The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Bible

My Favorite Bible Reading Methods

It’s the start of a new year, which is generally the time that many people begin their goal of reading through the Bible in a year. This is, of course, a worthwhile goal, but it is one I have mixed feelings about in the sense that frequently, people get behind in their reading plans and because they feel like they can’t catch up, give up instead. This is wrong-headed, I think, since the real point of Bible reading plans is to cultivate the regular practice of reading Scripture rather than finishing the whole Bible in 365 days.

At the same time, reading through the entire Bible is a very worthwhile goal, and it always amazes me when I hear of people who have been Christians for years and years but have never read the Bible from cover to cover (if you are reading this and fit into that category, I am not trying to make you feel guilty or ashamed, just keep reading). Simply put, if you don’t read the entire Bible, you tend to miss out on some important and recurring ideas.

For the last several years I have read through the Bible using different plans and methods, and for those who might be interested in reading through the Bible in 2018 (it’s not too late to start!), I thought it might be helpful to share of the different methods that I have enjoyed and what I liked about them:

  • The Daily Bible: This Bible attempts to place the books of the Bible in chronological order, and divides it into 365 readings to make it easy to know exactly how much you need to read per day. It also includes helpful introductory material to each book.
  • The Message: This is a simple “method”—I just read through the Message one year. This is not a common translation for me, which meant that I was constantly reading passages in new language, which led to new reflections and new insights. I’m sure some editions now come with Bible reading plans, or you can simply divide the 1189 chapters in the Bible (or the total page numbers in the edition you are using) into 365 portions.
  • ESV Journaling Bible: The ESV is the primary translation I use, and I really liked being able to write a lot of notes and reflections as I read through in the journaling space. Also, I really liked the reading plan that came along with it, which included a daily selection from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Psalms.
  • The Listener’s Bible: Two years ago, I did my Bible “reading” in the car by listening to audio CDs that were recorded by Max McLean. Not only did this allow me to make the most of time in which I was otherwise unproductive, it also allowed me to hear Scripture instead of read it, which is the same way that the original audiences would have been exposed to it. Bonus feature: your road rage tends to decrease when you drive around listening to God’s word.
  • ReadScripture App: Last year, I used the Bible Project’s free ReadScripture app on my iPhone (also available on Android), and absolutely loved it. Having everything on your phone is incredibly handy, the Bible Project videos that introduce each biblical book are incredible, and the emphasis on the Bible as one unified story that points to Jesus is very helpful.
  • Bibliotheca: This year, I am using Bibliotheca for my Bible reading. This approach is novel for a couple of reasons. First, everything about Bibliotheca has been carefully designed to enhance the reading experience: from removing the verse and chapter numbers, to the craftsmanship of the books themselves, to even the specially-designed font. Second, Bibliotheca uses an updated version of the incredibly literal American Standard Version. So far, I have not loved the stilted style of this translation, but the novelty of it and some of the word choices it uses has caught my attention several times and has helped me to see things in a new light (similar to what I said about the Message above, except from the opposite perspective).
  • Whole Books at a Time: This process is described here and is my tentative plan for next year. This is not truly a daily Bible reading plan, as you basically set aside one large block of time per week to read entire books in one sitting, but I can certainly see great potential value in reading the individual books as unified wholes.

If you are currently trying to read through the Bible this year, I applaud you on your goal, and maybe one of these methods will be helpful to you. But remember, more important than completing the entire Bible in an arbitrary amount of time is establishing the practice of regularly spending time in God’s word and seeking the transformation that comes from doing so.

What Language Study Has Taught Me About The Bible

School-wise, this semester has been (and will continue to be) a challenging one, so my posting here has had to take somewhat of a backseat. Sorry about that.

I have written before about my (mis)adventures in the study of languages, and this semester is a continuation of that trend, as I am simultaneously taking my final Greek class and my first Hebrew class.

The two languages are different enough that, so far, I haven’t gotten them too mixed up in my head, but studying both at the same time has been difficult and has required a lot of my brainpower. Greek is now pretty familiar (this is my fourth class in it) and I actually enjoy working and translating it, but Hebrew is just so foreign that it has been a strain.

Having said all this, I am repeatedly struck by three significant lessons that I have learned from language study:

(1) We owe such a debt to those who have gone on before us and have translated the Scriptures into our own languages. Language study takes a lot of patience, diligence, and perseverance. Translating from one language to another is difficult, and is especially more difficult when you are translating from hard-to-read ancient texts. There was a time when the vast majority of church-going people were unable to read the Bible for themselves, and were completely reliant on what others told them about it. We are in such a position of privilege to be able to read Scripture in our own tongue, and to do so with a great degree of confidence that what we are reading is an accurate portrayal of the original.

(2) It is important to read from and consult multiple translations. As I mentioned above, translating from one language to another is difficult. Anyone who has engaged in the process knows that often, a certain Hebrew or Greek word can be translated in multiple ways in English, and the different options have to be weighed. Ultimately, a lot of opinion and subjective interpretation comes into play when translating from one language to another, not because people are biased or dishonest or irresponsible, but simply because there is no other way to translate. A certain degree of interpretation is inherently involved. One of the great things about consulting multiple translations is that they tend to have a way of correcting the biases and weaknesses of one another. In other words, if you’re holding onto a particular doctrinal position based on one translation which is in disagreement with all others, you probably need to reevaluate your position.

