Searching the Scriptures by Charles Swindoll

Most of us have heard the saying “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This is certainly true of being nourished by the Bible, and in Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs, Chuck Swindoll teaches us how to both be fed and feed others.

With sections titled Finding the Food (understanding the basic story of the Bible), Preparing the Meal (observation, interpretation, correlation and application) and Serving the Feast (presenting the truth) Swindoll gives us many useful tools. From the basics of swindollinductive study methods to recommendations for study tools like concordances, dictionaries and commentaries, this is a practical book on many levels. He not only shows you how to study, but does so by taking you through sections of scriptures using the methods he is describing. His opening chapter dealing with an overview of the Bible was gold, and my favorite part of the book.

Each chapter ends with a section titled Your Turn in the Kitchen, where we get to put into practice what we just learned about how to study while digging into a portion of scripture. A lot of the book is classic Swindoll, lots of stories and illustrations, and many challenging encouragements to apply what we are learning.  He is on point when he states, “We are foolish if we don’t make a careful study of His Word…no study, no stability. There is no shortcut to maturity. It comes slowly but surely to those who search the Scriptures.”

While helpful to someone just starting out in purposeful Bible study, it may be less so to a person who has done inductive study, unless they are a hard core Swindoll fan. I took away some good nuggets, and reading Searching the Scriptures might be the resource you’re looking for to get you nourished in the Word.

I received this book from Tyndale for the purpose of reviewing it, and my opinions are my own.

Read well, friends!

Part 2:The Gift That Keeps on Giving-Study Bibles

You want to take your Bible reading to the next level, and you want as many tools at your fingertips as possible. You don’t want apps, you want pages to turn and write on, and so you begin your search for a study Bible. What makes a study Bible different from any other Bible?

In the olden days, when you bought a car it came stock. That meant it had a steering wheel, crank windows, and you stuck your arm out of that cranked down window to adjust your mirrors. Those were the standard features. Or, if you were a big spender, you could get optional features like power windows but you didn’t care because you were a big spender and had air conditioning. Every feature had a price, and you could add as few or as many as your wallet allowed.

20151117_093040Study Bibles are the optional features version of the Bible world. Some have a few options, some have many, and you get to choose which one has the features you want the most. Live in SoCal and don’t need a rear window de-icer? Don’t choose that option. You have fourteen books on biblical archeology and don’t need the expanded map section? Choose another Bible. Easy peasy, right?

It is if you know what features are available and what they do for you. Let’s look at what you might find when you hit the car lot, I mean Bible aisle.

Note This

I have found the most requested feature is notes. Who doesn’t have a question when they read the Bible? Annotations or notes provide commentary on selected verses on the page.  The focus of that commentary falls into three categories:

  • Objective or Interpretation-this type of note will give background information, biographical or cultural information to help give context and understanding to passages. They often expand on a particular doctrine. To put it another way, they lean toward biblical facts. The NKJV Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible are good examples.
  • Application-this type of note will focus more on how the text relates to living out our faith. Using the facts of a passage as a foundation, these notes tell us what to do with what we’ve learned. The Life Application Bible is the king of this category, and is available in the NKJV, NLT, HCSB, NASB, NIV and KJV. Whew, alphabet soup!
  • Subjective-notes of this type have a particular subject in mind; think women or teen or apologetics. Notes of the previous types will be included but there will also be a special emphasis on the topic, either in the notes or in special feature articles. This also includes Bibles whose notes are exclusively by one author. The Transformation Bible with notes by Warren Wiersbe or the David Jeremiah Study Bible would be examples.

If notes are the number one tool you want your study Bible to have, here are two things you need to know.

  1. They will fail you.

Even the most comprehensive notes will only cover a fraction of biblical text, so you may want to consider a whole Bible commentary like the Believer’s Bible Commentary or a single volume commentaries like Warren Wiersbe’s Be series, which cover a single book of the Bible.

  1. Notes are by men, the text is by God.

Commentary isn’t infallible, only the scriptures are. Some study Bibles lean heavily toward various doctrinal positions, though most seek to approach positional doctrines in a balance way. Know that the most important thing you read in your Bible is the Bible itself.

Let’s Get Acquainted-Book Introductions

Many Bibles have some information at the beginning of each book that tells you something about the author, or time period in which it was written. Book introductions and outlines are expanded in study Bibles, and a great source of information that gives context, timeline, key doctrine and themes in the book. Many times the question your notes don’t answer can be resolved in your book intro.

