A Fish Story

Follow this link to a classic account of a student learning about the powers of observation. First read the story, and then think of how this might apply to the reading of the Scriptures – or any other piece of literature.



colored pencils

Below is an example of a manuscript study.   Psalm 121 has been copied from a literal tranlsation, the ESV, and the verse numbers have been removed.

Simply by coloring repeated words, and related concepts, you can see the use of repetion and development in this passage. If you do this by hand, with pencils, you can circle, draw lines linking the words and ideas, and make notes, comments or questions in the margin.

Psalm 121 – ESV

A Song of Ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?

My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.

The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.


Approaches to Reading Scripture

While it would be too much to give a comprehensive account of the ways the Bible has been read, it is certainly worth noting some of the main approaches that others have followed.

The Plain Meaning – We can start by reading a passage at its face value. We could call this the literal meaning. For example. The Story of David and Goliath is about how an inexperienced David fought with the fearsome Goliath, with only a sling and stones. Jesus feeding the 5000 is about Jesus taking a boys lunch and multiplying it to feed a crowd with left overs. We are not looking for symbolism or hidden meanings, but what the text says if read plainly.

Symbolism – When a phrase is symbolic, we try to understand the symbol. We consider the context, the author, the first audience and the situation. For example, we do not take the following verses literally, as if God rode a cloud like a skateboard: Psalm 104:3-4 ESV

he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
[4] he makes his messengers winds,
his ministers a flaming fire.

This image is in a poetic book, the Psalms. This psalm is a reflection on the world from the standpoint of the Days of Creation of Genesis 1. So we understand the image to mean that God is the master of the atmosphere, and that even thunderstorms answer to his commands.

The "Analogy of Faith" is a phrase in Romans 12:6 . It has been taken to mean that the Bible in its parts should be read in the light of the whole. That is, when you encounter an obscure passage, it is best to read it in comparison (analogy) to other passages. It is also helpful to read unclear and symbolic passages by clear and explanatory passages. Verses saying that God "repented" ought to be read next to verses saying that "God is not a person that he would change his mind" (see Gen 6:6 and Numbers 23:9 – with study you will discover that two words are used for repentance – one for people and the other for God.). The 6th Commandment "Thou Shall not Kill" is read against the balance of scripture to see that it means something like "Thou shall not murder." Otherwise we could take the command to include a prohibition against eating meat. This approach gives scripture a self balancing quality. It is based on the theological point that God does not lie.

Rules of Grammar and Composition Apply. Basically, we read the Bible as we would read any other literature. It is not intended to be read for secret messages or hidden meanings. It follows the grammar of it's original languages. It follows the conventions of literature. For example, while we generally sign our letters at the end, the New Testament letters begin by identifying the writer and the audience, as was customary in that period. Some people pull single phrases out of the paragraph or story from which it came and invest it with another meaning. Just as you understand Shakespeare by reading the whole sonnet, or Bono by listening to the whole song, we read the Bible by noting its shape and form.

Higher Meaning. We do not recommend this approach, but many have sought a deeper or more spiritual meaning to a text. This often came out of a philosophy that the real and apparent is not as excellent as the symbolic and abstract. So, in I Samuel 17, David and Goliath might be taken to be about Truth verses Error, or Freedom verses Injustice. Sometimes numbers are analyzed for deeper meaning. In Mark 5:13, almost 2,000 pigs are driven into the sea of Galilee; by a very imaginative interpretation, one author suggested that the world would come to an end in almost 2,000 years from that point in time. At FRESH READ, we will take a more literary approach to the Scriptures.

Meditation. In the Biblical use of the term, meditation means a deep reflection upon a text of scripture. Unlike forms of meditation which seek to empty the mind, the biblical use of meditation is to fill the mind. This is viewed as a mental and a spiritual process. It takes time. It recognized that the scriptures are a personal communication from the Creator, and seeks his insight into what he has said to us in the Bible. (See Psalm 1)

About Translation


The Bible was not written in English, but in ancient languages. Except for specialists who know Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, we read the Bible in English translation.

There are dozens of translations to choose from. With FRESH READ, we will use a literary translation, such as the New Revised Standard Version.
This is midway between “word for word” literal versions and the freer “idea for idea” versions.
The NRSV strives to be gender inclusive – it will usually only use male pronouns when that was the original intent.

This is important for a FRESH READ. Since the goal is to experience the biblical text itself. We will not attend to the observations and opinions of previous readers. It is important to use a literary version that reflects the language and the meaning of the Bible, and that is reads clearly in English.

If you want to read more on this topic, keep reading. If not, feel free to stop here!

Translations can be divided into four categories: Literal, Literary, Dynamic and Interpretive.

Literal translations try to follow the original in a word for word fashion. This can lead to awkwardness and even confusion in English. For example, the King James Version of Psalm 48:1:

Psalm 48:1-2 – KVJ
“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness.
[2] Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth,
is mount Zion, on the sides of the north,
the city of the great King.”

