Update on the CSB – I Am All In!

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Five months ago today I wrote a blog post on my initial thoughts on the CSB.  As of today, that post has nearly reached 1,000 views!  I thought it was time to write an update to my original post to let people know where I have landed.

I have had a lot of time to read through most of the CSB.  I have compared it to multiple versions, commentaries, and the original languages as my limited understanding allows.  The more I read it, meditate on it, and memorize it, the more I love it!  As a result, it has become my primary Bible translation for everything; though, of course, I will always reference other versions when studying.

What led me to make it my main version?

First, I truly believe they have struck a great balance between readability and accuracy to the original languages.  I know, all versions basically claim the same thing.  Still, there is a spectrum between extremely formal (interlinear) and extremely free or dynamic (paraphrases), and I truly believe the CSB falls toward the center of that spectrum.  It may even be a little more toward the formal side, which I appreciate.  As I have dug in, I have found many times where the CSB may veer from a traditional rendering, only to realize that it seems to be better capturing what the original intended, whether in wording, meaning, or even in conveying verb tense from the Greek to the English.  In many cases, I almost feel that the CSB is an easier-to-read NASB, as it often parallels it quite closely.  While I did feel, for a while, that a strictly formal translation was the best to use all the time, I have come to question that a little, as I have thought about how translation works between other modern languages.  I think I have come to a point where (at least for now) I feel that a middle-of-the-road approach may be ideal; that way, one can always move to a more formal version for deeper study and a more dynamic one for clarification/commentary and easier reading, if necessary.  The CSB really seems to hit that middle-of-the-road ideal.

Second, it has been remarkably easy to memorize.  While I had used the ESV for several years to memorize, I decided to consider the CSB.  At first, I was concerned that the CSB would be harder to memorize because it wasn’t as literary or elegant sounding.  In reality, the fact that the CSB often sounds like the way we would say something today has made it easier to memorize than the ESV to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I do like the ESV.  But stepping back after a while of using the CSB, it almost seems like the ESV, in an attempt to retain some of the sound of the KJV, can occasionally create readings that sound odd to modern ears.  Some people may love that aspect of the ESV, and as an English teacher, I can respect the fact that it remains close to such a literary and historic translation in sound.  But for presenting dramatically, I believe the natural wording of the CSB will be a great asset.  So far, I have memorized Philippians and the first four chapters of Revelation in the CSB, and I am loving it!

Third, they have quite extensive translators’ footnotes throughout the translation.  These notes give alternate translations, more literal renderings, and manuscript variants.  I haven’t compared all of the various English versions, but it seems that the CSB’s notes may be some of the most in-depth.  That is something I appreciate as I am studying the word.

Fourth, without going into great detail, I have grown to know and experience the heart of the publisher.  Holman’s desire to get the word of God out in order to create disciples is very apparent.  That is something I truly appreciate about them.  Again, that is not to say no other version has this same goal; far from it.  I believe that all versions ultimately have the desire to see disciples made.  But there have been a few things about Holman that have simply won me over.

I do see the CSB growing in popularity.  A local friend that I introduced it to adopted it before I did, and she introduced it to another friend.  A poll in a Facebook page I am a part of showed that it is growing beyond merely being a Southern Baptist Bible (as it is often erroneously considered since the publisher is connected to the Southern Baptist Convention); people from a wide range of denominations have made the CSB their primary Bible.  I have also seen many posts of people switching to the CSB from other versions as their primary.  Many of the search terms on my blog also show that people are researching and digging into reviews that are comparing the CSB to other versions that have been firmly established for a while.  This is all very encouraging to me.

[While I am on this topic of whether the CSB has strong Baptist tendencies, I think one example may suffice to show that it strives to be a Bible anyone can use.  As Baptists believe that the proper mode of baptism is by immersion, it would have been very easy for the CSB translation team to have translated the Greek “baptizo” as “immerse” instead of transliterating it as “baptize.”  The fact that they left it transliterated seems, to me, to show that they were not trying to push a certain theological agenda.]

Yes, it is true that the CSB occasionally breaks with traditional renderings in verses.  But the more I study and read them, the more I have grown to appreciate what they have done.  Their choices often reflect what seems to be a more accurate rendering of the original languages.

For example, choosing “For God loved the world in this way” in John 3:16 instead of the traditional “For God so loved the world” seems to bring  out the original intent better.

