What we Bring to the Text – Joshua

scribe.2In comparing an older dictionary, “The New Bible Dictionary” 1962, IVP (NBD) and the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, 2005, IVP (DOT) I found a world of difference.

The older work (NBD) noted some of the same evidence – for example that Joshua was not always noted with Caleb in the story of the Spies in the Land, or the difference between the goal of conquest and it’s completion in Joshua.  The Older work operated from an assumption of accuracy of the Biblical Text and found ways to explain the evidence of “conflict” in the light of the purpose of the author – to show that the people fell short of the ideal.  God acted through great events and through imperfect people.  We should heed this word.

The newer work (DOT) took these as evidence of multiple and contradictory sources that were not harmonized within the text, nor really capable of being harmonized.  It did not grant the Biblical text the assumption of historical accuracy, but on the basis of historical studies and attempts at recreating of the events of the Exodus came up with a very different view.  It holds that there was no conquest as an event, but at best a gradual immigration of outsiders over time who were part of a transition in the culture and economy of the land.  The Story of Israel evolved historically as well as textually over time.  We should read this word carefully.

Both works are from Inter Varsity Press and try to integrate Scripture with historical background.  Yet they show two very different views of the text.

I recall debates in the 70s over inerrancy and limited inerrancy which in my reading boiled down to this: inerrancy is deduced from the truth of God and the evidence is arranged in that light.  Limited inerrancy found out it was very hard to prove that there are no errors and did not feel right in reconciling things like rabbits chewing cud or historical details that differed between two biblical sources.  Inerrancy is confessional and deductive.  Limited Inerrancy is inductive and inconclusive by nature.

What we bring to the text makes a great deal of difference in how we see the text.

Seeing with colored pencils




In the first Bridges over the Yahara River watercolor class, we were looking at Psalm 1.  I showed the group the use of colored pencils for marking words and observing the structure of the passage.  So there we were under the overhang at Tenney Park, waiting for the rain to subside, huddled in blankets and LOOKING at Psalm 1.

1 Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

4 Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

In out group of 7, at least three started to take the colored pencils and draw a tree (v. 3).  Yet that was not a distraction, but seemed to help in processing the words.  When we shared our observations after about 20 minutes, there were some profound insights into context, shape and content of the psalm.  Perhaps because we were in an artistic mode, and because we had planted ourselves by a stream of water (the Yahara River), the text came alive to us.

Sticks & Soil – Making Connections

walking stickIn the last two days I was able to speak to a group of ex-offenders and to a group of kids at church at an awards banquet.

I took a walking stick to the first group.  this was carved in a piece of curly willow that I had harvested from my front yard. It is a joke that I walk a little on the slow side – mainly because I am looking at things – gardens, trees, birds, bumper stickers.  So I put on there a tortoise and a hare.  The verse is from Ecclesiastes 9:11

The race is not to the swift
    or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
    or wealth to the brilliant
    or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

The point is that we can not expect to rush, rabbit like, to the finish line, but it will take some time.  This lead to several interesting conversations about wood carving.  It was a nice way for folks to connect.

At the awards banquet the decorations were pots and seeds.   I talked about what was needed besides the pots and seed packets. The Kids figured out we needed good soil – not the sand and rock salt I had first suggested.  The point here was that we need to be receptive soil to the scriptures – as Jesus taught int he parable of the sower. (Mark 4)

So in these examples a stick and some dirt became ways to connect.  We all do things that help us connect to the scriptures – areas of interest in our lives that connect to specific scriptures.  Walking Sticks and Ecclesiastes 9 or Psalm 1.  Gardening and a number of parables of Jesus and Isaiah 55.

Think about what connects with you? What do you know that helps others make connections?

My new adventure is this http://www.twobookretreats.com

Three Versions of Psalm 119:8-16

I am preaching a series called ABC, where the B stands for read the Bible richly.  So I decided to take the second 8 verse section of Psalm 119.  This Psalm is an acrostic, working through the 22 Hebrew letters.  Each verse in the 8 verse sections start with the same letter as the writer worked through the alphabet – in the case of Hebrew it is the Aleph-Beth.

The three versions below show some creativity in translation.  the NIV is more fluid, as usual. the ESV is helpful in that it retains the distinctive words of the psalm, there are at least 8 synonyms for the scriptures (word, statute, decree, etc).  In the Knox version, the translator used the English alphabet to try to reproduce the Acrostic feel. You can find the whole psalm on http://www.biblegateway.com.


How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

ESV –  Beth

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.

10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!

11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.

12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!

13 With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.

14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.

