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Start Reading Stories

Stop Quoting Verses | Start Reading StoriesWith the creation and publication of The Books of the BibleTM, there was a beginning move to publish Bibles without chapters and verses. This long overdue publishing idea has been followed up recently with a new entry into this new structured way of presenting Bibles with IMMERSETM: The Reading Bible.

The Books of the Bible

The Books of the Bible: Covenant History
The Books of the Bible: The Writings
The Books of the Bible: The Prophets
The Books of the Bible: New Testament

Immerse: Messiah

IMMERSETM: Beginnings
IMMERSETM: Chronicles

Note: I find it interesting that the Immerse translation found it necessary to produce their books in the order that they did. Of course, you can read them in any order you want, but most stories don’t start with the end.


It seems to me that some Bible publishers are finally realizing that a Bible akin to what was originally written (text without chapters and verses) will expedite a non-fragmented reading of the Bible to help those who grew up on versified Bibles to learn to read the sacred text as a story. This idea is a demonstration in my mind of how the publishing industry is catching up to the needs of readers rather than being totally driven by their bottom line with the continual onslaught of developing more genre study Bibles like men’s, women’s, prayer, kids, life recovery, and the list goes on, which have less resistance in the marketplace, but also produces less help of understanding the whole story of God as presented in the sacred text.

In Tom Wright’s book Paul and His Recent Interpreters, he suggests the following:

As soon as we think about it, we know we should do our best, in reading any texts from other contexts, to avoid two dangers: anachronism, imagining that people in a former time saw the world the way we do, and what Coleridge called “anatopism,” imagining that people in a different place saw things the way we do. Of course, we are at liberty to read the texts how we like —just as, notoriously, the guardians of ancient scrolls and manuscripts have sometimes been known to use them for shoe-leather, or for lighting the fire. But we know instinctively, I think, the difference between use and abuse. History is about what happened, and why it happened. We do not advance that quest by projecting our own personalities, or cultural assumptions, on to material from other times and places. 1

Wright’s perception has been my experience in teaching over the years. The two presuppositions that he shares: that we believe that people who live in a different time and place see things the way we do, is prevalent and even rampant in ChurchWorld. Our modern inclination toward individualism has increased our own belief that “we are at liberty to read the texts how we like.” I ran into this early in my life with my mother, who was predisposed to have a Bible verse to sling at me for almost any infraction that she believed I had committed. Her favorite verse was in 1 Thessalonians in the King James Version (KJV), which reads: “Abstain from all appearances of evil.” She had a list of things a mile long that I was to “abstain” from. When later in life I suggested to her that that verse did not mean what she believed it meant but meant something else altogether, she just rolled her eyes and said, “If it was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it’s good enough for me!” Really! She said that to me. I smile all these years later and remember the encounter, but seriously she could have been a “poster girl” for quoting verses to prove a point.

So What?

Here are a few ideas for you to consider:

  • Stop quoting verses. Period.
  • When you are tempted to quote a verse, don’t!
  • Stop quoting verses. Period.
  • Next time someone quotes a verse, play nice, but tell them to stop it!
  • Stop quoting verses. Period
  • Question everyone who quotes a verse, with, “do you really think that is what the sacred text is saying?”
  • By the way: Did I say, “Stop quoting verses. Period.”

Here’s the antinode: Start Reading Stories!

What might you do in place of quoting verses? Here’s a thought: start thinking about the smaller stories in the Bible. Remember, that they come from a different time and place and, may I add, stories come to us visually different from the presentation given to us in verses.

As an example, this week I had the opportunity to share with a friend two stories that form a single literary unit in the larger story of the Gospel of Mark that can serve as an example. The two stories are marked out by the “finding marks” of 8.22-30 and they read as follows from the NIV:

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

These two stories are mirrors of each other. When we quote a verse from them to make a point that we want to make that substantiates our own belief, we do the story damage. When we separate the two stories from each other, we do damage to both. When we separate them from the full story of what has already been said in Mark’s story of Jesus, we do them damage. Every large story has an arch; this is the place where that arch reaches its highest point in the overall story of Mark. In all the stories that come before these two stories. Mark has shared about who Jesus is by sharing his words and his works. Mark’s artistic design in these two stories demonstrates how a blind man gradually received his physical sight and how the disciples, well at least one of them, had received insight into who Jesus was based on all that had already happened in their walk with Jesus.

