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A Prayer for Wisdom Amid Violence

Editor’s note: The last several weeks have witnessed many events of violence that are difficult to comprehend, and which confound efforts to respond wisely and biblically: the Orlando nightclub shooting, repeated acts of terror in the Middle East, and most recently, terrifying violence involving police in the United States. As you process your own reactions to these events, please join pastor Mel Lawrenz in this prayer for God’s wisdom.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” — James 1:5

Dear God,

You have said in your word that whenever we know we need wisdom, we should ask for it, and that you will give it generously. In these perilous times, we pray for your wisdom from above.

Grant us wisdom to know the way you look on the affairs of our nation.

Grant us wisdom to understand how you view our world today.

Grant us wisdom to know what an ordered and just and compassionate society looks like.

Grant us wisdom to know what to do with the reality of evil.

Grant us wisdom to uphold the defenseless.

Grant us wisdom to love you and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Lord, we pray that our leaders will personally understand that you are a dynamic reality in the world and in our lives.

May we be a nation which depends on you, acknowledges your blessings, and values what you value. And on the day after the election, Lord, help us to be faithful members of your kingdom and responsible citizens of the nation we inhabit.

In Christ’s name and for his sake, Amen.


For more biblical insight to help you grapple with the difficult issues presented by acts of terror and violence, see this past posts:

Mel Lawrenz trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a Ph.D. in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, the latest, How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.

A Visual Walk Through Genesis: An Interview with Stephen M. Miller

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Stephen M. MillerThe book of Genesis offers helpful answers to the biggest questions in life—Why are we here? What is God like? Why so much evil and pain? But readers often get tripped up by the ancient writing style and wonder: Did Moses really write Genesis? Many of the reports seem so odd—are they scientifically accurate? Does that matter? How does Genesis relate to other ancient accounts of creation, the origin of evil, and the great flood?

Bible Gateway interviewed Stephen M. Miller (@StephenMMiller_) about his book, A Visual Walk Through Genesis: Exploring the Story of How It All Began (Harvest House Publishers, 2016), which presents viewpoints from a wide range of Christian Bible experts, along with colorful graphics and a touch of dry humor.

Buy your copy of A Visual Walk Through Genesis in the Bible Gateway Store

With its emphasis on imagery and an informal style of writing, who would be most interested in reading this book?

Stephen M. Miller: My Uncle Foyster. He’s nearly 90. Likes pictures.

My pastor’s daughter is already reading the pre-release copy I gave him. She’s eight. It must be easy enough for a kid to read. But she’s pretty smart for a kid.

If the meat of this book is anything like you’ll find in other books I’ve written—and I hope it is—seminary students will read it and use it in their classes. So they tell me.

But I don’t write for any of them. They’re already Christians. I write for people who aren’t. I write for non, new, and nominal Christians who are curious about the Bible and Christianity.

They’re like New York City. If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere. If I can write a book about the Bible that’s engaging enough to attract people who aren’t even Christians, I’m betting Christians will want to read it, too.

The graphics and the casual style of writing I’ve used here and in other books about the Bible that I’ve written seem to help people notice my books on those stand-alone racks we all bump into in drugstores, rest stops, and airports.

I love seeing my books on those racks. Those racks take my books to the very people I write for. Those are the people I’m constantly reminding myself that I want to attract.

I know Christians read my books, too. Heck, most of my readers may be Christian. I’m okay with that. But I don’t write for them because they come to the Bible with a more reverend point of view and a gentler set of questions. I want to deal with the questions on the minds of Bible newbies. And some of those questions get some Christians a tad upset. If I’m afraid of upsetting those godly souls, I don’t think I can as effectively attract the souls without God.

Explain why and how you approach writing about the Bible as a journalist.

Stephen M. Miller: Well, the “why” I write Bible stuff in journalistic style has a lot to do with my education. I have one degree in news journalism, which I made good use of as a newspaper reporter. And I have a seminary degree in biblical studies and religious education, which I made good use of for more than a dozen years as a magazine and book editor for a Christian publishing organization.

I’ve always liked the old-school journalism approach. I don’t have to take a side on any controversial issue. I get to present various sides. And my goal, as a journalist covering the Bible beat, is to present the strengths and weaknesses of each side—to the extent that readers can’t tell what my opinion is.

That’s easy enough for me to do much of the time because I’m as confused as the next guy, and trusting a lot on Jesus for what I don’t understand.

There are plenty of Christian writers out there telling people what they should think. I’m happy to be one of the Christian writers simply telling people to think. For themselves.

The book of Genesis is comprised of multiple individual stories. How do they all tie together in a grand narrative?

Stephen M. Miller: I don’t know that they do.

What does the story of Judah having sex with his daughter-in-law because he mistook her for a prostitute have to do with Creation, the Flood, and Abraham making a contract with God and then sealing the deal by cutting on the dotted line?

What’s wrong with seeing each of the stories as individuals?

Certainly there’s a theme of “beginnings.” The beginning of the universe, humans, sin, the Jewish race. Other themes too, like the perseverance of God.

But I’m not sure Judah and the story of his passing fancy were critical to driving any of the major themes. It seems stuck in there like a sidebar that some editor thought was too interesting to delete.

