Getting Absorbed in the Beauty of Scripture: First Impressions of the ESV Six-Volume Reader’s Bible

Crossway Image.jpg
Image via Crossway

 

We who would read the Bible experience hindrances in our quest. I am interested especially in the competing values that create internal conflict, keeping us from Scripture reading. We do well to think through what other values we have that potentially undermine our goal of spending time reading the Bible.

Readers of this blog know how much I value reflection on and study of Scripture, down to the verse, word, and even ἰῶτα. I love reading Scripture atomistically. But I hope that kind of reading is always an accompaniment to (not replacement for) reading Scripture as a narrative, paying attention to its grand sweep. Reading Scripture slowly and word-by-word goes well with reading Scripture in big chunks.

Until recently I have underestimated the impact of chapter and verse divisions on my ability to engage Scripture fully. I have nothing against versification per se, but even the most casual Bible readers are likely to have a sense that those ways of marking the text are later additions and not present in the first manuscripts themselves.

Not that we can get back to some sort of pure, unadulterated “early church” experience of reading Scripture, but can we at least try to simulate the experience of original hearers.

An article by Ruth Graham in Slate recently reminded me of the advent of reader’s Bibles, which present the Bible in single-column, verse-less, novel-like format for more fluid reading.

Crossway has been kind to send the ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set for me to review. I’ll write more in the future, but for now I want to comment on my experience of reading Scripture with the ESV Reader’s Bible. I want to say just two things at the outset.

 

1. This Reader’s Bible is beautiful. The production and presentation of Scripture is unlike anything I’ve seen.

 

Behold:

 

 

 

 

The binding, layout, and font are all gorgeous. I don’t love the graphic surrounding “ESV” on the binding, but that’s a minor quibble.

 

2. This Bible more than any other has facilitated my being fully absorbed in the biblical text.

 

I’ve had inspiring and Spirit-filled reading experiences already (and I’m only up to Genesis 22). To be clear, the experience is due primarily to the power of Scripture and the Holy Spirit who inhabits it. No binding or font choice can bring that about. But this reader’s Bible removes what I didn’t realize were distractions to prolonged reading: verses, chapters, headings, study notes, cross-references, etc. I don’t even know which chapter of Genesis I’m on sometimes, and I don’t want to stop reading. That’s a win on the part of Crossway, and (especially) a shout-out to the power of Scripture.

Here’s the link to the Reader’s Bible page at Crossway (here on Amazon). It’s not cheap, but it’s also reasonably priced considering its value (and the immense value of the Bible itself). This fall there is also a paperback version coming out, available now through CBD.

In future posts I’ll write more about the ESV translation itself, the font and layout specifics, and more, but for now I wanted to share how valuable and formative it’s been for me to use this edition for reading Scripture and getting caught up in its beauty.

Did Abraham Lie (Again) When He Called Sarah His Half-Sister?

In both Genesis 12 and Genesis 20 a sojourning, scared, and self-preserving Abraham urges his wife Sarah to lie and say she is his sister.

Confronted by Abimelech about his lie (the second one), Abraham says,

I did it because I thought, There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. (Gen. 20:11)

Amazingly, Abraham goes on to say:

Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

At this point Abraham has been caught a second time in his lie. The truth of his marriage to Sarah has been revealed, and he is not going to be killed. So he has no real motivation to lie about being half-sibling to Sarah.

Still, he’s proven himself not trustworthy on this front already, so why believe him?

Going back to Genesis 11:31:

Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there.

Abraham has just claimed that Sarah is Terah’s daughter by another mother. But when Genesis introduces Sarah (then Sarai) in relation to Terah, it says “his daughter-in-law Sarai.” If Abraham is telling the truth that Sarah is Terah’s daughter, might we not expect the text to have said so in Genesis 11:31? Instead, she is just “daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife.” Not “daughter.”

This admittedly could be an argument from silence—arguing for a claim just because a text doesn’t say something. That’s generally to be avoided, but at the same time it seems remarkable that in Sarai’s relationship to Terah, her being his daughter is not mentioned.

