Showing posts with label #Literacy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Literacy. Show all posts

26 June 2023

Put some bible in your brain!

There are certain bits of bible which need to be embedded in a Christian’s brain. Need to be.

No, this isn’t a requirement before God can save you. But it’s extremely useful to be able to quote various verses and passages which remind us of God’s love and grace and goodness, of Jesus’s teachings and commands, of the thinking behind God’s acts and our beliefs, and of promises, encouragements, and expectations. We need to put some verses into our memories.

So here’s how we get started.

Lots of Christians insist there are particular verses every one of us ought have memorized, like the Lord’s Prayer, or “the Lord’s my shepherd,” John 3.16, or Romans 6.23, or Romans 10.9. (People tend to refer to verses by their addresses. That’s sorta annoying for those of us who mix addresses up. I’m one of them, by the way.)

No, I’m not going to go through the entire list of Christians’ favorite memory verses right now. I’ll bring one or another up from time to time. If you’ve been praying the Lord’s Prayer, hopefully you’ve got it in your head by now anyway.

Me, I prefer this technique: It’s a little more natural.

04 February 2022

A gospels synopsis.

Our word “synopsis” usually means a brief summary or overview, but when we get into biblical studies a synopsis is a comparison of two different parts of the bible which overlap. Like Psalms 14 and 53. Or David and the census in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21. Or the story of Ahab and Micaiah in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18. Or Hezekiah and the sundial in 1 Kings 20 and Isaiah 38.

Or, naturally, to compare the gospels.

Christians have been comparing ’em ever since they were first written. Sometimes to see if we can fit them all together, like Tatian of Assyria did with his Diatessaron, or A.T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospels. Thing is, when you combine then into one narrative, you gotta remove parts of the other gospels—and change their order, their structure, and various things which their authors deliberately put in there. You also lose a bit of the three-dimensional picture of Jesus they provide.

It’s why I prefer a gospel synopsis: We compare the stories, but don’t remove anything. We look at what each of ’em have, and compare. We deal with the difficulties they might produce. But we get a better, fuller picture of Jesus. That’s the point.

Obviously in my posts on Christ Jesus, I’ve been comparing similar texts. It’s sort of my own gospel synopsis. You can follow it if you want, but today I’m actually providing someone else’s. Basically it’s the table of contents from bible scholar Kurt Aland’s Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum (called Synopsis of the Four Gospels in the English edition). His synopsis compares the texts line by line from his Greek New Testament, 26th edition (the current edition is the 28th), or from the RSV in the English edition. But if you prefer another translation, the links below will take you to Bible Gateway, where you can read ’em in any translation they have. Sound good?

24 November 2021

Read your bible!

Just about every Christian teacher—myself included—tell Christians we gotta read our bibles.

’Cause we gotta. We live in a biblically-illiterate culture, folks. Heck, it’s darn near illiterate in general, because Americans simply don’t read. They read snippets; they read social media posts, or paragraphs, or really short articles, or devotionals whose daily reading intentionally takes up less than a page. Give them a long article to read, and about six paragraphs in, they’ll complain, “How long is this thing?” and quit. They’re not gonna read a novel, much less bible.

So the bits they do know of bible are entirely out of context. They’re individual verses, quoted to prove a point in a sermon, or turned into a meme and posted on social media. They’re the memory verses we use to defend ourselves: “No I don’t give to beggars, because if you don’t work you shouldn’t eat. That’s biblical.” It is, but again, context.

The bible references people know, are often a lot like that old children’s game of “telephone”: One kid whispers a message to another kid, who whispers it to a second, who whispers it to a third, and so on round the room… till it gets back to the first kid, who discovers the message changed an awful lot in transmission. Our culture has done the very same thing with bible quotes.