On the one hand, probably most Christians would say the Holy Spirit inspired this story for inclusion into the Holy Bible. Others would say the Holy Spirit might not want the credit for that particular story, if “credit” is the word to use.

See, this is the journalism thing. I get to say that there are scholars out there teaching both sides of this coin. And I don’t have to call heads or tails.

Presenting both sides gives the skeptic room to breathe—and to consider the possibility that there’s room in Christianity for diversity in interpreting the Bible. And it gives the traditionalist pause to think again—and to consider the possibility that she might need to tweak her hermeneutic.

How do you weave modern understandings of science and ancient culture into your book’s content?

Stephen M. Miller: I report when science and the Bible clash. And I report when they don’t.

One of the cool examples in Genesis came out of something I read on NASA’s website. Listen to how NASA describes the beginning of the universe: “When the universe was young, it was nearly smooth and featureless. As it grew older and developed, it became organized.”

“Smooth and featureless.” Holy smokes. Doesn’t that sound a lot like the way Genesis describes pre-creation: “Earth was shapeless and empty” (Genesis 1:2, Casual English Bible).

Then God organized it. It’s all in Genesis 1.

NASA’s article sure did manage to stop my eyeballs. I wrote a sidebar about it in the book.

On the flip side of your science/Bible question, I also report what most astrophysicists and geologists say regarding the age of universe, earth, and upright human beings. Ditto for the absence of evidence about a worldwide flood that takes a boat up to the cruising altitude of a 747. I also report evidence for floods in the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys in Iraq—where civilization began. These were floods that wiped out cities back in the days when people built their cities alongside rivers, for easy access to water and transportation.

So I report when science clashes with the Bible story and when it reinforces it. Then I let the readers chew on it. As followers of Jesus and students of the Bible, what we’re looking for is the truth. We find it by grappling with the facts. And when the truth remains a mystery that our facts can’t solve, we live with it. We hold loosely to our waffling knowledge and tightly to Jesus.

Describe a story or two in Genesis that readers new to the Bible would find surprising and explain how you’ve presented them in your book.

Stephen M. Miller: Remember the story of Joseph getting sold down the river by his 10 older brothers? They sold him to slave traders, and Joseph ended up as a slave in Egypt.

I’ll bet most preachers don’t even know this: by the time Joe’s story is over, this enslaved Jew enslaves almost all of the Egyptians. (OK, call him a Hebrew if you want to, but most Bible newcomers won’t know that Hebrews are the ancestors of the Jews. So I call them Jews. Editors hate it.)

Joseph turned them into sharecroppers of the Egyptian king.

He managed to do this because of a seven-year drought. He could interpret dreams and use them to tell the future. So the king had appointed him what sounds like his second in command of Egypt and boss of the grain reserves.

Joseph charged the people for the grain they needed to survive that drought. After they ran out of money and livestock to buy the grain, they sold their land to the king and agreed to work it for him as his slaves, giving him a share of every harvest.

That’s one odd reversal that I don’t think most people know about.

What are you trying to elicit in readers with your “Questions for Discussion or Personal Reflection” in the back of your book?

Stephen M. Miller: Those questions are just a shadow of the reality online. I wrote over 350 discussion questions for Genesis. I’ve included all of them online in the Casual English Bible. But inside A Visual Walk Through Genesis, we had to boil down the questions. Not so online. There, I put all the questions—sometimes in big fat paragraphs—online at the Casual English Bible website.

We added the questions to the book because we figured that some folks might want to use A Visual Walk Through Genesis as a resource for studying Genesis in small-group Bible studies. Or they could study it privately; that’s allowed.

I’m hoping the questions will churn up honest discussions about some of the tough topics in Genesis. This is a book with plenty of odd stories: a woman made from a rib, a talking snake, and a 100-year-old man getting his 90-year-old wife pregnant without Viagra. From time to time the discussion will get uncomfortable, especially if we have Bible newcomers in the group sitting alongside veteran Christians. It’s not always easy defending what we believe when we’re talking to people who don’t believe the way we do. But we need to be able to talk about it. I hope these questions help people do that.

Since the book explains Genesis chapter-by-chapter, how do you recommend a person should read your book along with the Bible?

Stephen M. Miller: Well, taking one chapter at a time they could read my book first and then read the Bible. Or they could read the Bible first, and then read my book.

But I tell people to open it up and read whatever catches their eye.

The trick is to read. My book is little more than an attempt to get them into a Better Book.

What is the Casual English Bible?

Stephen M. Miller: It’s a Bible paraphrase I’m working on.

With all the English Bible translations available, why are you creating a new one?

Stephen M. Miller: I want to. Life’s too short not to do what you want to do when what you want to do isn’t going to kill anyone.

I nibbled my way into this project, perhaps the same way a lamb nibbles his way into trouble.

This paraphrasing I’m doing started out as my own private devotional and Bible study. Whenever I come to a Bible passage that strikes me one way or another—as funny, or poignant, or surprising—I’d take a longer look at it and then put it in my own words.

I start by reading it in an interlinear, comparing the original words to the English words. I look up alternate meanings of the more important words. I also look at how other folks translated or paraphrased the words. And I read what some commentators have to say about the tough parts.

