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Does It Really Say That in the Bible?: An Interview with Katie Hoyt McNabb

Katie Hoyt McNabbIf you ever wonder about the meaning of life, why it’s so good and so bad, and what your place in this universe is, it’s a great idea to hear what God’s side of the story is. That’s where the Bible comes in. And that’s why it’s important to discover what the Bible really says as opposed to what you might think it says or what you hear other people say it says.

Bible Gateway interviewed Katie Hoyt McNabb (@AuthorMcNabb) about her book, Does It Really Say That in the Bible? (WestBow Press, 2014). Following the interview is a brief quiz by the author, to help you gauge your awareness of Bible events.

[See our Bible quizzes: Stark, Slytherin, Sauron, or Scripture? Identify These Quotes and 100 Bible Knowledge Questions]

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Why did you major in religious studies at Yale?

Katie Hoyt McNabb: As a freshman I had a list of a half dozen things I wanted to major in—and religion wasn’t one of them. However, I did take a course in New Testament that year and was shocked to find my professor asserting that one had to put aside faith in order to approach the Scriptures academically. At the time, I considered myself a Christian, having been raised going to church, but realized I didn’t actually understand much about the Bible or my faith—certainly not enough to articulate what was wrong with the New Testament study. But the course got me asking good questions and reaching out to the Christian Fellowship on campus. When people there recommended I read CS Lewis, I started finding real answers in his writings. That summer, after reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I “got” Christianity and wanted to learn everything I could about the faith.

Having begun classical Greek in high school, I was able my sophomore year to take courses in Greek exegesis of Galatians and Luke at the Divinity School. While these were great studies, taught by believing Christians, it was the course I took in Old Testament that truly sealed my decision to major in Religion. My professor, Brevard Childs, a leading scholar in the field having worked for years with theologian Karl Barth, demonstrated that one could be academically rigorous with the Scriptures and a devout believer simultaneously. He typically gave lectures with his hand on the Bible at the lectern. As he taught, his passion and delight in the Word of God truly made my heart burn. And it also made me want to share the Word with others.

Did the Bible play a role in your early career of teaching high school English? Or did teaching high school English play a role in your study of the Bible?

Katie Hoyt McNabb: I chose to teach high school after college because I remembered very fondly all the teachers who had gotten me thinking critically about the world and its circumstances while I was an adolescent. I chose English for two reasons. First, I saw writing as an important skill for young people to acquire, but recalled composition getting too little emphasis in my own high school education. Secondly, I loved literature and relished the idea of leading teenagers to reflect on their own lives by sharing with them the world’s great stories and characters.

Though I retained my interest in the Bible from my college studies and experience, it was more the conviction of my Christian faith that propelled me into teaching. Frederick Buechner describes vocation as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I taught because I felt called to it. Still, it was one of the hardest jobs there is and I never would have survived it without God teaching me so much about myself along the way.

You say that while raising your children and volunteering in many school programs, you maintained your “secret identity” as a student of the Bible and adult Christian educator. What do you mean? Why did you feel you had to keep it secret?

Katie Hoyt McNabb: Because I’ve never had any trouble talking about my faith, it seems funny to me now that when I first starting teaching at church, I never spoke to people outside of church about this work. I was volunteering in my kids’ schools and teaching parenting classes and enjoying all of it! Then, as my own children were getting into the teen years and I was teaching both parenting classes and Bible studies, I remember a point where I realized that teaching parenting was draining me emotionally. In contrast, I was really loving the teaching at church.

So I decided to concentrate on Christian education. That’s when I found myself talking about my Bible studies outside of church. The best thing I discovered was that the more up front and matter-of-fact I was about my interests, the more I found people who were interested in the Bible. When I began writing my book, I was even more amazed to hear people tell me: “That’s a really good idea because I really don’t know what’s in the Bible.”

To give proper credit, however, I have to say that my comfort in “going public” as a student of the Bible really came as a gift from God. When you believe that God is calling you to a particular job, and then you live through His sustaining you through the whole process, it makes you very aware that you really don’t do anything worthwhile completely on your own.

What need do you see in the world that you’re trying to satisfy with your book?

Katie Hoyt McNabb: Even though I went to church and Sunday School growing up, I didn’t really learn the Bible or understand the rudiments of the Christian faith until I actively sought the knowledge as a young adult. My experience with my own age group and those younger is that this gap in our religious education has grown even wider with time. My first hope for my book is to give readers a chance to see the whole scope of the Bible by highlighting the most important sights in the biblical text. In presenting an overview of the Bible, I’m offering the reader the perspective to see the many stories of the Old and New Testaments as essentially one story of God’s love for the people He created. My further wish is that the book will raise the reader’s confidence about reading the Bible for him/herself. The Bible has so much to give us if we can get over feeling intimidated by it. It’s imperative for Christians to know that even though the Bible was written thousands of years ago, we can come to it today and hear God’s voice for us.