In the Sermon on the Mount, “Hallowed be thy name” (or some variation thereof) becomes “your name be honored as holy” (6:9, CSB).  I think that the change brings out the meaning of “hallowed” very well and very clearly.

One last example is in Psalm 1:1.  Traditional renderings say “Blessed is the man.”  The CSB says “How happy is the one.”  I believe the gender change here is welcome, as the verse is clearly not limited to men.  But the biggest change is the word “blessed” to “how happy.”  I have seen a lot of people questioning that.  But from what I understand, there are two Hebrew words that are often both translated “blessed” in the Old Testament.  The issue is that one of the two words actually means “blessed,” while the other has a better meaning of “happy.”  The one that appears in this verse is the one that means “happy,” so the CSB, while breaking tradition, actually brings out the original more clearly.  (For more information on this, I highly recommend Randy Alcorn’s book Happiness.)

I want to put a few clarifications here.

First, the CSB, like all translations, is not perfect.  There are areas that can be improved, as is the case with any attempt at translating from one language to another.  Which leads me to my second clarification.

We are very blessed to have so many versions in the English language that we can cross reference and check against one another.  We should never forget the blessings we have, even as we may look for that one version that can become our primary translation for use. (And I do think we should look for that one version that is our go-to version.  It helps if we are very familiar with one version when we do have to check against others.  If we constantly jump from version to version, we fail to get the deep familiarity that I think is a benefit of sticking with one primary translation, especially as it relates to internalizing the word.)  While I think the CSB should be considered strongly as an ideal translation to use, that is not to say we should not use the other versions or that anything is wrong with them.  Far from it.  They all have their place.

I do not hesitate to recommend the CSB to you as an amazing candidate for your primary Bible translation.  I think it is a phenomenal work that will only get better over time.  I think it is an ideal version for everything: reading, studying, memorizing, teaching from, and preaching from.

If you haven’t checked it out, I encourage you to do so.  You can read it online free here, or on YouVersion’s Bible app or on Bible Gateway.  I think you will find it both refreshing and accurate.

No matter what version you choose, dig deep into the word.  Treasure it in your heart.  Dwell in it and let it dwell in you.

 

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Thoughts on the CSB (and they are good!)

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*Update (4/24/18): I have recently posted a follow-up blog post to this one.  In the new post, I explain that I have decided to make the CSB my primary Bible.  You can read the new post here: Update on the CSB – I Am All In!

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So, the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) was released this year.  It is something of an update to the HCSB that was previously released, but the revisions are so extensive that it has become its own translation, replacing the HCSB all the way around.

Let me give a little background on myself so that there can be some context to the rest of my post.  I mainly read the NIV (1984) for many years after becoming a Christian.  It was my  main Bible, while I would look at and compare others.  When the TNIV came out, I remained with the 1984 NIV (occasionally using the NASB or KJV) as my main translation.  In 2011, when Biblica revised the NIV and completely replaced the 1984, never to be supported or published again, I was not too happy with it.  I didn’t like some of the choices of how they chose to treat gender, and some of the ways they handled it in writing simply didn’t sound right to me.  While I understand the importance of making context clear (maybe saying “brothers and sisters” instead of merely “brothers” for the Greek word “adelphoi”), it seemed that the NIV went too far in some cases.  (This is personal preference, and I am aware that there are great scholars who feel the NIV got it just right.  I would not put myself on the same level as any of these scholars, and I don’t fault anyone who loves the NIV.)

For my purposes, I also found the permissions a little harder to obtain for the NIV.  So I began looking for a translation that would grant the permissions I needed to present Scripture dramatically.  After checking several translations and publishers, I ended up settling on the ESV.  I have used it for the last several years almost exclusively.  I have studied it, taught from it, and memorized large portions of it for presentation.

I did look at the HCSB, but some of the readings seemed to be a little too “new” for my liking.

When I heard the CSB was coming out, I was certainly interested.  I requested a sample, and was graciously given an entire copy to review.

