When, where, and how often do you read the Bible? Toward what portions of Scripture do you tend to gravitate? What books of the Bible have you never read? And what Bible study resources do you use to help you process and study God’s Word?
According to the survey, the average Bible reader spent 24 of the last 30 days reading Scripture in the early morning (followed by late evening and late morning); read the Old Testament far less frequently than the New Testament; and found the Prophetic books (Isaiah — Malachi) of the Old Testament the most difficult to understand. Nahum is the book least likely to have been read in the past month; Matthew and Psalms the most likely.
The biggest benefits to reading the Bible, according to the survey: 1) learning about God, myself, salvation, etc., 2) my life is impacted and changed by what I read, 3) feeling equipped to fight against temptation and sin, and 4) feeling more equipped to help others.
As much as I love the Bible, I’m not surprised that many people find it intimidating. They may even have fallen asleep, as I have done, while reading it. My own Bible weighs in at over 4 pounds and is 2,358 pages long! What’s more, it was written in unfamiliar historical and cultural contexts that can make it easy to misunderstand. Even so, it’s hard to flourish spiritually without engaging with God’s Word on a regular basis.
Though the Bible contains laws, prophecies, proverbs, and poetry, the spine of the Bible, the thing that holds it all together is its stories. Ultimately, from the first page to the last, there is only ONE BIG STORY being told and that is the story of how God created the world, how everything broke, and what God’s plan is for restoring it—and us. By reading and understanding story after story in the order they appear in the Bible, you begin to see the great sweep of salvation history moving forward through many improbable characters.
One of the things that makes the Bible so believable is that it never whitewashes its characters, most of whom are flawed. If the Bible were propaganda, its great heroes would be perfect. But that’s certainly not the case for Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Rahab, David, Peter, and many others.
I wrote Less Than Perfect in order to provide adult readers with a fresh and deeper understanding of some of the stories that undergird our faith. By retelling them in the light of what we now know about the historical, cultural context in which they unfolded, I hope to bring them to life for those who are ready to recharge their Bible reading.
I hope you’ll join me in grappling with these wonderful stories. As you do, I also hope that surprising insights, fascinating connections, and startling patterns will begin to jump off the page, just as they did for me as I was writing the book.
Do you sometimes approach familiar Bible passages with a sense of fatigue or mindlessness because you’ve read it all before? You’ve lost the wonder of it all and it doesn’t feel new to you? You think you know what it all says already? How can the spiritual discipline of reading Scripture afresh allow you to rediscover the ancient Word in startlingly new ways?
Russ Ramsey: Biblical literacy and the cultivation of a biblical imagination. As a pastor I’m driven by a desire to raise the level of biblical literacy among those God puts in my path. The goal of these books is to hide Scripture in the hearts of my readers by telling the biblical story of the coming of Christ, the life of Christ, and the ongoing ministry of Christ with compelling clarity, beauty, and continuity.
What were you hoping to accomplish in writing these narratives?
Russ Ramsey: My objectives for the Retelling the Story Series are threefold. First, to tell the story I love more than all others—the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and what it means for us—for the edification of those who may be new to Christianity and the meaning of the empty tomb.
Second, to help “rescue truth from the jaws of familiarity” (as parable-scholar Kenneth Bailey would say) for those whose love for Scripture has perhaps grown stale.
And third, to offer a biblically-faithful narrative for individuals, families, churches, and study groups which nourishes their faith and enhances their worship of Christ.
How would you describe these books to someone who hasn’t read them yet?
Russ Ramsey: These books are a collection of stories that thread together to tell one big story. That is what makes them distinctive. I wanted to write something that would make the chronology of the Bible clearer for people.
I make very little “direct eye contact” with the reader. These books are not devotionals. They’re not teaching books. They’re stories. And as with any good story, the lessons are contained in the narrative. I don’t know of many straight narrative books about the Bible that are aimed primarily at an adult audience. But I do know that storytelling is one of the most effective ways to deliver information in a meaningful way. Stories are a Trojan horse for getting truth inside the gates of the heart.