  • “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil” 1Ti 6.10 got turned into Money is the root of all evil,” and is used to bash the wealthy, the ambitious, capitalism, and pretty much everyone who has more than us.
  • “Judge not, that ye be not judged” Mt 7.1-3 got shortened to “Judge not,” and now we dismiss all sorts of behavior we’re supposed to critique, permit unrepentant sinners to take positions of authority… and miss Jesus’s real lesson, about inconsistent behavior. (Yep, Jesus said this. You’d be surprised how often people quote bible but don’t realize they’re directly quoting Jesus. You could be saying “Jesus says” instead of “The bible says”… although it’d have more impact if you knew what Jesus means.)
  • “The lion will lie down with the lamb” comes up from time to time when people talk about peace. But it’s a poorly-quoted bit of bible. In Isaiah 11.6 it speaks of a wolf and lamb, leopard and goat, and lion and calf respectively. Wild animals, and the domestic animals they usually attack.
  • “Pride goeth before a fall” is also a bit of bible that’s been abbreviated: “Pride [goeth] before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Pr 16.18 These are parallel ideas, so at least it wasn’t bent into the wrong idea. For once.
  • “The eyes are the windows to the soul” resembles Jesus’s saying that the eye is the lamp of the body, Mt 6.22, Lk 11.34 but Jesus is talking about a Hebrew idiom, “evil eye,” which meant greedy. If a good eye means light gets into your body, an evil eye means your body is dark. There’s nothing in the teaching about souls… and not every Christian is entirely sure what a soul is anyway.
  • “Spare the rod, spoil the child” isn’t even in the bible. Not that it stops many a parent from quoting it in order to justify beating their kids. Yes, corporal punishment is found in the scriptures, Pr 13.24, 22.15, 23.13-14, 29.15 but so is the warning that if we don’t spare the rod, we’ll frustrate our kids by our lack of compassion. Cl 3.21 We’re meant to be merciful like our Father Lk 6.36 —something that’d sink in if we weren’t just cherry-picking scriptures to justify ourselves.

02 February 2021

The two creation stories.

I was raised to be a young-earth creationist, as are many conservative Evangelicals in the United States: We’re taught God created the universe only 6 millennia ago, precisely 4 millennia before Jesus was born, so 4004BC. And if a scientist or historian tells us otherwise, it’s either because they’ve been duped by nontheists, or because they’re nontheist themselves.

Young-earth creationists (YEC for short) claim their views are based on a literal interpretation of Genesis. It says God created the cosmos in 6 days, and if we truly believe bible, we gotta likewise believe God created the cosmos in 6 days. There’s no room for any other interpretation.

The universe… if we take Genesis literally. NIV Faithlife Study Bible

Problem is, when we do take the creation stories of Genesis literally, we might notice it’s not describing the cosmos as we know it. It’s describing the cosmos as ancient middle easterners knew it, meaning a flat earth, with a solid-wall dome above it, and the sky in between; Ge 1.6-8 and the sun and moon and stars and planets inside this dome. Ge 1.16-19 If you truly wanna be literal, you’re gonna be a flat-earther. (And no surprise, some YEC adherents are flat-earthers.)

Of course if you’re truly trying to be literal, you’re gonna notice Genesis doesn’t just have one creation story in it. It has two.

Yeah, a lot of you knew this already, ’cause you’ve read Genesis dozens of times, and duh, of course there are two creation stories in it. But you’d be surprised how many conservative Evangelicals, no matter how many times they’ve read Genesis, have been totally oblivious to the fact it starts with two creation stories. It’s simply never occurred to them. They’ve been taught, since they first became Christian, that the bible only tells one unified consistent story throughout, and any “bible difficulties” are easily explained away. These beliefs function as some mighty effective blinders.

20 January 2021

Do you know your bible quotes?

Generally if you’re gonna call yourself biblically literate, you oughta at least know these quotes from the bible. Probably already do; you just didn’t realize they were from the bible.

ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALL SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD. Or “come short” in the KJV. Comes from Romans 3.23; means nobody measures up to God’s standard of perfection, but God graciously forgives us and grants eternal life. Ro 6.23

ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE. Or “all men” (KJV): Paul’s claim he adapted his circumstances so he can find common ground with everyone, and share Christ with them. 1Co 9.22 Y’know, “when in Rome.” Certain Christians are quick to point out Paul didn’t compromise his beliefs or behavior in so doing.

ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD. In context, “to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Ro 8.28 Various Christians pull it out of context and claim everything always turns out for the best. I remind ’em to read Ecclesiastes sometime.

ALL WE, LIKE SHEEP, HAVE GONE ASTRAY. Isaiah’s warning to his people: They turned away from God, like sheep who disregard their shepherd. Is 53.6

AM I MY BROTHER’S KEEPER? Cain’s excuse to God for not knowing where Abel was, Ge 4.9 though in fact he just murdered him. The phrase gets used to claim we’re not responsible for one other. In reality we often are.

ASK AND IT’LL BE GIVEN YOU. Jesus’s teaching that the Father wants to give good gifts to his kids. Mt 7.7

BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY. God’s directives to his animals after creating them. Ge 1.22 Including to the humans. Ge 1.28

BE SURE YOUR SIN WILL FIND YOU OUT. Moses’s warning to two tribes who promised they’d fight with the other ten; that if they broke their promise they’d get caught. Nu 32.23 Christians sometimes use this verse to claim every sin eventually gets found out. And many do… but some don’t.

BEAT THEIR SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES. A prophecy about future peace—or not—found in multiple books of the prophets. Is 2.4, Mc 4.3, Jl 3.10

19 January 2021

The bible, in chronological order. (More or less.)

Some of TXAB’s readers intend to read the bible in a month—or in four weeks, anyway—and have expressed curiosity about reading the bible in chronological order. It’s not enough that the creation of the cosmos comes first in Genesis, and the beginning of New Earth last in Revelation: They want everything sorted out by date.

Okay, fine.

But I will point out this order is debatable. ’Cause of course it is. Since when aren’t Christians gonna debate about who came first, Job or Abraham? (It’s Abraham. Job’s an Edomite; Edom/Esau is Abraham’s grandson.) Or which letter did Paul write first 1 Thessalonians or Galatians? (My money’s on Galatians.) Other chronological-order lists are gonna have a slightly different order, although Genesis is usually first and Revelation last.

Here, for your convenience, is the bible in chronological order. Not always the order it was written, but the order of the events which took place in the books. Print it out and check ’em off as you read ’em.

05 March 2020

Memorize Galatians 5.22-23.

Whenever Christians talk about the Holy Spirit’s fruit, we typically quote Paul’s list of ’em in Galatians 5.22-23. And it’s not a bad idea to memorize this particular verse. Pick your favorite translation and put it in your brain; I’ll quote the original.

Galatians 5.22-23 THGNT
22 ὁ δὲ καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἀγάπη, χαρά, εἰρήνη, μακροθυμία, χρηστότης, ἀγαθωσύνη, πίστις,
23 πραΰτης, ἐγκράτεια· κατὰ τῶν τοιούτων οὐκ ἔστιν νόμος.

Oh okay; the King James Version.

Galatians 5.22-23 KJV
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Anyway, this way we have a small inventory of fruit memorized. Comes in handy if there’s ever any question whether these things are fruit.

Defining the words.

Obviously whenever people quote this verse, it’s to list the fruits, and to define ’em. And for that, they bust out the dictionary—and if they have any sense, they bust out the Greek dictionary, since our English dictionaries only tell us how popular culture defines stuff.

I’ll quote Strong’s Greek Dictionary of the New Testament.

ἀγάπη/agápi, from ἀγαπάω/agapáo. Love, i.e. affection or benevolence; specially (plural) a love-feast—(feast of) charity(-ably), dear, love.

χαρά/hará, from χαίρω/haíro. Cheerfulness, i.e. calm delight—gladness. Or “greatly” (or “be exceeding”) “joy(-ful, -fully, -fulness, -ous).”

εἰρήνη/eiríni, probably from a primary verb εἴρω/eíro (to join). Peace (literally or figuratively); by implication, prosperity—one, peace, quietness, rest, + set at one again.