It’s all little more than Bible study. In fact I’m going to spend a Sunday morning showing my Bible study class how to do it for themselves (and I’ll hook the TV up to Bible Gateway to do it).

After doing all the reading, I make the passage my own. I put it in words I’d use to tell the story to someone who had never heard it before.

I wasn’t going to do anything publicly with this idea until I got knee-deep into writing A Visual Walk Through Genesis. That’s when it occurred to me that the paraphrase could help prompt some discussion in Bible study groups that might want to use my book as a resource.

In marketing terms, my paraphrase of Genesis became a value-added feature.

After paraphrasing Genesis, I moved on to paraphrase Luke, which I’ve already added to the website. Both are in beta testing. I’m now working on Luke’s sequel: Acts. I hope to do for Luke and Acts what I did for Genesis with A Visual Walk Through Genesis.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Stephen M. Miller: I use Bible Gateway every day and twice on Sunday. I love Bible Gateway as much as you can love anything that will never give you a hug. I don’t think the app is as good as the website. When I’m using Bible Gateway during Bible study classes, I always use the browser instead of the app. The browser lets me do more than the app does, and it seems easier to use—perhaps because it’s more familiar to me.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Stephen M. Miller: I’m a grandpa now. Grandson born this past December 30. Granddaughter born March 13. I’m double-dipped with God’s blessing in my life. And with Pampers in my home office.

“Like” my Facebook page or subscribe to my blog and you can see pictures of them from time to time—probably more often than anyone wants to see them.

“God gave you the kids you have. They are his gift, a reward to bless your life. Children… are as important to you as a quiver full of arrows is to an archer. That archer is one happy fellow when his quiver is full because he feels secure. Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you when your kids have your back.” Psalm 127: 3-5, Casual English Bible

Thank you.

Stephen M. Miller: You’re very welcome. It was fun. I hope you can tell.


Bio: Stephen M. Miller is the bestselling author of Who’s Who and Where’s Where in the Bible: An Illustrated A-to-Z Dictionary of the People and Places in Scripture (Retailer’s Choice Award for best nonfiction book of the year), The Complete Guide to the Bible (500,000 copies sold), and many other books, which have sold 1.8 million copies. He and his wife, Linda, live in Kansas and have two adult children.

How “Happy” Is Christianity? Exploring Moods in Christian Music and the Bible

Is the message of Christianity more upbeat than it is negative? Most Christians would likely answer that the core message of Christianity—grace given to man through Jesus Christ—is an overwhelmingly positive one, although to fully appreciate the extent of that good news, it’s necessary to acknowledge some bad news along the way: human sin and the ongoing struggles of life in an imperfect world.

But how does that balance of positive and negative themes manifest in actual Christian worship? This is a question raised by Leah Libresco’s recent analysis of mood in contemporary Christian worship music. She found that positive and cheerful words dramatically outnumber negative ones in the lyrics of the top 50 Christian pop songs.

Libresco also applied the same analysis to older Christian music—specifically the “shape note” approach of music writers in the 19th century that produced many famous hymns—and found that contemporary Christian music is much more lyrically positive than Christian music from past centuries. Older Christian music still tended toward the positive, but balanced opposing concepts like life/death and sin/grace more evenly. Filmmaker and former religion professor Michael Hinton notes that the negativity of older Christian music actually highlighted the ultimately positive message by providing a contrast:

Hinton sees the darker themes of shape note as integral to Christian worship. Mixing in negative language makes it easier to tell the positive story of salvation, Hinton said. He sees shape-note texts as placing “a profound emphasis upon grace.” And because of that emphasis on grace, “there’s an emphasis on the reality of sin,” Hinton said.

Taking this approach further, what would happen if we tried to gauge the positivity or negativity of the Bible itself? Several years ago, Bible Gateway’s Stephen Smith conducted a “sentiment analysis” of the entire Bible to measure positive and negative sentiments in Scripture. Click on the image below to see the results:

Enlarge this chart of the sentiment analysis of the entire Bible

Do the results surprise you? Do they challenge your understanding of the Bible as a primarily “happy” or “sad” text? Do you think the emotional diversity of the Bible is accurately reflected in our worship today?

Tyndale to Release Beyond Suffering Bible

Bible Gateway, Tyndale House Publishers, and Joni and Friends are partnering together for the

Facebook Live Event Page for the live interview with Joni Eareckson Tada July 22

Facebook Live Event
“Finding Hope in Suffering – Joni Answers Your Tough Questions”
Friday, July 22, at 5pm EDT / 4pm MDT / 3pm CDT / 2pm PDT

on the Facebook pages of Bible Gateway, Tyndale House Publishers,
New Living Translation, Joni Eareckson Tada, and Joni and Friends.

Joni is the general editor of the forthcoming Beyond Suffering Bible (Tyndale House, October 2016).

The event is a 30-minute live interview with bestselling author, broadcaster, singer, and artist Joni Eareckson Tada. Submit your questions for Joni at the Facebook Event Page or by Tweeting, Facebooking, or Instagramming your question with the hashtag #BeyondSufferingBible.

Buy your copy of the Beyond Suffering Bible in the Bible Gateway Store

A new Bible whose study notes and articles emphasize the biblical perspective of overcoming life’s anguish, hardship, affliction, and distress will be published this Fall.