How does “fate” and “destiny” factor into your study of the Bible?

Katie Hoyt McNabb: I open my book with an essay I call “Fate, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life.” People expect the Bible to deal with the “meaning of life” but they don’t always know what they mean by that. I introduce the ideas of fate and destiny because they get us thinking about two important facets of the meaning of life: 1) How much choice do we have in the outcome of our lives? and 2) Is there a purpose—an end point—to our existence? It seems to me that if the Bible is worth reading, it ought to deal with these ideas. I want my readers to see the book through that lens.

Bio: Katie Hoyt McNabb graduated from Yale with a BA in Religious Studies. From college she went into teaching high school English and received a Master’s in Secondary Education from Temple. While raising four children she returned to teaching part time mostly in church. She has written Does It Say Really That in the Bible? as an outgrowth of many years of teaching Bible studies for adults.


A QUICK BIBLE QUIZ
by Katie Hoyt McNabb, author of Does It Really Say That in the Bible? (WestBow Press, 2014).

QUESTIONS

1. Genesis tells us that God created the world in six days. So what day were Adam and Eve created on?

2. According to Genesis 3 who is responsible for Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit?
A) Adam
B) Eve
C) The serpent
D) The devil

3. For what crime was Jesus crucified?
A) Disturbing the peace
B) Claiming to be God
C) Claiming to be King of the Jews
D) The Bible doesn’t say

4. True/False: In the early years of the Church, the gospel was only spread to Jews.

5. Who established the church in Rome?
A) Peter
B) Paul
C) Mark
D) The Bible doesn’t say

6. True/False: When the Christians made up their canon, they changed some things in the Hebrew Scriptures in order to make it into the Old Testament.

Where do the following concepts or teachings come from: the Old Testament, the New Testament, both, or neither?

7. The devil
8. God helps him who helps himself.
9. The best you can do with your life is have a good time and get by the best you can.
10. God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.

 

ANSWERS

1. Genesis tells us that God created the world in six days. So what day were Adam and Eve created on?

Perhaps you answered “the sixth day” because you remember that according to Genesis 1:27, on the sixth day, God made humans—male and female—in the image of the Deity as the finishing touch on creation. But this is actually a “trick” question because the story telling the days of God’s creation is not the same story as the one featuring Adam and Eve. Rather, the Adam and Eve account follows in Genesis 2.

Some of the details describing the order of God’s creation differ in this second version, and the perspective has changed from God’s point of view to that of the humans. Still it is compatible with the first story in that it emphasizes that God created the world to be good. In addition, it complements the first rendition where God focuses on making humans male and female for the purpose of reproduction. In the Adam and Eve version, God has designed the man and woman to be companions to each other.

The most important takeaway from this confusion over the two creation accounts is that the Bible often tells a story more than once. Why, you might ask? The Bible is not a textbook; primarily it is a collection of stories. By giving us, the readers, more than one version to chew on the Bible forces us to evaluate and contemplate the meaning and implications of what it is telling us. In the case of creation, it’s up to the reader to draw conclusions from both stories about why God created the world and humans.

2. According to Genesis 3 who is responsible for Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit?

A) Adam
B) Eve
C) The serpent
D) The devil

This answer requires some interpretation of the text. When God confronts the man and the woman (note that they’re not called by name throughout the discussion of the taking of the forbidden fruit in Gen. 3:1-16), He begins with the man who immediately passes the blame to the woman—and back to God. “The woman you put here with me…” (Gen. 3:12). In turn, the woman insists that it’s the serpent’s fault (Genesis 3:13). Notice that neither the man nor woman denies that wrongdoing has been done—they just want to reject any responsibility for the disobedience of God’s command. Instead of engaging in their protests, the Lord doles out consequences to each party (including the serpent) in the reverse order of His interrogation. The devil is never mentioned here. In the New Testament, however, Revelation 12:9 seems to imply the serpent was actually the devil.

Historically, western culture has given Eve more blame as the first taker of the fruit—forming the basis for a certain amount of prejudice against women. On the other hand, in the New Testament, when Paul references the garden of Eden and the first sin, he says, “sin entered the world through one man [Adam]” (Rom. 5:12). If we go back to the text, however, God doesn’t single out any participant as guiltier than another. For instance, when we analyze the “curses” God levies against the man and the woman, both involve “labor”—the same Hebrew word serves for the woman’s trouble in birthing children and the man’s toil in making a living from the earth.

So where does the devil fit? The opinion of the New Testament is that Satan was present in the serpent and therefore owns a piece of the blame. All this leads me to answer the question—all of the above.

