Showing posts with label Bible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bible. Show all posts

24 October 2013

David and Goliath

There's more than one way of understanding the David/Goliath battle. Malcolm Gladwell identifies some new twists in the story. Things may not always be as they seem at first sight. And that's true of all situations, not just those in which we think we are facing giants.

Goliath laughs at David
Goliath laughs at David
Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting way of looking at the famous incident of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17:1-54).

There are elements in the story that he overlooks, especially David's reliance on Yahweh. But he closely examines some details that we might normally gloss over.

Who is Malcolm Gladwell? He is a famous thinker and author, in particular he wrote The Tipping Point, a very influential book published in 2000.

Although it's a secular book, it has many ideas useful in missional movements. In fact, it might not be stepping too far from the mark to say that the book is about missional movements - just not Christian ones in particular.

A new book - His latest work, released in 2013, is called David and Goliath and comes with the strapline Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Watch him as he speaks at TED.



Malcolm Gladwell has clearly understood the story of David and Goliath in a different way. As he explains, we normally approach it thinking of David as the underdog. But this is not really the case; David knew exactly what he was doing.

While the story does mean what we usually take it to mean (that we should not stand in awe of a giant, but face even the most massive of issues with confidence); the real significance of Gladwell's interpretation is that it encourages us to remember that things may not always be as they seem at first sight. [Tweet it!] And that's true of all situations, not just those in which we think we are facing giants.

Questions:

  • Have there been situations in your life when you have felt small and helpless?
  • How did they work out for you?
  • How important is it to 'know your enemy'?
  • Do you think it makes a difference if you are confident? To You? To others?

See also:

15 April 2013

What if ... creation was a myth?

April's Synchroblog asks how we'd be affected if part (or all) of the Bible was myth. I chose to consider the creation accounts in Genesis. Whether these are myth or true history does matter, but perhaps it doesn't matter as much as the division it sometimes causes in the church.

Created or evolved?
This month's Synchroblog invites us to speculate. (Other contributions to this month's Synchroblog are listed at the bottom of this post.)

Here's an extract from the instructions...

Try to imagine that some or all of the Bible narrative is not necessarily true history, but is myth of one sort or another. What sort of effect would that knowledge have on your faith? What effect might it have on the larger church? How would it change you? Would it change you and how you view the world?

Of course, a great deal depends on what part of the Bible I select. Assuming that the visit of the magi to Jesus' birthplace is a myth would make relatively little difference, but assuming that the birth of Jesus is a myth would change things rather dramatically.

I'm going to choose the creation accounts in Genesis. Let's suppose these are myths. How would it change things? I'll follow through with the questions from the Synchroblog. But first, let's have bit of a think about the idea of a myth. What do we mean by 'myth'?

Myths - Perhaps we think of anything mythical or mythological as false. A myth is an invention, imagined creatures in an imagined land - isn't that myth?

Well, no, not necessarily. Imagined creatures in an imagined land are fiction, like 'The Lord of the Rings' or 'The Narnia Chronicles'. Bear in mind that those stories contain a great deal of truth even though they are not true. But myth is more than fiction. To be precise, traditional fiction with a meaning is not a myth but a fable.

We'd do better to think of the Greek legends, the Norse sagas, or the Irish ballads. These are truly mythical. Rather than fiction they are meaningful and explanatory stories based (probably) on real events far back in time before anyone could remember and passed from generation to generation. They have, no doubt, grown considerably in the telling.

So now to the creation accounts in Genesis.

What would be the effect on my faith? - Zero, nada, zilch. There are a number of reasons for this. Perhaps the major one is that I do regard the creation story to be myth. But I'm confident it's myth with a clear purpose. I was trained in biology and for many years worked as a professional biologist. I'm no more inclined to accept the creation stories as history than I am to accept that the Moon is made of cheese.

Let me distinguish between creation and the Biblical accounts of creation. I accept that the Almighty created the universe. It's really hard to think that the universe just is, that it sprang out of nothing all by itself. I am sure that it was somehow caused. It's here because it was intended and spoken into existence.

On the other hand the biblical accounts of how that happened and in what order make little sense to me. What I mean is that they make little sense as history, as an account of the process that took place. As myth, as allegory, as a description of truth, they make perfect sense. The truth is that the Almighty is the ultimate cause of the universe, he is holy, pure and powerful, his original purpose for us is that we would be in community with him, but we are weak, willful and sinful and threw away that opportunity for community.

My opinion that the creation stories are myths doesn't affect my faith in any way. I believe in the Creator, that the universe came into existence because Yahweh spoke, Jesus acted, and the Spirit hovered. The power of the Presence of the three-in-one was enough, a baby universe was born and has flourished ever since. I know that I have a sinful nature, I know that the Son came and by his death paid the price and opened the way for freedom. I know there is a place waiting for me in his kingdom, that my name is written in the Lamb's book of life and on the palm of Papa's hand.

What effect does it have on the wider church? - Now things get more serious. Part of the church thinks it makes little difference whether the creation accounts are factual or mythical. Part of it cares enough to fight a civil war over the issue. And this is a serious problem.

You see, the church that Jesus commanded, 'Love one another as I have loved you', should never, ever be at war with itself. The problem is not that I or anyone else has this or that opinion about the creation stories in Genesis, the problem is that we cannot bear for there to be more than one such opinion.

