Thinking Out Loud

March 11, 2018

83% of Statistics Are Made Up

cartoonkjv

Yes…I made up that stat in today’s headline…

Four years ago a number of Christian websites, blogs and media outlets ran with a story about a research study at the — deep breath — the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis; with the primary takeaway that the King James Version of the Bible is the most-read in the United States and therefore most-popular English Bible translation.

My reaction when I read this, summarized at Christianity Today, was “What have these people been smoking?” Alas, the study was based in Indianapolis, not Colorado or Washington.

As someone who has devoted a lifetime to various aspects of Christian publishing, these results are so completely counter-intuitive. I guess all those Gideon Bibles in the drawer underneath the motel telephone are getting used after all. Maybe now the King James Only movement can stop campaigning and say, “We rest our case.”

But the study has to do with what version the survey group claimed to be reading. In a library, the book most-read might be the dictionary. Among our aforementioned motel guests, it might be a telephone directory. If they survey dentists’ offices, it might be nondescript magazines from 2007. None of these things turn up on the bestseller lists because nobody is interested in what people use for reference, people want to know what items in print are of significant interest that they cause people to part with their money to obtain them.

Personally, I think time spent follows money spent. I think the sales data, which in most parts of the English-speaking world still supports the New International Version as the top English translation, is of greater interest. I also have a hard time believing that the majority of searches at BibleGateway.com have KJV set as their default.

Has the KJV greatly influenced English and North American culture? Absolutely. We celebrated that in 2011, recognizing the 400th anniversary of the translation that has outlasted most others in the past two millennia. It’s often quoted and my own online searches often revert to KJV because that’s how I memorized the verses as a child.

But it’s time to move on. Studies like this one — all 44 pages of it — only confuse the central issues.

Furthermore, the study is biased in several places. On the topic of where respondents find help and clarification in their Bible understanding, choices are clergy, commentaries, study groups, electronic media and the internet. I’m sorry, but my go-to resource if a passage is muddy is to use other translations. As one person taught me a long time ago, “Let the translators do the work for you.” That’s also the point behind parallel Bible editions and sites like BibleGateway, BibleHub, Biblios, etc.

I also know from decades of anecdotal experiences with teaching people about Bible translations that many people simply don’t know the names of any of them, and if asked, will answer “King James” or worse, “Saint James” because that’s the only answer they can give. Furthermore, the study has been widely criticized for not allowing the New King James Version (NKJV) as an option. The surveyors also showed a rather glaring ignorance for their subject matter by referring to The Living Bible (sic) instead of the New Living Translation (NLT), the version that is currently number one in the bookstore market where I reside.

…But then, here’s the thing. Just days after publishing a news story on the study, the same website, Christianity Today, released Three Ways to Recognize Bad Stats. Ed Stetzer suggested:

1. Be Wary of Statistics in Promotions
2. Be Wary of Stats that Cannot be Verified
3. Be Wary of Stats that do not Line up with Reality

It is the third category in which I place the Bible reading study. I would also like to propose a couple of friendly amendments to Stetzer’s article:

4. Be Wary of Stats Backed by an Agenda

Too many studies, surveys and statistical compilations are presented by people or groups who have predetermined the outcome they wish to see.

5. Be Wary of Stats Designed to Invoke Fear

There are two reasons why people do this. Some rally the troops by suggesting there is a common enemy we face in order to galvanize support for a particular ministry that can stem the tide and reverse the situation. Sadly, some Christian research firms do this in order to sell survey data. If it bleeds it leads. This is best seen in the tension between Barna Research’s David Kinnaman and sociologist Bradley Wright, the latter titling one of his books, The Sky is Not Falling.

I should also say that I don’t fault Christianity Today for the confusion, especially since they write me a weekly paycheck for the Wednesday Link Lists. In the former case, they are simply reporting the study, and writer Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra possibly plays her hand by saying, in the 4th paragraph, “The numbers are surprising;” and then links to a 2011 CT story by — wait for it — Ed Stetzer reporting on the NIV’s dominance. In the latter case, Stetzer is simply being pastoral, warning the CT-readership flock that they can’t believe everything they read.

Note to KJV-Only trolls: This is not the blog you’re looking for. Comments will be deleted.

August 28, 2014

MEV Bible Marketing is Confusing, Misleading

Another new Bible translation hits the bookstores next month. Yes, I know what you’re thinking; do we really need another translation? Personally, while I love the variety of options available and feel they bring much clarity and understanding, I would say there are dangers in over-saturating — or more accurately over-fragmenting — the market.

MEVThe MEV is the latest arrival. It stands for Modern English Version, but that name must somewhat frustrate the creators, who wish all the KJV-related names — NKJV, KJV21, etc — weren’t already taken; as this is the market they are going after. They describe it as “the most modern of the KJV.” What does that even mean?

There’s nothing wrong with seeking to present a new translation to people who have been stuck on a particular version for a long period. The CEB (Common English Bible) has been marketed to the same demographic that currently uses the NRSV. I have no problem with that. But the people stuck on the KJV are really, really stuck. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Anyway, amid the hype was six consecutive pages in the September, 2014 issue of Christian Retailing magazine, a book industry trade publication. The first two were really an advertisement, and the next four pages were an attempt to convince bookstore owners and managers to buy in, both literally and figuratively, to the MEV.

I should say here that Christian Retailing is owned by the same company producing the MEV, Strang Publishing. This conflict-of-interest is rather old news however, as the company’s books, most published under the Charisma House banner, always get inordinate space in the trade magazine. I suppose any of us would do the same.

Still, the four page article contains a number of assumptions that lead to a type of flawed logic as to where the MEV fits in and how retailers can expect it to perform in term of sales.