3. For what crime was Jesus crucified?

A) Disturbing the peace
B) Claiming to be God
C) Claiming to be King of the Jews
D) The Bible doesn’t say

C: Although the Jewish High Council convicted Jesus of blasphemy—the sin of profaning God’s name by claiming to be God (Matt. 26:63-66; Mark 14:61-64; Luke 22:66-71)—it had no power to execute prisoners. Because Roman leaders routinely declared themselves gods, Jesus’ profession of divinity, while laughable in Roman eyes, wasn’t for them a crime. Therefore, the Jewish leaders had to present Jesus to governor Pilate as an enemy of the state in order to procure a death sentence. Rome took seriously people who would disturb the peace and disrupt commerce, but anyone claiming to be a king would definitely demand attention from the authorities. Matt. 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38, and John 19:19 all testify that a sign posted on Jesus’ cross declared that he claimed to be the King of the Jews.

4. True/False: In the early years of the Church, the gospel was only spread to Jews.

True: Matthew ends his gospel with a clear statement that Jesus’ followers should go out and “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19), and Acts begins with Jesus making a similar command, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But when the first disciples hear this, they assume that they’ll be preaching to the many Jews scattered among the Gentile nations all through the Mediterranean. Only after Peter has a vision and ends up witnessing the Spirit come upon the household of the centurion Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile (Acts 10), do the original disciples believe that the gospel should be preached among Gentiles. “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life’” (Acts 11:18).

5. Who established the church in Rome?

A) Peter
B) Paul
C) Mark
D) The Bible doesn’t say

D: When Paul writes his letter to the Romans—one the few letters he writes to churches he did not plant—there are already a great number of Christians in the city, but no mention is made of the person who first evangelized there.

6. True/False: When the Christians made up their canon, they changed some things in the Hebrew Scriptures in order to make it into the Old Testament.

False: The only difference between the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Old Testament is the order of the books. The Christians took the arrangement of the books from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures dating from the third century BCE.

Where do the following concepts or teachings come from: the Old Testament, the New Testament, both, or neither?

7. The devil

New Testament: The figure of Satan appears only a smattering of times in the Old Testament and in those few instances the devil plays the role we now call the “devil’s advocate.” For instance, in Job, Satan alleges that a human will only love God when God blesses him/her, but will curse God when his/her life turns tragic. By the time we get to the New Testament, however, Satan shows up actively attempting to thwart God’s purposes. He tempts Jesus in the desert to betray God’s purposes for Him (Matt. 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13) and even enters Judas to cause him to betray Jesus (Luke 22:3 and John 13:27).

8. God helps him who helps himself.

Neither: The Bible offers an excellent refutation of this concept in the story of Abraham and Hagar (Gen. 16-17; 21:1-21). With his wife’s permission, Abraham beds his wife’s handmaiden in order to produce the child that God had promised. As it turns out, God was not counting on Abraham to solve this problem himself, but rather had a plan to give this couple a child of their own bodies in their old age as a proof of God’s ability to do what humans consider impossible. What Abraham does on his own steam only serves to complicate and strain the lives of all involved.

In the New Testament, notice how many times the people Jesus heals ask for His help.

9. The best you can do with your life is have a good time and get by the best you can.

Old Testament: Here, in Ecclesiastes 2:24, the author is wrestling with the meaning of life. The Wisdom Literature gives us plenty of examples of humans questioning the precepts they’ve been taught about God.

10. God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.

Old Testament: Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18, and Joel 2:13 all use this description of God. Too often people assume that the God of the Old Testament is somehow harsher and more vengeful than in the New Testament. It’s important to realize that while Israel’s perception of God grows and matures through her history, God is the same throughout the Bible.

Why Read the Bible Every Day?

A guest post by Brian Hardin. Brian is the founder of Daily Audio Bible, a hugely popular Scripture podcast, and the author of Passages: How Reading the Bible in a Year Will Change Everything for You. This post was originally published in 2012, but we thought that Brian’s insights might be useful for anyone who’s thinking about reading through the Bible in 2015 (either by using Bible Gateway’s new reading plans or another system).

Brian Hardin, author of "Passages."

The previous year had started like the rest: work hard and then work hard to get more hard work. I’d tossed a New Year’s prayer earnestly enough to God, the one about wanting to get closer to him and read the Bible more, but I had all but forgotten it by the second week of January.

By the end of the year I found myself sitting alone on my couch, devastated. The kingdom of work I’d built had crumbled before my eyes in a matter of months, and now I was in a crisis of faith. I vividly remember the prayer I prayed then. It wasn’t a sinner’s prayer, and it wasn’t eloquent.

“Jesus, I’m done with the crap. I’m finished. If you want me to go to Des Moines and make hamburgers for a living, I’ll pack up our stuff tomorrow and leave. I’m fine with that,” I prayed. “I’m going to believe that you’re nearby and that you can seize me before I hit the bottom. If you don’t, I’m dead. I believe my heart will die, and I fear it will be the last time I care about anything.”

God showed up for me that night, and began to whisper truth into my life. And then one night I received a bona fide directive from the Lord, an instruction to do something I would never, ever have done on my own: “I want you to podcast the Bible.”

