 2 Kings 14:24-27, God sent Jonah with a word of mercy and grace for Israel, despite the rebellion and disobedience of King Jeroboam. Jonah prophesied that God would bless Israel, and she would experience prosperity accordingly. Consequently, Jonah’s first experience as a prophet was a pleasant one. He experienced prophetic prosperity that no doubt brought him popularity and pleasure.”

The author goes on to point out that the city of Ninevah actually existed. More important, Jesus referred to the reality of Jonah in Matthew 12.

In “Grace for the Rebellious,” Rev. Carter equates the book with the entire story of the Bible! i.e., “Chapter 1 is the narrative of rebellion. Chapter 2 is the narrative of repentance. Chapter 3 is the narrative of redemption. Chapter 4 is the narrative of restoration– all of which can be said about God’s Word.


Everywhere, everywhere – God is – in Word and deed.


In the same chapter, the author reminds us that “The idea of God’s omnipresence is not that God is simply present or partially present; the idea is that He fills the place.”

And so, like Jonah, we need to know, “You cannot hide from God. A better course of action is to hide in God.”

That awareness begins to surface when we, like Jonah, feel we’re drowning in problems and finally come to the end of ourselves. Then, as the chapter “Divine Appointments” points out, “When God delights to move in your life to rescue you, to redeem you, to save you, you have no doubt who did it.”

Ironically, that same mercy moves in the lives of the most undeserving people – like those in Ninevah. As the chapter “Jonah’s Resentment, God’s Restraint” reminds us,”Sometimes God defeats the wicked not by destroying them but by extending grace to them and thus changing them.”

If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we, too, have resisted God’s will at some time in our lives. Maybe more than once! But, praise God, “…mercy comes running after you and me. It is mercy we need and, therefore, mercy we receive – undeserved, unearned, life-changing mercy.”

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


To view or order the book, click this link:

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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

To order, click this link




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