I see three potential ways to make sense of this:

  1. Abraham is lying about Sarah being his half-sister.
  2. The biblical text contradicts itself.
  3. Abraham is telling the truth and the biblical text is not contradictory, but selective (if oddly so) in what it mentions.

On theological, evidential, and many other grounds, I do not believe that Scripture contradicts itself. (There’s a post for another time!)

Is it possible that the genealogy in Genesis 11 mentions Sarai as daughter-in-law and just misses the chance to identify her also as daughter to Terah? Yes, but that seems unexpected, given how detailed other Genesis genealogies are with family relations.

I conclude, then, if tentatively, that Abraham is lying again in claiming Sarah as half-sister. He has little motivation to (save face?), but his untrustworthiness in claiming her as full sister (to save his own life!) means his credibility on this point is shot.

Interestingly, having wondered about this in my own reading already, it took about 10 commentaries before I finally found one that is open to the possibility that Abraham continues to lie. (I was amazed at how many commentators just take Abraham’s “half-sister” claim in Genesis 20:12 at face value.) Here is Victor P. Hamilton on the question:

Abraham now proceeds to share with Abimelech a bit of family biography. He reminds the king that Sarah is indeed his half-sister, for she and Abraham have the same father, but not the same mother. But Gen. 11:27ff., where one would expect to find the details of this kinship, gives no genealogy for Sarah. She is never mentioned there as the daughter of Terah. One wonders why Abraham did not volunteer this information earlier, when he first came to Gerar. Had he been honest about their situation, he would have saved Sarah and himself a lot of shame, and Abimelech a lot of guilt. Then again, the writer may have intended it as a total fabrication on Abraham’s part.

Hamilton and I could both be wrong in our wonderings, but I see no compelling reason to trust Abraham’s follow-up claim that Sarah was his half-sister.

Please feel free to weigh in via the comments section below.

Thorlos Running Socks

Two or three black toenails ago, I got some good advice from a friend and running buddy: invest in some quality running socks.

I think I knew there was such a thing as “running socks,” but it never really occurred to me to try them. I reached out to Thorlo, Inc., maker of Thorlos socks, and they were kind to send me two pairs for review, which I share here.

 

Experia Energy

 

The first sock I tried was a “supportive performance compression” sock. I didn’t realize how much I’d appreciate the compression, coming off an ankle injury. I got the extra large, which fits shoes size 12-14.

Some pictures:

 

 

 

 

 

I have no idea how it works, but the “Copper Ion technology” is meant to keep away odor (and does), so I can use these socks for at least three runs before I even need to think about washing them. I guess one person’s “ew… gross” is another person’s “longevity!”

The cushion is thin, as advertised, but the compression and moisture wicking features make this a great sock for both short and long runs. There’s enough cushion that I no longer need to double-sock one foot, which I had been doing as one foot is ever-so-slightly smaller than the other, resulting in a different fit for each running shoe. The sock helps a lot with that, even with just a bit of reinforcement at the ankle and toe box. Other than reinforced areas the sock is pretty sheer, so it’s a super lightweight sock, and really breathable. I’ll be using this for a long time, and look forward to some 10-milers in it.

You can purchase or find out more about the Experia Energy/Compression socks here.

 

Classic Running Sock

 

I also tried the Thorlos classic running sock (ankle length, XL for shoe size 13-15). This is the most cushioned Thorlos sock you can get, so you need to make sure you have the room in your shoe for it. (If you can wear medium thickness wool socks with your running shoes, you should be fine.)

This one is “for feet that hurt during or after activity,” which I was especially keen to try so I could have more padding to avoid blisters and dark toenails. It works great on that front. It’s a heavier sock than the Experia Energy, but I’ve enjoyed running with all the padding, and it protects toes and toenails really nicely.

 

 

 

 

 

Moisture has not been an issue, as the sock mostly wicks it away. But feet will get warmer faster in this thick sock, so that’s something to be aware of. (As I write this, it’s barely in the double digits Fahrenheit outside, so I may opt for them if I can get myself out on a run today!) So far I wash these just as infrequently as the lightweight sock.