Before I go further, for those who have not searched my blog a lot or don’t know me, I am in a different situation than some.  I have taught Sunday School and preached before, so I tend to look at translations from a teaching or scholarly perspective.  But my main form of ministry is presenting large portions of Scripture from memory in a dramatic way.  These two forms of ministering to others have caused some struggles in me as I try to look at translations.  From the teaching side, I want to be as close to the original text as possible, because I can explain anything that is culturally separate from our time, hard to understand, etc.  But from a presenting side, I don’t get to do that.  I get one shot to communicate as much meaning as possible, so a translation that clears up confusion for the reader by translating cultural issues into our current understanding is better.  To borrow Paul’s musing, which shall I decide?  I cannot tell; I am torn between the two.

Let me also add very clearly that my critiques of the CSB are not the final word in any way.  I believe Bill Mounce has said, “There is always a reason” for any translation choice, and just because it doesn’t make sense to me, doesn’t mean that it is wrong.  There is a lot I am not aware of with the translation process in general and, of course, the CSB in particular.  Still, as I compare, some of the thoughts that have come to mind are listed below.

I have taken a lot of time to read through large portions of the CSB, and I have also spent a lot of time comparing individual verses and words to the ESV, NASB, NET (with its extensive notes), and the original Greek (with what very limited knowledge I have).  Time and again I am seeing how the CSB has seemingly gotten a translation right where I may have originally questioned it.  Now, that is not to say it is perfect, but the more I look at it, read it, and examine it, the more I find where their translation decisions make sense.  It is also helpful that a representative of the CSB has taken several opportunities to respond to emails I have sent asking about translation decisions when I cannot find information to help me understand their choice.

A few examples are Revelation 5:6, where John writes “Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb…”  Most translation say “a lamb that had been slain” or something like it.  While “slaughtered” is very different, it conveys more of the visual of what John would have seen; this lamb was not pretty.  And the Greek does allow that as a possible meaning of the word.

Revelation 7:17 in the CSB says “For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them.”  I believe the ESV says (and this is from memory, so if it is not correct, it is my fault) “will be their shepherd.”  Gramatically, the CSB has it here from what I can tell.  The word in the Greek is a verb not a noun.

While “propitiation” may be a great theological term, and one we need to know, the CSB’s choice in 1 John 2:2 of saying “He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” is clearer to the average reader, and, to me, ties it in to the Old Testament concept of sacrifice more clearly than the word “propitiation” does.

Revelation 5:4 in the CSB has John saying “I wept and wept.”  The ESV says “I wept loudly,” I believe.  As far as I can tell, the Greek is closest to saying “I wept much,” so the CSB seems closer to the Greek here.  (To me, someone weeping loudly does not imply how much they are crying, just how intense at that moment.)

In 1 Corinthians 13:5, the CSB says love “does not keep a record of wrongs,” versus the ESV’s “is not resentful.”  I believe the CSB, from my study, brings out the original word picture more clearly.

In Matthew 6:32, the CSB clearly brings out the tense of the verb by saying “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things.”  The ESV says “For the Gentiles seek after all these things.”  The same is true regarding the tense of the verb in Hebrews 12:2.

Now the CSB does translate “adelphoi” as “brothers and sisters” when they feel the context requires it, but unlike the NIV, I feel the CSB has a good balance here.  They are not afraid to still use “he” instead of switching to the plural “they” to avoid sounding gender specific.  They also don’t translate everything this way, but only when they think it is truly warranted by the context.  I find the CSB has a good balance of when to translate it inclusive of both men and women or not.

I could keep going with areas I think the CSB really gets the text right, but this post is already getting quite long.

That being said, there are areas I think the CSB could have gotten things a little better.  For example, in Matthew 13:13, the CSB says, “That is why I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand.”  In my limited knowledge, the Greek here gives a play on words by saying something like “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear or understand.”  I like that word play, and I really wish I saw it here.

I also found a word missing (confirmed by someone from CSB) in Acts 22:3.  There should be some sense of a word “strict” or “thorough” related to Paul’s training in the law.  This was, as I understand it, a mere oversight while typing everything out, and it will be corrected.

In 1 Kings 18, the ESV has Elijah taunting the prophets of Baal by insinuating that their God had gone away to relieve himself, but the CSB says “maybe he has wandered away,” relegating the ESV’s text to the footnotes.

Psalm 19:5 in the ESV says something like “a groom coming from his bridal chamber,” whereas the CSB says “like a bridegroom coming from his home.”  I’m sure there is an explanation for this, and I have not asked yet, but most translations seem to align with the ESV, from what I can tell.

