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An Interview with the Editors of The CEB Women’s Bible

Buy your copy of The CEB Women's Bible in the Bible Gateway Store where it's always on saleThrough book introductions, devotional reflections, articles, and character profiles, The CEB Women’s Bible (Common English Bible, 2016) (@CommonEngBible) focuses on stories of women—named and unnamed—in Scripture to help readers become more aware of issues related to gender and justice.

[Read the Common English Bible (CEB) translation of the Bible on Bible Gateway]

According to the Bible’s preface, “As we notice women in Scripture who had until now been invisible to us, we train our hearts to notice all of God’s people today. And as we seek guidance for our lives, examine our choices, and pour out our yearnings before God, this Bible invites us to ask what it means for us to be faithful in our time.”

Bible Gateway interviewed the editors about The CEB Women’s Bible (website).

The CEB Women’s Bible Editors

The CEB Women’s Bible Editorial Board left to right:

  • Christine A. Chakoian, pastor/head of staff, First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Lake Forest, Illinois
  • Judy Fentress-Williams, professor of Old Testament, Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, Virginia
  • Jaime Clark-Soles, professor of New Testament, Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor, Perkins School of Theology, Dallas, Texas)
  • Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, senior pastor, Foundry United Methodist Church, Washington, DC
  • Rachel Baughman, executive pastor, Discipleship University Park United Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas

Explain what the Common English Bible (CEB) translation is.

The editors: The Common English Bible is a newer translation—the full Bible in the CEB was first published in 2011—that combines readability of the text with the reliability of translation work from leading biblical scholars. To ensure accuracy, the CEB uses inclusive language to refer to people and is a translation directly from the original languages. More than 120 scholars were involved with the translation, including many women, representing 22 denominations.

What need is The CEB Women’s Bible meeting?

Ginger Gaines-Cirelli: Beyond the novelty of employing only women’s voices in the compilation of devotional and study tools, we asked ourselves when we first began meeting about this project: What was the unique gift we could offer through this work?

Our conversation coalesced around a foundational affirmation: the variety of human voices, experiences, identities, and perspectives in the world is a God-given gift. That gift is reflected in the biblical text itself and in those of us who engage the text today. Therefore, The CEB Women’s Bible both expects and celebrates that people of every gender engage Scripture from their own perspectives—based on their own particularity of history and identity.

Rather than provide monolithic or ready-made answers for what it looks like to be a Christ-follower or a “Christian woman,” we want to invite folks into a dynamic conversation with Scripture and, ultimately, with God. The hope is that people will accept the invitation to enter into the “conversation” with their whole selves, to feel what they feel and think what they think, to wrestle and receive, to be challenged and comforted, to find their own voices through honest engagement with other voices that speak in and about the text.

Describe the women who contributed reference material for this Bible.

The editors: In addition to the five editors, 80 women—and only women—contributed to The CEB Women’s Bible. They’re scholars, clergywomen, lay leaders, and writers. All of us are deeply committed to the power of God’s living Word.

Why was it important that only women contributed content for this Bible?

Ginger Gaines-Cirelli: For years, biblical scholarship, commentary, and preaching were all in the voice and from the perspective of men. Much of that work is edifying and insightful, but some of it has contributed to the elevation of destructive forms of patriarchy.

Thankfully, extraordinary women scholars and pastors have emerged and contributed to the field as institutional and cultural shifts have occurred. For this project we were clear that all the content would be written by women. This is important, first of all, because it has never been done before. But, more than that, it’s important because the wisdom, insight, and skill of women pastors, writers, and scholars from across Christian traditions has been brought together into this rich resource and offered as a gift to people of all genders.

How is a woman’s perspective of the Bible different from a man’s?

Jaime Clark-Soles: It would overstate the case to claim there’s “a” woman’s perspective or “a” man’s perspective of the Bible. However, like it or not, women live their lives in a world that has specific assumptions and expectations about them and their bodies than it does for men. Women have to navigate that world as they attempt to discover their own true identity in relationship to the God of Scripture.

The Bible is written from a largely male perspective; women often have to take extra steps to make the texts apply to them. For instance, the Gospel of Matthew praises those who are “eunuchs because of the kingdom.” Eunuchs are castrated males. But women have worked by analogy to read this as a call to celibacy that they’ve answered over the centuries, despite society’s (including the church’s) message that motherhood is the pinnacle of womanhood.

Women as a whole have never had equal access to power and have thus always been more vulnerable; they’ve always been disproportionately poor and dependent on others for survival. Thus, they always read from the margins to some degree (though readings by women from different social locations will differ). I’d be willing to bet, though, that all women who read the story of the rape and dismemberment of the concubine will identify with the female in the story and share in common an immediate gut reaction related to the ever present awareness of the possibility of rape both in times of peace but especially in times of war. I imagine that a group of men reading the story would experience different emotions and ways of relating to the characters in it.

