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Bible News Roundup – Week of December 25, 2016

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“Christians Are the Most Persecuted Religious Group: 90,000 Killed for Their Faith in 2016”
CBN News

Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2016
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post—A Collection of Bible Museums & Exhibits
See the Biblical Archaeology section in the Bible Gateway Store

Gov. Bevin Declares 2017 ‘Year of the Bible’ in Kentucky
Lexington Herald-Leader
Read the Bible on Bible Gateway

Bible Reading Marathon in Kentucky Starts on New Year’s Day
The Daily Independent

US Supreme Court Asked To Hear Groundbreaking Military Religious Freedom Case
The Daily Caller Marine Discharged Over Bible Verses Petitions Supreme Court

Georgia Teen’s Boyfriend Asked for a Bible for Christmas — Her Response is Going Viral
The Blaze
Seventeen: This Girl Spent Three Months Decorating Every Single Page of a Bible for Her Boyfriend
See coloring Bibles in the Bible Gateway Store

Bibles for China Prepares to Increase Distribution of Scriptures in 2017
Mission Network News

Bible Society of Nigeria Launches 77 Nigerian Sign Language Bible Stories
Vanguard Newspapers

Bible Society of India to Develop Bible Apps in 16 Regional Indian Dialects
India Times
Read the Bible in multiple languages on Bible Gateway

This Israeli Farmer is Bringing Back Biblical Plants Like Frankincense and Myrrh
Toronto Star

US, Israeli Winners in World Bible Contest

Biblical-Era Tel Dan Wall Collapses as Storms Hit Northern Israel
The Times of Israel
Read about the city of Dan in Smith’s Bible Names Dictionary on Bible Gateway

5 Key Findings on Religion in the US

Norway: Church to Become Separate from State Beginning Jan. 1
Christian Headlines

A Third of Britons Believe They Have a Guardian Angel
The Telegraph

Faith Slump in UK Accelerated During Unsettled 2016, Poll Finds

See other Bible News Roundup weekly posts

It’s Christmas Day. Glory to God in the Highest!

The first ChristmasMerry Christmas! Whether your 2016 was a blessed year for you or one that you’re looking forward to leaving in the past, we hope that today you’ll experience the boundless love of God. That love was made manifest on the first Christmas day, when Jesus Christ came to live among us, give up his life for us, and make it possible for us to find true peace in God.

If you haven’t read the Christmas story recently, take a few minutes today to read this familiar, but still remarkable, story from the Bible (as found in Luke 2:1-20 [ESV]). (Or click here to listen to it!)

The Birth of Jesus Christ (Luke 2:1-20)

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Have a blessed Christmas day, and a joy-filled New Year!

The Other Miraculous Christmas Birth

Zechariah records the name of his son, John the BaptistWhile our focus at Christmastime is naturally on the birth of Jesus Christ, it might surprise you to learn that Jesus’ was not the only miraculous birth associated with Christmas!

Jesus was preceded by John the Baptist, whose life and ministry would be defined by his role as a messenger announcing the promised Messiah. John’s birth wasn’t quite as remarkable as that of Jesus; John was conceived normally by his parents rather than by the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, John’s birth was an unusal and unexpected event, for his parents were beyond the normal age of childbearing. His parents Zechariah and Elizabeth got the good news from an angel, much as Mary would:

Now while [Zechariah] was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Elizabeth was a comfort and encouragement to Jesus’ mother Mary throughout the latter’s pregnancy. In fact, the angel who announced Jesus’ birth pointed to Elizabeth’s surprise pregnancy as a reassuring example that God could accomplish the impossible:

…Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

John’s birth is not the only other instance in the Bible that God engineered an unexpected and seemingly impossible pregnancy. The events surrounding John’s birth are very reminiscent of those surrounding the birth of Isaac in Genesis. As He did with Elizabeth and Zechariah, God sent a messenger to announce the unexpected birth to skeptical would-be parents. Compare this story from Genesis 18 to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth:

Then one of [the messengers of God] said [to Abraham], “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

And for another story of an unexpected birth in the Bible, see the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel. While Jesus’ birth stands out as the most directly miraculous, it is clear that God often used unexpected (or even “impossible”) pregnancy as a way to both bless His people and to demonstrate His power and glory to doubting people.