One of the hardest to get used to is in Daniel 5:6, where the king is so frightened after seeing the writing on the wall that “his face turned pale, and his thoughts so terrified him that he soiled himself and his knees knocked together.”  Most translations imply his legs gave out or something along those lines.  I have read an article explaining why the CSB went the way it did, and I can see it, though a scholar of ANE languages said he felt it was a stretch.

In the 23rd psalm, they chose to switch from “I shall not want” or even “There is nothing I lack” (both of which I have seen before) to “I have what I need.”  Ultimately, the meaning is not obscured, but I wonder why the switch to get rid of the negative word from the Hebrew that I believe is there and is reflected in the first two options mentioned here.

The CSB also says “He lets me lie down in green pastures” as opposed to the more common “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (ESV).  I like the idea of making/causing more than merely permitting (which seems to be implied in “lets”).

Deuteronomy 10:12 is another verse I am not sure about.  The ESV says something like “…and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.”  The CSB says “…and to worship the Lord your God will all your heart and all your soul.”  Most translations agree with the ESV here, and from what I can tell, the Hebrew word seems to usually mean “serve.”

Again, in all of these critiques, I understand that the translators had a reason.  Maybe I will be able to find out what it is through study and maybe emailing someone.

Because of my ministry, I also tend to think about presenting out loud.  That is the one area where the ESV, for example, is a great translation: it is very poetic and rhythmic, and it retains a lot of that from the KJV.  For presenting out loud, that rhythmic, literary sound is great.  But it is not always natural.

The CSB definitely sounds more like how we would normally communicate with each other.  They use contractions (don’t we all?), and its word order is more like common English speech, breaking with Greek and Hebrew word order to do this.  Some people like this, while some do not.

But there are times where the CSB becomes a little more difficult.  Jeremiah 31:31-34 is an example.  Most translations say “thus says the Lord” or “says the Lord.”  The CSB says “this is the Lord’s declaration” or “the Lord’s declaration.”  It says it 4 times in these 4 verses, for example.  What’s interesting is that it is very accurate to the Hebrew, from what I can tell.  (The NET notes specify the Hebrew says “the Lord’s oracle.”)  The problem is, it doesn’t flow as smoothly when speaking out loud, in my opinion.

Another example of where the speaking out loud comes in to play is when someone’s quotes are interrupted by saying who is talking.  John 1:21 in the CSB says “‘What then?’ they asked him. ‘Are you Elijah?'”  The ESV puts who is speaking first always (as does the Greek, from what I can tell).  In this verse, for example, it says “And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?'”  When reading, there is no issue here; if anything, the CSB keeps things fresh and from getting too repetitive.  But when presenting out loud from memory, it can be easier to preface with who is talking to show transition in speakers.

Where this has been difficult for me is that for the last few years I have been conditioned to think of the most formal/literal translation as the best.  But as I have presented dramatically, I have questioned that somewhat.

If I am presenting to a crowd of people, all of whom are at various stages in their Biblical literacy, is it better to say “not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law” as the ESV does (since not everyone may understand what an iota is), or should I say “not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter” as the CSB does?  What about “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (ESV) instead of “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (CSB)?

When I present, I cannot stop and clarify hard-to-understand ideas and terms like I could if I were preaching or teaching.  So I have grown more to think that it may be better for me to present something that will more clearly communicate meaning without hindrance to hearers.

What’s really interesting is that it seems you have to possibly stop either way.  If you use a formal translation, you often have to stop and explain what the text means to communicate to your hearers.  If you use a dynamic translation, however, you may have to do the opposite, stopping and explaining what the original text said.  So it sort of becomes a toss up as to which way you go.

Of course, the CSB is willing to break with tradition for the sake of accuracy (look at Psalm 23, for example), and that could be jarring to some people who are so used to hearing “Yea, though I walk through valley of the shadow of death” (KJV) as opposed to “Even when I go through the darkest valley” (CSB).  The CSB is more accurate here.  But people are so used to hearing it the other way that I wonder if they might reject hearing the CSB version just because it sounds so different.  But I am also wondering if I should elevate tradition above clarity and accuracy?

Is the CSB a perfect translation?  No.  Believe me, while I would like one, in my studies I have quickly found it does not exist.  Is the CSB a good translation?  Absolutely!  It stays very literal (sometimes more so than even the NASB or ESV) while still being very readable and clarifying ideas when needed.  It sounds very natural while reading aloud, which is a big consideration for me with what I do.

