The Joy of Exegeting the Psalms

Ask most high school students what kind of literature the enjoy the least, they’ll likely say poetry. Its symbolism and patterns often create a sense of tedium for many readers. Of course, poetry is a beautiful form of writing, and as I say to my own students when we memorize poetry throughout the school year, appreciating the mastery of a single word can bring joy and satisfaction far beyond  merely reading a poem.

I have noticed a tendency of Christians, myself included, to sometimes take the same perspective on the Psalms. Originally written in Hebrew, English translations of the Psalms appear in different forms and try to encapsulate the beauty of the original language in a number of ways. A helpful way to explore these Biblical songs and poems is through an exegetical study, clarifying some of the ways the Hebrew text stresses and highlights ideas and concepts. If, like me, you’re not a Semitic languages scholar, then a nice commentary is a good place to start.

Dr. Allen P. Ross has 9780825426667authored a three-volume set of exegetical commentaries on the Psalms for Kregel Academic. I have reviewed two other entries in the Kregel Exegetical Library (Exodus and I & II Chronicles), and was fortunate enough to get my hands on the final entry in Dr. Ross’s trilogy. While I do hope to eventually acquire the rest, examining Psalms 90-150 proved a great adventure in and of itself.

The format is simple, with substantial background and contextual information before each psalm that demonstrated the immense amount of study that has been spent on the poetic parts of Scripture. I will use Psalm 119 to detail some of the highlights of Ross’s work.

While it is the dominant psalm of the Biblical collection, Psalm 119 has cause some to despair over its apparent repetition of ideas and words. Ross, however, concludes that this is the result of a poor reading of the text. First, the Psalm should be seen as a literary work. In terms of dating, Psalm 119 seems to have been written prior to the Exile (461) and is written in such a way that a preacher could approach the text from various ways to preach through it either by stanza or theme or both (463). After drawing the background information together, Ross works through the Psalm using its acrostic format as the outline. Each section is translated, followed by a brief content summary and exegetical outline. This outline also serves as the main points for the commentary, which is delivered in an expository form making it easy for pastors to work through the content in small sections.

As a result, Ross gives a work that any Christian could pick and work through, while also being a wonderful aid to a pastor who wants to lead their congregation through the Psalms.

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Commenting on the Text(s)

9780825443404As a student of the Bible, it is difficult to have enough resources for study. And when it comes to studying the Biblical languages, the problem seems to multiply exponentially. There are so many options for studying Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic that an individual can be easy overwhelmed. Kregel Academic’s Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament is something different though. Rather than another Greek manuscript (of which editions are numerous) or an exegetical guide (which are sometimes redundant), this text is a commentary on the actual manuscripts.

Comfort’s work is to note accurately and thoroughly those pesky places in the texts of the Bible where variants create problems. Having recently completed 9 hours of Greek training, I can genuinely say I wish I had owned this book earlier. The notes on the variants or difficult to translate portions are outstanding. “Why are there brackets in my NASB copy of John 8?” Comfort’s Commentary delves into that. “So do other commentaries…” While it is true that you could pick up D.A. Carson’s tome in the Pillar series, you would have to wade through some dense prose and lengthy exposition to find the simply answer to the question. This Commentary cuts through such matters and takes you straight to challenging portion of the text with minimal critical notes. For pastors and students or Greek, I cannot imagine doing Bible study without this little tool.

The flipside of that benefit is that the average Christian probably has little need for this book. In a word, it is a specialized tool. If you are a preacher, or a student, or a motivated layman, then I cannot recommend this book enough. However, if those brackets in the text or those tiny footnotes don’t bother you, then a more traditional commentary is probably where I’d point you.

A Story You Need to Hear

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Have you heard of The Voice Bible? Arguably the most contemporary rendition of the Bible into English in the last hundred years, I think it is safe to say that not since the KJV was first published, and NRSV and NASB translations were put together, has a translation of the Bible made such efforts to be both colloquially understandable while remaining theologically consistent.

That being said, The Story of the Voice is a detailed account of the efforts that went into this amazing Bible translation. It sets out to offer accountability for those who have dared to translate the word of God, and attempts to allay concerns over “liberal” versus “conservative” translations. The book is both a defense and a diary, which is undoubtedly part of its beauty. The authors, all three people who were involved in the translation process, weave the origins of the project, the process and the personality of the individuals involved into a narrative account of a group of people who wanted to take God’s Word and offer it to the world in a beautiful and refreshing way. One of Seay’s earliest comments in this process captures the idea well:

Stories that were told to emerging generations of God’s goodness by their grandparents and tribal leaders were later recorded and assembled to form the Christian scriptures. Too often the passion, grit, humor, and beauty has been lost in the translation process. [The Voice] seeks to recapture what was lost… (p. 9).

One of the things that has drawn me to this project, and is seen clearly in The Story of the Voice is that no one is putting a translation down. The authors don’t belittle the KJV in order to make their point about a particular passage. Instead, they treat these forerunners with respect and then offer solid reasoning as to why they thought it was time for a change. A good picture of this is seen in the section about picking a title. They do a direct comparison of various renditions of John 1:1, and then offer a small NASB concordance to demonstrate the variety of the Greek word logos (which is ultimately where they derived their title from).