Some say 'Myth with a message' and others say 'Historical record of real events' and we think that endless argument and dispute is a suitable way to resolve it. Or rather, that our need to be proved 'right' is sometimes stronger than our urge to follow Jesus' command to accept and love.

In a bleeding, dying world we don't have time to fight a civil war. Not only that, we risk bringing the name of Jesus into disrepute. So love one another, love your neighbour, and love your enemy.

In Egypt, the traditional and non-traditional believers are fervently praying together for revival instead of discussing who is right about their many differences of interpretation. If you are an Egyptian and you believe in Jesus you are a brother or a sister. It's that simple. But don't take my word for it - watch the video.

What is the lesson here for us? The issue need not be the creation accounts, it might be ... (fill in the blank for yourself). The church is divided over many, many issues when love should surely conquer all of them.

How would it change me? - If I'm willing to avoid the divisions outlined above, then would my understanding of the mechanics of creation make any difference to me? I don't think so. Whichever way I view the creation accounts I can believe Jesus and follow him. I have a new and fuller life in him now. I have eternity in his presence. I can love my brothers and sisters fully and freely and allow them to understand creation in whatever way they see fit.

The nature of creation is only an issue if I allow it to become one in my own heart. The universe exists! The Almighty brought it into being and holds it in existence. Without him it would all vanish. What more do I really need to know?

Would it change you and how you view the world? - This is an 'over to you' question, is it not? How do you stand on this matter? And whatever you may believe, are you willing to allow it to separate you from your brothers and sisters in Jesus?

Questions:

  • How do you, personally, deal with conflicts of understanding?
  • Is truth more important than accepting one another? Always? Sometimes? Never?
  • For you, is being right essential or just 'nice to have'?

See also:


Synchroblog links:

30 March 2013

Artist and musician

Ben and Hannah Dunnett create delightful greetings cards, art prints, posters and music CDs. We rediscovered all of these during and after a visit to St Michael's Without, an Anglican church in Bath. The grace, peace and beauty of the images and the music are also evident in the people at St Michael's.

One of Hannah Dunnett's cardsSome time ago I was delighted to find that Cornerstone Cafe and Books in St Neots was stocking some really great cards by Hannah Dunnett.

I bought several of them for friends and soon found the Dunnett's website where Ben and Hannah provide more information and sell their material online. Hannah is an artist, Ben is a musician. When I wanted to buy one of Hannah's cards again more recently I was sorry to see they were no longer available at Cornerstone.

But just last week when we were visiting Bath, Donna and I decided to have a coffee at St Michael's Without in Broad Street. And there we found a selection of Hannah's cards again!

I'd like to make you aware of Ben and Hannah's beautiful work because it deserves to be much more widely seen and heard. Not only is it all available to order and in a growing number of retail outlets. But Ben and Hannah have made everything available online, pictures and music too. You will need to buy their products for the full quality, but you can also enjoy it for free.

I predict that having tasted it, most people will end up buying prints or CDs.

Hannah's cards - Hannah paints stylised designs with words from the Bible in sweeping curves. She makes these available as greetings cards, high quality art prints, and posters. The picture above is a design called 'God of all Comfort'.

Because of the carefully chosen words these cards are not just beautiful in their own right, they also bear the stamp of a loving Creator. From the picture above we read, 'I will sustain you, I will give you rest, I will carry you, [I] will be with you, I call to you'. And there is much, much more. Words of great comfort from the One who is quick and ready to bring great comfort.

Ben's music - Ben is a music teacher and examiner. He writes some delightful melodies and is clearly a gifted pianist. If the two worship albums and the children's album are anything to go by he's also very talented in laying down individual tracks to build up a full backing for songs.

You will find everything here from reflective, gentle melody to robust rhythms good for dancing, and great lyrics provided by Hannah.

St Michael's Without - I simply can't close this post without saying more about this lovely Anglican church in Bath. Everything about the place is delightful. The interior has been modified to make a quiet space for coffee, cakes, books and a comfortable place to sit. The website soon makes it clear that the people are delightful too.

They are evidently active in the local community in many ways. They seem to be conscious of the need for gentleness and peacefulness in everything. They are careful and deliberately slow in making changes trying to 'avoid the rush which undermines friendship'. They pray about everything in love.

If you are visiting Bath, try to make the time to drop in to spend a little while experiencing the peace and the fragrance of this lovely place and the people who make it what it is - a little piece of heaven right here on earth. Just like Hannah's pictures and Ben's music.

Questions:

  • Are there ways you can be a little piece of heaven for those you meet today?
  • Might there be 'difficult' people in your life you could make an extra effort to bless?
  • How does Hannah's artwork and Ben's music make you feel?
  • Does it help you find the peace you need to become a blessing to others?

See also:

04 January 2013

SOAP Bible reading

Keeping a SOAP journal may help make your Bible reading stick. Dave deVries posted about it recently and I want to share it further. Scripture-Observation-Application-Prayer (SOAP). Give it a try and see if it will help you stay spiritually fresh and clean!

Liquid and bar soapsDave deVries, writing at 'Missional Challenge' a week ago, recommended SOAP Journaling. It seems like a good idea that might help many of us read and digest the Bible more effectively, so I thought I'd pass it on.