I have not decided completely whether I will be making the switch from ESV to CSB yet or not, but I am certainly leaning toward it greatly.  The more I read the CSB, the more I like it.  Yes, it loses some of the literary quality of the ESV, and yes, it sometimes loses the cultural distance of a formal translation.  But it gains readability and understandability, which are very important factors as well.  The translation reminds me very much of what the 1984 NIV used to be, although the CSB is a little more literal.

I look forward to continuing to dig in to the CSB more, to learn more about it, and to keep comparing it to other translations and the original languages as I am able.  I must say I am quite impressed.  I think, last I saw, it was already #6 out of the top 10 Bibles in terms of sales, and that is only after less than one year.  They are producing some great editions (some of which I hope to review eventually), and the translation is a sheer joy to read.

If you haven’t checked out the CSB, I strongly encourage you to do so!

 

Reflection on Repeatedly Reading a Book of the Bible

 

I had posted a while back about some recommended ways of reading the Bible.  With my schedule the way it has been lately, I rarely stick with one method strictly.  If I have more time, I jump to a method that allows more reading.  If I have less time, I may just read through a few chapters or something along those lines. But I do try to stay in the word every day.

I have, however, for the first time finished reading through one book of the Bible 30 times in a relatively short time (more than a month, however).  This is the method recommended by John MacArthur (and a few others).  I read through Philippians this way.  Technically, I have probably read through the Sermon on the Mount and 1 John about that many times through my memorization, but in my mind that was a little different, although both focus on absorbing and understanding the material more than just reading for information and knowledge.

I found pros and cons to this method, although really, I suppose, there are more pros than cons in my mind.

The first pro, of course, is familiarity with the text.  Sometimes when I am reading through the Bible in larger chunks, my mind tends to forget more than I remember of what I read.  Reading a book (or part of a book) repeatedly allowed me to slow down, focus on the specifics more, and begin to really grasp the overall flow and connection of the text.  While I have not memorized Philippians (although that is still my next goal), I am very familiar with what is in the book now and have memorized certain phrases and parts of it.  I can connect to all the parts much better, and have a basic outline in my mind of the text.

Another pro, and one that builds off of the previous one, is that I am less likely to misunderstand the contextual meaning of part of the book.  We all have verses from different books that we love, and while it is not wrong to memorize standalone verses, we have to be careful that we don’t change their original meaning by divorcing them from the surrounding context.  This focus on context doesn’t limit the meaning of a text or rob it of meaning.  In reality, it expands on the meaning by helping us better understand what was originally intended rather than putting meaning into it that is alien to the author’s original thoughts.

Since I was becoming more familiar with the text and was understanding it contextually, I also begin to carry it with me in my mind and meditate on it more.  Because I was not reading large and various portions at one time, I could focus my thoughts more, allowing the word of God to work in me more deeply and dwell in me more richly.  This allowed the text to take root as I stored it in my heart, and it began to come back to mind at the Spirit’s prompting when I needed it most.  This allows the word to challenge, convict, and change me.  This is, after all, the real intention of our reading of the word anyway, isn’t it?  Aren’t we reading for transformation rather than merely for information (as D. L. Moody said, I believe)?  What better way than focusing on one portion of Scripture until we begin to master it (or rather it begins to master us)?

Now, there are some cons, I think.  One is that it is easier for my mind to wander if I am not careful while using this method.  Reading a portion repeatedly begins to make me feel a little too comfortable with the text, so I have to be very active to keep my mind from wandering as I am reading, thinking that I have already read that portion enough.  I have learned to overcome this in some ways from my memorization of Scripture, since the process is very similar.  I have been able to train my mind to focus on familiar text more, but it still requires effort on occasion.

Another con is that I wasn’t reading widely since I was reading deeply.  So where I might have covered a lot more Scripture in the time it took to read Philippians 30 times, I didn’t.  This leads me to feel like I am missing out on something, as there is a lot more Scripture I am not reading.  This is a trade off, I suppose.  Breadth or depth.  If I have time to read a few chapters straight through with the repeated reading of a book, that would solve the problem.  But there is that time issue again.  While this is a con in some ways, if I go back to what I said above, perhaps it isn’t so bad not to be reading as widely.  Again, the goal is not reading for the sake of reading; the goal is to know God’s word so I can be transformed, and that requires time and familiarity.