Tomorrow, our attention will rightly be on the birth of Jesus Christ. But Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy—foreshadowing Mary’s pregnancy, just as Elizabeth’s son would point to Mary’s later in life—is an important part of the Christmas narrative. Praise be to God, who does the impossible!

Video: Christmas with The Jesus Storybook Bible

Buy your copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every dayChristmas is a great time for adults to read to children about the birth of Jesus. For your Christmas enjoyment, below are two videos with British actor David Suchet reading about the Nativity from the award-winning Jesus Storybook Bible (Zonderkidz, 2007).

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, The Jesus Storybook Bible Reaches Two Million Copies Sold]

Read about the birth of Jesus from Luke 1 on Bible Gateway.

Read about the story of the shepherds when Jesus was born from Luke 2 on Bible Gateway.

The Jesus Storybook Bible—winner of the 2007 Moonbeam Award, the 2009 NAPPA Award, the 2010 Mom’s Choice Award, the 2010 ALA Notable Award, the 2011 ECPA Gold Book Award, the 2014 Rodda Award, and the 2014 Best in Children’s Media Award from the Association of Christian Booksellers Group- UK—by New York Times bestselling author Sally Lloyd-Jones (@sallylloydjones) has had eight editions since its debut in 2007, including a Spanish bilingual version, a deluxe edition (with audio narrated by beloved British actor, David Suchet), a collectors’ edition (with animated videos), and a curriculum.

With two million copies in print, the book is available in more than 31 languages. In 2015, after many requests from adults who were reading this children’s book, The Story of God’s Love for You was released, featuring the same beloved stories but with a new title and a new design for a whole new audience.

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Self-Guided Tour of the Bible: An Interview with Christopher Hudson

Christopher HudsonWhat if you could approach the Bible at your own pace, starting and stopping as you would in a world-class museum: reading individual exhibits, observing colorful displays, and gaining an overall understanding as you proceed?

Bible Gateway interviewed Christopher Hudson (@ReadEngageApply) about his book, Self-Guided Tour of the Bible: Maps, Charts, Timelines, Simple Overviews (Rose Publishing, 2016).

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, How We Got the Bible: An Interview with Timothy Paul Jones]

Buy your copy of Self-Guided Tour of the Bible in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every day

How is your book different from other books that explain the Bible?

Christopher Hudson: We set this book up to be like a self-guided tour of a museum. What I love about a self-paced tour is that it lets you learn at your own pace and arrange the subjects in a way that’s interesting to you. We tried to take that same approach with this book.

This book has many different access points. You could certainly begin on page 1, but you might prefer to start with chapters 4 or 5 instead. The question for each reader is: What would help you understand your current Bible questions? Would starting with the timelines be best for you? Or the big picture themes? Character biographies? You can start wherever you like.

Page samples; buy your copy of Self-Guided Tour of the Bible in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every day

For whom is your book written and why did you target them?

Christopher Hudson: My personal mission is to help people read, engage, and apply the Bible. This book exists to help people do just that. If the Bible is God’s Word, then its message has utmost urgency. This book is written so that anyone can gain a better understanding of the Bible.

Enlarge this chart taken from the book Self-Guided Tour of the Bible

What role did God have in the writing of the Bible?

Christopher Hudson: When we see God work today, it’s often in behind-the-scenes ways. Many of us can look back at events and conversations in our lives and say, “Wow, I didn’t realize it at the time, but God was sure in the middle of that.” It’s during those moments we realize that God was guiding or teaching us.