I have a slight preference for the Experia Energy, but your mileage will vary (running joke, get it?), depending on what your needs are and what kind of runs you’ll be doing. I especially like the classic sock for shorter runs where I want to just go fast and have the added stability. It’s much more comfortable than I expected any running sock to be. You can find the classic sock here.

Thorlo makes lots of other socks. Check out their site here. They make their socks in the U.S. (North Carolina) and are a third-generation family business.

Thanks to the good folks at Thorlo for the review samples—I don’t expect these two pairs of socks to wear out any time soon, but their site will be the first place I go for my next running socks.

Baylor University Press Titles for Black History Month: 40% Off (and Free Shipping)

 

In honor of Black History Month, Baylor University Press is offering 40% off + free shipping on select titles.

The entire list is here, and it includes Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus. Also included is a book I ordered during this sale last year called Muslims and the Making of America. Prices are cheaper than Amazon, and this way you can support the publishers (and authors) more directly.

The sale is good for February with discount code BFE8.

 

Jesus and Malachi? Septuagint or Hebrew Bible? (All I Really Want)

Matthew 10:21 reads:

NRSV   Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death

NA28   Παραδώσει δὲ ἀδελφὸς ἀδελφὸν εἰς θάνατον καὶ πατὴρ τέκνον, καὶ ἐπαναστήσονται τέκνα ἐπὶ γονεῖς καὶ θανατώσουσιν αὐτούς.

which made me think of Malachi 4:6 (versification from English Bible):

NRSV   He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

It’s as if two possible realities (choose wisely!) are being prophesied in each place… surely Jesus had Malachi in mind?

Maybe! The Septuagint does not have the parents-children-children-parents rhythm, but gives instead:

NETS   who will restore the heart of the father to the son and the heart of a person to his neighbor so that I will not come and utterly strike the land. 

LXX     ὃς ἀποκαταστήσει καρδίαν πατρὸς πρὸς υἱὸν καὶ καρδίαν ἀνθρώπου πρὸς τὸν πλησίον αὐτοῦ, μὴ ἔλθω καὶ πατάξω τὴν γῆν ἄρδην.

If Jesus did have the Malachi text in mind to allude to here (of course he knew it), he sure does seem to favor the Hebrew text over its Greek translation.

This itself is not shocking, as Jesus would have known the Hebrew Scriptures (in Hebrew) well, have heard them read at synagogue, etc. But as much as the NT writers seem to employ the LXX over the Hebrew (where they diverge), this was surprising to me.

But in the post linked in the sentence above, I also found this from R.T. France (may he rest in the good Lord’s great peace!) that seems to suggest perhaps I should not be surprised (IF Jesus has Malachi in mind in the first place).

Summarizing the results so far, we may now say that of the sixty-four Old Testament quotations in the sayings of Jesus which may be regarded as certain or virtually so, twenty are to some degree independent of the LXX, and of these twenty, twelve are closer to the MT at this point. The addition of a further ten cases of likely or possible allusions to the MT against the LXX further strengthens the impression that it is wrong to speak of the Old Testament quotations in the sayings of Jesus as basically LXX form.

The textual comparisons are fun, but at the end of the day, all I really want is to be a father whose heart is turned to his children, and whose children turn their hearts to me!

The Problem with New Year’s Resolutions

New Year
Image Credit: Brooke Lark

 

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

–Matthew 3:13-17 (NRSV)

 

The Problem with New Year’s Resolutions

 

According to one study only 9% of people in the U.S. succeed in achieving their New Year’s resolutions. 9 per cent.

More than 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but 91% of people who make them admitted to failing to meet their goals. Only 9% were successful with their resolutions.

There are myriad reasons for such bad odds, many ways that New Year’s resolutions are problematic: We set resolutions that are not specific enough or are too hard to measure. We may make resolutions that are not realistic, or resolutions that work against other deeply embedded values we hold. We don’t have the patience to develop new habits. Etc.