The forthcoming Beyond Suffering Bible (website) will release from Joni and Friends and Tyndale House Publishers in October. It’s a combination of both a study Bible and a devotional Bible, with knowledge and insight gleaned from the Scriptures, as well as encouraging words from a wide array of top Christian experts who are often the “go-to” resources when people are looking for direction or next steps when ministering to individuals with disabilities, pain, addiction, and suffering.

“Since the beginning of the human race, people who are acquainted with suffering and disability have struggled with issues of justice, equality, and the right-to-life. In our search for validation, peace of mind, and a purpose for living, where can we find a firm foundation? The answer is the Word of God,” says Joni Eareckson Tada, founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, and an international advocate for people with disabilities. A diving accident in 1967 left her, then 17, a quad­riplegic in a wheelchair, without the use of her hands. After two years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a fresh determination to help others in similar situations.

“In the character of God, we find justice and equality, discover our purpose, and begin to understand the true value of life,” says Joni. “If we are to fully grasp what suffering is, and what we must do with it, we must spend time digging into Scripture.”

The Beyond Suffering Bible is designed to help the reader­—especially those affected by disability—grasp the goodness of God amidst critical questions about suffering. Through profiles, devotionals, and connection notes, this edition of God’s Word delves into doctrines of his sovereignty, our salvation, heaven, and hell.

“Most of all, the Beyond Suffering Bible exalts God as preeminent and supreme over every disease and disability. It showcases the righteousness and mercy of God on behalf of those who struggle under the weight of disability, poverty, and injustice,” says Joni. “It will help you go beyond suffering so you, too, can say ‘My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees’ (Psalm 119:71 NLT).

Joni has served on the National Council on Disability and the Disability Advisory Committee to the US State Department. She’s helped guide evangelism strategies among people with disabilities worldwide as Senior Associate for Disability Concerns for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.

Joni is the author of numerous bestselling books, including Joni: An Unforgettable Story, Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story, Diamonds in the Dust, Heaven, When God Weeps, A Lifetime of Wisdom, A Place of Healing, Life in the Balance, Making Sense of Suffering, and A Step Further, winner of the Gold Medallion Award.

Bible Reference Books: An Interview with Martin Manser

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Martin ManserIn your study of the Bible, reference books that focus on Scripture provide an overview of the Bible, help you find verses and passages in the Bible, and assist you in understanding the content, context, culture, and other elements in the Bible by providing commentaries and definitions, as well as historical and archaeological information.

Bible Gateway interviewed Bible reference editor Martin Manser (@mhmanser and @word_come_alive) about the many books and projects he’s worked on, including the free Bible Gateway reference work, Dictionary of Bible Themes.

Read the Dictionary of Bible Themes on Bible Gateway

Tell a little about yourself.

Martin Manser: I’m a UK-based editor and have compiled or edited over 200 reference books, which have included editing some study Bibles and revising the 8-millon-word Matthew Henry Commentary. I also lead training courses. It’s been my job as a professional editor for 36 years. So I’ve edited three kinds of books: English-language dictionaries (such as thesauruses), editions of the Bible and reference books on the Bible, and books on business skills.

How did the Dictionary of Bible Themes, one of the books for which you are well known, originate?

Martin Manser: Behind every book there’s a story. The Dictionary of Bible Themes was a spin-off of the NIV Thematic Study Bible (Hodder & Stoughton, 1996) published in the US as NIV Thematic Reference Bible (Zondervan, 1999). It was a privilege to work with such scholars as J. I. Packer and Alister McGrath on that project.

Buy your copy of Who's Who of the Bible in the Bible Gateway Store

Provide an example.

Martin Manser: Imagine you’re leading a Bible study on “assurance.” You look up the word in a concordance, but that’s only of limited value, since it will only give you verses that contain that word. The Dictionary of Bible Themes gives you not only a concise, crisp, and theologically accurate definition, but also headings with verse references under them. For example, at the theme “Assurance, basis of”: “The assurance of believers is based upon the certain knowledge of God revealed in creation and his mighty acts in history, upon the certainty of his promises, the vindication and resurrection of Christ and the inward testimony and outward demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit.” And then under the heading “The Holy Spirit assures believers by giving inward conviction” come, for example, Romans 8:16 and 1 John 4:13. The Dictionary of Bible Themes has helped many people. In fact, Baker Books is publishing a hard copy of the Thematic section in April 2017.

Buy your copy of Christianity for Blockheads in the Bible Gateway Store

Do you see yourself as a wordsmith?

Martin Manser: Yes, I love words. As a boy I wanted to write dictionaries from the age of six. We were going on holiday to Norway and I bought a little notebook. I drew a pencil line down the middle of the page and put English words on one side and Norwegian down the other side. It was my first dictionary! For me, a dictionary captures systematically what a language is.

What other Bible reference books have you worked on?

Martin Manser: There’s Who’s Who of the Bible (Lion Hudson, 2012). This includes every personal name in the Bible. I worked with Debra Reid, a tutor at Spurgeon’s College, London. One of the interesting people we came across was in the lists of people who helped repair the wall of Jerusalem. Hidden away there (Nehemiah 3:16) is another man named Nehemiah (son of Azbuk). That was an unexpected discovery!