Not only that, SOAP can help with discipling others and if you are doing that (and you should be) it's a technique you can teach them so that they in turn can teach it to others.

Like all simple ways of doing things it's easy to understand, easy to learn, easy to describe and easy to teach.

There is a caveat, however. Like all methods it's what you make of it that counts. There is no benefit or value in going through the motions; methods are tools, not an end in themselves.

So what is SOAP? How does it work? You can read about it in more detail in Dave's article. A brief outline and my own thoughts are below.

SOAP - The acronym stands for Scripture - Observation - Application - Prayer.

Begin by consciously clearing your mind. As with CO2's Virkler, one way to help with this is to jot down in your notebook every intrusive thought about things you need to do. Write things down as they occur to you and dismiss them until later.

Once your mind is clear and calm, ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you, then read the Bible passage from a version that flows easily for you. Consider what you are reading, ask the SOAP questions and write down the thoughts that occur to you.

The questions are listed in Dave's article, he provides several for each letter of the acronym.

Scripture - the questions focus on the context. When it was written, who wrote it, why they wrote it and to whom. Write down verses that speak to you strongly and personally.

Observation - Look for commands and promises. Consider anything concerning the nature and actions of the Father, Son and Spirit. What questions arise in your mind?

Application - What effect does this have, what changes are necessary, what will you do today as a result of what you have read and considered?

Prayer - Aim to cover your needs for help and forgiveness. Be thankful. Write them down as a prayer.

It's easy to read in a vague way and remember almost nothing later. Using a method like SOAP will help you lock in some of the things you read. Writing things down (or sharing them with someone else) are effective ways of getting them to stick in your own mind and heart.

SOAP is more than an acronym, it's an idea. What do you use soap for? To help release the dirt when you wash your hands, to stay fresh and clean. So remember, using SOAP regularly will help you stay spiritually fresh and clean! But as with ordinary soap it's of no value unless you use it.

Questions:

  • Are there ways you can improve your Bible reading? Might SOAP help?
  • What do you think of the SOAP questions? Can you add more of your own?
  • Have you some experience using SOAP? If so, please leave a comment below.

See also:

01 January 2013

How, then, should we meet?

Alan Knox has posted a blog article about the way we meet as church. His post is not only informative and useful, it is also gentle and wise. This is very important yet often forgotten. Heated argument is not effective as a means of communication, Evidence and gentle persuasion are far better.

Alan Knox's website
I'm posting a quote from Alan Knox in the USA. I believe his message is important, partly because of what he writes and partly because of the way in which he writes it. But first, read the quote...

If the authors of the New Testament were correct (and I think they were), and if we should consider what they wrote to be important (and I think we should), then we should also recognize the importance and necessity of mutual edification whenever we get together with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

You can read Alan's full article 'Remembering the importance of mutual edification' on his blog 'Assembling of the church'.

What is Alan saying? - He's saying that when we meet together as church, what we do and how we do it are important. We would probably all agree with him on that.

But he is further saying that we don't always get it right and we should go back to the Bible to check our current practice against what we find written there. And he's saying that mutual edification comes into it. But you can read all that for yourself.

How is he saying it? - The other point I want to make is that Alan writes in a most gentle and inoffensive way. And he's right to do that. We can hardly edify one another while beating each other up with the big sticks of disagreement!

We can all learn a lesson here, perhaps me more than most. Gentleness and wisdom often go hand in hand. We are called to have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, things like peace, patience, kindness, and gentleness. There is, Paul assures us, no law against such things as these. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). And all of them are underpinned by love, the greatest thing in the world.

Questions:

  • How do you react to gentle persuasion and a reasoned argument?
  • How are you likely to respond to anything that seems like criticism?
  • What do you understand the Bible to say about the way we meet?

See also:

07 November 2012

A Bible free of religion?

The Religion-Free Bible is a project by Jim Palmer to develop a new paraphrase of the Bible. The objective is to inspire people to greater love, peace, compassion and harmony. It's a collaborative venture with everyone invited to be involved.

Life and religionJim Palmer, best known for his book 'Divine Nobodies', is working on a new project (Jim and a whole series of helpers, that is). Anyone can volunteer to help with the work of The Religion-Free Bible (RFB) Project. There are several ways to get involved. But first, what is the RFB?

I suggest you go to the RFB website and take a look. On the home page Jim provides twenty-five reasons for creating a religion-free Bible. One of his reasons is that the Father 'has no religion'. Another is that 'in the hands of the people, the Bible can be an instrument of love, beauty, peace, acceptance and harmony in the world.'

Here are two extracts from the RFB 'About' page...

The Religion-Free Bible Project exists to inspire more love, peace, beauty, goodness, acceptance, compassion, justice and harmony in the world by offering humankind a paraphrase of biblical passages, which combine texts and images to creatively capture the spirit and meaning of the Bible, free from the bias and baggage of man-made religion. The goal of the RFB Project is to make the Religion-Free Bible accessible to all people worldwide, and for 51% of our world population to have a copy of the RFB in some form.
...
Jim believes that the value of the Bible lies in its capacity to transform people’s relationship with themselves, God, others, life, and world, not perpetuating theological dogma or religious rules and rituals. In frustration about the disempowering spin on the Bible he often saw online, Jim wrote out a paraphrase of one of Jesus’ sayings and posted it on Facebook. He added and image to his post and referred to it tongue-in cheek as the JPV – Jim Palmer version. A significant response to this and other JPV posts, led to the idea of the Religion-Free Bible, which combines Jim’s paraphrase and images he has selected for each entry.