μακροθυμία/makrothymía, from the same as μακροθυμώς/makrothymós. Longanimity, i.e. (objectively) forbearance or (subjectively) fortitude—longsuffering, patience.

χρηστότης/hristótis, from χρηστός/hristós. Usefulness, i.e. morally, excellence (in character or demeanor)—gentleness, good(-ness), kindness.

ἀγαθωσύνη/agathosýni, from ἀγαθός/agathós. Goodness, i.e. virtue or beneficence—goodness.

πίστις/pístis, from πείθω/peítho. Persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation; abstractly, constancy in such profession; by extension, the system of religious (gospel) truth itself—assurance, belief, believe, faith, fidelity.

πραΰτης/praýtis, from πραΰς/praýs. Mildness, i.e. (by implication) humility—meekness.

ἐγκράτεια/enkráteia, from ἐγκρατής/enkratís. Self-control (especially continence)—temperance.

Other dictionaries will analyze these words in greater detail, and of course you can do a word study on each of ’em to see how the bible’s authors used these words.

Anyway these are some of the traits which should be obvious in a growing Christian. Having this verse memorized means we can more easily identify other Christians as growing… or not. But more importantly, we can identify whether we are growing… or not. It’ll remind us to be fruity.

05 September 2019

Summaries of the New Testament’s books.

Did the summaries of the Old Testament’s books, so it’s time I summarized the New Testament’s books too.


The gospels, I should point out, aren’t Jesus-biographies. They only focus on his ministry: Proclaiming God’s kingdom has come, and he’s its king; teaching us how we’re to live in his kingdom, starting now; and his death and resurrection.

Because people think of gospels as Jesus-biographies, they regularly miss the fact Acts is also a gospel: It likewise proclaims God’s kingdom has come, with Jesus its king; how we’re to live, with examples from the apostles’ behavior; and the aftermath of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Acts was written as a sequel to Luke, and arguably they oughta be read together as one giant two-part book. Still, people’s confusion means a lot of New Testament booklists have Acts in its own standalone category of “history.”

GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO MATTHEW. A gospel of Christ Jesus, written particularly for a Jewish audience. Hence all its Old Testament quotes, Jesus’s commentary on the Law, and other things first-century Jews would consider relevant; gentiles not so much. (A popular theory is it was originally written in Aramaic and translated to Greek, but we’ve no proof.)

GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO MARK. Probably the first gospel written, and one of the sources for Matthew and Luke. It’s short and to the point.

GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO LUKE. With Acts, a gospel that more resembles ancient Greco-Roman histories, particularly in Luke’s attempt to determine the dates of things, and quote multiple sources. (Including, likely, Jesus’s mom.) Luke tried to include all the reliable Jesus stories he could track down, making it the longest gospel.

GOSPEL, ACCORDING TO JOHN. And John apparently filled in all the blanks in Luke, giving a firsthand account from one of Jesus’s first students about some of the things Jesus taught and did.

ACTS OF THE APOSTLES. After Jesus was raptured, how his new church got its start. Its first persecutions, first council, the origin of Paul of Tarsus, and how it was spread across the Roman Empire.

04 September 2019

Summaries of the Old Testament’s books.

It’s nice to have the book order memorized, but it’s far more useful to know what’s in the books. So here’s a brief summary of each book of the Old Testament.

Books of Moses.

GENESIS. These are the formation stories of the earth and the Hebrew people.

  • Creation.
  • Adam and Eve and humanity’s fall.
  • Noah ben Lamech, and humanity wiped out by floods.
  • Babel, and humanity’s scattering.
  • Avram ben Terah, or Abraham the Hebrew; his relationship with God, and his relocation to Canaan.
  • Jacob ben Isaac, or Israel; his relationship with God, and the creation of his large family—the ancestors of the 13 tribes.
  • Joseph ben Jacob, or as the Egyptians called him, Chafnat-pahaneakh; how he went from slavery to become Egypt’s vizier, and his brothers’ relocation to Egypt.