God “wrote” the Bible in a similar way. I’m not sure many of the Bible’s writers sat down and said, “Today I’m going to write down the Bible.” Sure, I think there were times when Moses or one of the other prophets wrote down what God seemed to dictate to them. But in most cases, the authors of the Bible simply wrote down what they knew to be an important and authoritative message.

I think 2 Peter 1:20-21 sums up the experience well: “You must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God” (NLT). Just as a sailboat is moved by the wind, the Bible’s writers were moved by the Holy Spirit to carry along the message and meaning that was divinely inspired.

Enlarge this chart taken from the book Self-Guided Tour of the Bible

How did the Bible get to us?

Christopher Hudson: That’s a profound question. The Bible is more than the big, black book on our desk or nightstand. How the Bible got to us was actually quite amazing:

  • Revelation & Inspiration. The Bible had 30-40 different writers over the course of nearly 2000 years. Individual books were written on scrolls or parchments.
  • Duplication. People who lived in ancient times recognized that these writings were special and authoritative, and they faithfully copied them by hand for centuries.
  • Canonization. After watching the impact and importance of these books over centuries, Jewish and Christian leaders recognized these books contained the very message of God. They collected them into what has become our Bible.
  • Publication. Before the printing press, the Bible was copied by hand over and over again. After Gutenberg, copies were printed and more widely distributed.
  • Translation. Don’t forget, the Bible was not written in English. While classic manuscripts were preserved in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin, brave people risked their lives to translate the Bible into languages that people could understand so that the Bible could be read by anyone.
  • Transformation. Answering “how did the Bible get to us” is not complete unless we also include the impact it has on us as we read it. The Bible’s message is not complete if it just sits on our shelves without being read and heard.

Enlarge this chart taken from the book Self-Guided Tour of the Bible

Why should the Bible be viewed as trustworthy?

Christopher Hudson: This is a fundamental question and one I’ve labored over in my life. If the Bible is trustworthy, then it faithfully delivers God’s message and I have no choice but to read, engage, and apply it.

Often the question arises when people remember that the Bible was copied by hands for thousands of years. Can their work be trusted? I’ve studied this at length and have come to the strong conclusion that those who copied the ancient Scriptures in the days before Xerox® were careful!

How careful? Princeton’s Bruce Metzger, one of the preeminent New Testament scholars of the 20th century, concluded that after 2,000 years of being copied exclusively by hand, only 40 of the 20,000 lines of the New Testament are in dispute. More importantly, none of these variances undermine the basic teachings of the Christian faith. In other words, our modern-day Bibles are very credible—far more so than any other ancient historical document.

You write, “The essential story of the Bible is found in just 22 of the 66 Bible books.” Please explain.

Christopher Hudson: Most people get confused when they try to read straight through the Bible. That’s because nobody ever told them one very important fact. Here it is: The story of the Bible doesn’t begin in Genesis and then continue chronologically and sequentially through each of the 66 books.

Actually, the essential storyline of the Bible is found in the 22 history books found in the Bible. It makes sense that the story would be found in the history books, right?

I’m not saying that those 22 books are more important or more inspired. All of the Bible’s books are inspired and useful for revealing God and his message. I’m simply saying that the storyline tends to happen in the 22 books that were written to tell the story. That said, you can’t fully understand the history without reading the other books as well.

How does “everything in the Bible point to Jesus”?

Christopher Hudson: The Bible is a story about redemption. It’s such a strong theme that we can read it in nearly every section of the Bible. In the opening pages of Genesis, we discover a perfect world. We see human beings enjoying a perfect relationship with God, each other, and their universe. In Genesis 3, all that changes. Our relationships are broken with

  • God (as seen in the pains of sin),
  • each other (as seen in conflict, jealousy, fighting),
  • and our physical world (as seen in every sickness & death)

The rest of the Bible shows us how severe those breaks are and that God has a plan to restore the world. The Hebrew Scriptures point to a time when a Messiah will come and lead the restoration (Jesus Christ).