Questions of church leadership, politics, religion, gender, sexuality, economics, race, technology, and global forces still affect the fate of women differently than men. When negotiating moral issues such as sex trafficking, reproductive rights, end-of-life decisions, proper use of technology, pluralism, war, care for the least of these, the alien and sojourner in your land, women are affected differently. Thus, when studying Scripture in order to be spiritually formed and equipped to address such questions, women will bring their experience of living identified as female to the table; thank God. And when the voices of a wide diversity of women are heeded, we’ll be much closer to God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. “Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”

Explain what the profiles are in The CEB Women’s Bible.

The editors: Embedded throughout the text are almost 150 profiles of named and unnamed women in Scripture. Our goal was to draw attention to the people in the Bible who are often overlooked. By noticing the women in Scripture who had until now been invisible, our hearts are trained to notice all of God’s people today. The CEB Women’s Bible also includes an index of every woman in the Bible, named and unnamed. This is the only Bible that includes that valuable resource.

Is this Bible only for women or should men read it too?

Judy Fentress-Williams: As a professor, it’s my hope that all my students, male and female, will use The CEB Women’s Bible. When a study Bible has notes written by a majority of men, no one asks if women should read it. The assumption is that the notes will elucidate the text.

The presence of a Bible with notes written by women reminds us of the reality of context. Women and men read and respond to the Bible from their contexts, and gender is one of the elements contributing to their context. As a woman, I often do the work of translating a work contextually. In other words, I do the work of taking a perspective that is male and translating it to my perspective. I’d like for my male students to have exposure to a set of Bible notes that does not privilege a male perspective in the hope that it will not only expose them to different perspective, but that it will broaden their understanding of context and how gender plays a role in the way we hear and respond to the Bible. The contributors are all women, but their comments don’t focus on women exclusively. Many of the subjects that are considered “women’s issues,” such as miscarriage, affect men as well.

It’s my hope that my male students will use this text so that they can better understand God’s Word and better understand themselves as people of faith in a gendered world.

Give an example of a specific story in the Bible that’s brought into a new light in this Bible and that might be quickly passed over in other reference Bibles.

Rachel Buaghman: An example of the way this Bible lifts up women who are usually passed over is in the book of Esther. There are portraits written about women in the book of Esther such as Vashti and Zeresh. These are women I’ve honestly never given a second thought but, given this resource, I recognized the significance of their role.

What was a particularly difficult passage or book to bring a perspective to and why?

Rachel Buaghman: In 2 Samuel 13, the story of the rape and abuse of Tamar is horrifying because it’s a story that’s sadly relatable to many women. The articles written on abuse and rape by our authors can be found on pages 389 and 392, and I pray that these are writings that help the reader be aware of the reality of abuse and be willing to give voice to those who have been silenced.

Jaime Clark-Soles: The story of the Samaritan woman was a challenge because of the incorrect assumptions that people bring to the text due to their prior experience with it.

I’ve heard many a sermon about this “whore” who was forgiven by Jesus for her lasciviousness. This saddens me for two reasons. First, it’s a wrong interpretation of the passage. Nowhere is this woman referred to as a “whore” (porne) and nowhere is she forgiven (aphiemi). Second, the reader misses out on what the story is actually about—an exemplar of the faith whom we’re supposed to imitate: 1) she encounters Jesus and engages him in deep theological dialogue which leads to her having the first theophany (manifestation of God) in the Gospel; 2) she moves into her personal story of abundant life (marked by leaving her water jar behind) in Christ that awaits each and every one us; and 3) she immediately shares that abundance with others by testifying about him to others.

Ginger Gaines-Cirelli: There are plenty of passages of Scripture that are explicitly challenging for women—teachings that silence women, devalue women, ignore women. As an editor, it was a gift to read the varieties of ways that women engage these difficult texts with creativity, cultural sensitivity, strength, and skill. I was reminded of the fact that, as a woman, I always have to take extra steps of interpretation to discover my place within the story. As a writer, I enjoyed the challenge of writing profiles for women we know little to nothing about; women like Paul’s sister (Acts 23:16-22). It’s powerful to notice and honor these women who are so easily missed, but who certainly played a role in the ongoing drama of God’s love story in the world.

Is there a favorite passage that you’re especially drawn to in this Bible for its uniquely woman’s perspective?

Rachel Buaghman: I have so many that are favorites, but I’ll say that my favorite for today is from Psalm 103:13. The psalmist speaks of the love of God as the love of a parent with compassion for her child. The article included with that Psalm calls us to think of a mother’s love for a child carried in her womb. Thinking, praying, and loving from this perspective helps me experience God in a new way as I read this Psalm.

Jaime Clark-Soles: Joshua 2, the story of Rahab. I was delighted to view Rahab from the perspective of three different commentators: Wil Gafney, Christine Chakoian, and Christy Lynch. Each one of them gave me something different to consider about the story and the character. Just the fact that she’s important in so many different places in the Bible (such as Matthew 1:5, Hebrews 11:31, and James 2:25) as a paragon of faith and courage and acumen, makes her a fascinating character I want to ponder more.

Ginger Gaines-Cirelli: I don’t think there’s only one passage I would name. The project as a whole offers a wide range of women’s perspectives. Every time I open The CEB Women’s Bible, I’m grateful for the voices and vision of our contributors.