EXODUS. Primarily it’s about the Exodus—how the Hebrew descendants of Israel became a nation, became enslaved by Egypt, and had to be saved by the LORD himself. It tells how the LORD did that, through 10 plagues of judgment upon Egypt. It introduces his prophet Moses ben Amram, his Law, and his instructions for the tabernacle (which’d be replaced four centuries later by the temple).

LEVITICUS. Largely consisting of commands, Leviticus mostly focuses on how the LORD wanted his priests to perform his ritual sacrifices, and his definitions of ritual cleanliness. He wanted Israel to be holy; these were the steps they had to take.

NUMBERS. What happened to the Israelis (KJV “Israelites”) after the LORD handed down his commands at Mt. Sinai: Wandering though the wilderness, grumbling all the way; failing to enter Canaan, so wandering through the desert some more; rebellions from certain malcontents, and opposition from other Hebrew nations. Various new commands were added by the LORD as needed.

DEUTERONOMY. Right before the Hebrews entered Canaan, Moses gave a book-long speech to the new generation of Israelis, reminding them of the Law and informing them what they were in for. (And foretelling how they’d repetitively go through a cycle of repentance.)

01 August 2019

The books in your bible.

The bible’s an anthology, a collection of books and letters about God. (We tend to call ’em “books” either way.) There are two major divisions: The Old Testament, and the New Testament.

The Old Testament is the book collection assembled by the ancient Hebrews. For the most part they were written in two variants of ancient Hebrew: Early Biblical Hebrew, which is what the “books of Moses” and the Deuteronomistic history and the Prophets was written in; and Late Biblical Hebrew, which much of the rest was written in. Late Biblical Hebrew has some heavy influences from Aramaic, the language which had replaced Hebrew by 500BC, which was around the time the last of the OT was written.

The apocrypha isn’t actually one of those major divisions. They’re the books which were added to the OT when it was translated into Greek in the 400s BC. These Greek bibles, which get called the Septuagint, were considered the bible by the early Christians, so the additional books were part of their Old Testament till the 1400s. Still are, in Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican churches.

And the New Testament is the collection put together by the ancient Christians. They’re written in Koine ki'ni, commonly 'kɔɪ.neɪ, a first-century form of “common” Greek spoken outside Greece.

Christians should know the books of our bible. Partly so we don’t get confused when people bring ’em up; partly so we can find them in a print bible (or “analog bible,” as I like to call ’em). Unfortunately the book order is neither alphabetical nor chronological. The Old Testament was bunched in order of when they were written, and still is in Jewish bibles, but the Septuagint re-sorted them into genres (law, history, poetry, prophets) and that’s the order Christians still follow. The New Testament is likewise sorted into genres (gospels; apostles, sorted by book length; apocalypse). So you’re just gonna have to memorize the order. Sorry.

12 June 2019

Who wrote “the books of Moses”?

The first five books of the bible are commonly called “the books of Moses.” They’re also called תּוֹרָ֣ה/Toráh, meaning “Law,” because the Law’s in them; Greek and English speakers also call them Pentateuch, which comes from πέντε τεῦχος/pente téfhos, “five tools.” (I know; people regularly claim “Pentateuch” means “five books”—and they don’t know Greek, so of course they get that wrong. “Book/scroll” in Greek is βίβλος/vívlos, the word we got “bible” from.) I tend to call these books Torah, as I will throughout this article. They are:

GenesisbeginningBerešítat the beginning
Exodusmass departureŠemótnames
Leviticusof the LevitesVayiqráand he called
Numbersnumbers; duhBamidbárin the wilderness
Deuteronomysecond lawDevarímwords

Hebrew names tend to come from the first word of a book or psalm, and the Torah’s book titles come from verse 1 of each book. The English names are translations of the Septuagint’s Greek names.