One last con is that to stick with this plan long term (if I follow MacArthur’s plan strictly) would mean I really don’t come back to Philippians for about 2 to 3 years.  I can always read through it again whenever I wish, of course, but that just delays working through other books when I do that, unless I have extra time one day.  Granted, this con is a small one, but it is still real.

Ideally, I would love to read a portion of the New Testament repetitively, a few chapters of the Old Testament straight through each day, and a psalm and proverb every day, but that usually doesn’t work well on week nights.  I have actually found myself wondering, however, if reading a book repeatedly if that is all I have time for may be the best option?

I am considering following the same process with Matthew’s gospel next.  If I do, I have to decide whether I will read chapters 1 through 7 for 30 days first, then move on to 8 through 14, and so on, or if it would be better to do 7 chapters each day through the book and start over every 4 days.  Either way, it will take 4 months to read through the gospel of Matthew 30 times that way, if I don’t miss a day.  Still, the idea of being as familiar with a gospel as I am now with Philippians is exciting.  Perhaps it will work.

If you have never tried reading this way, I would encourage you to pick a small yet powerful book of the New Testament (like Philippians, 1 John, or Colossians) and give it a try.  If you do, let me know what you think!

How do you read the Bible?

On my Facebook page, I posted a blog from The Gospel Coalition called “Sola Scriptura or Sola Cardia?”  It is a great read, dealing with the question of how much we really believe that the Bible alone guides our faith and life.  In the blog, the author mentions some ways that evangelicals deny Sola Scriptura in practice, and the first way is by not reading the Bible.

That got me thinking:  How do you read the Bible?

I understand that we don’t want to turn Bible reading into just another legalistic thing we add to our already burdened lives.  But neither can we deny that we need the word, in its entirety, to guide our lives.  It is God’s special revelation to us.  It is how we know what we do about our faith.  It is by the word that we see who Jesus is, what He did for us, and what promises await us in our future.  It is by the word that we know what sin is, what holiness looks like, and what means we have to grow in holiness.  “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.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV)

Christ equates the word of God with food (see Matthew 4:4; compare also Hebrews 5:12-14).  Just as we fail to thrive (and even die) without physical food, we cannot thrive spiritually without the word of God.  It is that important.  If I were to say to you, “You need a plan for eating enough to sustain you every day, and you need to be sure that what you eat is a balanced diet, not focusing too much on one type of food, so that you get all the needed nutrients,” no one would argue that I am being legalistic.  In reality, it would probably be something obvious.  But if I say to people, “You need a plan for reading enough of the Bible to sustain you every day, and you need to be sure that what you read is a balanced reading, not focusing too much on one genre or type of Scripture, so that you get all the needed instruction and guidance,” people may accuse me of being legalistic, though I think those people would be few.

In reality, we acknowledge mentally that we need God’s word, but when it comes to living it out, we struggle.  We forget to read or we get too busy to read.  We read only our favorite portions of the Bible, ignoring those parts that we find boring or hard to understand.  We read so little that we can’t keep track of what is going on in the Bible as a whole, so we don’t know what Paul’s overall concern is in the book of 1 Corinthians, or how Leviticus relates to Hebrews.

I want to suggest some possible reading plans for you to consider.  Granted, there are no perfect plans. (I’m still trying to find the perfect plan, though.)  But I find that if we approach Scripture without a plan, we usually struggle more.

I’m not going to cover the basic read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plans, as those are easy to find.  (You can even find Bibles with the plans built in.)  My feeling is that most of us read far less than we can (and probably should) be reading.  I realize there are exceptions to this rule, and I have days that are busier than others.  Honestly, I don’t end up reading every single day, although I strive to and don’t beat myself up when I don’t.  The traditional plans are often reading so little that by the time we finish in a year, we really don’t know what is going on in Scripture as a whole.  Maybe that was just me, but it’s like watching a 2-hour movie at about 5 minutes at a time once a day.  Yes, it’s more manageable, but when I finish 24 days later, I really wouldn’t have a grasp on what the movie was about.  That’s been my personal experience with a lot of reading plans.  Perhaps your experience is different.  If those plans work for you, and you are growing closer to God through His word that way, then I am excited for you!  Keep it up!  Admittedly, there may be times in our lives where reading less but reading deeper is better.  But since Scripture interprets Scripture, we need that broad idea of what all of Scripture says to keep us aligned.