What does the RFB text look like? - This Bible is a paraphrase, a rewriting of the meaning using entirely new wording. It should not be regarded as a translation, there are plenty of those in many of the world's languages.

Other paraphrases include the 'Living Bible' and 'The Message', both of which are widely known and used. Unlike these, the RFB is luxuriously reworded in order to emphasise the meaning in all its richness. Like any paraphrase there is, of course, a degree of interpretation involved. It's the Bible as understood and experienced by Jim Palmer.

Here is John 3:16-17. Compare it with some other versions.

  • NIV (UK version) - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
  • The Message - This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.
  • Religion-Free Bible - Love gives. Love is what brought me into this world. I am a gift, offered in love. Love desires your freedom. Love desires your wholeness. Love wants you to know yourself as complete. Love wants you to be at peace. My life was an invitation to this freedom, wholeness, peace and love. But my invitation is a choice. You have also been fed a lie about yourself that will ultimately destroy you. The lie says you are bad and worthless, irreparably flawed, defective and unacceptable, and undeserving of love and acceptance, even from God. I’m here to say that’s not true, and I’m asking you to believe me. Even when everything in your head or everything in your life seems to be evidence of the lie, I’m asking that you believe me instead. I’m going to be gone soon, and I need you to get this because I need your life to be that invitation as mine was. You are as much a gift to the world as I am, and I want you to accept and own that for yourself. Love never stopped giving. Love keeps birthing new expressions of the truth to awaken those lost in the lie. First, you have to wake up yourself and then your life naturally becomes the smelling salts this world needs.

Is the RFB going to succeed? - You will have to be the judge of that. All of you who choose to read it for yourselves.

The language is different from anything we've seen before. Does it put the sense over well? Will ordinary people understand it? Some people will feel it is a misleading version, that religion is an essential part of the Bible. Some will be unhappy that it leaves certain things out or adds other things in.

We must remember that it is an interpretation. I'm asking Papa to use it to open hearts and minds to the fragrance of his presence in this world and to reach many who reject religion but in doing so may also reject the truth of the Father's love for his creation.

I know this project won't please everyone and will offend some. But on balance I think it's a great idea and a worthy project and I will be supporting Jim any way I can.

All I ask of you, my readers, is that you take a look at the RFB Project and make up your own minds.

Getting involved - If you want to help, the RFB website has all the information you need. They are looking for financial support for the process of publication, of course. But they are also looking for practical help with photography, the writing/editing side and in getting the word out by telling friends and contacts.

Questions:

  • What do you mean when you use the word 'religion'? What do you think Jim Palmer means by it?
  • Is it possible to tell people about Jesus without being religious?
  • Was Jesus religious in what he said or in what he did? What sort of people liked him? What sort of people despised him?

See also:

29 October 2012

Biblos

< Bible Gateway | Index | Online Bible Tools >

Bible Hub is a complex tool with extensive facilities for Bible research including dictionaries, commentaries, interlinears, concordances, versions in original and modern languages, word studies, parsing information and more.

The Bible Hub home page
The Bible Hub web-based Bible tool manages to do a very great deal. The only problem with this breadth of coverage is that it can be tricky to find your way around. But most users will find just a few features that they use regularly and will soon become familiar with those. In other words, don't be put off by the complexity of this tool but focus on learning the parts you need.

Home page - Here's some of the stuff you can find right away on the home page.

  1. Along the top, a row of national flags allow you to choose a language other than English.
  2. Below the flags are drop boxes for Bible book, chapter and verse, Bible chapter outlines, and to select a translation or commentary or original language version or a whole host of other things. The chapter outline autoupdates as you change the book or chapter, a nice feature.
  3. Next is a search box with options for topical, library, Strong's number and multilingual search.
  4. Below that comes a toolbar with 23 icons for all manner of options including advanced search, reading plans, devotions, biblical weights and measures, apocryphal books and more.
  5. And then there are two more toolbars and a set of tabs.
  6. Finally, a set of 28 large icons provides further ways into the data.
Below all of this the home page continues with masses of additional material. There's just about everything you might need for a detailed study of any verse, word, idea or theme in the Bible.

Let's try it out - Starting from the home page I've just used the drop boxes in row 2 to select John 14:1. I immediately see multiple English translations of the verse in the main column with cross references to the right. Further down are concordance links for the key words in the verse and extracts from several commentaries and word studies.

Part of John 14 in an interlinear display
Next I click the Greek icon in row 4 and right away I see a page of Greek interlinear. Bible Hub has unhelpfully forgotten I was in John 14 and shows me the interlinear for Matthew 1. Hmm.

Back to the drop boxes in row 1 and I'm soon back in John, but that was not as smooth as it might have been.