The chapter that I appreciated the most was “The Translation Philosophy,” which deals with the claim that the translators had taken “Christ” out of the Bible. This is one of the most common complaints I’ve seen, but I think Capes and Seay offer a solid rationale behind their decision to translate “Christ” into English, rather than treat it as a last name. The book rightly asserts that “no single English word or phrase captures the richness of the term Messiah or Christos,” (p. 58).While it did take me some initial getting used to, reading that Jesus is “the Anointed One” or “the Liberating King” has become second nature. Throughout the book, the authors gladly take criticism, and answer it as best they can.

A humble book, is size and tone, The Story of the Voice is easily one of the most enjoyable reads I have had in a long time. It challenged my preconceptions and slayed the idols of tradition I have inadvertently clung to. Not only do I regularly recommend that people give The Voice Bible a try, but now I will be suggesting this one as well. In fact, if you’re a skeptic, start here. The Story of the Voice will sharpen your mind and melt your heart.

Come. Journey with us.

21 Days of the Voice

I spent the last 21 days working through a reading plan found here. Similar to other reading plans, such as this one or one found in the Book of Common Prayer, selections of Scripture are presented in a connected fashion helping the reader to engage with the Word of God. This is especially helpful to someone who doesn’t know where to start in this great big book called the Bible, and to people like me as well, who are in need of something outside of the standard mold.voice_full

The Voice is something different. To clarify, it is not, however, something new. Translations have abounded for the last century, and there have been abundant translations prior to the Bible wars of the 20th century. Thomas Nelson’s newest rendering of the Bible is truly something to invest your time and money in (but if money is tight, you can read it for free online). David Capes, one of the main scholars who worked on The Voice, spends a good amount of time blogging about how this Bible came about. In order for me to explain why this 21-day journey was so wonderful, allow me to share a little of Capes’ perspective:

I remember a conversation I had with a friend years ago.  He was lamenting the fact that modern Bible translations like the New King James Version and the New American Standard Version had dropped words like “Thee,” “Thou,” “Thine,” “art” (as in the Lord’s prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven . . . “) and “hast.”  These words were typical of the 16th and 17th centuries but have long since fallen out of use with most English-speaking people…Modern translations, he felt, had left behind the formal language of heaven (God’s language) preferring instead the mundane language of “this world.” The translation he loved sounded more “spiritual” to him than the newer ones, so he was against them, pure and simple.  Like many people, my friend had a deep emotional connection with the King James Version of the Bible based on all the years he spent in church and Sunday School…Translation is not about exchanging this Greek word for that English word or this Hebrew word for that English word.  Translation is not that easy. It involves knowing both the source and target languages well enough to be able to move back-and-forth between them.  It entails an understanding of culture—then and now—and recognizing how language is one of the key vehicles of culture.  Translation, I have come to understand, is not a science; it is an art…I’d be disappointed to learn that my friend had lost his deep, emotional connection with the KJV.  The KJV is a great, historic translation, even if it is no longer in our language.

One of the reasons I think The Voice resonates so clearly with me is the viewpoint that helped shape it. This new translation isn’t trying to be new; it’s trying to be true in a culture that has indoor plumbing and air conditioning units outside. But more than that: it is once again trying to put the Word of God into the language of the common people. This is why William Tyndale was burned at the stake, and why John Wycliffe was removed from his tomb in order to have his body destroyed. So Capes is in good company (not to mention he is occasionally called a heretic, just like Wycliffe and Tyndale before him).

That’s why the reading plans available at The Voice’s website are so wonderful. The 21 Day plan, which I completed today, immerses you in the text and guides you towards connecting the dots of God’s grand story. I’ve read the Bible before, from front to back, multiple times. And I love my New American Standard Bible (even if it is falling apart). But revisiting familiar passages in a refreshing language can breathe new life into what has become routine or mundane.

“What?! Reading Scripture is mundane? You pagan!” If that’s what you think of me, my apologies for falling short of your standard. But I’m being honest. Sometimes, I know the next word before it comes, and truthfully that can make me apathetic when reading. I become overly comfortable, and I parrot Scripture rather than absorbing it and applying it accordingly. The Voice has raised the banner for me again, inviting me to treat Scripture as something fresh.

Of course one day, I’ll acclimatize to this version too. I’m not advocating a “new = better” sort of equation where I change translations every couple of years so I don’t get “bored.” That misses the point entirely. Reading through this translation of the Bible over the last three weeks has reminded me of something: I love reading God’s Word. There used to be a time when I would just pick it up at any time of day and read. I treated it like a letter from a friend, and read it over any time I wanted to connect with my friend or be comforted by their sage advice. But after years of reading, and educating myself into certain habits of reading, the Bible had become less of a letter and more of a textbook. It’s not that God didn’t still speak to me through His Word, but I had to listen much harder to get past my questions about ancient culture and Greek idioms. But no more.