15 I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.

16 I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.


Best shall he keep his youth unstained, who is true to thy trust.

10 Be thou the whole quest of my heart; never let me turn aside from thy              commandments.

11 Buried deep in my heart, thy warnings shall keep me clear of sin.

12 Blessed art thou, O Lord, teach me to know thy will.

13 By these lips let the awards thou makest ever be recorded.

14 Blithely as one that has found great possessions, I follow thy decrees.

15 Bethinking me still of the charge thou givest, I will mark thy footsteps.

16 Be thy covenant ever my delight, thy words kept in memory.

Click to read about the KNOX translation –

Farewell Old Friend – NIV 84

yorickI remember back (way back) in High School when the NIV New Testament was coming out.  We had at the time the choice between the King James Version, the RSV and the NASB.  The King James was dated, though still loved.  The NASB was rather wooden, though good for study (think if it as a sturdy ancestor of the ESV).  The RSV was not acceptable among most Evangelicals because of some of its translation choices.  (“young girl” instead of “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14.)

I got the NIV NT and then the NIV whole bible later, when it came out in a nice single column format.  It was my bible for years – notes and highlights in the text.  Until finally it wore out.

Its value is a combination of faithfulness to the original text along with readability.  Some translations that were more “literal” were almost unreadable.  So the NIV was a solid bible for anyone.  People who had not grown up in the church could read it.

I am been reading for a year in the New NIV – it is generally like the Old NIV – there are some changes – the most controversial is the attempt at gender neutrality.  When a male pronoun is really a generic pronoun, they translate it generically.  “Brothers” become “brothers and sisters.”  Yet God is still “Father” and Jesus is still the “Son.”  I’m ok with that.  It is how English works these days.

I have noted a few clunks – when “they” is used for “he” it can change the meaning – from singular to plural.  Psalm 32 was an example of this kind of clunk.

However, overall I find the New NIV usable.

Yet, after a transition, the NIV – 84 has been removed from the list of choices on-line.  You can not buy a new old NIV because they are no longer printed. You can not find it on Bible Gateway, because it is no longer there.

“Alas, Old NIV, I knew you well.”

On buying a Bible

scribe.2So my old NIV – 84 fell apart.  After dawdling between the ESV and the new NIV, i chose a single column format NIV for the regular use bible.  My more literal reading companion is the ESV Literary Study Bible.  In both cases I avoided lots of notes and clutter (what is a library for?) and red letters (NEVER) and double columns (do any other books come in double columns?)

In the picture from top right (Greek NT), top left (Spanish – NVI English NIV 84 NT)

Multi View of John 19

Multi View of John 19








bottom left (new NIV) bottom right (ESV Literary Study bible)


Commentary Soup

give it time

give it time

So it is a funny thing.

I like to find the academic commentaries  from the UW library, which slice, dice and analyze the biblical text.   I don’t agree with the frequent theorizing about editors, redactors, schools and emendations that they do suggest.   Also there is very little of pastoral value – that is, what can help the people keep the word.  But for analyzing the text itself, these kinds of books, typified by the Anchor Bible series are very helpful.  My motto: take what I can, leave the rest.  This is for me the soup stock.

In the case of John’s gospel, the Anchor volumes are very helpful for the ebb and flow of the book. Raymond Brown suggests that the first 12 chapters really have to do with Jesus interactions with the major festivals of the Jewish calendar.   I found that the book Reading John, by Charles Talbert does a nice job of literary analysis.  Neither of these books are that helpful on connection to life.

I like to peruse the classic evangelical commentaries, but until recently, most of these are weak in the area where the academic texts ares strong   For example, Young’s commentary on Isaiah (3 volumes) is a classic, but it is mostly a series of verse by verse comments with lots of word meanings.   I much prefer Motyer’s Isaiah commentary, thought shorter, it gives the shape and flow of the book, and there re little sermonic nuggets in the text.   In John, Leon Morris’ work is a lot like Young’s in Isaiah – words discussed by verse, but not a lot of literary structure.   F. F. Bruce is helpful at a less analytic level.  These books are the diced carrots and potatoes.

Sometimes a historic commentary such as Luther’s Works or the like adds a bit of flavor to the sermonic soup.   Consider this the herbs and spices for the soup.

I like to read someone who is or was a pastor and who gives the word a work over from a sermonic standpoint.  Lot’s of books by John Stott fit in this category, I still think his commentary on I John is the most helpful on that book.  I don’t have a good book in this category to name.  This is the meat for the soup.