But the interlinear is well done (click the image for a larger view). There are five lines. First come the Strong's numbers with transliterated Greek words below and the original Greek in line three. The Strong's numbers and the transliterated Greek are clickable and bring up definitions, concordance entries and more. The original Greek is not clickable, sadly, neither is the English equivalent in line four. Line five offers useful parsing information (part of speech, case, tense etc).

Serious research - Bible Hub is a good place to do serious bible study for free and online. It contains everything you need in one place, but there are several ways into most of the information and this results in a cluttered and confusing interface.

For looking up a word or two in Strong's, studying a few verses in depth, or translating short passages from Greek or Hebrew it's probably all you need. Bible Hub can even meet some unusual requirements, for example it can display the Old Testament in Septuagint Greek and the New Testament in modern Hebrew or even in Aramaic.

Reading online - I can't recommend Bible Hub for Bible reading online. Bible Gateway is a much easier and cleaner way to do this in a wide range of languages and versions. But in a web browser with BibleHub open in one tab or window and Bible Gateway in another it's quite possible to use the two together to look up details and definitions while reading.

< Bible Gateway | Index | Online Bible Tools >

25 October 2012

Bible Gateway

< No earlier items | Index | Bible Hub >

The Bible Gateway is a simple but impressive collection of online Bibles in many languages. If you want to read and search the Bible on your laptop, tablet or phone, it may be all you need. It's free, fast, and effective and comes with helpful extras like reading plans and devotionals.

The Bible Gateway website
Today we're going to take a look at The Bible Gateway. The main purpose of this free website is to provide online Bibles - and there are a lot of them. At the time of writing, there are thirty-four English translations as well as many more in a wide range of other languages. Take a look at the full list.

A clickable list of Bible books is available for each version, as an example, here's the list for the Knox Bible. But the normal way into the Bible Gateway is through its search facility.

Searching - The homepage has a search box under the site banner. The search box is accompanied by a drop down list of versions. Simply type a search term, choose a version, and press 'Enter' or click the search button. You can skip the version choice if the default is OK (and you can change the preferred default version in the system's settings).

What can you put in the search box? You can type a topical query such as 'love' or 'one another' (put exact phrases in double quotes) and then press 'Enter' or pick from a list of suggestions.

Or you can enter a chapter such as '1 Cor 13' or '1 Corinthians 13' to read it in its entirety. The display provides links to move backwards and forwards a chapter at a time.

Alternatively you can enter a specific passage, for example 'John 14:3-8' or even 'Matt 14:20-15:3'.

Other features - The Bible Gateway doesn't offer Bible study tools. It is intended primarily as a resource for Bible reading and text retrieval.

To this end it offers audio versions, commentaries, reading plans, dictionaries and versions of the site for use on mobile phones.

There is also a Bible Gateway app and various other tools, check the list in the left-hand panel.

Conclusion - If you want to read the Bible online, check out unusual versions, or search for a particular passage, Bible Gateway might be all you need. It's simple to use, quick to load, flexible, and only a web browser away. There nothing to install and nothing to pay, just load the website and begin reading and searching.

< No earlier items | IndexBible Hub >

21 October 2012

Online Bible tools

< Bible Hub | Index | No later items >

There are many ways to read and study the Bible. Since the invention of printing this has included paper versions of the Bible as well as commentaries and tools of all kinds. Today we can also use software for Bible reading and study, both locally installed and online.

The Malmesbury Bible
Frank Viola has been writing brief reviews of Bible software, but has decided not to include web-based Bible tools because 'people can test out the free online programs on their own'. (See the comments to his post on WORDsearch.)

Even though the websites are indeed readily available, I think it's worth commenting on them. This will help anyone considering using tools of this kind.

Local or cloud? - First, let's just consider the main differences between local software that you install on your own computer, and tools provided remotely through a web interface.


  • Web-based tools are often free to use. Installed software is sometimes free, but must often be paid for.
  • Installation takes time and uses disk space (sometimes in large amounts). Web tools need no installation.
  • Web tools are available wherever you can access a browser - at home, on your phone, at work, in the local library, at a friend's house, etc.
  • Web tools are updated remotely, there's no need to upgrade the software locally (often at additional cost).
  • The software runs on powerful servers, not on your own local computer. For this reason a smartphone can work just as fast as a desktop workstation.
Searching the Bible for a phrase might take your phone a long time, but the request is sent to the server where the search is done on powerful hardware; only the result needs to be sent back to the phone.

Because of this and for other reasons there's a growing trend for data and applications to be stored and managed in 'the cloud'. This phrase encompasses the remote servers that store user data as well as the software.

Today, many people are running remote web versions of email, office applications, managed photographic storage and display, mapping tools, display of documents and much, much more. Bible software has also made the leap to the cloud for the same reasons.

Reviewing Bible tools - In the next post we'll take a look at 'Bible Gateway', a site that offers many online versions of the Bible along with simple search and some other facilities. Then we'll look at more in further posts.

As a help, here are links to Frank Viola's reviews. I'll move the list to a post of its own later, and update it with my own and other reviews as we go along.

For more background also check another article from Frank, 'Bible Software Programs'.

Do you have a favourite online Bible study tool? If so, send me a comment about it and I'll try to include it in this series.

< Bible Hub | Index | No later items >

15 October 2012

Bible Tools - Index

(See indexes on other topics)

For anyone wishing to read or study the Bible there are many good tools available to use online or install locally. To help you decide which to investigate further, this series of articles briefly reviews some of the offerings and explains their capabilities and scope.