What do you want readers take away from these stories?
Russ Ramsey: I hope readers hide Scripture in their heart by way of the imagination; come to know and love Jesus better, or for the first time. I hope they read a beautiful, compelling, emotionally connective story that helps the Bible come to life and come back to this series on a regular basis, particularly during Advent and Lent. And I hope they’re satisfied with the literary quality of these books and keep them on their shelves for years to come.
How do you hope these books impact readers?
Russ Ramsey: I hope they
see lived out on the page the call they themselves have been given to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ;
experience the wonder of Christian theology as it unfolds in the practical, everyday lives of people trying to learn and practice what it means to follow Christ;
hide Scripture in their heart by way of their imaginations through the mechanism of good storytelling, thus becoming equipped to tell again the story of their faith;
will be encouraged as they encounter multiple stories of hopeless and struggling people finding comfort and help in the context of biblical community and the Holy Spirit’s care; and
grow in their biblical literacy as they learn how the familiar smaller episodes of the Bible fall into the larger, single story which begins in Genesis and runs all the way through the final chapters of Revelation.
Jesus of Nazareth’s death did not bring an end to his ministry.
Rather, his crucifixion at the hands of Pilate and the chief priests fanned into flames a movement that would reach around the world and down through time. The reason? Jesus’ death did not end with a corpse on a slab. It ended with resurrection—a real, bodily resurrection and a truly empty tomb.
Three days after Jesus was buried, he rose from the grave and appeared to his disciples. Over the course of the next forty days, the resurrected Jesus, with his nail-pierced hands and spear-split side, spent time in the company of his friends—teaching them, encouraging them, and preparing them for a mission to take the story of his resurrection to the furthest reaches of the globe.
On one of those occasions, as Jesus was eating with his friends, he told them to wait for the gift the Father had promised—the Holy Spirit Jesus had told them about. The Holy Spirit would come and comfort them and lead them forward. They were to remain in Jerusalem until this happened.
It could not have been easy for the disciples to sit with their risen Lord. For as much joy and hope as Jesus’ resurrection brought them, they had been present at his death. They had witnessed the brutal execution of this man they loved, followed, and gave their lives to serving. They saw his beaten and bloody form hang from the cross as he breathed his last. After he died, they were hollowed out with grief.
Along with their grief was the guilt. The trauma of the crucifixion had revealed weaknesses in each one of them. To a man they watched their loyalty to Jesus collapsed under the weight of the chief priests’ resolve to put an end to what he had started. Not one of them had shown the strength they believed they possessed when Jesus was taken into custody. Each one denied knowing him in his greatest hour of need.
On top of the grief and the guilt was the fact that the world as they knew it had changed. When the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples, it was to remind them of their call to be his witnesses in the world. But after the resurrection, they hardly knew what that world was anymore.
They were fragile and unsettled, but they could not escape the reality that Jesus had in fact risen. And they knew they were somehow tied up in it. How could they not be? In a world where everyone dies, one man’s resurrection becomes instantly relevant to all. His resurrection was part of their story.
The disciples used that time to ask questions of Jesus. They wanted to understand what would happen next. Would he deal with the religious leaders who opposed him? Would he overthrow Rome? Would he restore the kingdom of Israel to her former glory? And if so, when? Would they be part of it?
Jesus told them the Father was establishing his kingdom, but the particulars of this business were not theirs to know. Such knowledge belonged to God alone. What he could tell them, however, was that the Holy Spirit would come on each one of them in a matter of days, and when he did, they would be filled with power.
In that power, they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. This Great Commission, the disciples came to understand, was very much about the kingdom of God. Their mission, though they struggled to grasp it, was in some way the work of building the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit and the kingdom of God—the two main subjects Jesus discussed after his resurrection—were inseparably linked, meaning the disciples’ call to bear witness to Christ carried eternal significance.