Earlier that year I had started to read the Bible every day. My friend Brad and I were traveling so much for work that I had gotten into the habit of reading it aloud to him in the car. I wasn’t reading the Bible to gain deep insights into the mystical regions of the soul or to solve theological quandaries. I was just reading it for what it said, and often it said something that got stuck in a corner of my mind and loitered there for days. Stuff like, “The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8 MSG). This was my life right there on the page, echoing prophetically over a couple millennia. It not only contextualized what I’d been experiencing; it gave me a north star and a measure of hope that I couldn’t rationalize but I couldn’t deny either.

So I obeyed God’s direction and began to read a portion of the Bible every day. When I completed my first full revolution through the Bible, I recall looking in the mirror and realizing that I didn’t see anything the same. I had been unwittingly transformed from the inside out, and I looked at just about everything through different eyes.

My friendship with the Bible has taken me the scenic route from who I was to who I was created to be. My path began with an act of obedience to read the Bible every day, and it wound its way almost backward to the beginning, forcing me to deal with the stresses and compulsions of trying to carve out an identity that was mine alone with God relegated to a back-up plan. It took me back to the wounds that life can bring and invited me to compare what they were saying about me with what God was declaring over me.

It can do the same for you.

We hope you’ll consider committing to a Bible reading plan in 2015. Regardless, you can read more of Brian’s writing in Passages, or follow his work at Daily Audio Bible. You can keep up with him each day at his blog, Twitter feed, or Facebook or G+ pages.

The Light Shines in the Darkness (The Christmas Story)

Botticelli_NativityMerry Christmas from your friends at Bible Gateway! Wherever you are and whatever circumstances you face, we hope that you’ll find comfort and hope in the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who came to restore our relationship with God.

If you haven’t ever read the Christmas story, or if you haven’t read it in a while, take a minute this morning to read the short account that lies at the heart of Christmas. Here it is:


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

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth 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 heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Who Was Where at the First Christmas

Chances are you’ll be reading or hearing the Christmas story in the next 24 hours! As a companion to your reading, here’s a timeline that shows where the myriad characters of the Christmas story were during the big event (click on the image below to enlarge):

Christmas Story timeline visualization

(Also available: high-resolution image and PDF.)

This visualization traces the Christmas story as told in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, showing you who is with whom throughout the story. The references in the visualization let you explore the text yourself.

Each line represents a person, and the narrative unfolds as you follow from left to right, starting with Gabriel appearing to Zechariah and ending with the return to Nazareth of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

The following detail shows the most-famous part of the story:

A detail of the Christmas story timeline focuses on the birth of Jesus.

In this part of the story, Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem and find no room in the inn, so Jesus is born in a stable. Angels appear to nearby shepherds, who seek the newborn child and then depart, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

This visualization is a companion to our Holy Week Timeline, which takes a similar visual approach to the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Hanukkah: Remembering the Second Temple

Hanukkah1Most Christians think of today as Christmas Eve—which, of course, it is. But tonight, Jews are the world will celebrate the final hours of Hanukkah, an eight-day commemoration of the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem thousands of years ago.

Hanukkah is commonly associated with the distinctive nine-branched menorah, as well as with trappings like the dreidel game; and because of its timing on the calendar, it is sometimes subsumed into the Christmas season in the minds of Christians who might otherwise be more interested in Hanukkah’s unique historical roots. The story behind Hanukkah is unrelated to the Nativity, but because it remembers an important event in Jewish (and, indirectly, Christian) history, it’s worth Christian consideration.

Hanukkah commemorates the Jewish revolt against oppressive Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who attempted to outlaw the practice of Judaism and require the worship of pagan deities. This story is as close as the nearest Bible, provided that your Bible includes the apocryphal books (which are not considered part of the biblical canon by all Christians). You can read about the events that inspired Hanukkah in 1 and 2 Maccabees. Here’s an excerpt from 1 Maccabees describing the persecution of Jews under Antiochus:

Two years later, to collect tribute from the Judean cities, King Antiochus sent his chief officer, who came to Jerusalem with a large army. The agent spoke peaceably and the Jews believed him, but he was deceitful. Without warning, he attacked the city, dealt it a brutal blow, and killed many Israelites. He plundered the city. He set fires within it, destroyed its houses, and tore down its protective walls. His forces took women and children as prisoners and seized livestock. After all of this, the agent’s forces fortified David’s City with a very strong wall and powerful towers, and it became their fortress. They stationed sinful, immoral people there, and these soldiers held down their position. They stocked up with weapons and food, collected the spoils of Jerusalem, and stored them there. They were a great menace.