Bibles and toolsThis list below includes my own articles about online tools and Frank Viola's material on locally installed software.

14 February 2012

Has the Bible been modified?

If we are to trust the Bible we need to know that it faithfully reproduces what was written by the original authors almost two thousand years ago, or earlier. It turns out that the Bible stands up to scrutiny better than any other ancient book.

Damaged papyrus of Matthew's gospelThe Bible is not really a book in the normal sense, rather it is a library of books written at different times and by different authors. Some versions of the Bible may include or exclude particular books for a variety of reasons.

But what can we say of the accuracy by which the books have been copied over the years and centuries since they were originally written? And how do the books of the Bible compare in terms of reliability with, say, Plato or Aristotle, Caesar or Cicero?

Surprisingly, we have a great deal of evidence for the reliability of both Old and New Testament books. Far more than we do for any of those other ancient books.

This is well-summarised in a web document by Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM).  Here's a claim made on that web page. Take a look at the page itself for the supporting argument.
The New Testament documents are better-preserved and more numerous than any other ancient writings. Because they are so numerous, they can be cross checked for accuracy... and they are very consistent.
Notice especially the table that shows how other respected ancient documents don't even come close in terms of early copies.

This section from an article on Wikipedia supports the accuracy of the New Testament, while another article, Textual variants in the New Testament, actually lists them for us. The majority are very minor indeed.

Whatever we may say about the comparisons to be made between the Bible and other ancient books, we may be quite certain that the Bible we read today has been faithfully copied. The New Testament we can buy and read today is very, very close to the original works written almost 2000 years ago. For the vast majority of the text (99.5%) the match is perfect across all copies.

Translation - Doesn't translation affect the meaning of the text, changing it from the originally intended sense? The purpose of good translation should always be to render the original meaning in a different language as accurately as possible. Many of the Bible translators have gone to extreme lengths in research, learned debate, discussion, checking, inviting critical comment, reviewing and revising. All this before they even consider printing a new version.

A far greater danger would be lack of translation, with less knowledgeable people trying to understand the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and probably making mistakes.

Paraphrase versions, like the Living Bible and idiomatic translations like The Message do their best to make the text more readable. These are not intended to replace the formal equivalence of more typical translations, but they can be an excellent way to introduce the Bible, making it more accessible and providing impact and immediacy.

Study aids - For serious study I recommend reading several modern translations along with Hebrew or Greek interlinears, good commentaries and Bible dictionaries (giving the range of meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words). There are excellent tools online, take a look at Bible Gateway and Biblos, but there are others out there. Try some out and bookmark those you find most useful.

And rest assured, the source material you are using (directly or indirectly) is of high quality and pretty much identical with what was originally written.

(Check linked articles on other blogs - please explore!)

11 January 2012

Eaton Ford (BS) - Doing it our way

< 3rd January 2012 | Index | 27th May 2012 >

We read the first chapter of Acts and discussed it. I was interested to note that the disciples behaved just the same way we do; in the absence of Jesus they decided to do things their own way.

An icon of MatthiasLast time Paul and I met we finished Mark's gospel and decided to work through Acts next.

Today we made a start by reading Luke 1:1-4 to help us understand how Luke had written both books to give the best and most consistent possible account of the events concerning Jesus and the early church.

Then we read the first chapter of Acts section by section, stopping to discuss what we had read as we worked our way through. Here are some of the things I found especially striking.

The pattern of events is perfectly clear. Jesus was arrested, tried both by the religious and civil courts, was crucified, died, and spent the entire Sabbath (Friday evening until sometime before Sunday sunrise) in a sealed rock tomb. Then he returned to life and for forty days he was with the disciples in Galilee and then in Jerusalem before he returned to the Father in heaven.

The rule of Christ - During these forty days he gave 'convincing proofs' that he was alive (verse 3). And during this time he spoke about the kingdom, that is he told them about his rule, the extent of his reign. This realm is not only in heaven but also in the hearts and lives of every man, woman and child that will follow him and obey him. Simply put, a kingdom is that realm where the king reigns; the sum of the places where his commands are treated with respect and fully carried out. It's important that my heart and your heart are part of his kingdom. You're either in or you're out!

He begins to reign immediately; he commands them to stay in Jerusalem until they receive the promised gift. Did they know what this gift was? Yes, the gift of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Did they know what this meant? No, they had little idea of what would happen or how it would change everything! But they would certainly recognise it when it happened.

We're just the same. We know that if he is ruling in our lives he will bless us but we don't expect the amazing things he does. When they happen though, we recognise them and realise our expectations were too limited. It's not that we lack faith (thought often we do lack faith), but rather that he habitually does abundantly more than we could expect even in our most faith-filled moments. (Ephesians 3:20) This should encourage us immensely!

Back to the city - I was very struck by verses 12-26. This is also just like us, scarily so. Just pay attention to what they did.

Jesus has just left them to return to the Father, they walk back from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem without him. They must have retraced the steps they would have taken with Jesus many times before, the same route the Temple guards would have taken Jesus after his capture. The olive grove of Gethsemane is on this route, part of the way down the hill. Their thoughts must have been confused and every step would have held a mix of precious and painful memories.