Forty days after the resurrection the disciples were on the Mount of Olives and Jesus was with them. He told them they would be his witnesses, and after he said this, he began to rise up into the sky right before their eyes. Up he went, until a cloud hid him from their sight. The disciples stood in silence as they watched him go. In that moment the world became an even greater mystery than the one the resurrection demanded they embrace.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. — Proverbs 27:17
Eight and a half hours before kickoff for Super Bowl LII, members of the Philadelphia Eagles got ready for the biggest game of their lives with an intimate celebration of their love for Jesus Christ. About 20 players gathered in the offensive meeting room at the team hotel for a worship service organized by Carson Wentz and Trey Burton. The underdog Eagles were set to play against the defending champion New England Patriots, one victory from finally capturing that elusive Vince Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history and bringing it home to a city starving for a National Football League title. But for the guys in that conference room and a few others on the team, their relationship with Jesus was more important than winning football games.
Wentz, the franchise quarterback who was on his way to likely winning the league’s Most Valuable Player Award in only his second season before wrecking his left knee in Week 14, and Burton, the backup tight end who later that night would become a central figure in one of the greatest plays in sports history, had planned similar worship services over the past two seasons. Whenever the Eagles had free time on a Sunday morning because they were playing a game in late afternoon or at night, players held “church” at their hotel. It didn’t matter if they were playing against the woeful Cleveland Browns in September or trying to prevent the Patriots from winning their sixth ring. Getting together to praise God was the top priority for these brothers in Christ. The stakes just happened to be much higher on this frigid Sunday morning in Minnesota.
“Given the obvious fact that we’re not in church on Sundays, we’re always looking for ways to implement that,” Wentz told me a week after we did a faith event together at a Christian high school in New Jersey. I first asked him about Super Bowl morning on the limo ride home following that event. He didn’t think it was extraordinary because it was something the team always did together. I insisted it was pretty special, so he was happy to share some details.
“We would always have chapel the night before, but some guys wouldn’t always make it,” he continued. “It’s tough when you’re on the road and you have plans if you’re going out to dinner. So it’s really cool to have our own form of church service for anyone who could make it. It’s just normal for us. That was just what we did and what we knew.”
Community worship was part of the daily fabric of this team, similar to studying the playbook, watching film, working out, and practicing. On Monday nights, players gathered with their significant others for Bible study at a teammate’s house. On Thursday nights, they had Bible study for players at the practice facility with the team chaplain, Pastor Ted Winsley. On nights before games, they had a chapel service at the team hotel followed by prayer and fellowship in their rooms. Sometimes they had a guest speaker or musician. Before a Thursday night game against the Carolina Panthers in Week 6, Mack Brock, former lead singer for Elevation Worship, joined the players at the team hotel and led them in worship.
At the Super Bowl Sunday service, they spent the first 30-to-40 minutes watching videos of some of their favorite worship songs on the same projector screen used to watch game film during the week. Guys lifted their hands to the Lord, sang along to the powerful music, and focused their minds and hearts on what mattered most: serving their Savior, no matter what the outcome of the game.
Pastor Kyle Horner, founder of The Connect Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, followed with a 15-minute message of encouragement, reminding the players who God created them to be and how they could give him glory. Horner, a former college quarterback at Tennessee and Richmond, has a strong relationship with several players who go to his church.
“They just love Jesus and this is what they do,” Horner told me a few months later. “They’re not using Jesus as a crutch. They’re not coming just to get their religious fix on a Super Bowl morning. This is who they want to be, and they want to pray for their brothers and do this thing together. The power in it is them treating the Super Bowl just like any other game. They’re not trying to get God on their side. They’re not trying to do something to make God happy with them. Keeping God in the center of it all is who they are. That’s what enabled them to play the way they played.”
After Horner spoke, players broke into groups of two or three instead of their usual large prayer circle. They laid hands on and prayed over each other.