Whether I will permanently adopt The Voice as my new “letter” remains to be seen. The red, worn leather back NASB sitting upstairs holds a special place in my heart. But The Voice has reminded me why my heart inclines to my old Bible. And for that awakening, I will be grateful in the years to come.

The American Patriot’s Bible, KJV

_240_360_Book_588_coverThe American Patriot’s Bible (King James Version) by Thomas Nelson Publishers is an interesting and informative approach of blending modern cultural studies with a reading of God’s Word. Using America’s original Christian foundation as the guiding theme, indexes, maps and biographies can be found throughout. While the merging of American patriotism and studying God’s Word can be problematic, Dr. Richard G. Lee does an excellent job of putting the importance of Scripture first, and the reliance of America’s founders upon these Scriptures as a secondary concept.

This King James Version is setup in a traditional format, with succinct introductions to each book of the Bible. What has been added to this study Bible is the oft overlooked history of American Christianity, and the incredible role it has played in developing our culture. Lee does an excellent job of focusing on great leaders, regardless of race, gender or occupation, who have impacted America in the name of Jesus.

One of the most important aspects of this Bible, and perhaps the sole reason I would most recommend it, is the explanation of several Christian Principles that serve as lamp posts for the reader. As an educator who works at a Principle Approach school, the use of universal principles to explain the strength’s of America’s government, and the weaknesses of the direction it is heading in, is something that more Christians should connect with. Lee sums these ideas up beautifully in his “Call To Action,”

As believers in Jesus we have His call to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ to the world (Matt. 5:13-16). We must take seriously our responsibility to put God first, not only in our homes but also in our national affairs.

This sentiment rings true for so many Christians in America today. But for some, the divide between the sacred and the secular still proves to wide. The American Patriot’s Bible serves as an excellent stepping stone towards eliminating that divide, and gaining a greater understanding of America’s Christian Heritage.

A Tyndale Christmas

So Tyndale has this promotion going on in relation to thier NLT Study Bibles, and I thought it was worth sharing.

Starting on November 29th until December 24th at the New Living Translation Facebook page we’re giving away lots of great prizes and something free for you just for singing up.

By visiting the giveaway entry page (located on the NLT Facebook page, the link is under the profile picture) and entering your name and e-mail address you’ll be entered to win the following prizes:

  • One random person each day will win a Life Application Study Bible Family Pack (Guys Life Application Study Bible hc, Girls Life Application Study Bible hc, Student’s Life Application Study Bible hc, Life Application Study Bible hc, Life Application Study Bible Large Print hc).
  • One Random person each week will win an Apple iPad 2!

Everyone that signs up gets a free download copy of the Life Application Bible Study – Book of Luke!

The Tyndale Publishing Group always does amazing work, and thier NLT Bible is no exception. Even if you don’t win, I encourage you to check it out.

Is Biblical Illiteracy really the Church's Dirty Little Secret?

San Antonio, Texas, Pastor Randy Frazee says a recent study revealing how little Christians know about their own faith, let alone other faiths, is good news.

"It’s a good wake-up call for us. It brings to light one of the challenges for the contemporary Christian church," the senior minister of Oak Hills Church explained…

You can read more about Pastor Frazee’s response to the survey I posted about previously by going here.

But I need to state that I disagree with him. Perhaps he and I would fuss over word choice, but I think the recent survey showing that Christians know little about the Bible and the God who inspired it is a very bad thing. This isn’t a contemporary problem either. This is the very thing Luther and Tyndale tried to overcome. But clearly, the problem remains.

I also don’t think its any secret that Christians in America know little about their faith. It’s probably a worldwide epidemic, but I’m only familiar with the American strain. It’s embarrassing and heartbreaking, but not a secret.

This, of course, brings me back to opening a Bible school. It’s my hope to one day open a Bible school on the Emerald Coast of Florida, to serve as a place where laymen and women can devote themselves to a one year program of study that presents them with the Bible and encourages them to draw close to God.

I think we have to start with the basics, namely, Jesus the Christ. I think our Lord’s words provide a special clue to this:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)

Its important to note that He didn’t say “All authority has been given to My Words (or the Bible or the Scriptures or any other variant therein).” Authority has been given to Jesus in heaven and on earth, and without that authority the Bible is just another book. Learning about the Bible without encountering God is hollow. That’s the crux of a Bible school: Encountering God through His Word.

Is there really anything else?

Reasons Why

A repost from my family blog. Seemed appropriate for here too.


Why would anyone open a Bible school? Well, you can read about why such a place is important here. When it boils down to it, few Christians know what the Bible teaches. Many know what their pastor teaches, or what they heard from their parents. But they haven’t dug into the Truth for themselves.

What does the Bible say about Truth? How are Christians supposed to live in today’s society? What does Jesus have to do with all of this?

Of course, a school doesn’t promise to answer all of these questions. Neither do teachers and staff who believe that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” What they do promise is to provide the materials to search out the answers; to provide a place where people can devote time in their life to seeking Truth outside of the normal routine.

And in the process, some great relationships will be formed. Some friendships will end. But in the end, what the goal is ultimately, change will happen.

Perhaps that is a mission statement.