Buy your copy of I Never Knew That Was in the Bible in the Bible Gateway Store

You’ve also worked on books of Christian teaching.

Martin Manser: Yes, there’s Christianity for Blockheads: A User-Friendly Look at What Christians Believe (Zondervan, 2009) which I wrote with Doug Connelly, a pastor in the US who’s written many other books, especially in the LifeGuide Bible study series.

In the final chapter of this book on Christian teaching, we come to some response, so we discussed 2 Corinthians 5:20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf; be reconciled to God.” It’s important that we don’t simply read God’s word; we also need to respond to him through Jesus Christ.

Then there’s I Never Knew That Was in the Bible. That was really interesting. It’s a dictionary of the words and phrases from the KJV that are no longer current. I gave their equivalents in contemporary versions such as the NIV and NLT. For example, “Abraham’s bosom,” is an archaic phrase that refers to the sleeping place of the blessed (Luke 16:22 (KJV)). The NASB and NKJV retain the phrase “Abraham’s bosom”; contemporary versions have that Lazarus was carried by the angels “to be with Abraham” (NLT, NRSV) “to Abraham’s side” (NIV); “to the place of honor next to Abraham” (CEV) and “to the arms of Abraham” (ERV).

What are you working on at the moment?

Martin Manser: I’ve been working with Mike Beaumont on the first study Bible to be published in Burmese. That’s for Christian Literature Crusade (CLC) in Myanmar (Burma) and is due to be published in 2017.

I have about 20 study Bibles on my shelves! And about that number of versions of the Bible as well. But imagine your only Bible is in 200-year old language with NO helps whatsoever. Nothing. Suddenly understanding God’s Word would be much harder.

That’s the scenario facing Christians in Myanmar (Burma) today. And that’s where CLC Myanmar has stepped in. It’s commissioned an updated version of Judson’s translation, together with ‘helps’ written by experienced British authors Mike Beaumont and myself. We’ve produced brand new introductions to each Bible book, aimed at new Christians or those with little or no Christian background. These introductions provide the setting and background to each book and will help readers know what to look for. They’ve also written content, to be dropped in throughout the Bible, on basic theological and practical issues; all simply explained. For us in the West, this is nothing new. But for Christians in Myanmar, this will be the first time they’ve had something like this.

But there’s a problem! CLC Myanmar doesn’t have all the funds it needs. Mike and I have given our time free, but specialist Burmese translators need to be paid and the Bibles need printing and shipping from Singapore. So CLC is around $70,000 US short. Such funds are beyond the reach of churches in Myanmar, which is still one of the world’s poorest nations.

Take a look again at the number of Bibles on your shelf. Think how grateful you are for the help you’ve received from various Bible translations and editions over the years. And then think about this nation that has no helps in their outdated-language Bible at all. And then please consider making an online contribution. Even a small gift from our many friends and their friends could help make such a difference and help move this incredible project towards its goal of publishing ‘The Burmese Study Bible’ early in 2017.

You’re also working on a paraphrase of the New Testament. Why do you believe another Bible paraphrase is necessary?

Martin Manser: Yes, it’s called “Word Come Alive” (wordcomealive.net). My paraphrase is different for two reasons: Firstly, I’ve included linking phrases and background information in italics within the text to help make its message more immediately understandable. Secondly, I aim to express the sense of the original in contemporary, natural English to have a powerful effect on readers.

Give us some examples.

Martin Manser: At the beginning of John 1, I added a paragraph to set the scene:
What I’m about to tell you is the most exciting story, the most dramatic event, in the whole of human history. We begin before time itself began, in eternity. I know it’s difficult to think of a time before the world was created, but we need to try to move beyond our own limited thinking back to a time before time itself began. We are not the centre of life; God is and he has revealed himself fully in Jesus Christ. We need to look beyond the physical dimension of what we can see to the deeper reality of God himself.

In John 1:3 I have: Everything – just stop and think, every single thing – was made by Christ, the Word of God. He is the One who acts for, and with, the Father. He himself was not created; he existed from eternity. Nothing that has been made was made without him. See how central he is to everything. He is the reason behind all we can see and all we cannot see. Christ is the explanation of all things, the key to life itself.

John 3:26 records the disciples switching loyalty from John the Baptist to Jesus. Most versions have them “going to” Jesus; I added “over”: “going over to” him, because the verb for “change your allegiance to someone else” is contemporary, natural English is “go over to.”

I’ve supplied expansions and explanations in much the same way as a preacher (or a commentary)
does.

John 8:6: A tense silence came over the whole group. What would Jesus do? How would he respond? Would he side with the chief priests and Pharisees and stone her, so not forgiving her? Or would he agree with the ordinary people and release her, so setting aside the law? Jesus then did something strange that captured the attention of everyone present. Rather than answer his accusers directly, he bent down and began to use his finger to write in the dust.

John 8:12: Jesus spoke once more to the people, ‘The whole world is in darkness, but I give light to everyone. I am the light of the world. If you walk with me through life, trusting me and following my example, you won’t stumble along in the gloom. No, I lift the darkness. My light will shine on you to guide you. I will light up your path and show you the right way to live. You will then be able to see the way ahead clearly and know where you’re going.’