Finally, what is needed is time for the soup to simmer lowly on the back of the stove.   Don’t start your reading on Saturday.  Start ahead and let it simmer and stew.

Dividing a Chapter – John 8

oldest fragment of John

oldest fragment of John


Here are 7 ways to divide a chapter.

John 8 is a complex “discourse” that involves an extended interaction between Jesus and both seekers and opponents.

John Talbert in Reading John (Crossroad, 1992), sees this pattern.  In each of the five sections we have the following pattern

  1. Jesus makes a provocative statement
  2. Someone in the crowd replies or argues
  3. Jesus gives an answer.
  • v. 12-20 – I am the light of the world
  • v. 21-30 – I am going away
  • v. 31-40 – The truth will set you free
  • v. 41-50 – If God were your father
  • v. 51-59 – …will not see death.

Leon MorrisThe Gospel According to John – NICNT (Eerdmans, 1971).  He notes that this seems to happen at the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles (ch 7) and involved Jesus and his opponents.  (however note v. 30). He offers no reason for his breakdown except at v. 20.

  • v. 12-20 – The witness of the Father
  • v. 21-24 – Dying in sins
  • v. 25-30 – The Father and the Son
  • v. 31-47 – Slaves of Sin
  • v. 48-59 – The Glory the Father gives the Son

Philip Comfort and Wendell HawleyOpening the Gospel of John, (Tyndale, 1994) put the focus on seven “I am” statements.  (This is to be distinguished from the Messianic “I AM” Statements in other chapters.)

  • v. 12 – I am the Light of the World
  • v. 16 – I am not alone
  • v. 18 – I am the one who testifies for myself…
  • v. 23 – I am from above
  • v. 23 – I am not of this world
  • v. 24, 28 – I am he (the Christ)
  • v. 58 – I am!

Translations usually provide divisions with headings, this reflects a kind of commentary on the text.

NIV  (i.e. New NIV)

  • v. 12-20 – Dispute over Jesus’ Testimony
  • v. 21-30 – Dispute over Who Jesus is.
  • v. 31-47 – Dispute over Whose Children Jesus’ Opponents Are
  • v. 48-59 – Jesus’ Claims about himself

NIV – 84   (i.e. Old NIV)

  • v. 12-30 – The Validity of Jesus’ Testimony
  • v. 31-41 – The Children of Abraham
  • v. 42-47 – The children of the Devil
  • v. 48-59 – Jesus claims about Himself

ESV – (Bible Gateway)

  • v. 12-29 –  I am the Light of the World
  • v. 31-38 – The Truth will set you Free
  • v. 39-47 – You are of your Father the Devil
  • v. 48-59 – Before Abraham was, I Am

ESV – Literary Study Bible (Leland and Philip Ryken – Crossway, 2007).  This version of the ESV does not give headings in the text.  They provide a small box with notes before each section.  Here they note that chapter 8 is a collection of stories, they divide the text into three sections

  • v. 12-20
  • v. 21-30
  • v. 31-59
  • Then they noted that one can “comb through the passage looking for the following motifs:  1. Jesus as controversialist, 2. evidence that Jesus is Divine, 3.  The story line of hostility between religious leaders and Jesus, 4. teaching on sin and forgiveness and 5 the authority of Jesus.  It is unusual that they do not attempt to discern a larger structure.


The ESV seems to agree with Talbert that the passages revolves around strong statements by Jesus, however they divide the text differently   In my version of the ESV, there is a space added at v. 20.

The variety from this small sample shows how fluid this text is.  Talbert is the most interested in internal grammatical structure.  The NIV was on to the idea of  this being a dispute, but they did not label the last section that way, which is odd because it ends with opponents wanting to throw stones at Jesus.  The Old and New NIV’s did not agree on divisions or headings.

Talbert and Hawley’s seven  “I am” statements give one a handle, but I am not sure they reflect the internal structure of the passage.  It is also confusing with the more typically cited “I AM” statements that are claims to divine status.

The Rykens give little hope of finding a structure.

For a preacher this is too much to cover in one sermon – I plan to speak on verses 12-40

Guigo II – Checking it Out



In pursing my reading on “Spiritual Reading” or “Lectio Divina“, the name Guigo II came up repeatedly.  He is identified as the first to have discussed spiritual reading as a four stage process of reading, meditating, praying and contemplation.

This study had raised several questions for me:

  • Was this an anti-intellectual project or did the reading include study?
  • What is the difference between meditation and contemplation?
  • What sort of prayer are we talking about?