I would like to share some plans for you to consider which will all help you get a broad idea of Scripture as a whole.  These will take more time each day, but usually, you are looking at about 30-45 minutes.  The television shows we watch are often longer than that.

One plan is Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading Plan.  (You can read about it at Tim Challies’ blog here.)  It is one chapter a day from each of ten lists (the gospels, the Pentateuch, New Testament epistles 1, New Testament epistles 2, Old Testament wisdom literature, Psalms, Proverbs, Old Testament historical books, the prophets, and Acts).  The ten chapters are always rotating, and the goal is to immerse yourself in Scripture and see cross references within the Bible. You area also reading in all of the Bible’s genres each day.  Some days you may read a psalm and read it quoted in the New Testament the same day, which really serves to tie the Bible together.  It has tended to be my go-to plan for a while, even though I keep trying other plans.  The downside is keeping up with context at first, but over time, you learn that through repetitive reading.  It is not meant for deep study, but for reading at a decent pace.  If you try this plan, Horner recommends giving it a solid 30 days every day.  At that point, you will usually know whether or not it will work for you; but you need to at least give it that long.  Pastor Brett Maragni did an interview with Grant Horner that touches on the plan here.  It is well worth the time to read if you are thinking about this plan.

Another plan is one by John MacArthur.  (You can read about it here.)  He advocates reading straight through the Old Testament at a few chapters or 15 minutes a day.  He then advocates reading a small New Testament book (such as Colossians or 1 John) once a day for 30 days.  For longer New Testament books (such as John’s gospel), he recommends breaking it down into smaller parts (maybe chapters 1-7, 8-14, and 15-21), and following the same process.  At the end of about 3 years (I have never broken it down smaller), you will have read through the entire New Testament 30 times and will remember it.  The hardest part is pushing through rereading a book that many times straight, which MacArthur himself acknowledges is an issue to consider.  When I tried it, I adjusted the plan to read 4 Old Testament chapters, 1 Psalm, one Proverb, and then reading the New Testament as MacArthur encourages each day.  That would get me through the Old Testament twice a year as well.  I read a little faster than some, and it takes me about 45 minutes.  I also keep in mind what Dan Edelen recommends at his blog, Cerulean Sanctum, about the intention of reading Scripture, which is to apply it and live it and let it change us (see here.)  I cannot imagine not reading any Scripture for a month, but if my focus was as intently on applying it as he recommends during that month, it could be an interesting challenge.  Either way, as I read and reread a book or portion when I tried the modified MacArthur plan, I did keep a focus on applying what I was learning to my life each day.

One final plan is meant for getting an overview of the whole Bible relatively quickly.  It is to read the entire Bible in 90 days.  There are a few ways to do this.  One is to read using this schedule.  A second is to read 13.2 chapters a day (I rounded to 14, which would finish a little sooner); the downside to this is that some chapters (like Psalm 119) are really long, so you may read considerably more one day than the next in terms of length.  A third option is to look in your Bible, take the number of pages and divide it out into 90 days.  This will get you cover to cover in such a way that you may see larger themes that you normally miss.  You could also subtract the Psalms and Proverbs out and read one of each per day.  Just figure out how many pages are left in the Bible and divide that by 90.  You won’t quite finish the Psalms in that time (it would take 150 days), but they are more suited to individual reading.  A great Bible to use for this plan (or for MacArthur’s) would be the ESV Reader’s Bible.

Jason Kanz offers some good overviews of Grant Horner’s Plan and John MacArthur’s Plan on his blog also, with a bullet list of strengths and weaknesses on each page.

Whatever plan you ultimately choose, the point is to know God better and be transformed into Christ’s image through His word.  We must obey what we read and live it out, or the exercise of reading is not beneficial to us.

If there is another plan you use that works for you, let me know in the comments below!

God bless!

Knowledge and Obedience

I am writing this blog as a reminder to myself, but I also hope that it inspires and edifies others.