(3) The Bible is a masterpiece. Studying the Bible in its original languages emphasizes to me how awesome it is. It is so intricately woven together, with certain words or literary devices emphasizing themes or creating links between different stories, books, and even between the Old and New Testaments. It has reinforced to me the unity and diversity of Scripture: composed by dozens of human authors whose individual voices shine through, but ultimately inspired by the Spirit of God, who works all pieces together into a complete and complementary whole.

To sum it all up, while studying biblical languages has been (and will continue to be) a challenge, it has also been a blessing because of these important lessons I have learned (or relearned). Hopefully they will bless your lives as well.

Why Don’t We All Read the Bible the Same Way?

Why Don't We All Read the Bible the Same Way?

If you at all pay attention to the world of Christendom, you are aware of the fact that a lot of people who claim to follow the teachings of the same book (the Bible) come to vastly different conclusions about what that book teaches. Why is that?

I think there are a lot of reasons: sometimes people read the Bible with less than pure intentions, and that can certainly affect the way it is interpreted. Other times people simply haven’t been trained very well, and this can warp their understandings as well.

But I think one of the biggest reasons that there is such a wide variety in the way the Bible is interpreted stems from the fact that people are very different from one another: we come from different ethnic, social, economic, and geographical backgrounds, and we also have significantly different personal experiences. All of these things combine to make us unique people who look at the world (and Scripture) in unique ways. It just makes sense that we would see some things differently. I recently read an example which illustrates this profound influence that our different backgrounds can have on the way we read and interpret Scripture.[1]

Using the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-32), one scholar had readers from different cultures read the story silently and then recount it to someone else. The results were surprising:

  • Only 6 percent of American readers mentioned the famine that came upon the land while the prodigal was in the far country (15.14). In contrast, 100 percent of the recounted the way the prodigal wasted his estate (15.13).
  • When the same exercise was used with residents of St. Petersburg, Russia, 84 percent mentioned the famine while only 34 percent mentioned the squandering.

So what’s the point?

In 1941, the army of Nazi Germany besieged St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) for about 2 1/2 years, leading to the death of 670,000 people (the picture above shows destitute citizens fetching water from a busted water line). The Russians polled in the exercise were survivors of the famine or descendants who had heard of the horrors of it throughout their lives, and thus it was only natural that they would be quick to hear of the problem of famine in the prodigal’s misadventures.

On the other hand, American readers had never experienced famine, but they definitely were familiar with wasteful and excessive lifestyles. It makes sense that they would seize upon these aspects of the parable.

While these differences don’t mean that the two groups would necessarily come to irreconcilably different interpretations of Jesus’ story, the example does illustrate how differences in our backgrounds and experiences can cause us to read the Bible differently, and can impact our interpretations accordingly.

To me, there are at least three implications of this point:

  1. We need to be humble about our interpretations, realizing that they are at least in part influenced by our own personal experiences and backgrounds and thus, subject to bias.
  2. Since Scripture does not have an unlimited number of valid interpretations (if it did, it would be meaningless), it follows that the backgrounds and experiences of some people help them to arrive at valid interpretations, while those of others hinder them from doing so.
  3. The solution is for us to study more and seek God’s guidance in understanding His word! This enables us to learn from each other, discovering the blind spots in our own perspectives and helping others to do the same. God doesn’t intend that His will for our lives be unintelligible, but that doesn’t mean that discerning it through Scripture won’t require time, effort, and practice.

[1] Clayton N. Croy, Prima Scriptura: An Introduction to New Testament Interpretation (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2011), 5-6.

Different Types of Maps: Read (and Preach, and Teach) the Whole Bible

In 2 Timothy 3.16-17, Paul writes:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Based on Paul’s words here, I think it should be obvious that we should give attention to all of Scripture, rather than just study the parts that we like over and over again. Some people focus on Paul’s writings; others spend a lot of time in the Gospels. Some folks obsess over the accounts of the early church in Acts, while others never stray far from the wisdom literature or the historical books of the Old Testament.

And it’s okay to have favorites, but if we emphasize our favorites to the point that we neglect the other portions of Scripture, then we aren’t taking Paul’s words from 2 Timothy 3.16-17 very seriously.

In Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, Jonathan T. Pennington puts it very well:
“…For Jefferson County, Kentucky, where I live, we could look at a topographical map that shows terrain and elevations or a road map; at a map that records annual rainfall or one that indicates historical landmarks and points of scenic interest; or we could consult a survey that shows where property lines begin and end. These are all different maps, and they would look very different if set beside one another. But of course they don’t contradict one another. They are complementary and beneficial. They are different discourses of truth—or different ways of approaching and presenting knowledge.

If this is true for maps of Jefferson County, Kentucky, how much more for theology and Holy Scripture. We need to think of the Bible not as a single map that just gives us doctrinal statements or moral commands, but we must realize that the Bible is like an atlas—a collection of maps/books that shows us the way, the truth, and the life but in a variety of languages or discourses or ways of communicating. To privilege—or worse, to rely exclusively on—only one form is detrimental to apprehending truth; a topographical map helps little when we’re seeking the best restaurants.” 
What a great analogy this is! The Bible is true, but it presents truth in a variety of ways. In Matthew, truth might be presented through a parable. In 1 Kings or Acts, it might be presented in historical narrative. In Psalms, truth is presented through poetry, and in Proverbs through pithy sayings. In books like Romans, Paul often presents truth in direct theological or doctrinal statements, and in Revelation, John presents truth through bizarre and sometimes frightening visions.

All of these different “maps” are a vital part of the entire “atlas” of the Bible. Some are more useful for certain purposes than others, but all contain truth and none should be neglected.

I think all people of faith would do well to be more well-rounded in our Bible study.

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