Showing posts from 2018

You Can Do Better, NIV (Part 2)

Acts 4:32-37 offers a fascinating depiction of life in the earliest years of the Church. These verses tell us that believers were of one heart and mind, and shared everything. So much so that folks would sell property and bring the proceeds to the apostles for distribution to those in need. This brief section concludes with an example of someone named Joseph doing exactly that.

In the midst of these verses, Acts 4:33-34 offer a great example of the differences between English translations. Check out these verses in the NIV and NRSV.

33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales... (NIV)
33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person …

Merry Christmas.

The first two chapters of Luke are just a flurry of action and scene changes.

Then in Luke 2:19, there is a pause. We are given a moment to catch our breath, because Mary has been given a moment to catch her breath.

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

This verse has always fascinated me. It's really not that profound. The Greek behind it isn't that complex or anything. I'll tell you why I like it. In the midst of surprise pregnancies, surprise road trips, surprise lodgings, and surprise visitors, the Gospel tries to remind us that Mary is taking it all in and trying to understand it. Probably the same way you and I would be taking it all in and trying to understand it. Frankly, the Bible doesn't always seem concerned with the head space of it's main characters. When it does, it's refreshing. After the events of the first two chapters, Luke says that Mary needed some time to think. To ponder what she had been through…

You Can Do Better, NIV (Part 1)

In Genesis 25:19, a man named Isaac prays to YHWH for his wife Rebekah, who is barren.

Now you may not know this, but when it comes to the Bible, there is one surefire way to have a baby.

Be barren.

Sarai was barren (Genesis 11:30). Then she gave birth to Isaac.

Rachel was barren (Genesis 29:31). Then she gave birth to Joseph and later Benjamin.

Manoah was barren (Judges 13:2). Then she gave birth to Samson.

Hannah was barren (1 Samuel 1:5-6). Then she gave birth to Samuel.

Elizabeth was barren (Luke 1:7). Then she gave birth to John.

Rebekah was barren, Isaac prayed, Rebekah was barren no longer. In fact, it turns out she was pregnant with twins, and it was a rough pregnancy. Almost all English translations of Genesis 25:22 describe the children as struggling with each other inside her. The ongoing wrestling match inside of her leads Rebekah to cry out something like, "Why is this happening to me?" or "If it is to be this way, why do I live?", depending on which t…

Uhhhh.... Thanks?

Jonah is a funny little book in the Hebrew Bible. Only four chapters long, but a wealth of material. In a nutshell, it's the story of a Hebrew prophet, Jonah, who repeatedly lets God down in these four chapters. Meanwhile all the people who come into the story not even knowing who the God of Israel is all act in the manner we hope Jonah would. I think this story is a good one to remember on Thanksgiving, a day we're thankful for all we have. Family, blessings, provisions, three NFL football games, a ridiculous amount of college basketball games, leftovers for weeks, diverse political opinions together in a limited space, relatives lacking the most basic social skills and manners... Gee. Thanks for providing, God.

God provides in the book of Jonah. But not in the way we might expect.

The book begins with God telling Jonah, "Hey you know those Ninevite folks kinda nearby? I've heard some bad things. Go tell them to straighten up and fly right." (My paraphrase. Let&…

My Favorite Cannibal Story In The Bible

In John 6, Jesus told a group of folks:

I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. I live because of the living Father who sent me;
in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me. (John 6:53-57, New Living Translation)
I suspect many church folks are accustomed to hearing this verse. Unfortunately, growing so comfortable with passages from the Bible often means we really don't hear them anymore. What if you read the Bible like you'd never read it before? What if you listened to teachings about the Bible like it was all brand new? How would this passage sound to you? Let me paraphrase, and see if that makes my point:
"Then Jesus said,…

My Favorite Zombie Story In The Bible

No, it's not Lazarus.

Or Jesus, either, so don't worry, I won't be referring to Jesus as a zombie. I do, however, want to talk about some of the events at his death.

Matthew's account of the death of Jesus in Matthew 27:45-54 shares several spooky details. First, while Jesus is on the cross and still alive, Matthew says that darkness came over the whole land from about noon to three in the afternoon. That's not good. Darkness is never good. Ask Dr. Who.

Then, immediately after Jesus breathes his last, a curtain inside the temple of God was torn in two from top to bottom. Hebrews, another book in the New Testament, has led folks to understand this as symbolism for the death of Jesus making a way for us to draw near to God. It's interesting to me that Matthew offers no such commentary. He prefers to let the event stand on its own. It's a powerful image. I think for Matthew, power is more important than symbolism.