Wycliffe Global Alliance Scripture & Language Statistics 2016

According to Wycliffe Global Alliance (WGA) (@WycliffeGA), the Bible has now been trans­lated into more than 3,200 lan­guages.

Wycliffe Global Alliance Scripture & Language Statistics 2016

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Wycliffe Associates—Helping to Translate the Bible Where Persecution of Christians Is Severe: An Interview with Bruce Smith]

While at least 1.5 bil­lion peo­ple still don’t have the full Bible avail­able in their first lan­guage, more than 684 mil­lion of these have the New Tes­ta­ment; oth­ers have por­tions or at least some level of trans­la­tion or prepara­tory work begun. And there’s known ac­tive trans­la­tion and/or lin­guis­tic de­vel­op­ment hap­pen­ing in 2,400 lan­guages across more than 165 countries.

[See all the Bible translations available to be freely read on Bible Gateway]

As of Oc­to­ber 1, 2016, WGA’s new method of iden­ti­fy­ing trans­la­tion-need sug­gests more than 160 mil­lion peo­ple, speak­ing 1,700-1,800 lan­guages, may need some form of Bible trans­la­tion to begin.

[Browse the Bibles section in the Bible Gateway Store, where everything is always on sale]

Ap­prox­i­mately 100 or­gan­i­za­tions from more than 60 na­tions form the WGA. By pro­vid­ing staff, funds, train­ing, trans­la­tion, and sup­port ser­vices, WGA or­gan­i­za­tions are cur­rently in­volved in al­most 2,000 of the 2,422 lan­guages with ac­tive work.

Wycliffe Global Alliance Scripture & Language Statistics 2016

WGA or­gan­i­za­tions and per­son­nel have been in­volved in the trans­la­tion of Bibles and New Tes­ta­ments in more than 900 lan­guages. At least one of the Bible’s 66 books has been pub­lished in an ad­di­tional 600 lan­guages. Many other lan­guages have other ini­tial por­tions published.

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, The Bible Table of Contents]

Work­ing in com­mu­nity part­ner­ships, WGA per­son­nel not only as­sist in Scrip­ture-re­lated goals, but also help pro­duce thou­sands of re­sources for lit­er­acy, ed­u­ca­tion, health, and other com­mu­nity-based ob­jec­tives along­side Scripture.

An ever-in­creas­ing num­ber of Scrip­ture prod­ucts are now in dig­i­tal for­mats as text, au­dio, and video. These are of­ten avail­able on web­sites, so­cial me­dia, or through a va­ri­ety of phone apps, as well as in for­mats that can be eas­ily shared phone-to-phone in places with lim­ited Internet.

There are many ad­di­tional part­ner­ships and new ini­tia­tives con­tribut­ing to the growth of Bible trans­la­tion move­ments and the dis­tri­b­u­tion and use of God’s Word.

WGA re­ports pre­cise num­bers on what it knows but it fre­quently hears of new work and of trans­la­tions pre­vi­ously un­counted, mean­ing these num­bers con­tinue to fluc­tu­ate. Read the WGA FAQ sheet.

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Bible News Roundup – Week of November 27, 2016

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Wycliffe Global Alliance Scripture & Language Statistics 2016
Bible Gateway Blog post

Group Continues Bible Reading ‘Precedent’ at Oklahoma State Capitol

Bible Reading Marathon Planned for 120 Counties of Kentucky Jan. 1-4, 2017
Glasgow Daily Times

Carson Wentz Is Wearing Bible Verse Cleats This Week
NBC10 Philadelphia
Read Romans 5:8 on Bible Gateway

How a Twitter Conversation Started Far-Reaching She Reads Truth Ministry
The Tennessean
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post—She Reads Truth: An Interview with Raechel Myers and Amanda Bible Williams

Dollywood Employee Finds Burned Bible Page After Tennessee Wildfires
Knoxville News Sentinel
Read Joel 1-2 (KJV) on Bible Gateway
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post—The Miracle of the 9/11 World Trade Center Bible

Notre Dame Astronomer Claims Star of Bethlehem Was An Alignment of Planets
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post—Who Was Where at Christmas? A Christmas Story Timeline
Browse the Christmas section in the Bible Gateway Store, where everything is always on sale

Nyishi Version of Bible Released
The Arunachal Times
See the multiple Bible translations available for reading on Bible Gateway

First Bible for Maori Children Published
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post—Bible Translation Reading Levels

Gideons International Presents 1100 Copies of Bible in Shaanxi, China
China Christian Daily

Bible Society in Liberia Dedicates New Bible House
Front Page Africa

Canadian Author Spends 10 Years Updating Tyndale’s The Matthew Bible
The Edmond Sun

Ohio Woman’s Long-Lost Bible Found at Construction Site

Colorado Couple Finds, Returns 20-Year-Old Bible to Original Owner
Daily Camera

The Bible in Wool: Salvation Army Group Knit Religious Epic
BBC News

State of the Plate 2016: USA Churches Turn to Digital Tools as Giving Slows Nationwide
News Release
Report & Infographic: State of the Plate 2016

See other Bible News Roundup weekly posts

Reminder: Advent Devotions Begin on Sunday! There’s Still Time to Sign Up

christmas-smallOur Advent Devotional begins this Sunday! There’s still time to sign up—click here to sign up on our Christmas devotions page.