The New Testament ends with the hope that one day we’ll enjoy a world described this way: “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4, NIV)

The Bible is a story of a perfect world destroyed and then God’s ultimate restoration of that world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Briefly address one of the 8 major themes in the Bible that you summarize in Self-Guided Tour of the Bible.

Christopher Hudson: While the Bible has one great theme (redemption), we see a number of other minor themes that help us understand the Bible. Every passage we read is generally reinforcing one of these themes in the Bible. Remembering those themes can help us better understand even the more confusing parts of the Bible:

  1. God is. (The reality of God)
  2. God is awesome! (The glory of God)
  3. People are broken. (The sinfulness of humanity)
  4. God rescues us in Christ. (The wonder of salvation)
  5. We live by faith. (The call to believe)
  6. This world is not all there is. (The reality of the kingdom of heaven)
  7. Life is a team sport. (The necessity of community)
  8. All will be well. (The promise of restoration)

How should your book best be read?

Christopher Hudson: As you page through Self-Guided Tour of the Bible, you’ll see there are a number of lists, charts, and bullets that can be accessed as you read the Bible. When you read about King David, for example, you can flip open to the timeline and see what else was happening in the world at the time he lived. You can use the lists to put the kings and prophets in the proper order.

When you read about Egypt, you can give yourself greater context by quickly scanning a list of all the Bible stories that take place in Egypt.

At the same time, you can read the book straight through. I think our writing and editorial team did a great job in making sure there is depth on every page for readers of all Bible backgrounds.

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

Christopher Hudson: I really appreciate the ministry of Bible Gateway. It’s easily one of the top 4-5 sites that I use every day for Bible reading and quick cross referencing.

Bio: Christopher D. Hudson’s mission is to help people read, understand, and apply the Bible. He’s authored or contributed to more than 50 Bible projects, 66 Bible study guides, and more than 100 books, including The Most Significant People, Places, and Events in the Bible: A Quickview Guide, Heaven and Hell: Are They Real?, and 100 Ways the Bible Can Change Your Life: Finding the Bible’s Solutions to Life’s Biggest Problems. He’s a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, and has been an active teacher in his church for more than 20 years. He lives outside of Chicago with his wife and three children.

The Mysterious Festival of Hanukkah

Click to email Michael NortenThis guest Bible Gateway Blog post about Hanukkah is by Michael Norten, author of Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts: The Prophecies in the Feasts of Leviticus (Thomas Nelson, 2015).

Hanukkah Is Intriguing

Everyone has some awareness of the holiday called Hanukkah, because of its proximity to Christmas. You hear people say, “Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.” Many Jews even exchange gifts within their respective families, primarily with the children because of the influence of Christmas. As we all know, it is very much a Jewish celebration, but should it have any interest or significance for Christians? The purpose and the traditions of this festival are so intriguing, that Christians should appreciate Hanukkah more than a passing acknowledgment of the season. Jewish celebrations are packed full of meaningful rituals and observances, which serve as wonderful illustrations of spiritual truths. When the traditions point in someway to Jesus, Christians should especially take note.

Buy your copy of Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every day

Unlike the seven annual feasts or festivals of Passover to Tabernacles, Hanukkah was initiated by humans themselves, rather than God. The seven Biblical feasts in Leviticus 23 are called “the Lord’s appointed times.” Hanukkah on the other hand was created in the mind of man. This by no means should minimize the significance of the observance, because it is honoring God. After all, we celebrate Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, which were all established by man as very important and meaningful holidays.

Hanukkah’s History

Hanukkah is a holiday that lasts eight days to remember and celebrate two important happenings in history that were really connected in one major event. The first was the victory that the Hasmonean Jews had over the Syrian Greeks in a revolt led by the Maccabean brothers in 164 BC. The second event, which is also the primary event in the remembrance, is the eight days of the cleansing and rededication of the temple after the Gentiles had desecrated it. The word Hanukkah actually means “dedication”.