The display of power continues. Matthew tells…

My Favorite Demon Story In The Bible

There's a story I've always loved at the beginning of Mark 5 about Jesus and a demons-possessed man. Not a typo. Dude had real problems. You can find this story in Mark 5:1-20 if you want to read it later. It's a wild ride.

Most scary movies are kind of silly, right? Jason is kind of a joke. Most of us think we could take him, given the chance. Viewers can almost predict who will die and when. But movies about demon-possession? That's a different story. Even though the special effects are a bit dated now, The Exorcist... yikes. The Exorcism of Emily Rose... double yikes. And Frailty? Don't get me started on Frailty.

Whenever I finish a movie like those I've mentioned, I follow it up immediately by turning on every light in the house and watching multiple episodes of a quality sitcom. It doesn't matter if the ending of the film has a happy ending: the victim is free of possession, living a normal life, and all is well. Doesn't matter. I need lights and l…

My Favorite Witch Story In The Bible

Truth be told there aren't a lot of options when it comes to witch stories in the Bible, but this is a good one. And just in time for Halloween! I mean Fall Festival. Or Trunk or Treat. Or whatever made up name your church gives whatever event you're hosting this coming week, in order to avoid such undesirable pagan affiliations. Good for you. I, however, will exploit the opportunity to write about some stories from the Bible that fit the theme. Here's hoping it leads you to actually reading the stories themselves.

This story comes from 1 Samuel 28, and focuses on Saul, Israel's first king. We actually mentioned him with my last post -- prophetic frenzy, what a hoot, etc. 1 Samuel 15-31 is a block of chapters all about the continuing downfall of Saul and the rapid rise of the future king, David. So in 1 Samuel 28, we're nearing the end of Saul's story.

The story begins with some background information in 1 Samuel 28:3. First we learn that Samuel, prophet/advis…

There is nothing new under the sun... including the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel of John is my least favorite gospel. There. I said it.

I probably like Luke the best. Maybe Mark. But John? Meh.

Relax. It's a fine gospel. It's just the one I like the least. Maybe you have your favorite and your least favorite too, though you may never have said so to anyone.

We don't like them all equally. It's human nature. That's why we have four, with all of them written in such different styles. Some will like Matthew, others Mark, others Luke or John.

If it makes you feel better, I will tell you that my two favorite stories about Jesus are in John. But honestly, lots of times I don't know what he's trying to say, or I think he's taking way too long to say it. And then sometimes, I just think, "John! Seriously? Why would you say that?"

There's a great example in John 7:37-39. Jesus is teaching some folks about a time that was coming but was not yet, and John says (according to the NIV), "Up to that time, the Spirit h…

Seriously, learn your alphabet, King David.

With my last post we looked at the way Hebrew poetry sometimes uses the Hebrew alphabet, beginning each line of a poem or song with consecutive letters of that alphabet. These poems or songs are called alphabetic acrostics, and show up a lot in Psalms, most of Lamentations, and once in Proverbs. Some folks also point to Nahum 1, but it's a little weird.

Today I want to talk about something cool that happened with an acrostic in Psalms.

That's the nerdiest sentence I've ever written.

Actually, probably not. So that's embarrassing... anyway...

Psalm 145 is a psalm of praise to God. It's grand and majestic in its description of the works and character of God as understood by ancient Israel. And it even does this in the form of an acrostic. Verse 1 begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, verse 2 begins with the second letter, and so on.

Well, until you get to verse 14.

Verse 14 should begin with the Hebrew letter nun. Phonetically, nun is kind of like the …

Knowing your ABC's

When I was a kid, I remember one of my teachers helping the class with a gift for our mothers. It was an acrostic based on the word "mother." I'm sure you know what an acrostic is and you probably even remember making one a time or two as a child. It's when the first letter of each line of a poem spells out a word. I'm sure mine went something like this:

Marvelous Outstanding Terrific Hey mom, I'm not very creative Errr, can we work on something else instead? Recess must be coming up soon, right?
Seriously, here's a lovely acrostic I found online based on the word "mother."

You get the idea.
The Hebrew Bible is no stranger to acrostics. Unfortunately, they aren't readily apparent in our English translations. They're literally lost in translation, because the Bible wasn't written in English.
Sometimes, the Hebrew Bible uses acrostics on a rather grand scale. The book of Lamentations is a great example. It's one of those books we …

When I think about you, my bowels are refreshed.