Where’s That Verse-Concordance

Just like the book intro’s, you’ll find a concordance in many Bibles, and this too will be more comprehensive in a study Bible. Located at the back of the Bible, words are listed in alphabetical order with corresponding text “addresses” listed where the word is used, with a very brief excerpt of the verse. Like notes, these are expanded, but not exhaustive. A great tool to supplement your Bible’s concordance is the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance which is, well, exhaustive. And large. You won’t carry that to church with you.

In many study Bibles you will also find a subject index. Like a concordance, it will be an alphabetical listing of topics and people and places in scripture with the corresponding verse reference.

Connecting the Dots-Cross References

Cross references are a great resource in connecting scripture to scripture. Indicated by a small letter in a verse, the corresponding reference will lead you to other verses that are relevant to what you are reading. Sometimes it can be a passage that has a similar event, or doctrine, or topic. This is a great study tool, making links and giving understanding to the text you’re reading. R. A. Torrey said the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. He created the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, a book of exhaustive cross references. Poor cross references can be a deal breaker for me when I’m selecting a study Bible.

Can I have a Word? Word Studies and Dictionary

While all of the tools we’ve looked at so far are standard, if expanded options in study Bibles, one feature you will find in some is word studies. When we looked at translation types we noted that having an accurate word for word translation helps us to know the literal meaning of the message. Since most of us don’t read Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic, word studies are a great tool to help us dig deeper into the intent of a passage. When you look up a word in a word study, it will give a definition of the word and show how it’s used in a particular verse. In a study Bible, this will be limited, a Vines Complete Dictionary is an accessible, more comprehensive tool. The Open Bible has helpful word studies, and an exceptional cyclopedic index.

More Bells and Whistles-Maps and Charts

Expanded versions of these are often in close page proximity to the text they relate to in a study Bible, making them easier to use than flipping around in the back of your Bible.  These are very valuable for helping gain context and understanding to the ancient world. How much is a ephah? Don’t know? Find the chart.  Also handy-Harmony of the Gospels, which charts timelines, events and locations in the gospels.

Wrap it up, I’ll Take It

Hopefully you have some information to help you decide which features are most important to you in a study Bible. There are study Bibles in many different translations, both Essentially Equivalent and Dynamic, and in a number of different bindings, which can dramatically affect the price. Many are available in large print, but as you see in the above photo, they aren’t compact to start with, so a large print is like a phone book. Of a major city. Really. With tiny print.

There is no perfect study Bible. I know this because all those in the photo are mine and there’s more where they came from. As good as they are, they will not answer every question, reveal every definition, or give every application. That’s why I referred to a few more exhaustive resources that are worth your investment.  That said, a good study Bible is a good thing, and remember-

The best Bible is the one you’ll read regularly and do what it says!

Read well, friends.

 

 

 

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

It’s that time again-commercials showing that  a glanChristmas_gift_christmas_decoration_FAN2011788-647902.jpece out of the window reveals a luxury car with a bow on top, or a tiny box filled with big sparkle. Blogs are filled
with holiday gift guides and our inbox lights up all day long with coupons and ads for our favorite stores. One gift guide I want to share is for the gift that keeps on giving-Bibles.

I get asked this question a lot, “What is the best Bible?” My response is usually this:

The one you will read regularly and then do what it says.

Accuracy of translation, study notes, readability, print size, none of that matters if you don’t pick it up and read it. And reading it only does so much, then it’s up to you to respond. So what Bible will help you do both? This is the first in a two part (or more, depending on the word count) series, and we begin with a look translations.

A Word about Words

Look in any Bible section and you’ll see a plethora of cryptic initials lining the shelves; NKJV, NLT, ESV, NCV….how do you decode them? How are they different from one another?

There are three basic types of Bibles. First, and most accurate are the translations known as Formal Equivalent, or Essentially Equivalent translations. These are texts that have been translated as close as word for word as you can get, from the original language of the Bible to English. Rating them by grade reading level, these will fall anywhere from the 12th grade level (King James Version) to the 8th grade level (New King James Version). The key here is word for word; language is complex and one word in Greek may need four words in English and vice versa. These translations are seeking to be as close to literal translations word for word as possible. Why does that matter?