“I remember that being pretty cool that we got in small groups and prayed with and for each other out loud,” Wentz said. “It keeps God in the middle of it and strengthens the community as well where we’re not sitting there in church, listening, and leaving. We’re doing this together. We’re brothers in Christ, and that’s bigger than each of us.”
Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz, starting left guard Stefen Wisniewski, injured special teams captain Chris Maragos, injured star linebacker Jordan Hicks, and reserve wide receiver Marcus Johnson were among the players in the room that morning. Nick Foles couldn’t be there because he was in a meeting going over the final preparations for the game.
“Brothers in Christ, no matter what’s going on in your life, you have Jesus and you have each other, and that’s never gonna change,” Wisniewski had told me a few days before the game, when anticipation was running high. “God is with us no matter what, and if that’s real to you because you’re spending time with God every day, if that’s real to you because you’re spending time with your brothers in Christ, then no matter what you’re going through, you can still have joy, you can still have peace, and you can be more than a conqueror of any of your circumstances. That definitely helped this team and all the Christians on this team to persevere.”
Players were certainly excited to play against New England in the Super Bowl. To a man, every guy wanted to win, to take down Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the Patriots dynasty. Every kid dreams about winning a Super Bowl from the minute they step foot on a Pee Wee league field. These were big-time competitors playing on the grandest stage. They understood the significance of the game. But winning or losing the Super Bowl wasn’t going to define this group of men on the Philadelphia Eagles. Their identity wasn’t rooted in their accomplishments; it was found in Christ.
“Worshiping God is not what they do, it’s who they are, and that’s the difference between religion and what these guys have, and that’s a relationship with Jesus,” Horner said. “Who they are is building a lifestyle of worship for God whether on the field or off the field. I recognize in sports everybody has their own pregame ritual. For these guys, this service was more than that. It wasn’t just a pregame ritual. This was an intentional act of love, devotion, and choosing God first. When you’re talking about being on that platform, that level, the biggest platform ever, a billion people watching this game, it would’ve been easy for guys to skip it because they had chapel the night before. But for them, it was Sunday morning. This is who they are. This is what made the Eagles special.”
They were the first No. 1 seed in NFL history to enter the playoffs as an underdog. Their star quarterback was out with a season-ending knee injury. Five-time Super Bowl champions the New England Patriots towered over them. But public opinion didn’t matter to the Philadelphia Eagles. They believed in each other. The band of Christian brothers on the team believed in the God of the impossible, and they played for an audience of One.
The most extensive book to explore the Christian faith shared by many of the team’s players, Birds of Pray details the incredible inside story behind the Eagles’ capture of the biggest prize in professional sports: the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Through exclusive interviews with the players, never-before-seen photos, and insider accounts of the miracle season’s most memorable moments, Philly native and Associated Press sportswriter Rob Maaddi reveals a side of the team the world has yet to fully witness.
From an impromptu baptism in the team’s cold tub to weekly Bible studies and pre-game prayers, to the unique friendship between star quarterback Carson Wentz and back-up-then-MVP Nick Foles, the Eagles excel in the unexpected. Birds of Pray follows the deep faith shared among players, the high stakes they faced together, and their relentless reliance on Christ who gives all strength in moments of crisis and celebration alike. The result is a boldly inspiring, entertaining read that will challenge you to go deeper in your faith, dream bigger, and live with renewed courage for whatever odds life stacks against you. Learn more at BirdsOfPrayBook.com.
Rob Maaddi is an author, radio and television personality and dynamic speaker who has covered Philadelphia sports for The Associated Press since 2000. A passionate Christian devoted to spreading the Gospel, Rob launched “Faith On The Field Show” on Philadelphia’s 610 ESPN radio in April 2017. Rob has written or co-written seven other books. Rob and his wife, Remy, have twin daughters: Alexia and Melina.