Daniel 8:9-12, 23-25 and 11:21-35 prophesied that a leader would rise up and cause persecutions to those living in Israel. This man was Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who was a prefiguring of the coming Antichrist of the last days. He did many deplorable things, such as prohibiting the Jews from practicing their laws, and in addition to that, he sacrificed a pig on the altar. Antiochus even erected a statue of Zeus right outside the temple. He demanded that the Jews worship his false god. He even killed the Jews if they refused to eat pork. One can understand why he is called a despicable person in Daniel’s prophecy.

A priest by the name Mattathias with the help of his five sons started a revolt and was successful. After the victory of the Maccabean revolt, one of his sons, Judas Maccabeus, led a project to cleanse the temple and refurbish it. According to the Talmud there was a miracle that happened at the time they celebrated the cleansing. In tractate Shabbat 21b it reads, “What is the reason of Hanukkah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev commence the days of Hanukkah, which are eight on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit the lamp therewith for eight days. The following year these days were appointed a Festival with the recital of Hallel and thanksgiving.”

From then on the Jews called this festival the Festival of Lights. To this day Jews focus on the cleansing of the temple and the lighting of the menorah. The menorah has nine candlesticks. The one in the middle that is elevated above the others is called the shammus, which means “servant.” On the first night the servant candle is used to light the first candle on the far right. Before the first candle is lit, three blessings are recited:

  1. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.
  2. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.
  3. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Before each subsequent candle lighting, only the first two blessings are recited. On the second night the servant candle is used to light the first candle again and then the second one next to it. This procedure is repeated each night until all eight candles are lit.

Hanukkah’s Christian Significance

The miracle according to tradition is interesting, but there are other elements Christians need to appreciate that are even more applicable today. The first application we should take notice is that “eight” in the Hebraic numeric system points to a “new beginning.” This is very poignant to the Christian, because it reminds us that, after we are cleansed by the blood of Christ at salvation, we have a new beginning as the temple of the Holy Spirit and a new life in fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, it is fascinating that the middle elevated candle is called the “servant” that brings light to the other candles. It reminds us of the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53, where the Messiah is called the Servant. Jesus, our Messiah, is our sole source of light.

Another very interesting fact about Hanukkah is when it is observed on the calendar, which is the time of year that the nights are the longest, in other words, the darkest time of the year. In my book, Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts, in the chapter about the Feast of Tabernacles, I explain in detail the evidences that Jesus was born during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles and conceived in the timeframe of Hanukkah. The evidences are derived from the Gospel of Luke and the Hebraic calendar. The Feast of Tabernacles, which looks forward to the Messiah dwelling or “tabernacling” with mankind in the future Kingdom, is called the “Show of Lights,” whereas Hanukkah is called the “Festival of Lights.” When Jesus declared that he was the “Light of the World,” he had those two festivals surrounding the event of his birth as bookends.

Finally, when we see the progressive lighting of the menorah getting brighter each evening, Christians can remember that we shine more and more of Christ’s light each day as we grow and walk in his light.

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Where Do Verse and Chapter Numbers in the Bible Come From?

geneva-bibleIn our recent Bible Reading is Broken, and It’s Not Your Fault video discussion, it was mentioned that the Bible reads somewhat differently if the verse numbers are removed. But if the familiar verse and chapter numbers in our Bibles weren’t part of the original manuscripts, where did they come from and why do we use them?

Where Verse and Chapter Numbers Came From

Chapter and verse numbers are such a familiar (and useful) part of Bible reading that we rarely give them much conscious thought. In fact, verse numbers are so integral to the way we talk about Scripture that it’s hard to imagine the Bible without them. But those numbers haven’t always been there.

The Old Testament has long been organized into sections and subsections; our modern chapter and verse divisions generally (but not always) correspond to the traditional Jewish organization of the text. While the Old and New Testaments have been roughly organized at least since the Bible canon was established, it wasn’t until 1,000 years later that something resembling our modern chapter and verse system was widely accepted.