They go back to the upper room, very likely the same place they had eaten that last meal with him at Passover. But he is not here now. He has left physically and his Spirit has not yet 'baptised' them. They are without any kind of heavenly counsel, left to work it our for themselves. And they do.

The wrong way - Peter stands up and takes charge (they probably agreed that someone had to). He speaks to the remaining ten disciples and those other men and women gathered in the room. He argues (perfectly reasonably) that Judas should be replaced to make up the number twelve again. In their own wisdom they decide on two candidates and then they draw lots. Effectively they decide between Joseph and Matthias by tossing a coin!

Does this sound familiar? An important decision needs to be made, Jesus doesn't seem to be around, so someone takes charge, and we make the decision by election and/or by chance.

The right way - What should they have done instead? What should we do? We should have faith and we should have patience. In other words we should wait expectantly for the solution to be given to us. Prayer would do no harm while we're waiting. Jesus had actually told them to wait - wait until the promised gift arrives, wait until you are baptised in the Spirit. How immediate was their lack of trust, their taking of things into their own hands, their failure to wait.

And how much pain and disappointment could be avoided in church life if we listened to Jesus instead of rushing off to fix things for ourselves!

The real replacement - And who was the new apostle? Matthias (and Joseph too for that matter) remain in obscurity. Who was the new apostle? Arguably he was a pharisee. He might have called for the release of Barabbas. He certainly attacked the early church and helped at the stoning of Stephen. Saul, a person the disciples may not have heard of and certainly would never have chosen - this same Saul is the Paul who became the apostle to the gentiles and wrote all those amazing letters that make up a large part of the New Testament. Wow!

We desperately need to learn this lesson. Pray, expect, wait - and do what we are told, not what we think to be best.

< 3rd January 2012 | Index | 27th May 2012 >

05 December 2011

Bible passages relevant to church

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There are a number of relevant Bible passages listed on this page.

The Old Testament is rich with passages about Israel's fall from favour and her restoration. All of them probably have useful things to tell us about the church. The New Testament contains many things direct from Jesus about both principles and practices, while Acts and the letters provide a lot of history and practical background.
  • Ezekiel 37 - The valley of dry bones. Indeed the entire book of Ezekiel may be useful, there is so much about restoration here.
  • Haggai - Building his house, not our own houses.
  • The wine and wineskins passages in the gospels.
  • John 17 - Very important passage on oneness. It's clearly what Jesus himself wanted.

10 March 2011

RESPONSE - Seven signs in John

In his gospel, John records seven signs that Jesus gave. They were miraculous acts that made people stop, take notice, and respond. One of them (healing a person born blind) was regarded by the rabbis as a messianic miracle, something that only the Messiah would be able to do. Something they could not ignore.

Ben and CathBen Taylor visited me for an afternoon recently, he was in the area to visit and work with Chris Duffett and I was delighted that he could find time to drop in on his way back to Somerset.

Several times he mentioned the seven signs in John, the link leads to articles on Ben and Cath's blog where you'll find additional references to the seven signs and some examples of how they can be used to help people understand who Jesus is. I believe this is important and I encourage everyone to dig deeper for themselves.

Last year I also wrote about healing the man born blind. As a result of this (and other messianic miracles) the religious authorities were faced with a stark choice - accept Jesus as the Messiah, or reject the plain facts.

I'd like to go through the seven signs in John with others as and when there are opportunities. We're planning to do some Bible study in a local coffee shop and maybe this will provide some possibilities. We'll see.

Meanwhile, a very good place to begin would be to read the CMA Resources page on the seven signs. It explains everything clearly and concisely. Also, check back on Ben and Cath's site from time to time for more examples of how they are using these signs to spark meaningful conversations and simple Bible studies with people.

The Great Commission is to go out into the world and make disciples - and this is a great way to do just that. It's not the only way, of course, but if you're thinking, 'How do I begin?' this is a good idea to consider. Read about it, pray about it, and if the Spirit leads you to do it - go for it!

See also: Seven signs in John - a series

28 August 2010

THOUGHT - Reading the Bible

I've been reading the Bible regularly or irregularly for about forty years now, and early in that process I discovered that it was useful to have a plan to follow. Having a plan makes sure that everything gets covered, and it can be used in conjunction with just dipping into favourite books and passages when I feel like it.

A handwritten Latin Bible from Malmesbury in EnglandThere are many published Bible-reading plans and aids but none of them seemed quite right for me. So in my late twenties or early thirties I devised one of my own and I've followed it ever since. I offer it here for you to use, adapt, or ignore as you will. But even if you don't decide to use it perhaps it will encourage you to adopt another reading plan, modify your current one, or devise one of your own. You can find a full list of the books in the Bible and the Apocrypha on the Bible Gateway website.