I traveled to the University of Wisconsin Library and found “The Ladder of Monks and Twelve Meditations” by Guigo II, translations and introductions by Edmond Colledge and James Walsh, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, 1981.  This is an English  translation of the original “Scala claustralium” and “Meditationes.”

“Ladder” is a short piece, about 20 pages,  written as a letter.   Guigo II became the ninth  prior of the mother house of the Grande Chartreuse in 1173 or 1174.  This  house is in the Benedictine tradition, which itself stretches back to the 6th Century.  He speaks of the four steps as a latter reaching from earth to heaven.    On the first read through I have some observations.

  • This is a means to a mystical experience  that is not automatic, but the desired result of the exercises   The person who follows this seeks to have “contemplation” in the sense of a mystical vision of Christ.
  • Thus meditation differs from contemplation in that the first is a mental reflection on the text, while the second is a spiritual experience.
  • It seems that to Guigo II this is part of a process of gaining eternal life. It is not merely part of his spiritual exercises; it is part of his salvation. [This is not totally clear in my reading.]
  • As far as anti-intellectualism, it seems first of all that in the 12th Century, there was not a lot of access to books, yet there was an emphasis on reading.  It may be better to say this is something above rational inquiry, not necessarily to replace it.  However, consider this quote, “Otherwise it is of no use for the reader to search in earthly books; there is little sweetness in the study of the literal sense, unless there be a commentary which is found in the heart, to reveal the inward sense.” [p. 76]  Like many in the middle ages, the real meaning of Scripture is sought beyond the grammar of the written page.

So the question for me is how is this useful to me as a protestant?  I have noticed that most protestant users of Lectio Divina live in the first three steps, and/or define the fourth step  in a different way.  that is to say, we see value in reading, meditation and prayer.  The end seems to be different, a more godly life as opposed to a mystic experience.

If I wrote a book on this, it would probably take the shape of a cycle.  Having received the new life in Christ (as an event not a process),  spiritual reading is a way to grow that faith and to extend the effect of salvation to all areas of life (this is a process, not a single event.)

Even so there are some interesting passages, particularly where he talks about how the stages are both sequential and inter-related. This quote defines the stages as Guigo uses them.

“Reading is the careful study of the Scriptures, concentrating all one’s powers on it.  Mediation is the busy application of the mind to seek with the help of one’s own reason for knowledge of hidden truth. Prayer is the heart’s devoted turning to God to drive away evil and obtain what is good.  Contemplation is when the mind is in some sort lifted up to God and held above itself, so that it tastes the joys of everlasting sweetness.”  [p.68]

My next project is to read the Rule of St. Benedict, written in 520 a.d. This is seen as the source of this particular stream of thought.

Practical Suggestions on Spiritual Reading



On Reading:



Here are some excerpts from “Sacred Reading” by Michael Casey (Ligouri, 1996)


  • Time: The best plan is to identify a brief daily slot that we could devote to our sacred reading – with a backup if necessary.  The main thing is to be realistic….It is better for morale to spend 5 minutes once a day and stick with it, than to pan on a longer duration and fail to find time.
  • Text selection: Read repeatedly from a single book of the bible – starting with one of the 4 gospels – and spend from 3 to 6 months in that book.
  • Ambience:  If you do your lectio divinia in areas associated with other activities, don’t be surprised if you are assailed by distractions…The first requirement is a degree of privacy.  The Gospels tell us as much (Matthew 6:6).
  • Lighting:  Whereas meditation often works best in dimness, spiritual reading obviously needs sufficient light o read the text comfortably.  For some people a large print Bible is a good idea.  Often some sort of bookstand can be helpful to get the page at the best angle and distance.
  • Routine.   Many people find that the repetition of customary actions is a great help in dropping off to sleep…the same kind of process can often help us in our prayer related activities.
  • Prayer.  Sometimes prayer wells us naturally during our reading; in such cases we do not need much external guidance.  At other times our reading may seem dry, and then we have to prime the pump.  If no prayer rises spontaneously from the text, we have to make a positive effort to add prayer.
    • E.g. Begin with a Psalm, or just one section of Psalm 119, this psalm is a celebration of the gift of God’s word, and saying part of it reflectively before we begin our reading helps unstill in us that spirit of joyful reference that makes us sensitive to its inner meaning.
  • Active Reading:  Spiritual reading is like reading poetry:  We need to slow down, to savor what we read, and to allow the text to trigger memories and associations that reside below the threshold of awareness.
  • Notes:  “…we may wish to compile a florigelium as the ancient monks did, writing a verse or two in of our daily reading in a book, so that gradually we build up an anthology of texts that have spoken to us.