Where are you up to in this project?

Martin Manser: John’s Gospel is now available; 1, 2 and 3 John are in the final review stage and I’m currently working on Paul’s letters.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway?

Martin Manser: I want to thank you and the rest of the team for this great website. I consult it often to check on the wording of a particular Bible version.


Bio: Martin Manser is a professional reference-book editor. Since 1980 he has compiled or edited nearly 200 reference books. He has also compiled and edited many titles that encourage Bible reading.

He is a Language Trainer and Consultant with national companies and organizations, specializing in leading courses on English grammar and clear writing. In addition, he offers a Coaching Service to individuals and a Copy writing and Editing Service to companies and organizations.

Martin also has a good working knowledge of German, having studied at the University of Regensburg and he visits Germany regularly. He is a tutor at Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg, Center for Key Qualifications (Zentrum für Schlüsselqualifikationen), Germany.

Martin is also a part-time tutor at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London and part-time visiting lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University.

Martin’s wife, Yusandra, complements him in the creative team. Her sculptures have a highly individual and intuitive style.

Bible News Roundup – Week of July 3, 2016

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Christian Standard Bible Announces Publishing Partners—Baker Publishing Group and David C. Cook
Rush to Press
Read the Holman Christian Standard Bible on Bible Gateway

Noah’s Ark Attraction by Answers in Genesis Opens in Kentucky
NBC Nightly News
Lexington Herald-Leader
Read the story of Noah’s ark from Genesis 6-9 on Bible Gateway
See resources by Answers in Genesis in the Bible Gateway Store

Iowans Exercise Freedom at Bible Reading Marathon
Quad-City Times

Poll: 89% of Americans Say They Believe in God
Gallup
See resources on the topic of God’s existence in the Bible Gateway Store

Bible Reveals Glimpse into Cultures of the Past
Missouri State News
See The Cultural World of the Bible (4th Ed.): An Illustrated Guide to Manners and Customs in the Bible Gateway Store

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God’s Justice: The Holy Bible—An Interview with Tim Stafford

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Tim StaffordGod’s justice—his plan for “setting things right”—is a foundational principle of the Bible. God’s plan for justice to triumph can be traced from Genesis to Revelation, and as a theme it forms the backbone of Scripture. How can we better understand God’s perspective on today’s injustices around the world?

Bible Gateway interviewed Tim Stafford (@timnpopie), general editor, about the NIV God’s Justice: The Holy Bible (Zondervan, 2016) (Bible website).

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[See a pdf sample of NIV God’s Justice: The Holy Bible]

You recently traveled to Europe to report on the refugee crisis for Books & Culture, where you talked with many whose lives have been disrupted by war. You also wrote about Christians who’ve been working to aid refugees and to help them integrate into their new homes. What kind of opportunities for evangelism did you see there?

Tim Stafford: I saw lots of opportunities. The refugees are primarily Muslim, and they vary a lot in how devout they are. But they’re all desperate, having lost their homes and having no clear picture of what future they can hope for. They’re all trying to find their place in a very different society than what they’re used to. They’re learning a new language, they’re absorbing new cultural practices. Besides, many are lonely and looking for friendly faces. There are many opportunities to befriend them, and many opportunities to talk seriously about faith.

Some of the Christians I met see this as a grand opportunity; not just to share their faith but also to challenge their own churches’ complacency. For example, Glen Ganz in Hamburg heads up something called the Why Not? Café, a meeting place and a kind of cultural center where friendships form and dialogue takes place. The café is organized by the Evangelical Free Church of Germany and Glen thinks it can expand to a hundred other locations in Germany, starting now. He sees this as God’s gift, not so much to the refugees as to a church that’s stuck in its own little world.

In Munich, a YMCA group is going into refugee camps to do a kind of youth group. The government probably wouldn’t let a church do that, but since the YMCA is a youth movement, they’re permitted.

In Salzburg, Austria, I attended a meeting of leaders from a number of evangelical churches, all sharing what they’re doing with refugees and strategizing how they can do a better job of presenting the gospel. At the meeting they decided that they needed a fluent speaker in Arabic. They had fluent Farsi speakers, and a long-standing and robust outreach to Iranian and Afghani refugees, but they lacked something comparable in Arabic. The churches began making plans to find an Arabic-speaking Christian who could help them begin to communicate.

In Greece I met a couple whom God has called into full-time ministry to refugees from Syria. The husband emigrated from Syria a generation ago, becoming a Christian through the witness of some Greek believers. Now he and his Greek-born wife are serving Syrian refugees with material help and very candid discussions about Jesus. God has brought tens of thousands of Syrians to their doorstep.

Those are just a handful of examples. The main point is, when people’s lives are turned upside down, they’re open to new ideas and new relationships.

Did you learn anything new about justice?

Tim Stafford: Seeing the refugees pointed me to the Old Testament law in a new way. You know how often the Israelites are told to take special care of three groups: the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners. Obviously those three groups stand for all the vulnerable people in society. It made me think: there have always been needy foreigners around. If you think about the socio-political context of Old Testament Israel, it always lived in a rough neighborhood. Wars and feuds and famines were more or less constant. And with those go refugees; foreigners.