Our Advent Devotional is a unique and interesting way to journey through the holiday season. Several days each week, you’ll receive an inspirational quote, sermon, story, or Bible reading that highlights an important aspect of the Advent season. It works great as something to read yourself, to read with family at the dinner table, or to share with your small group. This year’s Advent Devotional has been heavily updated and revised with brand-new content, so even if you’ve subscribed in past years, you’ll find much that’s new!

The Advent Devotional begins this Sunday, the first day of Advent. So don’t hesitate—hop over to our Christmas devotions page to sign up!

And while you’re there, take a look at our other Christmas devotionals—Because of Bethlehem by Max Lucado, and Christmas Joy by pastor Mel Lawrenz. Taken together, these three Christmas devotionals all take a slightly different approach to the holiday season—but all of them will help you to focus on the person of Jesus Christ as Christmas grows nearer.

P.S. Our Christmas devotions are available in Spanish, too. If you know somebody who’d love to receive these holiday insights in Spanish, point them to our Spanish Christmas devotions page!

Give Thanks For Who God Is (Not Just For What You Have)

Are you feeling thankful today? This is the time of year when Christians encourage each other to express gratitude for the blessings in our lives, particularly the ones we often take for granted—for loved ones, for health, for supportive communities.

Hannah Giving Her Son Samuel to the Priest by Jan VictorsBut what if you aren’t feeling especially grateful for those usual things right now? Maybe over the course of this year, some of those things you’d usually be thankful for—health, family, relationships, financial security—have been damaged or eroded away. Perhaps divorce, a lost job, the death of a loved one, or a medical scare have taken away one or more of those pillars.

Perhaps we can find answers by rethinking what, exactly, we’re grateful for.

I’ve always been intrigued by the thanksgiving prayer of Hannah, a woman in the Old Testament who finally gave birth to a son after years of being mocked for being unable to do so. The Bible records the prayer of joyous thanksgiving she offered up to God after the birth of her long-awaited son.

If I, like Hannah, had just received the one thing I truly wanted, my prayer of thanks to God would be entirely focused on that one thing, and my gratitude for it. But Hannah’s prayer scarcely mentions what you might think would be her main reason for gratitude. Here’s her prayer in its entirety:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.

“There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

“Do not keep talking so proudly
or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the Lord is a God who knows,
and by him deeds are weighed.

“The bows of the warriors are broken,
but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
but those who were hungry are hungry no more.
She who was barren has borne seven children,
but she who has had many sons pines away.

“The Lord brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honor.

“For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s;
on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.

“It is not by strength that one prevails;
those who oppose the Lord will be broken.
The Most High will thunder from heaven;
the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.

“He will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.” — 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (NIV)

Hannah is certainly grateful for her newborn son, and there’s a short (but non-specific) reference to a “barren woman” in the middle of this prayer. But the rest of her prayer is simply praising God for being who He is. She’s grateful to God for the specific blessing He’s given to her, but more than that, she’s simply grateful that she serves a God who can impart blessings like that.

Hannah serves a God who loves the poor, the weak, the humble—the underdogs. Like us, she doesn’t know what her life holds in store—whether she’ll find poverty or wealth, victory or defeat. But she trusts the God who grants and withholds those blessings, and she knows He has her best interests at heart.

So this Thanksgiving, if you’re struggling to feel grateful for a year that has brought pain and difficulty, you can still give thanks to God for being who He is: a God who’s on your side and whose plans will be accomplished no matter what life brings. And on the other hand, if you find yourself surrounded by blessings this holiday season, take a moment to consider whether your thankfulness is based just on those material blessings, or whether your gratitude is rooted in the unchangingly good nature of God. Whatever you’ve experienced this year, you are loved by this God—and have a reason to give thanks.

Image: “Hannah Giving Her Son Samuel to the Priest,” by Jan Victors, 1645.

23 Bible Verses About Thanksgiving and Gratitude

Reading the Bible by Jean-Baptiste Greuze

Psalm 100 (NKJV)

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!
  Serve the Lord with gladness;
  Come before His presence with singing.
  Know that the Lord, He is God;
  It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
  We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
  Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
  For the Lord is good;
  His mercy is everlasting,
  And His truth endures to all generations.

[Be inspired by biblical stories of gratitude & grace with Bible Gateway’s free email thanksgiving devotional]

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (KJ21)

In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Ephesians 5:18-20 (ASV)

Be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.

Psalm 136:26 (AMP)

Give thanks to the God of heaven,
  For His lovingkindness (graciousness, mercy, compassion) endures forever.

Psalm 106:1 (BRG)

Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Psalm 107:1 (CJB)

Give thanks to Adonai; for he is good, for his grace continues forever.

Philippians 4:6-7 (CEB)

Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

John 6:11 (CEV)

Jesus took the bread in his hands and gave thanks to God. Then he passed the bread to the people, and he did the same with the fish, until everyone had plenty to eat.

Colossians 4:2 (DARBY)

Persevere in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving.