One church worker writes of his experience of Christians at the turn of a year. He says:

Church people—our people—don’t just resolve to go to the gym or call their moms more often. They ramp it up. They resolve to get up at 6 a.m. for quiet time, to read the whole Bible through in a year, to have family devotions every night. They resolve to boycott ungodly [companies] and write their congressmen more often. They volunteer at soup kitchens and take up tutoring. I can’t keep up with them!

A week in to this new year it strikes me there is something even more problematic about New Year’s resolutions, besides our inability to keep them.

It’s this: if we’re not careful yearly resolutions—that we set— have power to shift our focus from Jesus, too much onto ourselves. Aggressive resolutions for self-improvement run the risk of overdoing effort and undergoing grace.

Wherever there is discipline, there must always also be grace. When discipline, then also grace—God’s grace, to be specific. Otherwise we risk leaving Jesus in the dust, running to what a priest I know once called “life-enhancement spirituality.”

 

Who really sets direction?

 

It’s a good time to remember the Proverb (16:9): “The heart of a man plans his course [the heart of a woman plans her course], but the LORD directs their steps.”

Better than just about any New Year’s resolution is an openness to let God direct my steps. To let the LORD direct my steps in this coming year.

It is Jesus, after all, who sets the direction of our faith.

John the Baptist learned this first-hand.

Our text says, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.”

One commentator says, “Christ did not wait for John to complete his career before he arrived on the scene, but, while John was still teaching, he appeared.” Jesus just shows up at the Jordan River.

Matthew should be able to go right on, “So John baptized Jesus.” But instead verse 14 gives us, “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” Or in another translation, “John tried to deter him.”

Jewish understandings of relating to God seem to leave more room for push-back than Christian tradition does.

Even so, John campaigns for his own agenda. Wait, Jesus, I’m the one doing the baptizing here. Like Peter on Maundy Thursday: Wait, Jesus, you’re not going to wash my feet, are you? That’s not how this goes. Or like probably all of his disciples: Jesus, wait, you don’t really have to die, do you?

That’s how I find myself relating to Jesus more often than I’d like: Okay, God, this is what 2018 will be like. I’m going to do this, stop doing that, do a little bit more of this other thing, our congregation is going to take on this… NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, O LORD, and you may resolve with me if you like….

Jesus says to John: “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” John tries to deter Jesus and Jesus says, “Dude, chill. Let it be so.” This is how it will be. Same thing to Peter with the skittish feet: Jesus says, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

And to us who would chart a new and improved course for ourselves, to us who might invite Jesus to walk after us or maybe alongside us, to us Jesus says, “You. Come, follow me.”

Who is really setting the direction for how it will be?

 

“Seeing what is actually there”:
God who knows and loves

 

John follows Jesus’s lead. John abandons his own agenda for Jesus, and follows Jesus’s agenda for Jesus, and Jesus’s agenda for John. Verse 15 says John “consented.” He said yes to Jesus, even though it wasn’t in his original plan.

Many followers of Jesus have said yes, have consented to Jesus, even when he called us to something we hadn’t anticipated. And at any given time there are a lot of us who have an unexpected opportunity to say yes to God, when God shows up not-in-the-way-we-wanted! We may plan our way, but the Lord directs our steps. Will we follow?

A whole new reality is open to John, when he gives Jesus his, “I do.” He has left behind the world of how Jesus can be part of my plan and is in the realm of how I can get in on what Christ is doing.

And he hears something! He baptizes Jesus, Jesus comes out of the water and sees the Holy Spirit like a dove. And then, a voice from heaven comes. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

John is privy to this, because he has consented to following Jesus. He has said yes to letting Jesus chart the course. He hears,  “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

When was the last time you experienced writer’s block?

Michael McGregor, an author and professor of writing, talks about how writing teachers sometimes tell their students to lower their sights when they get stuck with a blank page. “Lower your sights.” But McGregor says, “A better thing to say might be, ‘Forget about the writing and concentrate on listening more carefully, probing more deeply, seeing what is actually there.’” He says, “Viewed in this way, writing is not a craft or even a talent but a way of understanding the world, others and ourselves. The focus isn’t on writing beautiful sentences or telling a compelling story but on seeing and understanding what is really in us and around us….”