I love being around people who have so deeply taken the word of God into their lives that it has shaped the very way they think, their overall attitude toward life, their reactions to minor and major events, even their temperament. This is the fruit, developed by the Holy Spirit, of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. These are the signs that the word of God has truly gotten lodged into the deepest part of who we are–into the heart–where opinions are formed and motives are birthed, where emotions are sparked and decisions are set.
These are not people who look to impress others by quoting Scripture all the time, or who feel obligated to slap a verse on every event of life. They so respect Scripture that they avoid twisting it to suit their purposes. The Bible is never a weapon in their hands, and not merely a tool. It is more than an encyclopedia of spiritual knowledge. It is the voice of God–sometimes a whisper, sometimes a shout–but always a revelation of God’s own pure character. It is thus the wisdom of God, the power of God, the love of God, the light of God, the truth of God. They read the Bible because they long to know God and to have a God-filled life.
But how does the word of God get firmly planted in us?
Whenever I have run across Colossians 3:16, which says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” it has always challenged and enthused and comforted me. “Dwell in you richly.” Of course that’s what God wants! I’m not a computer hard drive whose purpose it is to collect more and more data. I’m not a student hoping against hope to get all the answers right on the final exam. I’m a member of God’s household, and I get to learn with my brothers and sisters what God’s word through the prophets and the apostles is, and to ask God to make that word go down deeply and effectively, down to a place where it won’t get blown away by the winds of today’s concerns. I can ask God to make it take root there, so it will dwell there, and nobody can take it away. And it will not lie dormant. It will, like well-planted seed, sprout and grow, and then put down roots, and finally be ready for harvesting and digesting. We take it in as seed, but it becomes a nourishing feast.
The way I look at people who have had a pattern of Scripture digestion over the years is that the word which they consume faithfully is transformed into the spiritual muscle tissue of their lives. The word of God actually becomes part of who they are.
These people do not view Scripture as a collection of magical sayings which work wonders when voiced, but they consistently act out of the truth of Scripture. Their reactions to people around them are governed by grace because they have a graduate degree in grace, as it were (in learning and in experience). They react with truth because their consciences have been trained and shaped to stay within the bounds of honest, authentic reality. Their instincts, which are as naturally fallen as any of us, have been retrained. They don’t even think: “what is the biblical thing to do or say?” because biblical ethics and ethos have become essential to who they are. It is what is promised in the new covenant when God said, “I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33).
We thank all our children’s ministry pastors and directors, teachers, etc. for what they do for our kids.
LEARN HOW to use this resource for your ministry here by Mel Lawrenz.
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As a way of sharing our excitement over our 25th anniversary, Bible Gateway is producing various lists and Infographics featuring 25 items in different categories found in the Bible. Here we highlight our Infographic “25 Extremes in the Bible” by calling out extreme lengths of Bible books. (Be sure to tell us what Bible Gateway means to you by visiting our MyBibleGateway page.)
The longest book in the Old Testament when measuring by chapters is the book of Psalms with 150 chapters and 2,461 verses. But when measuring by Hebrew word count, the longest book in the Old Testament is Jeremiah with approximately 33,000 words in the original language.
The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 individual ancient Hebrew songs and prayers. As the NIV Quest Study Bible says, psalms give voice to personal feelings; they are poetry, not doctrinal essays. The psalmists frequently were interested in how something felt more than what it meant. Think of the psalms as entries in a diary; they reflect people’s most intimate encounters with God. Watch for figures of speech, exaggerations, and repetitions. Poetic language requires that you read with your heart as well as your mind. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says the various psalms help us see that God responds to us in our emotional highs and lows.
The prophet Jeremiah saw Israel morally disintegrating and being destroyed militarily by enemies. He saw Babylon attack Jerusalem in 586 BC and many of its people exiled to foreign lands. According to the NIV Quest Study Bible Jeremiah’s grim prophecies, in both poetry and prose, continually warned Judah about God’s approaching judgment because of the people’s constant, willful disobedience. Yet intermingled with all the dark messages were words of hope about Judah’s future redemption. Watch for Jeremiah’s encouragement—prophecies that are still being fulfilled today whenever sinful hearts are transformed by God.