Psalm 28:7 (ESV)

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
  in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
  and with my song I give thanks to him.

Psalm 116:17 (ERV)

I will give you a thank offering.
  I will call on the Lord’s name.

Colossians 3:17 (EXB)

Everything you do or say should be done to obey [or as a representative of; in the name of] the Lord Jesus. And in all you do, give thanks to God the Father through Jesus.

2 Corinthians 9:15 (GNV)

Thanks therefore be unto God for his unspeakable gift.

1 Corinthians 15:57 (GW)

Thank God that he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalm 95:2 (GNT)

Let us come before him with thanksgiving
  and sing joyful songs of praise.

Psalm 92:1 (HCSB)

It is good to praise Yahweh,
to sing praise to Your name, Most High.

Revelation 11:17 (ICB)

We give thanks to you, Lord God All-Powerful.
  You are the One who is and who was.
We thank you because you have used your great power
  and have begun to rule!

Colossians 3:15 (ISV)

Let the peace of the Messiah also rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body, and be thankful.

1 Chronicles 29:13 (KJV)

Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name.

2 Corinthians 2:14 (PHILLIPS)

Thanks be to God who leads us, wherever we are, on his own triumphant way and makes our knowledge of him spread throughout the world like a lovely perfume!

Psalm 105:1-2 (LEB)

Give thanks to Yahweh; proclaim his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him; sing praises concerning him;
tell of all his wonderful works.

Psalm 30:4 (TLB)

Oh, sing to him you saints of his; give thanks to his holy name.

Psalm 69:30 (MSG)

Let me shout God’s name with a praising song,
Let me tell his greatness in a prayer of thanks.

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Devotional Reflections on Handel’s Messiah: An Interview with Jessica Miller Kelley

Jessica Miller KelleyGeorge Frideric Handel’s Messiah is one of the most beloved musical works of the western world, playing an especially sentimental role in many people’s Christmas traditions. The libretto of the work, taken directly from the King James Version (KJV) text of 14 books of the Bible, has turned many phrases into memorable, singable, cherished lines of Scripture.

Bible Gateway interviewed Jessica Miller Kelley (@JMillerKelley), editor of the devotional book, Every Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel’s Messiah (Westminster John Knox Press, 2014). Forty reflections journey in order through the oratorio, taking the reader deeper into less-often studied texts like Malachi 3:3 and bringing new light to oft-recited passages like Luke 2:9-14. Each reflection offers the libretto from Messiah, the same passage in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and a brief commentary on the text, written by a respected scholar or pastor. Readers can peruse the book at leisure or examine one reflection per day throughout the Advent, Christmas, and Easter seasons.

Buy your copy of Every Valley in the Bible Gateway Store where everything is always on sale

For those who don’t know it, describe the context of George Frederic Handel’s Messiah oratorio.

Jessica Miller Kelley: Handel composed the music for Messiah over the course of just 24 days in 1741, after receiving the libretto (the words) sent to him by his patron, friend, and collaborator Charles Jennens. It’s not entirely accurate to say Jennens wrote the libretto because it’s comprised of Scripture passages from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. Jennens used verses from 14 books—prophets, psalms, Gospels, and epistles—to tell the story of God’s anointed one (“Messiah”) from his foretelling by the prophets to Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection to the heavenly celebration of his triumph over evil and death.

How is the message of Messiah more than only a Christmas season tradition?

Jessica Miller Kelley: It’s funny that Messiah is so associated with Christmas, and so often performed during Advent (the four weeks of preparation leading to Christmas) when actually only about 20 of the 53 movements in the oratorio focus on the coming and birth of Jesus. Much of Part I is from the book of Isaiah—when the prophet offers words of comfort to the exiled people of Israel, promising that God will one day send a savior—and after telling of Jesus’ birth with passages from Luke 2, Part I ends with just a few verses about Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Parts II and III are all about Jesus’ death, resurrection, and eternal reign—but while we focus so much on the manger at Christmastime, reflecting on Scriptures telling Christ’s whole story at this time of year reminds us what the incarnation is really all about. If your church sings the “Hallelujah” chorus on Christmas Eve, picture the majestic scene in Heaven it’s describing, knowing that this helpless baby one day “shall reign for ever and ever”!

Handel in Westminster Abbey: The French sculptor Louis Roubiliac used Messiah as the theme for Handel's monument in Westminster Abbey, dedicated three years after Handel's death.

Describe the makeup of Every Valley.

Jessica Miller Kelley: Every Valley is a devotional for the Advent and Christmas season with 40 short chapters covering the entire libretto of Messiah. Each devotion includes a movement or two of the Messiah libretto, followed by a modern translation of the Scripture from which those movements were taken, and a few pages of reflection on that Scripture. The reflections were written by a variety of pastors and scholars, shedding light on the meaning of the Scripture and how we might respond to it.

What refinement is referred to in the phrase “he shall purify”?