We Americans have been largely shielded from that kind of context. We haven’t had very many wars in our neighborhood, so we don’t easily get the reality of what God says in his law. He’s saying: this is justice, that you care for the vulnerable, and specifically, that you care for people who aren’t even citizens of your nation. Widows and orphans we get—they’re part of our society. But foreigners? It’s a jump to see foreigners as included in God’s intentions for creating the kingdom of God.

And by the way, God’s concern for justice is always about the kingdom of God. It’s not ultimately crime and punishment that he’s addressing. He’s in the business of creating a new heavens and a new earth, populated by his family. In his kingdom the whole world flourishes.

That’s why he cares about foreigners. Because they’re needed. They’re part of the beautiful fabric he’s weaving. With their help we become something more than we could be without them. God doesn’t seek just to bless our little corner of the universe: he intends to bless all the peoples of the earth, who will learn to sing his praise in harmony. That’s the vision of justice that must undergird our concern for refugees. We need them as much as they need us.

You’re the general editor of a new Bible, the NIV God’s Justice Bible, which explores God’s plan for justice from Genesis through Revelation. How did this Bible come to be?

Tim Stafford: A ministry in India, Good Shepherd/OM Ministry, has been publishing and distributing books and Bibles for a very long time. Good Shepherd is also very involved with building church communities that confront injustice: particularly the injustices of caste and gender discrimination, which are very serious problems there. It happens that Good Shepherd got the idea of publishing a Bible that would focus on justice issues. Great idea! But when my friend Scott Bolinder, then with Biblica, the Bible society, heard about it, he thought it might be bigger than India.

So they convened a week-long conference in Hyderabad, India, for anyone from around the world who might have an interest. Organizations like World Vision and International Justice Mission sent representatives. They talked up a storm and came to the conclusion that such a Bible was a good idea. They stressed that it could not be done by a group of westerners—it had to be a global project. And, they emphasized that it shouldn’t be simplistic. It needed to reflect deeply on Scripture, not merely point out a few obvious verses.

I was asked to make this happen editorially. And I was so delighted! I love working with international teams. The cross-cultural relationships are a particular joy to me. And, I love the Bible. Years ago I shared with Philip Yancey the task of developing the NIV Student Bible, and it was a life-changing experience. It deepened my understanding of the Bible as nothing else has—until now.

As I took on this justice Bible, I traveled the world, asking questions and meeting people. I read very widely in the literature of justice. And I began to shape a team to do the work. That was the most exciting part for me. We ended up with a team of 56 writers, from every continent. If you look at the list of contributors at the front of the Bible, you’ll be amazed. You probably can’t pronounce half the names. This Bible is truly a global project, and it represents something totally new in the 2,000 year history of Christianity. All through the ages we’ve known that the church is formed from people of every nation and every ethnicity. But now, for the first time in history, we’re actually living that out. It was an extraordinary joy to be part of that.

Is the Bible story about more than our personal salvation?

Tim Stafford: By all means! God’s Justice: The Holy Bible has a slogan on the front cover: The flourishing of creation and the destruction of evil. That’s what the Bible story is about. It’s not just a matter of punishing evil. The whole creation must come to flourish. And evil must be done away with, once and for all. The Bible is the story of God setting the world right. Another name for that is: justice.

Personal salvation is very much at the heart of that. How can you set creation right if you can’t set right the human beings who’ve been given the assignment to care for all of creation? How can creation flourish if humanity is in bondage to sin; in rebellion against God?

But the story is bigger than personal salvation. It saves us as individuals and makes us part of something God is doing.

How is justice at the heart of the Bible story?

Tim Stafford: The answer to that question demands that we think hard about what we mean by justice. In modern English, we often really mean crime and punishment. Corrupt governments should be shaken and removed from power. Sex traffickers should be caught and imprisoned. Those who pollute the landscape should pay a stiff fine and be forced to clean up.

All that is part of justice, and there are specific Bible verses that speak to those issues. However, it’s too small, and too negative, to communicate the whole picture of what the Bible means by justice. Justice, as I said, is God setting right a broken world. It’s the flourishing of creation and the destruction of evil. That’s the heart of the Bible’s story. From beginning to end, it’s all about transforming a bleeding world into a flourishing, worshiping, joyful kingdom.

How do we know that God is passionate about justice?

Tim Stafford: He sent his Son to die for it, didn’t he? How much more passionate can you get? Biblical justice is, as I’ve said, setting the world right. Jesus came to live that “righteousness” and to die in order to cleanse our sins, to make a new community, and to do away with the ultimate enemy of death.

How can God use us—sinful people—to be his hands and feet to bring justice to a sinful world?

Tim Stafford: I don’t think we bring justice to a sinful world. All the passionate attempts that human beings make end up being inadequate or downright corrupt. God brings justice. He’s been working on it for thousands of years. He sent Jesus as the climax of that project. Now he enlists us to participate in what he’s doing—a project that he promises he will complete. There will be a new heavens and a new earth. We don’t know how to bring that about. God does.

We do have a very important role to play, though it takes a different form for everybody. I think of two classic statements. One comes from Micah 6:8: “Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.” The other comes from Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with everything you possess; and love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s what we do to bring justice to a sinful world.