The phrase “mountain of his holiness” could suggest the image of the immensity of the holiness of God. It actually is a literal translation of the Hebrew grammar, which means “His holy mountain.”

Literary translations try to be “as literal as possible and as free as necessary.” They try to retain as much as the flavor of the original text, while at the same time making it clear in English.

Psalm 48:1,2 – NRSV
“Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised,
in the city of our God.
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.”

Dynamic Translations try to translate ideas for ideas. They are not as concerned to carry over into English the structure or the words of the original. They are freer in form, but try to stay close to the meaning of the original text.

Psalm 48:1,2 – NIV
“Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise,
in the city of our God, his holy mountain.
It is beautiful in its loftiness,
the joy of the whole earth.
Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion,
the city of the Great King.”

Interpretive translations are really a more personal reflection upon the text. These can be very free and offer insights by the translator into the text. The New Century Version is one example:

Psalm 48:1,2 – NCV
“The Lord is great; he should be praised
in the city of our God, on his holy mountain.
It is high and beautiful
and brings joy to the whole world.
Mount Zion is like the high mountains to the north;
it is the city of the Great King.”

It us usually best to read more than one translation. We suggest a more literal translation and a more free version. The more literal is a safeguard against following some one else’s interpretation. The more free version guards against obscurity.

Below is a list of some of the most popular current translations, but certainly not all of them:

New American Standard Bible
English Standard Version
King James Version
New King James Version

Revised Standard Version
New Revised Standard Version
Revised English Version
Jerusalem Bible

New International Version
New Century Version

Living Bible
The Message
Phillips Translation
New Living Translation

A good web site where you can search for passages or specific words in the Bible as well as compare several translations is: http://www.biblegateway.com


Psalm 23 – A Fresh Read of the Familiar

Psalm 23 is one of the most familiar passages in the Bible. It is learned by children, it is put on posters, it is recited at funerals. An no wonder, because it is easily accessable to us, even if we don't know much about sheep.

Here is the assignment:

1. Read Psalm 23

2. Print it from this page, if you like and carry it with you.

3. Write down observations and questions.

4. Find a way to respond to it by re-writing it in your own words, by writing something in response, by composing music, creating a collage, or whatever blows your hair back.

5. Feel free to post your thoughts.

Here is Psalm 23 in the New Revised Standard Version

Psalm 23
The Divine Shepherd
A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.



Who is Fresh Read?

I am the voice of FRESH READ. So let me tell you who I am, and who are my cohorts in this Blog.

First, I am a lifer. From the earliest years of my life ( I am about to turn 50), my home was a place where the Bible was read. Dad used to read to my brother and me from an illustrated book of Bible stories. I remember my first visit to Sunday School, where Greg, a kid my age, showed me to our class in the lower level of a small church in Washington state. There was a yellow flower pinned onto a bulletin board in that little class room.

There was Mrs. Clark, who had a Bible Club for neighborhood kids. It was shocking to learn there that not everyone goes to heaven. This shock resonated for me for the next decade or so as I wavered in indecision about the big question of life and death. Mrs. Clark also gave us cookies. Her husband drove a Packard with a flying swan hood ornament.

My favorite book of the Bible changes from year to year. For a time it was Ecclesiastes – an odd choice many would say. But I am still quite fond of it's slightly minor key approach to life. For example:

Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 (ESV) There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, [25] for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? [26] For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Secondly, for the last 20 years I have been a preacher.
I am the sort of preacher that teaches through the books of scripture. For that reason, my favorite biblical book changed to Mark. Gracious people in Queens, New York and Madison, WI listened to my series on this, possibly the earliest of the Gospels.

Now, my favorite book is Isaiah – which took about two years to work through. If it were possible to find the time, my dream job would be to write a book for pastors on Isaiah. (There is plenty for scholars already. ) I love the use of language by this most literary of the prophets. We preachers could use a little help with bringing this 66 course feast to our people.
Parts of this passage in Isaiah can be found twice at the United Nations, a little known fact we discovered when taking kids on a field trip to the UN. Amazingly one of the sites was on the inscription of a sculpture of a Soviet worker beating his sword into a plow. This was donated by the Soviet Union.

Isaiah 2:2-5 (ESV)
It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
[3] and many peoples shall come, and say:
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths."
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
[4] He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
[5] O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord.

Third, besides being a lifer and a preacher, what you need to know is that I think that the Scriptures speak for themselves. They speak sometimes with force and often in gentleness, sometimes with beauty and often with an untamed wildness.


The purpose of FRESH READ is not to promote any one person or any one church. It is simply to encourage the reading of the Scriptures.

Finally, some other writers might be found on FRESH READ. They might be historical friends, like St. Augustine and Martin Luther. They might be current authors. They might be friends of mine who share this love of the word. Those whose names you might recognize will be labeled. The rest of us will remain in the background.

Do you need to know more? Just ask.