Jessica Miller Kelley: That’s actually one of my (many) favorite parts of Messiah: the Alto air “For He is like a refiner’s fire,” followed by the chorus “And He shall purify….” Those movements are drawn from Malachi 3:2-3, where the prophet Malachi, like Isaiah, is promising the coming of the Lord. Malachi has been berating the people of Israel for their faithlessness—not bringing their best offerings, disobeying God, and committing adultery—and he warns that God’s appearance to them (something they’re eager for) might actually be a bit painful.

If God is “like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap,” then the people are the precious metals and fine cloth in the metaphor. The refiner would use very hot fire to burn out the impurities from gold or silver, and the fuller would use strong soap to bleach and clean woolen fibers. Likewise, God will strip away all that’s wicked and selfish in us, so we can be made pure in God’s image. To be purified by God doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience, but it’s a good and valuable one.

From where in the Bible is the “Hallelujah” chorus taken and what is the reflection about it in the book?

Jessica Miller Kelley: The “Hallelujah” chorus is taken from three verses in the book of Revelation (Rev. 11:15, 19:6, and 19:16). That reflection in Every Valley reminds us that Revelation is ultimately a book of comfort and encouragement for people experiencing severe persecution by the Roman Empire. The message, in short, is that despite all evidence to the contrary, Rome is not the ultimate power—God is. “Hallelujah” means “praise the Lord,” and for the early Christians, it was a bold rejection of the world that commanded them to praise Caesar. “No way,” they say. “Praise the Lord!”

Enlarge this image of Chapter 9 of Every Valley

What’s your favorite part of Messiah and why?

Jessica Miller Kelley: I like to be able to sing along, so my favorite parts are the really well-known pieces: “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” “His Yoke Is Easy,” “All We Like Sheep,” and of course, “Every Valley.” I love when I’m reading the Bible and stumble upon a verse that’s been made into a song (from Messiah or otherwise). That’s how the idea for Every Valley was born, actually. I came across a verse, probably in Isaiah or the Psalms, that’s used in Messiah, and couldn’t help but start singing it to Handel’s tune!

I wondered if other people do that, and thought how special it would be to have devotions helping people connect with Scripture using music they already know and love. That was my hope for Every Valley—to deepen people’s understanding of Scripture and the whole story of the Messiah’s coming as we prepare to celebrate his birth.

The Scriptures of Handel’s Messiah

(In order of the libretto)
Comfort Ye My People — Isaiah 40:1-5
I Will Shake All Nations — Haggai 2:1-9
He Shall Come — Malachi 2:13-3:1
And He Shall Purify — Malachi 3:2-4
God With Us — Isaiah 7:10-16
O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings — Isaiah 40:6-9
Arise, Shine — Isaiah 60:1-6
The People That Walked in Darkness — Isaiah 9:1-2
For Unto Us a Child is Born — Isaiah 9:3-7
Keeping Watch — Luke 2:8-10
Born This Day — Luke 2:11-12
Glory to God — Luke 2:13-20
Rejoice Greatly — Zechariah 9:9-12
The Lame Shall Leap — Isaiah 35:1-7
He Shall Feed His Flock — Isaiah 40:10-11
His Yoke is Easy — Matthew 11:16-30
Behold the Lamb — John 1:29-34
He was Despised — Isaiah 52:13-53:3
He Bore our Griefs — Isaiah 53:4-5, 9-12
All We Like Sheep — Isaiah 53:6
They Laugh Him to Scorn — Psalm 22:1-15
There was No One to Comfort Him — Psalm 69:7-20
Sorrow Like unto His Sorrow — Lamentations 1:1-12
He was Cut Off — Psalm 16:9-11
He is the King of Glory — Psalm 24
Let All the Angels Worship Him — Hebrews 1:1-8
Even from Thine Enemies — Psalm 68:1-12, 17-20
How Beautiful — Romans 10:8-15
Into All Lands — Psalm 19
Why Do the Nations Rage? — Psalm 2:1-3, 7-8
The Lord Shall Break Them — Psalm 2:4-6, 9-12
Hallelujah — Revelation 19:6-16
My Redeemer Liveth — Job 19:23-27
For Now Christ is Risen — 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
All Shall be Made Alive — 1 Corinthians 15:21-22
We Shall be Changed — 1 Corinthians 15:51-53
Death, Where is Thy Sting? — 1 Corinthians 15:54-58
If God be For Us — Romans 8:31-39
Worthy is the Lamb — Revelation 5:11-13
Amen — Revelation 5:14

Bio: Jessica Miller Kelley is an acquisitions editor for Westminster John Knox Press. A graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School, Jessica is former managing editor of

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Test Your Heaven IQ: What Does the Bible Say?

Browse the many available editions of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible in the Bible Gateway StoreHave fun taking this quiz on the topic of Heaven and the New Jerusalem using the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, which includes study tools that specifically focus on biblical theology—the progressive unfolding of theological concepts through Scripture.

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, The NIV Zondervan Study Bible: An Interview with Dr. D. A. Carson.]

[See the Infographic and read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Biblical Theology Bible Study: Heaven and the City of God.]