They’re called the books of Moses despite Moses not being in Genesis at all… but his ancestors were, so there’s that. Largely they tell us the creation of the Hebrew people: How they got into Egypt in the first place, how they became Egyptian slaves, how the LORD rescued ’em, how God covenanted with them and gave them his Law and the Levantine coast/Canaan/Palestine/the land of Israel. They’re the oldest books in the bible (weird young-earth creationist theories about Job aside), and predate the rest of the books by at least four centuries.

And we don’t know who wrote ’em.

Well we don’t. In this article, for convenience, I refer to Torah’s author as “Moe.”

Moe is not Moshe ben Amram, the prophet and judge who led the Hebrews out of Egypt, whose English-language name is Moses. We know Moses wrote parts of Torah. Big huge parts. More than once the LORD ordered Moses to write down his commands and rulings, so Moses obviously wrote those parts. Ex 24.4, 34.27, Nu 33.2 And Deuteronomy is almost entirely a first-person speech given by Moses to the Hebrews—so he composed that part, though realistically someone else wrote it down; possibly as a transcript, possibly from memory. (Yeah, some people have that good a memory.) But since Deuteronomy ends with Moses dying, Dt 34 he can’t have written that part.

But Moses isn’t the person who put Torah into its current form. And most scholars, regardless of how they think Torah was assembled, agree at least one person ultimately did this. So I call him “Moe.”

11 October 2017

Apocrypha: The “extra books” your bible may lack.

APOCRYPHON ə'pɑk.rə.fɔn noun (plural apocrypha ə'pɑk.rə.fə). Writing or book not considered part of the accepted canon of scripture.
2. Story of doubtful authenticity.
3. Story that’s obscure or little-known.
[Apocryphal əˈpɑkrəfəl adjective.]

One of my favorite stunts with new Christians used to be, “Turn in your bibles to the book of Wisdom, chapter 4.”

Well, they’d try. They’d flip around their bibles, then give up and look at the table of contents… then realize the book wasn’t in there. “Well it’s in my bible,” I’d tell ’em, and hold it up to show them, confusing them all the more. ’Cause my bible included apocrypha.

“Oh, you mean a Catholic bible,” you might be thinking. Nope; it’s a Protestant bible. Some Protestant bibles have apocrypha. I own two others.

I can’t pull this stunt anymore, ’cause nowadays people look up the bible on their phones or bible apps. Hence they can sometimes find Wisdom in there. Spoils my little joke. Oh well.

But I did this joke on purpose: I wanted to introduce newbies to the fact not every bible includes all the same books. Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican bibles are gonna have books in them which your average Evangelical bible will not. Evangelicals call these books apocrypha. Catholics call ’em deuterocanon, and Orthodox anagignoskómena.

Contrary to popular belief, they’re not merely “extra books.” For four centuries before Jesus, Greek-speaking Jews had these books in their bibles. For 17 centuries thereafter, Greek-speaking, Latin-speaking, and English-speaking Christians had ’em in their bibles. Got quoted in the New Testament. Got quoted by the early church fathers. Got translated and included in the Geneva Bible and King James Version. Seriously.

So when people ask me “Why do Catholics have extra books?” I gotta point out the proper question is why we Evangelicals don’t have these books. ’Cause a majority of Christians in the world do have ’em. And Evangelical Protestants had no problem with including ’em in our bibles… well, for about two centuries. Wasn’t till the Puritans began purging apocrypha from bibles that they even became an issue.

And now? Now we have some Protestants who insist not only should apocrypha not be in bibles, but that they’re devilish. Doesn’t matter that Martin Luther called ’em nützliche, aber nicht heilige Schriften/“useful, but not holy writings.” To these dark Christians, not only are apocrypha not useful, but they (and Roman Catholics) are part of Satan’s evil conspiracy to corrupt the bible.

Here’s what conspiracy theorist Jack Chick had to say on the topic. The Attack, 8

According to these cranks, if you read apocrypha, they’ll corrupt you too. Flee the scary books!

Well, let’s put aside the loopy paranoia and get to what apocrypha actually are.