They ambushed the sanctuary.
They were an evil opponent of Israel
at all times.
Its inhabitants shed innocent blood
all around the sanctuary,
and they even polluted
the sanctuary itself.
Because of them,
those who lived in Jerusalem fled.
The city became
a dwelling place for strangers.
She was like a stranger to her offspring,
and her children abandoned her.
Her sanctuary was as barren as a desert.
Her feasts turned into mourning,
her sabbaths into shame,
her honor into contempt.
Her dishonor became as great
as her glory had been.
Her joy turned into sadness. — 1 Maccabees 1:29-40 (Common English Bible)

Start reading the full story from the beginning here.

If you’re like many Christians, you’ve been (quite reasonably) hearing and reading a lot about the birth of Christ this Christmas season. But this year, you might find it rewarding to take a few minutes to read a story that powerfully shaped Jewish history and theology in the centuries before Christ.

Bible Discovery in 2015

howtounderstandthebible


We’re going to resume the weekly readings in “How to Understand the Bible” week after next, after the Christmas and New Year’s holiday.

Perhaps you are thinking now about how you might systematically read the Bible next year. Bible Gateway offers different Bible reading plans. Andy Rau describes them here.

In the new year I am going to be sending out some of my own discoveries in my personal Bible reading. If you’d like to receive these discovery notes (two to four times a month) I’d invite you to sign up here.

My “Bible Discovery” notes will be thoughts on specific passages I am reading, and will be very brief. I really think one of the best things we can do for each other is to share our discoveries.

I do hope you will have a blessed Christmas, wherever you live in the world. Remember God’s grace to us in his living word (Scripture), and in the word made flesh (Jesus Christ). God is with us! We are not alone!

P.S. Besides my “Bible discovery notes” I’ll also inform you of new resources for spiritual growth. Just sign up here.


Mel Lawrenz is Director of The Brook Network and creator of The Influence Project. He’s the author of thirteen books, most recently Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership.

Read the Bible at Your Own Pace with Bible Gateway’s New, Improved Bible Reading Plans

Have you thought about reading through part or all of the Bible in 2015? The New Year is an excellent time to start spending time in the Bible—and we’ve completely revamped Bible Gateway’s Bible reading plans to make it easier than ever!

Our new Reading Plan page has been completely redesigned and stocked with new features, all aimed at making it as easy as possible to incorporate Bible reading into your daily routine. Here’s what you can do at our new reading plan page:

  • Choose from over a dozen different Bible reading plans, from year-long plans to short, thematically-focused ones.
  • Easily track your reading progress.
  • Start, pause, restart, or end a reading plan at any time.
  • View and print out monthly lists of your Bible readings.
  • Receive a daily email reminder with a link to the current reading (coming soon).

Most of these advanced features require that you be logged into your Bible Gateway account. (If you haven’t yet created a free Bible Gateway account, here’s how to do so—it will only take you a moment.)

Regular Bible reading is an important, immensely rewarding activity. Whether you’ve never cracked open a Bible before or have read through it dozens or times, we think you’ll find that time spent reading God’s Word makes a dramatic difference in your everyday life. Our Bible reading plans vary widely in pace and intensity, so whether you’ve only got time for a single Bible verse each day or want to challenge yourself with a much heftier reading commitment, there’s a plan for you. And if you do start a plan and fall behind, our new reading plan management makes it easy to restart or get quickly caught up.

So, choose a reading plan and get ready for the incredible journey of reading through the Bible, one day at a time!

The Wayfinding Bible: An Interview with Jeannette Taylor

Jeannette TaylorWhen we find ourselves in unfamiliar surroundings, we tend to look for a helpful map or visual representation that tells us “You Are Here” and offers an over-arching context that guides us on our way. That’s the premise behind The Wayfinding Bible (Tyndale House Publishers, 2013).

It’s the first study Bible to incorporate the science of wayfinding (orientation, route decision, route monitoring, and destination recognition) to help readers easily navigate the big picture of God’s Word.

Printed in full-color, The Wayfinding Bible (website) (Facebook page) was selected as a finalist for the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s 2014 Christian Book Award®.

Bible Gateway interviewed its co-editor, Jeannette Taylor.

Click to buy your copy of The Wayfinding Bible in the Bible Gateway Store

What need among Bible readers prompted your creation of The Wayfinding Bible?

Jeannette Taylor: Since my start in the Christian publishing industry in 1984, I’ve had the wonderful privilege and responsibility of researching consumer wants and needs regarding Bibles. Over the years I noticed a clear pattern when consumers were asked about obstacles to Bible reading. After “lack of time” (the reason that inevitably comes up first), the most common obstacles are: “the Bible is so big, I get lost/discouraged trying to get through it”, “I don’t know where to start”, “It’s hard to follow the storyline of the Bible—it’s not written in chronological order”, and “I’m afraid of getting bogged down in laws and genealogies and other boring passages.”

Despite the hundreds of Bibles available for consumers, these frustrations remained. The reality that many Christians were unsure how they could most successfully read God’s Word led to the idea of creating a Bible that featured reading routes of varying lengths and complexity.