Notice the sequence: a blind man asking for his sight. Jesus asking questions and praying (his works) and the blind man gradually gains his sight and then is told to go home and not go into his village. In the second story, Jesus asks questions of his followers. He wants to know what they have heard about him. Their response, “well some say you are like John the Baptist, others say you are Elijah, and still others say you are one of the prophets.” Notice the parallel with “I see people; they look like trees walking around,” from the previous story. It is altogether possible that they may have been in one or more of these camps themselves. Jesus continued his inquiry. “Well, who do you say I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Messiah. The response of Jesus seems shocking, “do not tell anyone what you just proclaimed,” as paralleled in the previous story by “don’t go into the village.”

Why is all this important? Because seeing the structure, you get an opportunity to see how Mark’s story of Jesus provides us insights about our own blindness about Jesus. We are like the blind man gradually coming to see him more clearly. We are like the disciples who lived with what others were saying about Jesus, but could finally with some insight begin to understand the real mission of Jesus.

Doesn’t that sound just like us? We stumble along quoting verses to make our points while missing the bigger picture that is provided with the slower reading of the stories. Stumbling along trying to make sense of life’s ills and mishaps, i.e., the verses in our own lives, and missing the larger story we are living in. Stumbling along from one problem to another and looking for answers in all the wrong places while the beginning answers are right there in our holy writ in the stories of the Creator of the Universe making all things right.

Here’s an intriguing question: What are you going to do about this?

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  1. N. T. Wright, Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015), 3

The Words of God in the Words of Humankind

If is often said that Scripture is God’s word and not men’s word. The intention is correct, but the choice of words fall short of being helpful. The sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible are a collection of the words of men from many different places and times, written in many different kinds of literature. It might be well to ask, “how did God’s word get to humankind?”

The many and various books in Scripture were written to specific audiences. Some of these audiences are easier to discover than others. The purpose of a specific book, i.e., Galatians, can usually be readily identified from the book itself. The difficulty we face is understanding how these books, which were written by different authors to different people in different times, can be the word of God.

A picture that is sometimes offered to understand this process is that each author was simply the mouthpiece of God, who told the authors exactly what to write, each specific word of it. We have been inundated with this concept. It is as if God was the boss and he dictated the words to his secretary. This view suggests that God overruled the personality of the author and the historical situation played no role in the production of the book. The writers were believed to be like robots with no feelings, thoughts, or words of their own.

By the way, this is not a modern concept. The book of 2 Esdras, an apocryphal book which is dated from around A.D. 120, espouses this thought pattern. While not held as inspired by the Protestant section of the Church, the apocryphal books do provide a window by which we can observe the thought pattern of people living during a specific time frame. Here is one such thought:

So I took the five men, as he commanded me, and we proceeded to the field, and remained there. And on the next day, behold, a voice called me, saying, “Ezra, open your mouth and drink what I give you to drink.” Then I opened my mouth, and behold, a full cup was offered to me; it was full of something like water, but its color was like fire. And I took it and drank; and when I had drunk it my heart poured forth understanding, and wisdom increased in my breast, for my spirit retained its memory; and my mouth was opened, and was no longer closed. And the Most High gave understanding to the five men, and by turns they wrote what was dictated, in characters which they did not know. They sat forty days, and wrote during the daytime, and ate their bread at night. As for me, I spoke in the daytime and was not silent at night. So during the forty days ninety-four books were written. And when the forty days were ended, the Most High spoke to me, saying, “Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people. For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the river of knowledge.” And I do so (2 Esdras 14.37-38)

If this were the true way in which the books of Scripture came into being, we would have no problems with the text of Scripture at all. It would be only the word of God and in no way would it be the words of men.

However, it can be demonstrated that Scripture did not come to its authors as depicted above. We have received Scripture in three different languages: Hebrew and Aramaic in the First Testament and Greek in the Second Testament. It has been established that the Greek of the Second Testament was not some special holy language used by God, but was the common street language of the day.

The books of Scripture have distinct literary characteristics and styles. In the Second Testament, Mark was written in “sloppy” Greek, while Luke was written in “superior” Greek. Luke used hundreds of words that Matthew and Mark did not use in the production of their stories about Jesus. The human factor of Scripture can not be dismissed. The humanity of Scripture cannot be sidestepped. A true study of Scripture will embrace the humanity of the text which is God-breathed.

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The Second Testament

The Second Testament books were written on a material called papyrus which was made from the papyrus plant, an abundant material in the region of the Nile. Papyrus rolls were measured about ten inches wide and thirty feet long. The material itself was flimsy and not very durable. Over the years, thousands of Second Testament manuscripts written on various sizes of papyrus have been discovered. Here is how multiple manuscripts could have occurred.

