A New Bible, A New Voice, A New Compass

A couple of weeks ago I received a new bible from the publishers Thomas Nelson. It is the Compass Study Bible which uses The Voice translation. This is a translation I was not familiar with and I am thoroughly enjoying its contemporary language and “contextual equivalence” translation – which means it seeks to convey the original language accurately while rendering the literary structures and character of a text in readable and meaningful contemporary language.

The Compass edition provides interesting In-text notes that include cultural, historical, theological and devotional thoughts as well as introductions to each book and topical guides to each day of the year. However the bias of some of the comments did concern me a little.  like this note on 1 Corinthians 10 :In the midst of radical economic and technological advances, some within the church are embracing new or contemporary practices and regarding them as somehow superior to ancient and historic practices. Maybe I am a little sensitive here as I love to experiment and encourage others to try new practices, that may be more contextually appropriate for their lifestyles and for our contemporary culture. I don’t regard these as superior to ancient practices but do think this type of expression is important.

The format in The Compass is an engaging narrative approach which took me a while to get used to after so many years of reading in the usual text format but I am now thoroughly enjoying the change and plan to use this new bible for the next couple of years. I think it would provide a great introduction for young Christians or for those who find the usual bible format a little overwhelming.

I appreciate the “God’s Promises guide at the beginning of the book, and the 40 day retreat with Jesus (a little like lectio divina for 40 days) but was disappointed with the reading plan for every day of the year. All it does is go through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in day sized bites. I suppose I have been spoiled by the richness of the daily lectionary readings which give Old and New Testament readings each day in keeping with the liturgical season. I have learned so much about the relationship between the Old and New Testament stories in this way, gaining fresh insights about what Jesus meant as I read the OT scriptures he was quoting.

This bible is currently only available through Walmart which also disappoints me, but I still think it is worth a look for anyone who wants to try a new contemporary translation or a new approach to bible study.

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Reading the Scriptures – How Do We Form Community Together

Reading the bible together with all God's community

Reading the bible together with all God's community

Tom and I go to an Episcopal church.  Part of what I love about the liturgy we read each Sunday is the rich experience of reading scripture together, knowing that others around the world are reading and studying the same scriptures.

In this last post in the series Reading the Scriptures – How, When and Why?  I will focus on reading the scriptures as a way to build community.  One upon a time reading the scriptures was the focus of community worship.  Before the advent of the printing press, in a world where many people could read, an entire village would gather each week to hear the priest read and expound the scriptures.  Celtic Christians in the 3rd to 7th centuries set up high crosses as teaching stations.  These crosses were often decorated with bible characters which formed the focal point for the sharing of biblical stories.  The beautiful stained glass windows of the Gothic cathedrals served the same function.  Whole communities gathered together to hear, to see and to learn.

The printing press changed all that.  Suddenly people could possess their own copies of scriptures and they no longer needed their community to help them read the word of God.  Not surprisingly, for many of us today, reading the scriptures is an individual pursuit.  We all have our own bibles, commentaries and now even internet access to websites that read the scriptures for us. We no longer need others to help us delve into the word of God and don’t realize how easily we can be led astray by our own often self centred interpretations.

Reading and studying the bible as a community is I feel as essential a part of our Christian discipleship as reading it alone is.  And I would go further and say that we need to study the word of God together with as diverse a group of God’s worldwide community as possible. I once heard Biblical statesman John Stott say: The answers we get depend on the questions we ask. People from other cultures, other faith traditions and other social groups force us to ask new questions about the bible and our interpretation of us.  Unless we read the bible in the context of the broader community our understanding will be limited and our faith will stagnate.

The Jews love to argue – three Jews four opinions is an old proverb that sums up the Jewish Rabbis’ approach to studying the scriptures. The name Israel literally denotes one who “wrestles with God.”  Wrestling with God about issues of injustice, oppression, pain and suffering is meant to be a part of our biblical study. So how do we accomplish this?

  1. Put together a bible study group from as diverse a population as possible. If we only read the bible with like minded people we will never face the difficult questions that it poses for us.
  2. Read commentaries and theological viewpoints from outside your culture and faith tradition.  If it is not a possibility for you to read the bible together with a diverse group of followers of Jesus, then acquire commentaries that challenge your interpretation and stretch your thinking.  Read the works of theologians from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America as well as those with a more traditional western viewpoint.  We are formed by God to be a part of community and it is only as we listen together in community that we grow into the people God intends us to be.
  3. Listen to all the voices within a community. I have learned much from my Quaker friends who believe that they should not move forward in a decision until all voices have been heard from and all opinions weighed. Sometimes God speaks through the seemingly most insignificant member of a community.  I think that this is a great principle to apply to our bible reading. Listening to the many voices through whom God speaks should be an essential part of our Christian faith.
  4. Ask questions that challenge the status quo. I have read that Jewish rabbis believe that argument is the highest form of discourse.  If there is not dissension then there is something lacking in a discussion.  In fact if in a discussion there was no disagreement then someone was elected to present that dissenting viewpoint.