Think of the way you’ve seen the definition of words change over the years, or the way a word is redefined as a slang term. It can change the whole meaning of a sentence. By using a translation that is as close to the original language as a translation can be, you can be sure you are getting the original intent of the message. These versions are great for study, and here are some of those initials decoded in the Essentially Equivalent category:

  • NKJV-New King James Version. The accuracy of the King James Version without sounding like an old English king. No thy or thee, but retaining the precision and poetry of the KJV. This is the translation the lead pastor at my church, Calvary Vista, teaches from every week.
  • ESV-English Standard Version. A new favorite of mine, a readable translation from a different parent text than the NKJV. That subject is a blog post for another time, but both parent texts have more in common than differences, and both are trustworthy.
  • NASB-New American Standard
  • HCSB-Holman Christian Standard Bible

Let Me Give You the Gist

The second type of translation is called a Dynamic translation. These are versions that seek not to translate the text word for word, but rather verse by verse. While they are not a commentary, they have a more explanatory quality than the essentially equivalents. Still considered a translation, though not literal, the objective of these versions is to provide a readable translation that gives the gist of the verse in a more modern language style. These fall into the grade reading level at around 6th grade, which makes them close to the NKJV and ESV at around 8th grade.  The two most widely known examples:

  • NLT-New Living Translation.  A revision of the paraphrase called The Living Bible, this is a true translation with a high degree of objective accuracy. This is my lead pastor’s dynamic translation of choice, and mine too, although I think he got the idea from me. Okay, probably not.
  • NIV-New International Version. For years this was the go-to dynamic, but there’s been controversy. Revisions to the original 1984 version have caused concern among scholars and Bible teachers. In 2011 a revised edition with a commitment to providing a more gender neutral translation was released, and has caused some verses to be worded in a way that actually changes the accepted meaning of the text. This has led to some churches, teachers and stores no longer recommending or using it.

These translations are great for kids, for people new to reading the Bible, and for devotional reading. I use them regularly as a comparison text to shed light on verses I’m reading in the NKJV or ESV.

Should this be the only type of translation you read? Well, since the best Bible is the one you’ll read, if this is it, then read away.

But our spiritual life isn’t a stagnant existence, we’re to be growing, right?

So the way we read the word, the way we study and glean from it should grow with us, and moving into an essentially equivalent translation is a great way to do that.

If you think they are too difficult to understand, try this: instead of using a dynamic as a comparison text, start using an essentially equivalent as a comparison. Look up passages and dig a little deeper, learn to do word studies to help you understand the specifics of what you’re reading.

In Other Words…

The third type of Bible to know about is called a paraphrase. The definition of paraphrase is, “a restatement of a text, passage, or work giving the meaning in another form.” There is no translation here, but a rewording of the text to explain its meaning. These are highly subjective to the one doing the paraphrasing, more like a commentary.  While helpful for devotions or comparison reading, I can’t recommend these for your sole scripture reading. That’s just me, but the dynamics are so readable they are a better choice.

Two you’ll find these days are the Living Bible and the Message Bible. Despite what I just said about not being the only Bible you read, I got saved reading the book of Romans in the Living Bible, and that worked out well, didn’t it? The Message? Not a fan. My blog, my opinion, I think there are just so many more beneficial choices out there.

So, there you have it, a primer on choosing the best Bible for you. As the wise Pastor Dave always says of reading the word,

“It’s not about getting through it, it’s about getting it.”

Make a practice of reading daily, reading thoughtfully and reading expectantly, and you’ll do just that.

Next, we’ll talk about study Bibles!

 

 

Visits to Heaven and Back: Are They Real? By Mark Hitchcock

The question of what happens to us when we die is one that every person asks at least once in life. For the person who doesn’t know what the Bible says about heaven, all they have are their best guesses. For the person who does know what the Bible says about heaven, we find ourselves left with gaps in our knowledge. We can’t help but want them filled in, to know what to expect, and to comfort us when those we love have left us behind.

Books dealing with alleged visits to heaven are so prevalent that an entire genre has been created, called “heaven tourism.” The accounts of children, doctors, pastors and more who claim to have experienced a trip to heaven and back grow monthly, and interestingly, differ significantly from one another.

Mark Hitchcock is a pastor and author whose books often have to do with prophecy and end times. He has a great gift for writing balanced, easy to understand and insightful books on a number of other topics as well, and now he addresses this visits-to-heaven-and-backsubject of visits to heaven in his book Visits to Heaven and Back: Are They Real?.

While never denying that people have had some type of near death experience, Mark Hitchcock shines the light of scripture on specific experiences recounted in several popular books on this topic to see if they align with what God Himself says about Himself, heaven and the afterlife. This book is worth the price just for the first two chapters, and it gets even better from there. He’s super readable, fair, balanced and biblical, making this is an important book.

He looks at popular titles from the past that really started this genre, as well as current releases. Some of these books are written by those professing faith in Christ, some are not, and all conflict with one another, begging the question, why? This is an emotionally charged subject, making it even more important for us to know what the scripture says to guide us through the minefield of emotions this topic stirs up in us, especially those who are grieving.