How did you come to use the science of wayfinding as you developed this Bible?

Jeannette Taylor: Honestly, the wayfinding concept was a direct revelation from God. Here’s the unvarnished story. While I had a clear understanding of the needs of frustrated Bible readers and had come up with the idea of routes through Scripture, I was stuck on how best to design this Bible to ensure it was easy and effective to use. One afternoon, while I was riding my bike and puzzling through the Bible details, the word “wayfinding” popped into my head. I have no explanation other than to say that God put it there. With a basic understanding that wayfinding was connected with traveling and staying on track, by the end of the bike ride I had roughed out the general layout of this Bible: three routes—Flyover, Direct, and Scenic; helpful features such as Historical Markers and Scenic Overlooks; and explanatory “Getting Your Bearing” articles at key turning points in the Bible.

I embarked on an in-depth study of the science of wayfinding and discovered many useful connections between wayfinding and Bible reading.

Describe “wayfinding” in general and its importance in everyday life.

Jeannette Taylor: A simple definition of wayfinding is: helping people navigate complex built environments. In life we all encounter many complex built environments: hospitals, airports, college campuses, large cities, etc. To help people find their way in those confusing locations, architects use wayfinding signs. Directional signs, maps with “you are here” arrows, route markers, and marked paths are all wayfinding tools developed to ensure people stay on track.

The Bible is its own complex built environment. It includes 66 books of various lengths and types and styles. Those 66 books are not organized chronologically. It was written thousands of years ago in cultures very different from ours today. As Pastor Wade Butler explains:

Most people who attempt to read the Bible have never been exposed to a book like it. It is not arranged like any other. It was collected according to literature type and not according to chronology. I am convinced that this is the greatest hurdle [to Bible reading] of them all.

Describe the goals of The Wayfinding Bible and how its formatting and features accomplish that goal.

Jeannette Taylor: The core goals of The Wayfinding Bible are to encourage people to start reading the Bible, to keep reading the Bible and, by doing so, to draw closer to God. The foundation verses of The Wayfinding Bible express this clearly:

“Show me the right path, O Lord;
      point out the road for me to follow.
Lead me by your truth and teach me,
      for you are the God who saves me.
      All day long I put my hope in you.”
         Ps. 25:4-5 NLT

To encourage reading and keep people on track, we developed three reading routes through the Bible—Flyover, Direct, Scenic—and we designed a fun and easy-to-use graphic tool so people can stay on their chosen route. Colored route lines run across the top of Bible pages. Readers simply select their desired reading route, then follow the route line from one reading to the next.

The three paths of discovery in the Bible look almost like a subway map. Explain what they are.

Jeannette Taylor: The three routes in this Bible—Flyover, Direct or Scenic—are identified by color lines that run across the top of the Bible pages. This design was actually modeled on wayfinding signs like subway or bus route maps. Just as a subway rider uses route line signage to ensure they reach their destination, Wayfinding Bible readers simply choose their preferred route and follow the color line to complete their reading track from Genesis to Revelation.

Why is the New Living Translation (NLT) a good match for this Bible?

Jeannette Taylor: The goal of the translators of the New Living Translation was to present the message of the original texts of Scripture in clear, contemporary English. They translated the Bible texts as simply and literally as possible. The result is a great Bible for reading. And since the goal of The Wayfinding Bible is to encourage people to read—and to want to keep reading—the Bible, the NLT is the perfect match for The Wayfinding Bible.

What logistical planning was necessary to create this Bible from idea to store shelf?

Jeannette Taylor: The simplicity of many easy-to-use tools is a result of significant and complex planning and engineering. This is certainly the case for The Wayfinding Bible. In order to make using The Wayfinding Bible easy and intuitive, the routes had to be carefully planned and combined with visual tools that are helpful and logically located. Making this happen required the combined skill and experience of Doris Rikkers, who mapped out the routes and wrote the notes, and Tyndale’s design and typesetting team.

What book of the Bible was the most challenging to visualize in the wayfinding style?

Jeannette Taylor: The shorter books of the Bible were the most challenging to lay out. We had to make sure that the combination of notes and sometimes less than two pages of Bible text all worked together to be visually appealing. For instance, we had to combine 2 and 3 John into one reading in order to make the design work.

How are readers of this Bible reacting to it?

Jeannette Taylor: The response from readers to The Wayfinding Bible has been very positive. One reader posted the following review for The Wayfinding Bible online:

This Bible is such a blessing! I am literally drawn to it and am excited about the next reading. My past experiences with other Bibles always left me frustrated because I was lost, and had a hard time understanding what was presented to me. This Bible is easy to follow, and I LOVE the fact that I can choose which route I want to take. For the first time in my life, I KNOW that I will finally be able to finish reading the entire Bible! If you have ever been frustrated, confused or overwhelmed by reading the Bible, this is for you!