God has given us His word in 66 inspired books.  In these books, we can learn the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, ESV).  We can spend our entire lives reading and re-reading the Bible, and we will never exhaust its riches.  We constantly grow in knowledge of who God is, what He has done for us, and how we are to live.  The more we read, memorize, meditate, and study, the more questions we usually have.  The more we learn, the more we want to know.  We are finite creatures attempting to understand that which is infinite.  In other words, we will never understand it all.  Rather than being depressing, it should be invigorating.  For all eternity, we will continue to grow in our understanding of who God is without ever being bored or finally knowing it all. (Thanks to Randy Alcorn and his teaching for insights in this matter.)

Maybe we are still trying to grasp how God can be sovereign over the world while people have freedom and responsibility.  Maybe we are wresting with God’s omniscience and people’s freedom.  Maybe it is an issue with the study of eschatology (the last things).  Maybe it is a question of cessationism or continuationism when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit, especially the sign gifts.  We could think of topics for quite a while before slowing down.

The real issue is not one of having all the answers, although we should always be pursuing them.  The real issue is not how much we have learned, although we should constantly be learning about God.

The most important issue is this: What are we doing with what we already know?  Are we obeying and applying the knowledge that we already have?

The reason we learn is not so that we can merely have more knowledge.  The reason we learn about God is so that we can know how better to relate to Him, obey Him, and apply what we know.   (And here is where I start preaching to myself.)

James 3:1 tells us that “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (ESV)  We know that teaching the Bible is good, and that there are pastors, teachers, and evangelists, so why the warning?  Because, in theory, teachers know more, therefore they will be held to a higher standard.  I believe we can expand out from this to apply to people in general. After all, if we are trying to obey the commission to make disciples, then we are passing on the knowledge we have in some form.  If we are raising children, we are doing the same.  In some sense, we all teach, even though we may not all be considered teachers. The more we know, the more we will be held accountable for.

This should not be taken as a warning against learning, however.  It is not in our benefit to remain infants in learning.  The author of Hebrews corrects his audience because “[they] need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.” (Hebrews 5:12b-13, ESV).  What is interesting is one of the ways that those who are mature are described.  The mature are “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (5:14)  One of the ways they learned was by “constant practice” in applying what they knew.

We are also encouraged to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving [ourselves].” (James 1:22, ESV)  In all of our reading and studying and memorizing, how much are we focused on obeying and doing?  If we are not, we are deceiving ourselves.  If we are merely learning but not doing, we are lying to ourselves if we think we are growing in Christ. Ouch.

Rather than using all of our energy focusing on the large things, as important as they are, what are we doing with the “small things” (although the supposed small things are often where we struggle the most in terms of obedience)?  It’s not the unclear things that should bother us.  The clear things are enough to keep us working until we go to be with Christ.  Let’s look at just a sampling.  (Again, I am writing for myself, and these all apply to me.)

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20, ESV)  How are we doing here?  I think some of us have memorized this incorrectly and switched the words “slow” and “quick.”  We are slow to listen to others, but quick to speak our minds and quick to get angry.  The word is very clear, however, regarding anger (see Matthew 5:21-22).  Are we working on getting rid of our anger, by God’s grace?

Here’s another clear teaching.  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4, ESV).  Just to make clear that this is all-encompassing, Paul says it twice back to back.  Rejoice…rejoice.  Are we rejoicing always?  Are we constantly joyful in Christ?  Again, there is nothing ambiguous about this teaching.  We don’t have to search the Greek for some deeper meaning. How are we doing at obeying this?

What about this one?  “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” (Philippians 2:14, ESV)  Again, the verse is clear.  It doesn’t say to do most things without grumbling.  It says to do all things without grumbling.  It’s a comprehensive command. Even if we are outwardly cooperative, are we grumbling and disputing inwardly?

I would be willing to bet that the list of things we do understand in Scripture outweighs the list of things we don’t.  We know the “golden rule.” We have read how husbands and wives are supposed to relate to teach other in Ephesians 5.  We have read how fathers (and by extension both parents) are to relate to their children in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3.

Are we living these things out?  Are we growing to be more like Christ in these areas through God’s grace, yes, but through our working actively to obey as well (see Philippians 2:12-13)?  We will be held accountable for what we do with what we know (by the people of the world who are watching and by God).

Again, we should continue learning.  I think learning theology increases our love of God and our ability to grow closer to Him in our lives.  But we need to pay as much attention (if not more) to whether we are obeying what we already know.  That will cause us to “shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15)