Bible News Roundup – Week of November 20, 2016

Read this week’s Bible Gateway Weekly Brief newsletter
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Support Bible Gateway—Browse the Bible Gateway Store

Museum of the Bible Unveils What Will Be $42 Million High-Tech Experience
News Release
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post—A Collection of Bible Museums & Exhibits

About 200 Works, Including 6 Six-Figure Bibles, from the Bible Collection of Charles Ryrie Are Going on Auction Dec. 5
Fine Books & Collections Magazine
Sotheby’s: The Bible Collection of Dr. Charles Caldwell Ryrie
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post—Theology for Everyone: The Legacy of Charles Ryrie

16th Century Bible Finds a Home at Pacific Union College, Thanks to Alumni
Adventist Review

Clarksville, Pennsylvania Church Donates Turkish Bible to Waynesburg University

16th & 17th Century Bibles Visit Grace College
Times-Union Online

Print On Demand Keeps Bible Translation Secret
Mission Network News
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post—Wycliffe Associates—Helping to Translate the Bible Where Persecution of Christians Is Severe: An Interview with Bruce Smith

Another Satan Club Begins in an Elementary School Days Before Christmas
CBN News

Study: Churches That Teach the Bible Is Literal Grow Faster Than Ones with Theological Liberal Interpretation
The Guardian
Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy

How Technology Helped Martin Luther Change Christianity
See the Reformation Studies section in the Bible Gateway Store

Christianity on the Rise Again in Finland, Survey Finds
Evangelical Focus

How Gypsies Have Moved From Fortune-Telling to Fervent Christianity
BBC News

Turkey’s Latest Scapegoats: Christians
The Gloablist
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post—International Days of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
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Why Stained Glass Works in Sacred and Secular Spaces
Deseret News

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When Jesus Was a Green-Eyed Brunette: An Interview with Max Davis

Max DavisWhat would happen if we began seeing others as God sees us all? What would happen if people saw less of us and more of Jesus?

Bible Gateway interviewed Max Davis (@maxdavisbooks) about his book, When Jesus Was a Green-Eyed Brunette: Loving People Like God Does (Worthy Publishing, 2016).

What’s the story behind the unusual title?

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Max Davis: When I came face-to-face with Jesus living inside a beautiful green-eyed brunette, it shattered my preconceived image of what Christianity was all about. She didn’t smell religious or churchy. She smelled like Jesus. 2 Corinthians 2:14 says, “…through us [Christ] diffuses the fragrance of his knowledge in every place.” This young lady diffused the fragrance of Jesus.

Though I was rebellious, arrogant, and wanted nothing to do with the hyper-legalistic religion I had been brought up under, the Jesus living inside her drew me to himself. I wanted—had to have—what she possessed: incredible peace, a strange power that wasn’t intimidated by me, and a genuine joy. As a result, I knelt down in a shower in my home and invited Jesus into my life.

It wasn’t spectacular. I didn’t get goose bumps or feel electricity, yet something supernatural took place. When I got up, all I can say is, I was a changed person. From that moment on, Jesus became my best friend and nearly 40 years later we’re closer than ever. Only the living Jesus could have kept me through the years. Looking back, I know God is real because I’ve seen him do so much.

What do you mean when you write “the sacred in the ordinary”?

Max Davis: As born-again believers, when we truly grasp that Jesus is inside us and live from that reality, it changes how we view everything from the mundane to the difficult. Instead of going to church, for example, we understand that we are the church. We’re Jesus’ hands and feet. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, not some building. Thus, making everywhere we go potentially as sacred as the chapel—the supermarket, the office, the classroom, the health club, the dialysis center, etc.

Because Jesus is present with us, it grieves him when we sin as well. When we understand the reality of the indwelling Christ, it affects the way we conduct our lives. Jesus’ presence in us can transform atmospheres, giving off his fragrance, bringing peace, offering grace and hope to a hurting world. It may sound simple, but the truth is: most Christians say they believe, but live as though Jesus is still in the tomb. He’s not! He’s very much alive today showing up in ordinary people, doing extraordinary and sometimes even supernatural things.

What’s the biblical basis of your book’s premise that Jesus is fully present in everyday life?

Max Davis: One of the central pillars of the Apostle Paul’s teachings was that Jesus is risen from the dead because Jesus personally appeared to him on the road to Damascus. In 1 Corinthians chapter 15 Paul states that over 500 people, most of whom were still alive, all of the apostles, and finally himself, were eyewitnesses of the risen Christ. Then, in verses 15-20 Paul says if Jesus is not risen that he and all the other apostles are liars because they preached the resurrection. In other words, Paul is saying, (my paraphrase) “Come on guys. Why would we lie to you and make up such a story? Remember, I had set out to you kill Christians. What caused my dramatic turnaround? I saw Jesus. No, we’re not lying!”

After establishing the resurrection, another central pillar of Paul’s teaching was that if you are a genuine believer, the risen Jesus is inside you and that fact should impact the way you live. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul says, “…Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? …” (NKJV).

How do we test ourselves? We understand, believe, and embrace the promises of God. Ephesians 1:13 says, “In Him (Jesus) you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise…” When we trusted the gospel and believed, the Holy Spirit (the spirit of Jesus) came inside us. It’s a promise.