The above 6-day Bible reading plan offers a global perspective on the timeless and universal issues around injustice drawn from the book introduction insights in NIV God’s Justice: The Holy Bible. Readings present thoughts by six authors from six countries around the world.


Bio: Tim Stafford is Senior Writer for Christianity Today and the author of more than 30 books including The Student Bible (with Philip Yancey). His most recent publications are Miracles: A Journalist Looks at Modern Day Experiences of God’s Power and Birmingham (a novel). Tim and his wife, Popie, have three children and live in Santa Rosa, California.

Stark, Slytherin, Sauron, or Scripture? Test Your Bible and Fantasy Literature Trivia Knowledge

How well do you know your fantasy literature classics? Can you distinguish a quote from the Bible from a quote that merely sounds like it’s from the Bible? With viewers still reeling from the latest Game of Thrones season, we thought it would be fun to update our Stark, Slytherin, Sauron, or Scripture? Quiz.

This quiz takes a dozen quotes from A Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, and the Bible, and challenges you to identify where each one came from. Take the quiz below to see how you do—and challenge your friends to beat your score!

Jesus-Centered Bible Receives Christian Retailing Best Award

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The Jesus-Centered Bible (NLT) (Group Publishing, 2015) received the “Best Devotional/Study Bible” award at the 2016 International Christian Retail Show in Cincinnati, Ohio, Monday June 27.

The awards are voted by Christian retailers, publishers, store managers, and volunteers nationwide based on the criteria of “an ability to speak to people’s hearts and evoke emotion, open people’s minds to new ways of thinking, and encourage and affirm Christ-like living.”

[See the Jesus-Centered Bible pdf sampler]

Craig Cable accepted the award on behalf of Group Publishing, the Jesus-Centered Bible (NLT) creator, and said it’s a tremendous honor to receive such a high level of recognition among peers.

“We are thrilled to see the continued success of this Bible, especially with this latest award,” said Cable, Group’s director of church publishing. “It’s humbling to witness how the Jesus-Centered Bible (NLT) is impacting people’s lives every day and helping them grow closer in their relationship with Jesus.”

The Jesus-Centered Bible (NLT) released in September 2015 and highlights all the ways Jesus shows up in the Bible, including more than 600 passages in the Old Testament. Featuring distinctive blue letters, each passage is designed to point readers to Jesus, from Genesis through Revelation. The Bible also carries the classic red letters in the New Testament.

In addition, the Bible magnifies the ways Jesus answers life’s essential questions, including “What’s my purpose in life?” and “Why do bad things happen?”

Rick Lawrence, general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible (NLT), said the entire process of creating the Bible has been a labor of love for everyone involved.

“Our whole team approached this epic project as a ‘holy privilege,’ and we’ve so enjoyed the ‘kindred spirit’ responses to our work,” Lawrence said. “Our own love for Jesus fueled our creativity, and we hope we angled our mirror just right so that everything we did reflected his beauty.”

Currently, the Jesus-Centered Bible (NLT) is available as a hardcover or with an imitation leather cover in turquoise and charcoal colors. Cranberry and saddle imitation leather covers will release September 6, 2016.

With the award, the Jesus-Centered Bible (NLT) joins the ranks of past winners including the Women’s Devotional Bible (NIV) and The MacArthur Study Bible (ESV).

See other Jesus-Centered resources in the Bible Gateway Store.

Did Jesus Have a Wife? The “Jesus Wife Fragment” Story Takes a New Twist

Jesus wife fragmentDid Jesus have a wife? Several years ago, controversy surrounded the announcement of a purported ancient manuscript fragment that mentions Jesus’ wife. (You can see the fragment, and read more about it, at the Harvard Divinity School website.) Most scholars at the time responded with skepticism, although the fragment stood up to enough testing that it was never definitively shown to be a forgery.

That story is in the news again this month with a remarkable article in The Atlantic recounting journalist Ariel Sabar’s attempts to track the ownership and recent history of the fragment. Sabar’s investigation turns up enough suspicious characters and murky relationships to populate a conspiracy thriller novel. At the very least, this new story casts significant additional doubt on the fragment’s authenticity.

It’s important to note that none of the scholars involved in the ongoing debate—whether supportive or skeptical of the fragment’s authenticity—think that it provides any reason to believe that Jesus was married. If the fragment is authentic, it still dates to several hundred years after the life of Christ, and would tell us only that some people at that time thought that Jesus had married.

Although it may not have theological significance, the fragment and the surrounding debate are interesting for Christians to consider. Among other things, we’re reminded that theological confusion is not a new phenomenon; whether or not this fragment is authentic, there were plenty of alternative gospels and other documents like it circulating throughout the ancient world, competing for attention and belief. (The task of identifying those texts worthy of inclusion in the Bible canon was a difficult and crucial one—and even today, not every branch of Christianity agrees on exactly which texts are in the canon.)

In the years since the “Jesus wife fragment” story first broke, we’ve published a few articles exploring the subject:

  • Regarding the “Jesus Wife Fragment” — a guest post by Bible scholar David Turner on how we should understand the fragment and the controversy surrounding it.
  • Did Jesus Have a Wife? — apologist Lee Strobel discusses the fragment, as well as the general question of whether or not Jesus might have been married.