The person credited with dividing the Bible into chapters is Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1207-1228. While Langton’s isn’t the only organizational scheme that was devised, it is his chapter breakdown that has survived.

Robert Estienne, verse numbering pioneer.But while chapters are a useful organizational tool, the ability to refer to specific phrases within those chapters would make the system even more usable. Robert Stephanus (aka Robert Estienne) created a verse numbering system in the mid-16th century and was the first person to print a Bible with verse numbers in each chapter.

The chapter and verse numbers we know and love today are direct descendants of these systems. Different languages and versions of the Bible occasionally make use of alternate systems, but our current chapter/verse system is almost universally understood.

How Do Verse Numbers Affect Our Reading of the Bible?

The history of Bible reference numbers may be interesting in its own right (at least to Bible scholars and history geeks), but it’s also had an important influence on the ways that each of us reads the Bible today. Not everyone is happy with the chapter/verse numbering system—and in fact, it’s worth taking a moment to consider some of the implications of this familiar system.

For one thing, our chapter/verse numbering occasionally creates quirky or confusing situations. In your own Bible reading, you’ve probably noticed places where a sentence or train of thought is oddly interrupted by chapter or verse numbers. (See Acts 8, which opens with the final sentence of the previous chapter’s story.) Chapters and verses vary widely in length, and don’t necessarily correspond to the beginnings and ends of stories or sentences.

These numbering quirks do not hinder our ability to read Scripture, but you can bet that plenty of Bible scholars and readers have dreamed up alternate reference schemes to make chapter and verse numbering more consistent. But even if you’ve come up with the perfect Bible reference system, don’t hold your breath waiting for the world’s Bibles to conform to it—people probably won’t want to “break” several hundred years’ worth of Bible scholarship and verse memorization just because you think “John 3:16” would be more logically called “Gospel/John.14.25-a.”

But beyond this practical issue, our numbering system brings up a broader question about Bible reading and interpretation. How does the current chapter and verse breakdown influence the way you read the Bible? It helps us memorize verses, but does it also encourage us to “proof-text”—that is, to quote select phrases from Scripture out of context? Consider how you might organize the Bible text differently… and how your hypothetical system might influence your Bible reading, positively or negatively. Even something as simple as reading the books of the Bible in a different order can offer fresh insight; how would your reading experience change if the entire chapter/verse numbering system were different?

Experiment for Yourself and See

Here’s a very simple experiment you can conduct to get you thinking: turn off the display of chapter and verse numbers on Bible Gateway and see how it does or doesn’t change your reading experience. Here’s how to do that on Bible Gateway. Does it feel strange to read Scripture without the verse numbers? Is it a more natural way to read, or do you rely on verse numbers as anchor points?

Regardless, our familiar chapters and verses aren’t going away anytime soon, so you’re still safe memorizing John 3:16. But as you explore the Bible, it’s worth considering how the organization of the text affects the way you engage with its content. And give thanks that despite the quirks of our human numbering system, the Word of God speaks clearly and truthfully to all generations.

Two Simple Ways to Make Your Bible Reading Easier

Did you get a chance to watch our Bible Reading is Broken, and It’s Not Your Fault broadcast earlier this month? In it, we talked with the Institute for Bible Reading to find out why it can be so challenging to read the Bible—and how you can do a few simple things to make your Bible reading easier.

If you missed it when it was broadcast live, you can watch it here:

The discussion touches on just a few of the ways that Bible reading has become more challenging for everyday readers than it needs to be. The good news is that overcoming some of these challenges is very easy, especially with an online tool like Bible Gateway!

Here are two simple ways you can make your Bible easier to read:

1. Choose Whether to Show Verse Numbers, Footnotes, and Other “Extra Stuff”

One of the things mentioned as a source of trouble for some Bible readers is the “extra” stuff that we’ve added to our Bible texts: verse numbers, passage headings, footnotes, etc. These elements are found in almost every Bible, but were not in the original Bible texts. They were added by Bible translators and publishers over the centuries to make it easier to study and organize the massive Bible text—without them, advanced Bible study or scholarship would be much more difficult. But they can also be unintentionally distracting for some readers.