Splagchnon (pronounced something like splongkh-non) is my favorite word in the Greek New Testament. It doesn't show up much, but it's still my favorite. Splagchnon is a body part that often metaphorically represented the seat of emotions for Greek-speaking people. Kind of like heart for us. Only it wasn't the heart for Greek speakers. It was the entrails. Yep. I promise I'm not making this stuff up.

Think about how that would change emojis on our smart phones.

Splagchnon shows up in Acts 1:18 when Luke describes the death of Judas. He says that Judas burst open in the middle and all of his splagchnon spilled out. Ewww. The NIV says all his intestines spilled out. The NRSV says bowels. So gross. I love it. I remember watching George A. Romero's Day Of The Dead when I was a teenager. Whenever I read Acts 1:18 I think of this scene from the film. (You probably don't want to click that.)

When splagchnon shows up in the New Testament, it's often translated "…

They Might Be Giants

David and Goliath.

These names evoke a visual response in our mind's eye.

If an NCAA basketball tournament game is described as "David vs. Goliath," we get the metaphor. My favorite example is actually a football game, when Appy State went into "the big house" and beat the Michigan Wolverines in 2007. David took down Goliath. Even if you don't know about that game, you probably get the metaphor.

The story of David and Goliath is found in 1 Samuel 17. David is a shepherd, the youngest of eight sons. His three oldest brothers were in battle against the Philistines and one day David, at the request of his father, left the sheep to bring his big brothers some food.

When David arrives at the battle scene, he witnesses Goliath, a Philistine soldier, challenging the army of Israel to present a worthy foe. In 1 Samuel 17:4 (and later in 17:23), Goliath is called "the man between the two." Translations usually don't call him that. Most call him "…

They named him laughter... kinda

Abraham and Sarah waited a long time for a child of their own. When the little guy finally became part of their family, Abraham was at least 100 years old and Sarah was more than 90 years old. So of course, they named him Isaac. Isaac means "he laughs," and to be fair, it is kind of funny.

They'd been laughing about it for a while. Abraham laughed first, in Genesis 17:17, when God told him that his 90 year old wife was going to have a baby. It says he fell on his face and laughed. Duh. If I was Abraham, I'd laugh just to keep from crying. He's 100 years old for goodness sake.

A chapter later, in Genesis 18:12, Sarah laughed when she heard the news. Again, I don't blame her. The whole thing is terrifying.

When Isaac is born, Sarah says in Genesis 21:6, "God has made laughter for me. Anyone who hears will laugh over me." This word will follow Isaac around for the rest of his life, and not just because it's his name.

Later, after Isaac has married,…

The Psalms And Popular Culture

The Psalms pervade our culture. It doesn't matter what you think of God, the Bible, or the Church, it's hard to live life without running into the Psalms. There's a reason Bible publishers include the Psalms when they print those little "New Testament only" Bibles. It's as if they're thinking, "Well, if we're going to eliminate the entire Hebrew Scriptures from the Christian canon, maybe we should throw in the Psalms just so people feel better about it."

That has the potential for a tangent. I'll just move forward.

As I was saying, the Psalms are everywhere.

Attend a traditional funeral in the United States and there's a good chance you'll hear Psalm 23 ("The Lord is my shepherd...") or at least find it printed in the program for the memorial service. A long time ago, Clint Eastwood starred in a film called Pale Rider, playing a preacher who saved a town besieged by a bunch of ruffians. Check out how the movie began th…

Hebrew is funny

Really, it is. I mean, not always intentionally, but simply because it says things differently than how we say them in English. Like all languages, Hebrew can be idiomatic. In other words, like all languages, sometimes it says things that are natural in Hebrew that aren't so natural in English.

Again, all languages do this. Case in point, "My nose is running."

Eh? To where? And is it making good time?

There is a great Hebrew idiom found in the middle of a story about David in 1 Samuel 25. Here's a quick summary of the story:

David, the shepherd who killed Goliath, is leading a band of rebels and is considered an enemy of the current king, Saul. David and his merry men have been camping without permission on privately owned land. David sends word to the owner, Nabal (whose name means foolish, by the way), and asks for anything Nabal might be able to spare for David and his guys. It turns out David and his rebels have been protecting Nabal's shepherds from bandits …