Reading the Scriptures – Do We Know How To Study?

Icon of Christ

Christ the word who gives life to all creation

Today’s post in the series  Reading the Scriptures – How, When and Why?  focuses on how to study the scriptures.

When I first became a Christian in Australia, I was introduced to Scripture Union and the wonderful resources they make available for scripture study.  I loved the encouragement they gave me to read through the whole Bible over a three year period.  Then I was introduced to J Sidlow Baxter’s Explore the Book  a wonderful, single volume overview of each book of the Bible that greatly enriched my understanding of the Biblical story.  Over the years I have participated in a variety of Bible studies, read numerous commentaries and listened to innumerable lectures expounding the scriptures but I will always be grateful to that initial prompting I received to read every book of the Bible.   I encounter a number of Christians who have never read huge portions of the scriptures.  They focus only on what they enjoy reading and that often gives a very distorted view of what God is saying

So here are my recommendations:

  1. Read through the entire Bible at least once ever five years.  Do this in conjunction with a good overview book like Explore the Book (though I am sure that there are many other more recent ones available).  Alternatively attend a class that provides this overview.
  2. Enter into a regular Bible reading discipline that integrates Old and New Testament readings.  Over the last few years Tom and I have read the daily readings from the Book of Common prayer.  What I most enjoy is the way that they link the gospel stories to the historic passages from the Old Testament that Jesus referred to and his audiences knew well.  This juxtaposition has provided many aha! moments for me and have given me a deeper understanding of the gospel story.  You can download the entire year’s readings here
  3. Do in depth studies of at least one book a year in conjunction with a good commentary.  I recently received Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes by Kenneth E Bailey, from IVP and am really looking forward to getting into this in depth “uncommon” study of 1 Corinthians.  I not only like to get into a good commentary, I like to explore ones like this that stretch my understanding and so expand and enrich my faith
  4. Study together with friends.  Join or form an inductive bible study group.  The bible is not meant to be studied alone.  It is a book for reading aloud, for savouring together, and for discussing together how to apply what you have learned.
  5. Put feet on your study.  What we read and study will take up residence in our minds alone if we do not apply what we are learning to our daily lives.  Mark Scandrette’s book Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love is a great example of a book that helps us do that
The Bible is a rich and enduring font of knowledge that never runs dry.  We should enter its study with expectant hearts believe that God will speak – challenging us, strengthening us, comforting us and revealing more of who God is, and who God intends us to be.  So I hope that those of you who are not studying the bible regularly will take up this challenge and enter more deeply into the word of God.

Reading the Scriptures – What Do We Get Out of It?

Reading the scriptures - many ways to stir our hearts

Reading the scriptures - many ways to stir our hearts

In this second post in the series Reading the Scriptures – How, When and Why?  I will focus on different methods for studying the scriptures – not specifically different techniques but rather different attitudes of heart.

Reading the scriptures – we all say it is a priority in our Christian lives but few of us take the time or put in the effort to make it really effective.  We often read the scriptures without a clear sense of what we plan to get out of it.  We want scripture on the go for life in a whirl people. For some it has become rote obedience rather than God seeking desire and we rarely evaluate our efforts so have a false sense of how effective they are.  No wonder many of us slip away from the faith when we face trials and temptations that undermine our rather shallow foundations.

So my challenge to all of us today is to take time to evaluate our use of the scriptures.

  1. How much time and energy do you give to reading the scriptures on a daily or weekly basis.  Do you hunger for its “food” in the same way that you hunger for physical food.
  2. Do you really reverence the Bible as the living word of God or do you read it as an intellectual exercise?
  3. Do you read the scriptures as a way to transform your life or do you see them as a way to justify your life as it is?
  4. Do you memorize scripture so that specific come to mind when you are in a place of spiritual or emotional crisis?

There are many ways to read the scriptures from inductive bible study to lectio divina. Often the method we use depends on our faith tradition.  Some churches love inductive, formative studies that dig into the theological meaning of the words. Others prefer the more informal intuitive methods.  No matter which method we use, what we get out of reading the scriptures depends on our attitude of heart and the purpose, conscious or unconscious, with which we study and this is primarily what I want to focus on here. In the next few days I will explore several methods possible approaches to Biblical study that I have been thinking about.  These include:

  1. The listening mode
  2. The study mode
  3. The strengthening mode
  4. The equipping mode
  5. The community forming mode
If there is another very distinct reason for which you read the scriptures that you would like to share please do not hesitate to contact me about contributing a guest post.  We are all learners in the ways of God and have much to contribute to each other’s understanding of God and of the scriptures.