The good news is that this is a very easy situation to fix! At Bible Gateway, you have complete control over the text annotations that appear in your Bible text. To choose which elements appear in your Bible reading, look for the gear-shaped icon above and to the right of Bible text on Bible Gateway:

Toggle text options like verses and footnotes

This text display options menu lets you toggle on/off annotations like verse numbers, headings, footnotes, and more. You might be surprised what a difference it can make to add/remove a few of these elements. Removing verse numbers, for example, makes the Bible text read more like a letter or a novel. (And when you want them back for your Bible study, you can always easily add them back in with the options menu.) Give it a try and see what combination of text elements works best for you!

(Note that not every Bible includes every text feature—so to see red lettering or footnotes, you need to be reading a Bible that includes them.)

2. Take a Different Path Through the Bible

Another surprisingly effective way to make the Bible more accessible is simply to read through it in a different order. The Bible is organized the way it is for good reason, but as many would-be Bible readers have learned, the way Bible books are commonly ordered does not make for the easiest cover-to-cover reading experience. If you’ve started reading the Bible but given up after hitting a slow or difficult-to-understand stretch (maybe you bogged down in Leviticus or one of the other early Bible books), you’re not alone! The Bible isn’t like a novel—starting at page 1 and reading straight through to the end isn’t necessarily the best way to experience it.

The good news is that there are other ways to approach the Bible that bypass a lot of those challenges. What are these other approaches? We call them Bible reading plans, and there’s a huge library of them to choose from.

Each reading plan provides a roadmap for reading the Bible that emphasizes a different Bible experience. Some reading plans direct you to read just certain sections of the Bible, carefully chosen to introduce you to particular Bible themes. Some introduce you to Bible passages that fit a particular season of the year, like Easter or Christmas. Others walk you through the entire Bible text, but eschew the cover-to-cover approach in favor of reading the Bible books in chronological order, or thematic order, or other options.

Reading plans are easy to use, and the right reading plan will revolutionize the way you approach the Bible. Visit our reading plan library to see what’s available, and choose the one that’s right for you! Our reading plans can be used online or via email—whichever is easiest for you.

These are just two simple ways you can change the way you read Scripture. These strategies don’t change the actual text of the Bible, nor is it “right” or “wrong” to read Scripture with or without (for example) verse numbers. But if you’ve been struggling to read the Bible regularly, it’s worth experimenting to see what combination of text options and reading plans helps you connect most deeply with God’s Word!

Bible Verses That Tell the Christmas Story

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Malachi 3:1-4 (KJV)

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years.

Micah 5:2-3 (CEB)

As for you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah, though you are the least significant of Judah’s forces, one who is to be a ruler in Israel on my behalf will come out from you. His origin is from remote times, from ancient days. Therefore, he will give them up until the time when she who is in labor gives birth. The rest of his kin will return to the people of Israel.

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (ESV)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 40:1-2, 9 (GW)

“Comfort my people! Comfort them!” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and announce to it that its time of hard labor is over and its wrongs have been paid for. It has received from the Lord double for all its sins.” Go up a high mountain, Zion. Tell the good news! Call out with a loud voice, Jerusalem. Tell the good news! Raise your voice without fear. Tell the cities of Judah: “Here is your God!”

Hebrews 1:1-2 (HCSB)

Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him.

Luke 1:26-35 (ICB)

During Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to a virgin who lived in Nazareth, a town in Galilee. She was engaged to marry a man named Joseph from the family of David. Her name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “Greetings! The Lord has blessed you and is with you.”

But Mary was very confused by what the angel said. Mary wondered, “What does this mean?”

The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, because God is pleased with you. Listen! You will become pregnant. You will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and people will call him the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of King David, his ancestor. He will rule over the people of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen? I am a virgin!”