The shortest book in the Old Testament is Obadiah with only 21 verses and 670 words.
The book of Obadiah harkens back to the feud that began with twin brothers, Jacob and Esau in the book of Genesis. Esau, the older by minutes, would have inherited family leadership, but in a moment of hunger he traded it for a meal and Jacob went on to become the founding father of the nation of Israel. Esau founded the nation of Edom. Their descendants continued the quarrel over hundreds of years. The final straw came when Babylon dismembered Jerusalem and took its citizens into exile. The Edomites egged on the conquering army, preyed on fleeing Israelites, and helped plunder Jerusalem. Obadiah predicts that downtrodden Israel will rise again, while Edom will disappear from the face of the earth. This prediction came true. The NIV Student Bible Notes asks, why does this blood feud earn a place in Scripture? It demonstrates God’s ongoing protection of his people from their enemies. It also shows that God’s standards extend beyond his chosen people. Every nation will be judged, like Edom, by its own standard
The longest book in the New Testament is the Gospel of Luke with 1,151 verses.
The Gospel of Luke presents Jesus as the Messiah and Lord whose life, death and resurrection make salvation available to all people everywhere. According to the NIV Study Bible, Luke’s writing is characterized by literary excellence, historical detail and warm, sensitive understanding of Jesus and those around him. Luke’s themes include: recognition of Gentiles as well as Jews in God’s plan; emphasis on prayer, especially Jesus’ praying before important occasions; joy at the announcement of the gospel or “good news”; special concern for the role of women; special interest in the poor and in issues of social justice; concern for sinners; stress on the family circle; emphasis on the Holy Spirit; inclusion of more parables than any other Gospel; and emphasis on praising God.
The shortest book in the New Testament is 2 John with only 13 verses and 298 words.
The Letter of 2 John will keep you on target spiritually and challenge you to be certain about what you believe and how you live. The NIV Quest Study Bible says the apostle John wrote this personal note to Christians who may have felt pressured by false teachers. He wrote it perhaps to accompany his more general letter of 1 John. He hoped it would help renew commitment to the truth by further exposing the false teachers and he wanted to encourage them to remain faithful until he could see them in person.
What is the history of the Bible from its beginnings to the present day? How was the Bible written and its various books chosen? How reliable is it? How were the Old Testament and New Testament formed?
Ryan M. Reeves and Charles Hill: Two answers come to mind. First, the Bible is the Word of God, written or collected by those called by God. The Jewish Scriptures are the foundation of the Bible from the old covenant with Israel, covering the 39 books from Genesis to Malachi. Next are the 27 books of the New Testament, written after the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. These 66 books comprise the Bible.
Another way to think of this question is to think about how we have our personal Bibles; often a leather-bound edition. These Bibles are technical marvels if we compare them to most of church history. Centuries ago Bibles were copied by hand and had to be bound into multiple volumes. The fact that we can hold the entire Bible in our hands today is something Christians throughout most of history could never experience. More importantly, the fact that we have several translations available to us in English means we have a rich legacy of biblical translation that has given us our Bible today.
What is the difference between the Old Testament and New Testament?
Ryan M. Reeves and Charles Hill: One can look at several differences. For one, the Old Testament is far longer than the New Testament, but it also covers an incredible amount of time, while the New Testament is recorded within a relative short time during the life of the apostles. The earliest writer of the Old Testament was Moses and the last writer finished shortly after Israel returned from the Babylonian exile. That covers roughly 1,000 years.
The subject of Old and New Testament is the same, though they each describe different phases in God’s redemption. The Old describes God calling Israel and establishing the foundation of the covenant. With the coming of Christ, the framework of God’s plan remained the same (covenant, sacrifice) but now God himself came in the person of Christ and fulfilled some of the old covenant.