Isn’t this more than great writing advice? Isn’t this the kind of re-focusing John had to do with his agenda? “Forget about the [baptizing] and concentrate on listening more carefully, probing more deeply, seeing what is actually there.”

And isn’t this how we want to follow Jesus, too? “Forget about the [doing and the striving] and concentrate on listening more carefully, probing more deeply, seeing what is actually there.”

“What [was] actually there” for John, when he listened, was a Father who intimately knew Jesus (“My Son”). “What was actually there” for John, when he listened, was a Father who deeply loved the Son (“whom I love, with whom I am well pleased”).

“What is actually there” for us, when we stop and listen carefully, is that same God, who has adopted us into his family with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This same God says to you, “You are my son, whom I love.” “You are my daughter, whom I love.” I know you as well as a good parent knows their children. And I love you so much I delight in you. I smile when I think of you, and I take great joy in calling you daughter, son. “I have called you by name; you are mine.”

As 2 Timothy says, “God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his.’” You are God’s, and he knows you and loves you. He demonstrates his love for us—shows us what it is—in a million ways, but especially through the act of self-giving sacrifice at the cross.

 

“Before we lift a finger”

 

Matthew tells the story of Jesus’s baptism before he’s narrated any of Jesus’s actions. Jesus hasn’t done anything in the Gospel at this point, in Matthew 3. But still, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

It’s as if Matthew wants us to see that God doesn’t love Jesus because of his miracles or because of the great sacrifice he will make or because of who his mother is or because of anything else….

God the Father just… loves… his child. God’s daughters and sons are loved just… because… God wants to love.

Adopted into the family of God, you and I, too, are God’s beloved children. It’s not due to anything we have done. It’s not because of who we think we already are. God’s love doesn’t come to us as a result of our contributions to humanity… God doesn’t shower his love on us because we have set out to have the best year yet. God loves us not because of who we are, but because of who GOD is. And then God’s abiding love for us makes us who we are. When we follow the trail blazed by God’s love, then we find out how to live and what to do.

We may still try to shape our identity around what we contribute, the service we can render to another, the brilliant solutions we can offer in a murky situation.

But to borrow a line from a book I never finished two Januarys ago, God’s love is about “how God views us before we lift a finger.” It’s about “how God views us before we lift a finger.”

So, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”

And, sure—look back to 2017, look ahead to 2018, but let’s first look up with John the Baptist to see a God who knows and loves those who are his.

 


  

The above is adapted from the sermon I preached this past Sunday.

ἰῶτα in Matt 5:18: Which “Law”?

It’s interesting that Matthew quotes Jesus as saying that not a ἰῶτα will pass away/fall away/disappear from the law. That’s a Greek letter. Could this mean Matthew/Jesus are referring to the Septuagint translation of the Torah, specifically? Or at least had the Greek translation in mind, alongside the Hebrew Torah?

More questions, maybe unanswerable: Was Jesus speaking Aramaic here? Or Greek? Or Aramaic and then said ἰῶτα in Greek?

Here’s John Nolland, from his NIGTC commentary:

“To what does Matthew intend ἰῶτα to refer? While ἰῶτα is the simplest of the Greek letters (a vertical line), it does not make a particularly striking image for a tiny detail of the wording of the Law. The synagogue practice of giving the reading from the Law in Hebrew, followed by translation, may suggest that Matthew has the Hebrew text in mind. In that case ἰῶτα could represent yod (as frequently claimed), the smallest of the Hebrew consonants, and one which sometimes contributes nothing to the meaning.”

I find this less than compelling. If Matthew had the Hebrew Law in mind, couldn’t he have put a Greek transliteration of yod (or some other Hebrew letter) on Jesus’s lips?

Or is Nolland right, and Matthew simply translated Jesus’s “yod” into Greek, much as he would already be translating Jesus’s Aramaic speech into Greek (assuming Jesus did, in fact, primarily speak Aramaic)?

The larger interpretive question of what Jesus means theologically doesn’t seem to hinge on these language-specific questions, but I find them interesting all the same.