Dr. Hitchcock lays out what he calls the ABC’s of Near Death Experiences, and also looks not only at those accounts of trips to heaven, but trips to hell as well. There are three helpful appendixes to the book:

  • Answers to Common Questions about Death and Heaven
  • Recommended Books on Heaven and the Afterlife
  • Scripture Passages about Heaven

Together all this material helps us to focus on the things we do know, be at peace with the things we don’t know, and lay aside the things we discover to be error. Because like it or not, all these accounts cannot be true, the vast differences in the accounts cannot be explained away.  Some have subsequently been exposed as untrue by the person who allegedly had the experience, and LifeWay Christian stores has removed the entire genre from their stores, you can read about that here.

I have always appreciated the way Dr. Hitchcock approaches with respect those who hold to different positions than he does. His pastor’s heart is evidenced in this book by the care he takes to encourage and not discourage those who have turned to these books for answers. A book you may also consider is 55 Answers to Questions about Life After Death, also by Mark Hitchcock. Concise answers help the follower of Jesus know how to answers questions for people who are unfamiliar with the scriptures, as well as bring comfort to their own hearts.

Visits to Heaven will not only answer many questions, it will also help us to learn how to think critically and biblically. Today, we need that more than ever. This is an important book to add to your library.

Read well, friends.

Preparing for Jesus’ Return by A.W. Tozer

Many Christians have uttered the phrase “What is the world coming to?” in the recent months and perhaps especially in recent days.  Billy Graham has been quoted as saying “I’ve read the last page of the Bible and it’s all going to turn out all right.”  While we wait, should we get stirred up, write vitriolic posts on Facebook or throw up our hands in disgust?

According to A.W. Tozer, we should be Preparing for Jesus’ Return: Daily Live the Blessed Hope. A.W. Tozer was a pastor and author who died in the early 1960’s, yet his writing is as relevant today as it was then.  A man of uncommon insight and unwavering faith, Tozer taught with a clarity and conviction that shines a spotlight on what really matters in the lives of Christians.  Not one to be distracted by the times, he speaks directly through the noise of then-modern culture to point preparing for Jesushis readers to the one true object they should focus on. What is always amazing to me is how every Tozer book I’ve ever read sounds as though he wrote it last week.

In this unique look at the book of Revelation, Tozer focuses not only on the biblical text but also the subject of prophecy in general-how it should be viewed and just as importantly, how it should not. He was a firm believer in the necessity of clear and biblical teaching on the end times and that applying ourselves to the subject would help us as disciples of the One whose return we await, which he calls our Blessed Hope.

Do we live in a time of the signs we see in scripture? Do we have fulfilled prophecy to look at as a harbinger of the future? Yes, and Tozer makes the case that what is often lost in the details of those prophecies is the main subject-Jesus and His return.  While this isn’t an exhaustive commentary of Revelation, it covers the main events and helps us discover the underlying spiritual lessons for you and me today. It isn’t knowing what’s coming for the sake of knowing, but for a greater purpose, as he says in one chapter:

“So many Christians are addicted to Bible conferences or workshops where they hear teaching on bible prophecy. For the most part, these do not change one’s life, and although we enjoy time spent studying the Scriptures on this theme, we leave and go back to life as it was before, unaffected by the truth. The Blessed Hope needs to be infectious in our daily life. (Emphasis mine) It needs to be as essential as the air we breathe. We must be cautious not to allow the focus of our study to get off Jesus Christ. In addition, we must be courageous to keep the central purpose of the Blessed Hope in view and not become stuck in the quagmire of religious trivialities.”

A life change today is the purpose of the knowing of what’s coming. While the focus of the book is to alert Christians to the seriousness of the times so they can prepare for Christ’s return, the motive is to encourage the hope of believers. And in that hope, we should have joy in knowing our future as we seek to be conformed into the image of the One who is coming. So often we are stirred by world events, wars that ebb and flow, changes in power or the economy or morality that we become earthbound instead of heaven minded. We become consumed with details instead of our Savior.

The last chapter is titled “Daily Live the Blessed Hope” and encourages us on the ways we can stay focused on the truth. It includes daily disciplines for every believer, the whole purpose of which, Tozer says, “is daily wean us from the world. I have often said and will continue to say that the world is too much with us, even in the church. We must come to a place where the world no longer fascinates us but rather we are highly fascinated with the Blessed Hope. All of these things will create within us an expectation of looking out for the soon return of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  This is a book that should be in the prophecy section of your personal library. If you don’t have a prophecy section in your personal library, start one with this book.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and while we wait let us be Preparing for Jesus’s Return.