Now, we simply let Christ live his life through us. When he takes residence in us, he starts moving around the furniture. “I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Jesus in us is our hope for true life. He becomes our purpose. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27).

“…But you know him, because he [Jesus] lives with you now and later will be in you.” (John 14:17). This passage indicates that the Holy Spirit and Jesus are one. Before Jesus went to the cross (John 14), He told his disciples it was better if he went because he could then send a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, that would indwell them. Before Jesus was walking with them, but after the resurrection he would be inside them, which was far better. Because Jesus is in us, we can literally have his mind (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Describe one of your favorite stories that you recount in When Jesus Was a Green-Eyed Brunette.

Max Davis: I was walking on the Mississippi River levee one day, trying desperately to finish the last chapter of this book. I often take long walks with my trusty clipboard in hand, writing down my thoughts. Once I get them down, I go back to my office and transcribe my notes on the computer. On this particular day, while walking, I passed a homeless guy on a bench. When I did, the Jesus inside me said, “Give him your shoes.”

Now, you have to understand, these weren’t just any shoes. They were $175 special order hiking boots. I loved them and did not want to give them away. Besides, what would I do with no shoes? I had an important book to finish and would be barefoot. So, I kept walking, attempting to ignore the Spirit’s prompting. It was no use.

“I said, ‘Give him your shoes.’” This was the voice of Jesus that I’ve come to know after nearly 40 years of relationship with him. I was quite familiar. This was not a suggestion. “Give…him…your…shoes.” “Ok,” I said, throwing my hands up in surrender. Turning around, I walked back to the homeless guy.

“God told me to give you my shoes,” I said. He looked up at me with a shocked expression on his face but never said a word. I took off my shoes, knelt down, and began putting them on his worn-out feet. He had remained silent, eyes as big as silver dollars. Suddenly, he burst into tears. “I can’t believe you’re giving me your shoes, man!” he cried. “You’ve given me hope!”

“I’m only doing what I was told. Can I tell you about Jesus?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. I did and ended up praying with him. It was a sacred encounter and became the last chapter in the book.

Explain how Christians should let “the living Jesus live in them and through them to love people the way God does.” And what role should the Bible have in that process?

Max Davis: Practicing the reality of Jesus in us happens through faith and relationship. I want to make sure to emphasize that our relationship with Jesus is not based on a feeling but on confidence and trust in his promises in Scripture. Promises like, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20 ESV).

If we live by faith, trusting what the Bible says regardless of our feelings, we will at times experience great feelings, but it’s the truth of God’s Word that sets us free. The Bible is a supernatural book. It’s alive. “For the word of God is living and powerful…” says Hebrews 4:12. When we immerse ourselves in it, a transformation takes place. Jesus is in us. He speaks to us primarily through the Bible.

Sometimes we’ll have promptings—divine guidance—in our spirits, but they’ll never contradict Scripture. Over time, as our relationship grows, we get to know Jesus more intimately and recognize his voice. The more we’re obedient to Scripture and the Spirit’s inner promptings, the more we’ll know him.

In the Garden, Adam and Eve walked in daily fellowship with God. The Fall brought sin into the picture and broke that fellowship. Jesus was the bridge of reconciliation making it possible for us to enter into intimate relationship with God again. The Christian life is about a relationship with God through Jesus, who, by the way, is God.

What do you mean when you write “God’s perfect will is more about being than doing?”

Max Davis: If Jesus is in us, our first purpose in life is to become more like him and then to love people like God does. God is more interested in developing our character than great outward works. He’s preparing us for something bigger than this world. God is training us for eternity with him. We’re going to have a purpose and an assignment in Heaven. This world is a spiritual boot camp.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV). What is the “good” that all things are working together for? The next verse tells us. “For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,” (Romans 8:29).

God is working all things in our lives, including the painful and difficult things, for the purpose of making us like Jesus. Our first calling is to become like Jesus. With this in mind, a person bound to a hospital bed, extolling the faithfulness of God can be doing just as an important work as the missionary in the third-world country. “My children, with whom I travail again in birth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19); “…as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Works are important, but must be an outgrowth of our becoming. Whether it’s an assignment to write a book, give a homeless person your shoes, or love your spouse in the way Jesus loves, it all happens as an overflow from a daily relationship with him. “I am the vine,” said Jesus. “You are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Fruit and good works are birthed out of an authentic relationship with Jesus, out of abiding in him. Everything else is just religious noise.

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

Max Davis: I absolutely love Bible Gateway! It’s my #1 Bible tool. Seriously: I don’t know what I’d do without it. Whenever I’m writing a chapter, I have the link open for easy Scripture reference and scholarly commentary. I almost always read the passage I’m researching in several versions and then pick the one most applicable.

Bio: Max Davis is the author of over 20 books, including The Insanity of Unbelief: A Journalist’s Journey from Belief to Skepticism to Deep Faith. He’s been featured in USA TODAY and Publishers Weekly, and has appeared on The Today Show and The 700 Club. he holds degrees in journalism and biblical studies and is a sought-after speaker for churches and organizations worldwide. He and his wife, Alanna, live in Greenwell Springs, Louisiana.

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