How do Catholic and Orthodox Bibles differ from Protestant Bibles?
Ryan M. Reeves and Charles Hill: In many ways, they’re the same. For example, all three branches of Christianity share the 66 books. They also take great care to consider the sources used as copies of modern Bibles, though the Eastern version is largely based on the Septuagint, Catholic Bibles in Latin on the Vulgate. Protestant Bibles largely are based on the oldest copies possible of Greek and Hebrew.
The main difference between these Bibles is the inclusion of the Apocrypha in the Orthodox and Catholic versions. As we discuss in our book, these texts came to be used by Christians largely because they were often included alongside the Old Testament in the Septuagint. Over time, Christians came to assume these were inspired books, simply because they were read and cited by other Christians. They were books that discussed the Jewish story between Old and New Testament, so even Protestant confessions affirmed they were useful to read for Christians, though they were not even by Jews considered canonical, so Protestant Bibles eventually removed them.
How and when did the Old Testament come to be?
Ryan M. Reeves and Charles Hill: This question calls for much longer answers, and that’s why we wrote Know How We Got Our Bible! You can speak of the Old Testament coming into existence in at least two ways. Because it’s God’s word, you can say that in terms of its intrinsic authority the Old Testament came into existence whenever its last book was finished. This would be probably sometime not long before 400 BC. But this does not mean that God’s people did not have his word in Scripture before then. All the way along, at least from the time of Moses, the nation Israel had some portion of God’s covenantal word in written form, given through prophets, poets, and historians.
You can also ask from the historical angle, when can we tell that the books of the Old Testament were received by God’s people as authoritative Scripture? The answer here may be the same as the earlier one (that is, as soon as the books were given). But our historical records are very imperfect and even after we know that a book was accepted, debates about it could arise. At least by 140 BC, Jews had recognized the tripartite structure of the Scriptures: Law, Prophets, and Writings. Near the end of the first century AD the Jewish historian Josephus regarded the books of Scripture to be long accepted. But most importantly, Jesus and the New Testament writers use Scripture authoritatively and assume that its contents are already well known.
How and when did the New Testament come into existence?
Ryan M. Reeves and Charles Hill: It’s pretty amazing to think that some of our New Testament were written within about 20 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection. These would be the first letters of the apostle Paul and probably also the letter of James the Lord’s brother. In the next several decades the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, letters of James, Peter, John, and Jude, and the book of Revelation would be published. The last to appear were probably John’s Gospel, letters, and the book of Revelation, most likely written in the 90s.
Again, according to its intrinsic authority as God’s new covenant word to his people, the New Testament can be said to have existed when the last of its books was put into circulation. But even by the end of the first century AD the church had spread over the Roman Empire, bringing the good news of Jesus into many subcultures. It would be some time before history can show that all the books were both known and accepted by the great majority of those who called themselves Christians. But all of the books of our New Testament seem to have been accepted by at least some churches from the time they were written. And by the end of the second century most of the books, including the four Gospels, Acts, the letters of Paul, at least some of the other letters, and the book of Revelation, had been received as Scripture virtually everywhere the church was.
Why are there so many English translations of the Bible?
Ryan M. Reeves and Charles Hill: Because we’re blessed to have a long heritage of biblical scholarship! Of course, it could be easy to be cynical about the number of translations we have. But we don’t want to give the impression that new Bibles are the result of eager publishers hoping to make money. But this is actually the story of the Bible in English. Already by the time of the King James Bible in 1611, there were at least 6 full translations into English over three generations (more if you go back to the Wycliffe Bibles of the middle ages). The proliferation of new translations in the modern world are part of that same legacy.
In other words, we want to not focus first on the translation debates about our Bibles. Many languages in the world do not have Bibles in their native language, so the fact that we have so many (and can compare translations) is a blessing, even if it leads to debate.