How will this Bible help stem what some are calling the crisis of Bible illiteracy in the church?

Jeannette Taylor: Studies have shown that millions of adults want to read the Bible but get lost in the Bible’s complexity and quit. The Wayfinding Bible encourages the reader to keep going because the reading routes follow the Bible narrative chronologically and people are essentially reading God’s story. As with any good story, the reader wants to know what’s going to happen next. And after all, the Bible is the greatest story of all.

Bio: Jeannette Taylor began working in the Bible publishing industry in 1984. Hired as Zondervan’s first market research analyst, she was appointed general manager of the Bible division in 1988. She was instrumental in the creation, development and launch of multiple bestselling Bibles including the NIV Study Bible, The Student Bible, The Adventure Bible, The Teen Study Bible, The Women’s Devotional Bible, and The Quest Study Bible.

Named vice-president of marketing for the Zondervan Corporation in 1992, Jeannette directed all marketing functions for the publishing house. After the birth of her first son in 1993, she left Zondervan and started her own marketing/market research consulting firm, JET Marketing. In 2010, Jeannette co-founded Somersault (@smrsault), a Christian publishing consulting firm, with four other partners. In addition to her consulting businesses, Jeannette is an adjunct professor at Cornerstone University, where she teaches marketing at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Jeannette lives with her husband and two sons in West Michigan.

How We Read the Bible: Bible Gateway’s 2014 Year in Review

Bible Gateway has published its 2014 Year in Review. Based on over 1.5 billion pageviews and over 150 million unique visitors to Bible Gateway from December 2013 through November 2014, the data we’ve gathered provides a glimpse at how people engaged with the Bible in 2014.

You can view our findings here. Our Year in Review draws on data from English- and Spanish-language Bible readers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, and includes:

  • A breakdown of the popularity of each chapter in the Bible.
  • A chart showing the “paths” people took through the Bible.
  • Lists of the most popular Bible verses and keyword searches.
  • A chart showing how the popularity of certain keyword searches rises and falls throughout the year.

A chart showing the relative popularity of every chapter in the Bible.

That’s a lot of data to take in, but diving into the details illuminates some interesting things about the ways people approach and read the Bible. What are some of the key findings?

1. People really do read the Bible throughout the year.

The Bible isn’t always an easy text to read—especially if you start at the beginning and try to read it straight through—and it’s common for attempts to read through the entire Bible to peter out within a month or two. However, our findings show that a significant core of Bible readers stick with their Bible reading all the way through the year, something that shows up clearly in our chart of popular verses by day.

2. The New Testament is read much more than the Old Testament.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the New Testament—widely considered more accessible for modern Bible readers than the Old Testament—is read much more than the Old (the NT is one-third the size of the Old Testament). That said, specific sections of the Old Testament remain very popular; over 30% of Old Testament pageviews are in Psalms and Proverbs, two books known for their poetry and wisdom. The opening chapters of Genesis, best known for the Bible’s creation story, made up another popular section this year. Our general fascination with the creation story can explain that, but high profile discussions about creationism and evolution in 2014—such as the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate in February no doubt played a part as well.

3. The most popular Bible search terms remain consistent from year to year…

The keywords and verses people looked up in the Bible this year remain very consistent from year to year (see our 2013 and 2012 data). And those keywords are strikingly personal—faith, peace, marriage, children, joy, hope, grace, and similar words fill the list of popular English keywords. Notably, the word “love” was the top search term for 200 days out of the year. And that’s broadly true for Spanish Bible readers, as well; there’s a great deal of overlap in the top keywords in Spanish and English.

There’s a personal and devotional sense to many of these search terms, which may echo the Bible in American Life Report’s findings that most Bible readers look to Scripture to find answers to personal challenges and big questions in their lives, rather than for political or “culture war” purposes.

Similarly, the most popular Bible verses in 2014 are much the same as they have been in previous years. The most popular verses (John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11, Philippians 4:13, and others) overwhelmingly offer messages of comfort, reassurance, and encouragement.

4. …but major world events do affect what people look for in the Bible.

People look for different things in the Bible depending on what’s going on in the world around them. This is most obvious in the seasonal surge of searches related to religious holidays like Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost—as well as big but not especially religious holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

But holidays aren’t the only events that have an observable impact on Bible reading. “Blood moon” is hardly a common Bible search term, but searches for it spiked in April and October when the lunar tetrads were in the news. Searches for “Noah” jumped in the spring, when Darren Aronofsky’s Bible blockbuster arrived on the big screen (with a similar spike around the movie’s DVD release date). On the movie’s opening weekend, visits to the Noah story in Genesis 6-9 at Bible Gateway saw a 223% increase over the previous weekend. Our Year in Review page features an interactive chart where you can see for yourself how several dozen different keywords trended throughout the year.

What does it all mean?