The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you. The baby will be holy. He will be called the Son of God.

Matthew 1:18-23 (PHILLIPS)

The birth of Jesus Christ happened like this. When Mary was engaged to Joseph, just before their marriage, she was discovered to be pregnant—by the Holy Spirit. Whereupon Joseph, her future husband, who was a good man and did not want to see her disgraced, planned to break off the engagement quietly. But while he was turning the matter over in his mind an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife! What she has conceived is conceived through the Holy Spirit, and she will give birth to a son, whom you will call Jesus (‘the Saviour’) for it is he who will save his people from their sins.”

All this happened to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet—‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’. (“Immanuel” means “God with us.”)

Luke 2:1-7 (CEV)

About that time Emperor Augustus gave orders for the names of all the people to be listed in record books. These first records were made when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Everyone had to go to their own hometown to be listed. So Joseph had to leave Nazareth in Galilee and go to Bethlehem in Judea. Long ago Bethlehem had been King David’s hometown, and Joseph went there because he was from David’s family.

Mary was engaged to Joseph and traveled with him to Bethlehem. She was soon going to have a baby, and while they were there, she gave birth to her first-born son. She dressed him in baby clothes[d] and laid him on a bed of hay, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:8-20 (NET)

Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

    “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us.” So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger. When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said. But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean. So the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told.

Matthew 2:1-12 (NIrV)

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea. This happened while Herod was king of Judea. After Jesus’ birth, Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the child who has been born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose. Now we have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard about it, he was very upset. Everyone in Jerusalem was troubled too. So Herod called together all the chief priests of the people. He also called the teachers of the law. He asked them where the Messiah was going to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied. “This is what the prophet has written. He said,

    “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
      are certainly not the least important among the towns of Judah.
    A ruler will come out of you.
      He will rule my people Israel like a shepherd.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the Wise Men. He found out from them exactly when the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem. He said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report it to me. Then I can go and worship him too.”

After the Wise Men had listened to the king, they went on their way. The star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them. It finally stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. The Wise Men went to the house. There they saw the child with his mother Mary. They bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures. They gave him gold, frankincense and myrrh. But God warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod. So they returned to their country on a different road.

John 1:1-4, 14 (NLT)

    In the beginning the Word already existed.
      The Word was with God,
      and the Word was God.
    He existed in the beginning with God.
    God created everything through him,
      and nothing was created except through him.
    The Word gave life to everything that was created,
      and his life brought light to everyone.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

John 3:16-17 (NRSV)

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 20:31 (NABRE)

But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Hebrews 1:3 (VOICE)

This is the One who—imprinted with God’s image, shimmering with His glory—sustains all that exists through the power of His word. He was seated at the right hand of God once He Himself had made the offering that purified us from all our sins.

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Bible News Roundup – Week of December 18, 2016

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Bible Readers Were Looking for Love in 2016
Facts & Trends
Bible Gateway 2016 Year in Review
Bible Gateway Blog post, The Three Kinds of Popular Keyword Searches on Bible Gateway

Humanist Association Criticizes Bible Study at Missouri Public School
The Daily Citizen

Kentucky’s Statewide Bible-Reading Marathon Starts New Year’s Day: 30,000 to Join
The Christian Post
Read the Bible on Bible Gateway

Vonette Bright Honored With 2016 Scripture Impact Award
Browse books by Vonette Bright in the Bible Gateway Store
Browse books by Bill Bright in the Bible Gateway Store

How an Improvising Leader and 10 Donors Brought the Bible to Unreached Peoples
The Philanthropy Roundtable

Married Couple to Face Off in Major Bible Contest in Jerusalem

Mishamikoweesh Spearheads Own Canadian Indigenous Language Bible Translation
Anglican Journal
See Bible versions in multiple languages available on Bible Gateway

Vatican Gallery Reopens After 7-Year Restoration

See other Bible News Roundup weekly posts