When Paul wrote to the church at Colosse, a city in ancient Phrygia about twelve miles to the north of Laodicea near the road that led from Ephesus to the Euphrates, he most likely wrote on papyrus. Because of the frail makeup of this material, it would begin to fall apart, if it was handled very much. The same is often true of well-used Bibles today, which fall apart at the seams. Because the letter was read over and over, a scribe would copy it to another piece of papyrus or make several copies. The scribes were the early Xerox machines, with one exception: they often made some errors in writing. Besides the possibility of a scribal copy because of usage, Paul told another church that they should read the letter he had sent to the Colossians (Col. 4.16), which would cause more copies of the letter to be copied, which in turn would cause more copy errors.

The letters written by Paul were the first to be circulated and began to be understood as carrying the same authority as the First Testament as suggested by Peter in 2 Peter 3.14-16. By the mid-Second Century, the four Gospels were being used in an authoritative way in the church. However, there was no consensus within the Second Century Church of a list of authoritative books. The first known attempt at making a list occurred with Marcion. He tried to persuade the church of her need for having a canon by composing one of his own. In the Bible of Marcion, there was only a Second Testament of which he had rewritten some parts. The church in this century cast aside Marcion while retaining his concept. His excommunication contributed to the expansion of the canon within the church.

Over the next two hundred years, the church began to define her canon. At the close of the fourth century, she decided on twenty-seven books, which the church today still holds to be the authoritative word of God.

The two basic criteria that were used in the formation stages of the canon were: Was the book or letter written by an Apostle or one of his protégées and did its message change the lives of people? While this process occurred as a part of human history, it is my contention that the Church listened to God over these years and saw in these certain pieces of literature the hand of God and heard in its reading the voice of God.

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Scripture and Culture Change

Scripture is full of stories which demonstrate the power and presence of God. His Story is the primary conveyance he used to communicate with his children. First in an oral fashion, then in a written fashion. There are two levels of Scripture which we should take note: devotional and informed reading.

Devotional reading is when God breaks into our lives as we read his word and speaks to us directly. This message is for us, but that message is not the meaning of the text at hand that we are reading. That meaning is discovered by studying. We may share the devotional word as a personal word for us with others, but it is abusive to share it as the intended meaning of the author which the first hearer would have heard.

The second is informed reading in which we learn to fill our toolbox with appropriate tools to help us come to grips with the message of God in the Old and New Testament. Both are necessary for a healthy life of living into his Story. Learning to live into and within God’s Story as an actor/actress, playing out the part God has given us with improvisation and imagination can change the culture in which we live.


Here are some resources to help you with an informed reading.


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How Did We Get Scripture?

What was the process that occurred that allows us to read Scripture in our English language? Ever thought about that? Here’s the short answer.

The Process of Scripture
As a physical record, Scripture came to us in a timeframe of several hundred years. Tradition suggests that Moses generated the First or Old Testament documents in about 1400 B.C. (others give the date of 1280 B.C.). At the beginning of the what is often called the Intertestamental Period (approximately 400 B.C.) the writing was finished. This period is also referred to as Second Temple Judaism (515 BC–AD 70). The actual Pentateuch text was assembled somewhere around 950 BC (others say 550 BC) during the rule of Solomon. The final books of the First Testament were finished around 150 BC.

The timeframe was much shorter for the writing of the Second or New Testament. The letter to the Galatians was written in AD 49 and Revelation was written around AD 96.

Who Wrote Scripture?
Scripture is a collection of books, written by many authors. All of the writers were Jewish, except Luke, who was a Greek. The authors wrote from diverse places like Palestine, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. The reasons that caused these writers to produce their books was as diverse as the authors themselves. the books of the Second Testament have often been referred to as “problem-solving” literature. As problems arose within the churches that were being created, these authors set out to help those churches to find solutions to their problems.

How many books are there in Scripture? Your answer will depend on the tradition in which you grew up. It is often the case that when people become new Jesus followers, they are often disturbed when they hear there are books which the early Christians read that are not found in their Bible. They want to know who decided which books were in or out. They want to know how this was decided. When did the canon come into existence? The word canon was used by the early church in the following way: Canon was a list of books which were considered to be authoritative. These books were used by the church to measure and correct their beliefs. The early church had two canons: the First or Old Testament which was inherited from the Jews and the Second or New Testament canon which emerged over a three hundred year timeframe.

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Parts of the church seem to practice a kind of bibliolatry in which the Bible is worshiped rather than the God of the Bible being worshiped. I think it is fair to say: “The Bible is not God.” [continue reading…]


A God-Breathed Book

God has revealed himself in Scripture by his works and words. The chief revelation of God is Jesus who came to show us what God is like and to secure our salvation. The vehicle which God chose to use to carry this message to the generations is Scripture. [continue reading…]