There’s much more to be gleaned from the data, and we invite you to look through our Year in Review findings to see what jumps out at you. Considering this data, we’re gratified again to see how important the Bible is to people on an everyday, practical basis.

“The Bible, written thousands of years ago, remains amazingly relevant today to people the world over,” notes Rachel Barach, Bible Gateway’s general manager. “We continually search its pages for knowledge, wisdom, and understanding—especially during seasons of heightened social activity. Bible reading is part of everyday life for millions of people, and what they read there is remarkably personal and practical. Our Bible reading also reflects our efforts to spiritually process world news and events: the number of people searching for the Bible’s words about ‘peace,’ for example, remained high all throughout a year marked by disturbing and difficult to understand outbreaks of violence. ‘Blood moon’ was a top Bible search in April and October when lunar eclipses were in the news. And ‘Noah’ was Bible Gateway’s top search when Noah was being hotly discussed by film critics and in churches around America. People today continue to turn to the Bible for insight into life’s questions, big and small, and we are honored that people use Bible Gateway every day to search, read, and listen to the Bible as it relates to their lives.”

The Logos Became Sarx

A guest post by Kent Dobson, general editor of the NIV First-Century Study Bible.

[Also see our blogpost, Reading the Bible with Eastern Eyes: An Interview with Kent Dobson]

Advent is a strange time of year. We look forward to the Christmas, the coming of Christ, and then when we get to Christmas, we remember what happened at Bethlehem. What is the point of this time of year? Are we just to remember what happened? Look back and say, “wish we could have been there”?

This time of year we keep reminding one another that the real meaning of Christmas is not found at the mall. Then we go the mall anyway. We go to Walmart and then tweet about keeping Christ in Christmas. It’s seems like we’re unsure of how to fit Jesus into all this mess.

When John begins his Gospel, he starts in a cosmic place, with the creation of all that is, saying the logos (word) was God and brought the world into being (see John 1:1). From a Jewish point of view, the logos might have been understood as the divine wisdom of God, the word of God, even possibly the torah, or law, of God. In other words, wisdom (the wisdom of God) brought the world into being; God’s word ordered all that is. This perspective was not unique to John.

From a Greek point of view, John was swimming in philosophical and poetic waters. Logos was understood to the Greeks as something like reason, logic, order, wisdom, meaning, and intelligence. Plato would have agreed that the logos brought all that is into being. Then he may have yawned after the first line and stopped reading.

But John is just getting warmed up. His argument takes a most radical and unexpected turn. He says the logos became sarx, or flesh (see John 1:14). Sarx was a crude term, a crass way of referring to the body. John was saying that the logos, the divine wisdom, the word, reason, et al, became gritty and grimy and human. John said the person, the living flesh of a man named Jesus, has something to do with the divine order that holds all things together.

John is saying clearly that we cannot separate the divine from the physical, the spiritual from the messy. The belief in this type of separation, known as Gnosticism in the ancient world, was starting to dominate certain Christian circles in John’s day. This concept of separation still creeps up in our language and practice today. It’s understandable why. Even today we wonder why God would want anything to do with the messy world we inhabit.

But God does inhabit the mess. We may prefer a pretty little manger scene, pristine and glowing, with wise men dressed in costumes, and college guys with pathetic beards, to an actual stinking barn. But that’s not how the story goes. And we may not like the story as it is because it’s a messy story with a pregnant teenager, a dirty barn and isolation and exclusion. We would like the story cleaner. We would like God somewhere else.

It seems to me that we need more sarx. We need to know that God is with us. We need more Good News and light in the messiness of this time of year. It is not possible to always remain before the pristine manger scene in our cultural imaginations. It’s not possible to attend the church pageant and convince ourselves that we kept Christ in Christmas. We are likely to go to the pageant and yell at our kids all the way home. Life is a mess. But Christ entered the mess. That’s the power of the Good News.

And if that’s not enough, Paul takes it one step further saying, “you are the body of Christ.” Something of the sarx, the “fleshiness” of Christ, is still walking around in the body of the church.

Maybe we need more sarx, more incarnation, more word becoming flesh—at Walmart, in the car, at the pageant, at the staff party, in the mess.

May you be a little more light in this world.

May you be a little more Christ in this world.

May something of the logos of God made sarx, now living again in the body of Christ be embodied your home, in your family, at the mall, in church, in all, as Christ is in all.

The way to keep Christ in Christmas is to be the body of Christ right now.

Merry, messy Christmas.


firstcenturybibleBy Kent Dobson, General Editor of the NIV First-Century Study Bible.

The new NIV First Century Study Bible from Zondervan allows you to explore scripture through the eyes of a first-century disciple. It includes full-color photographs and illustrations, ancient life depictions, Greek and Hebrew word studies, Jewish and Christian interpretations, and current cultural background details, all which reveal that the Bible is a living book. Learn more at www.firstcenturystudybible.com.