If you've read this far you will probably want to know how my plan works. So here it is. An explanation follows.
HistoricalProphetsNew TestamentApochryphaPsalms
Genesis 50(Ezra 10)Luke 24(1 Esdras 14)1-150
Exodus 40Nehemiah 13Acts 282 Esdras 16Ps 151
Leviticus 27(Esther 10)Romans 16Tobit 14
Numbers 36Job 42(Esther 10)
Deuteron 34Proverbs 31Mark 16Judith 16
Joshua 24Ecclesiates 101 Corinth 16Wisdom 19
Judges 21Song of S 82 Corinth 13Ecclesiasticus 51
Ruth 4Isaiah 66Galatians 6Baruch 6
1 Samuel 31Jeremiah 52Ephesians 6Susannah 1
2 Samuel 24Lamentations 5Bel and dragon 1
1 Kings 22Ezekiel 48Matthew 281 Maccabees 16
2 Kings 25Daniel 12Philippians 42 Maccabees 15
1 Chronicles 29Hosea 14Colossians 43 Maccabees 7
2 Chronicles 36Joel 31 Thessal 54 Maccabees 18
Amos 92 Thessal 3
Obadiah 11 Timothy 6
Jonah 42 Timothy 4
Micah 7Titus 3
Nahum 31 Philemon 1
Habakkuk 3Hebrews 13
Zephaniah 3
Haggai 2John 21
Zechariah 14James 5
Malachi 41 Peter 5
2 Peter 3
1 John 5
2 John 1
3 John 1
Jude 1
Revelation 22
403 chapters376 chapters260 chapters204 chapters
1/day=13.4 mon1/day=12.5 mon1/day=8.7 mon1/day=6.7 mon
2/day= 6.7 mon2/day= 6.3 mon2/day=4.3 mon2/day=3.4 mon
There are four columns which are designed to contain something like 300 chapters each, a fifth column contains the Psalms. The number of chapters in each book is shown after the name in each case, ie there are 50 chapters in Genesis. The idea is to read something from one column, then something from the next and so on. When you complete a column start again at its top even though you are part way through the other columns. I prefer to read more New Testament than anything else so the pattern I follow is

  • Column 1 - Old Testament (historical books)
  • Column 3 - New Testament
  • Column 2 - Old Testament (prophets)
  • Column 3 - New Testament
  • Column 4 - Apocrypha
  • Column 3 - New Testament
  • Column 5 - Psalms
  • Column 3 - New Testament
Reading this way 50% of my reading is New Testament, 25% is Old Testament (minus the Psalms), 12.5% is Psalms, and 12.5% is Apocrypha. However, there are more verses in the Apocrypha than in Psalms, so I cover the Psalms more often than the Apocrypha. This balance suits me quite well.

The information at the bottom of the columns shows the exact number of chapters and the time it will take for the entire column reading one or two chapters daily. For example, if you read one chapter from column one every day it will take you nearly thirteen and a half months for the entire column, just over a year. At a rate of two chapters per day the column will take less than seven months.

To change the balance you can simply change the sequence of columns or the number of chapters you read each day. If you miss a few days or want to read more each day you will cover the pattern slower or faster.

Let's take a look at what's in each column and why.

Column One
This contains the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) and the historical books. In other words it includes all the books from Genesis to 2 Chronicles. This column covers creation, the Law, and the history of Israel until they were taken into captivity by the Babylonians.

Column Two
Here you will find all the Old Testament prophetic, wisdom and poetic books (except Psalms), mostly written after the return from Babylon. There are notable exceptions - Job, for example, is a very much earlier book. Ezra and Esther are in brackets because the same chapters (and more) are included in column four. You can choose to read Ezra and Esther in both columns, or leave them out of either column two or column four.

Between them, columns one and two will take you through the entire Old Testament. If you read a chapter a day from each column you'll cover the Old Testament in just over a year.

Column Three
Unlike the Old Testament columns, I have rearranged the order of the books in column three. They are presented in four blocks with a similar number of chapters in each. There are several reasons for doing this.

The four gospels are separated so you don't read them one after another. This means you will dip into a gospel book more frequently. It also makes it possible to read Acts immediately after Luke's gospel, and as Luke wrote the two books as a consistent account to be read in sequence this seems a useful thing to do.

Arranging the books this way also brings John's gospel close to his letters and to Revelation.

Column Four
If you don't want to read the Apocrypha just leave this column out of your reading pattern and include the bracketed book of Esther in column two. But I think there are good reasons to cover the apochryphal books now and again. For one thing the books of Maccabees cover some of Israel's history between the Old and New Testaments and this is interesting in its own right.

There is no agreed order for the additional material in the Apocrypha, the Roman Catholic version is differently structured than the Anglican version, not only in terms of the books but even in terms of chapters and verses. Psalm 151  would often be included here too, but I've added it to column five instead.

Column Five
Good old Psalms! I've put them in a column of their own so that they are not read as a solid block but are interspersed in your reading. If you want to read through Psalms faster, put the column into your reading pattern more than once.

How it all works
Reading according to my choice of column pattern (1, 3, 2, 3, 4, 3, 5, 3) I began as follows.

Genesis 1, Luke 1, Ezra 1, Luke 2, 1 Esdras 1, Luke 3, Psalm 1, Luke 4 (then following the pattern again) Genesis 2, Luke 5, Ezra 2, Luke 6 and so on.

So you can see how the pattern works out. You can read just one chapter a day (or even less than a chapter) or you can read several chapters. You can break the pattern whenever you wish and come back to it. You might, for example, want to read right through a single book or part of a book for a Bible study. Simply make a note of where you are in the pattern and come back to it later.

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