Two other factors increased the number of modern translations. First, with the discovery of older copies of the Bible (especially the New Testament) new translations in the 20th century began with the need to correct the Greek basis for earlier Protestant versions. Second, as Bible societies and missionaries began to raise awareness of biblical illiteracy, publishers began to work at simplifying translations, and recently created paraphrase editions. Today, many of the versions we assume to be radically different are in fact different tiers of the same family of Bibles.
Since it’s such an ancient book, on what basis should the Bible be considered trustworthy and authoritative for modern living?
Ryan M. Reeves and Charles Hill: Not by any work of translators and not by any judgment of scholars. The reason to trust the Bible is because it is God’s Word.
How should a person select a Bible from the multiple editions available?
Ryan M. Reeves and Charles Hill: This question can seem like a hard one, but we think the first place to start is likely your experience with the Bible. Were you raised in a church but feel like you only know fragments of the Bible and now want to study it? Or do you have no experience with the Bible and just want to begin from the ground up.
The answer is not necessarily different based on your answer, but it may influence which version you buy. There are several translations that focus on carrying the original language into English idioms and phrases that make sense in our language (even if they are not entirely word-for-word the same in the Greek or Hebrew). The New Living Translation, the NIV, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible all attempt this without aggressively changing the words. As always, the judgment of when not to translate literally relies on the translation team, but the English is often simple and clear.
Other translations that we recommend attempt to keep the wording as close as possible (even if it doesn’t always sound like conversational English). The King James Bible has been the most read in English history, but it’s locked away in older English that frankly can confuse. It is also based on texts that are not as accurate as other modern editions. The ESV, NRSV, or NASB fit this category.
In the end, no translation will ever be perfect. The translators always make judgment calls and the English language (like any language) is fluid and capable of miscommunication. The best approach is always to look for a good translation, then when reading it, you’ll find it helpful to look up other versions to see where the language differs. For example, a word-for-word Bible will say that Israelites “beat their breast” whereas a dynamic equivalent one may say they were “deep with sorrow.” Knowing this shade of meaning opens up good questions. So use all the tools at your disposal!
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Ryan M. Reeves: The story of Jesus calming the storm. So vivid and yet so important for understanding Jesus as Lord.
Charles Hill: The story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis. Besides illustrating God’s mysterious providence, it is full of real human drama, pathos, and forgiveness.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Ryan M. Reeves and Charles Hill: For most of church history, lay Christians only heard the Bible read aloud. In fact, most lay Christians were illiterate before the rise of modern schools. Any app that reads the Bible aloud is a good thing. Sometimes we can focus more by listening, say if our eyes are tired. Some of us have a lot of time in the car, too.
For other apps that give us access to the Bible (online or by app) these too are good parts of our legacy. Bible societies in the 1800s broke the high prices charged for Bibles, making them either cheap or free for Christians. Any access to the Bible is an opportunity to read and hear from God’s Word.
The only caution we would add is not about technology but about using our Bibles. As with many things, when people have constant access to something they take it for granted. This is true of printed Bibles. We may own five translations, but this does not mean we’re reading our Bibles. For many lay Christians, they have the Bible at their fingertips but read it in smaller portions at a time. Notice how many plans exist today to read the Bible in a year.
So access to the Bible is wonderful as it may lead to other ways for Christians to hear from the Word. But the point is always to find it a joyful thing to read or listen to the Bible.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Ryan M. Reeves and Charles Hill: The Bible is an extraordinary journey of study and exploration. We hope this inspires you to want to learn more!
Bio: Ryan M. Reeves (PhD, Cambridge University) is associate professor of historical theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and dean of the seminary’s Jacksonville campus. Also a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary,
Reeves has written English Evangelicals and Tudor Obedience and cowritten Know How We Got Our Bible and The Story of Creeds and Councils. He hosts the Historical Theology for Everyone blog at The Gospel Coalition.
In-Text Word Enhancements Help Readers Grasp the Full Meaning of a Passage
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