The MEV is a direct successor to the KJV

The marketing strategy here is clearly to target conservative Evangelicals and convince them it’s time for a change, so you can’t read much about the MEV without encountering the words “King James Version” in the advertising. The home page refers to the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) as producing it, but that group’s website clearly indicates their association is with the NIV. The MEV landing page also says that the group used the KJV as its base manuscript. Does that mean it was not translated directly from original languages? If that’s the case, this is really no different a situation than Ken Taylor restating passages from the American Standard Version to read to his kids at night, and thereby creating The Living Bible which was roundly dismissed by many Evangelicals as a ‘paraphrase’ a term used derisively with no direct equivalent in linguistics.  (If you restate something written to make it understood by another group, you are in effect translating.) 

One writer took it this far:

This fall, the torch of the KJV tradition will be passed to a new version of the Bible: the Modern English Version (MEV). 

Obviously, it makes sense to him.

First, I would argue that each and every English translation since 1611 (or if you prefer, 1789) is a successor to the KJV.

Second, I think that, in the past 400 years, if anyone deserves the credit for having worked within the KJV tradition, that would belong to The Voice Bible. Think about it:

  • high respect for the KJV translation process (see The Story of The Voice, Thomas Nelson)
  • similar use of poets, playwriters and songwriters (i.e. stylists) working alongside theologians
  • use of italics to represent short phrases added to the text to bring about clarity of meaning

Appeal to the popularity of the KJV

Three times the article refers to an American Bible Society study that states that 34% of “church leaders” favor the KJV. Church leaders over age 60? Church leaders in rural churches in the deep south? (I am setting aside discussion of the references to “America” in the article; the publishers apparently had no vision for this reaching outside the 50 States.)

This also begs the question, if the KJV is that popular then what hope does anyone have in breaking into that market? Or to put it another way, if the KJV is adequately serving the needs of over a third of U.S. church leaders, for a 400-year-old publication, it’s doing really, really well. So why bother?

The enemy we face

Several times the article talked about the decline in morals, church attendance, etc., and the increase of skepticism. This is a common approach used mostly by televangelists. We identify a common enemy and then we stress the need to do something. If we can only get this particular Bible into the hands of the unsaved and unchurched, then we can reverse the trend toward agnosticism and atheism, right?

In a way, this is a form of checkbook evangelism. Social decay is all around us, therefore we need to print more Bibles. Wait; no, we need to print new Bibles. And maybe you personally don’t need this, but obviously you need to support what’s happening.

Recognition of the challenge faced in introducing the translation

The article stressed to booksellers that this isn’t a commodity that can simply be put on a shelf and expected to perform. It derided the “point and shoot” mentality that has taken over Bible departments, where if you want a particular version, you’re simply told, ‘Aisle three, left side, bottom shelf.’

The publishers are clearly looking for more engagement with customers on the part of the bookstore staff on the front lines. The industry term for this is hand-selling. It means basically, ‘This is going to take some extra effort on your part to get this product noticed and understood.’

But this comes at a time when stores face mammoth challenges to stay afloat. The trend is toward self-serve, and favors products which outline their purpose and features in the blurb on the back. Furthermore, I would argue that Charisma Media is asking retailers to do what every single book, Bible and music publisher would like to see. They all want their products to get more attention.

Show me the money

As you can expect, the article much hypes the MEV’s potential, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure much is gained. For example:

MEV passage comparison - John 3 16I really can’t judge the motivation of the creators of this project, but I do know it’s a matter of pride among Christian publishing conglomerates to have a Bible in their stable of products. Tyndale has the NLT, NavPress has The Message, Baker Books has God’s Word, Crossway has the ESV, Broadman has the HCSB, and HarperCollins Christian Publishing has the NIV, NKJV, NCV and The Voice

A reader comment at one article looked at this less in terms of publishing companies and more in terms of denominations:

…Now, after reading who is behind this particular translation I’m a little concerned. Are we getting to the point where every domination will now have their very own bible translation such as, HCSB for Baptists and now MEV for the Assemblies of God?

Either way, I guess that’s what you do.

Now we wait to see if the marketing works out the way Strang/Charisma is hoping.  Time will tell.

March 25, 2014

Be Wary of Surveys, Studies, Statistics

cartoonkjv

Last week a number of Christian websites, blogs and media outlets ran with a story about a research study at the — deep breath — the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis; with the primary takeaway that the King James Version of the Bible is the most-read in the United States and therefore most-popular English Bible translation.

My reaction when I read this, summarized at Christianity Today, was “What have these people been smoking?” Alas, the study was based in Indianapolis, not Colorado or Washington.

As someone who has devoted a lifetime to various aspects of Christian publishing, these results are so completely counter-intuitive. I guess all those Gideon Bibles in the drawer underneath the motel telephone are getting used after all. Maybe now the King James Only movement can stop campaigning and say, “We rest our case.”

But the study has to do with what version the survey group claimed to be reading. In a library, the book most-read might be the dictionary. Among our aforementioned motel guests, it might be a telephone directory. If they survey dentists’ offices, it might be nondescript magazines from 2007. None of these things turn up on the bestseller lists because nobody is interested in what people use for reference, people want to know what items in print are of significant interest that they cause people to part with their money to obtain them.

Personally, I think time spent follows money spent. I think the sales data, which in most parts of the English-speaking world still supports the New International Version as the top English translation, is of greater interest. I also have a hard time believing that the majority of searches at BibleGateway.com have KJV set as their default.

Has the KJV greatly influenced English and North American culture? Absolutely. We celebrated that in 2011, recognizing the 400th anniversary of the translation that has outlasted most others in the past two millennia. It’s often quoted and my own online searches often revert to KJV because that’s how I memorized the verses as a child.

But it’s time to move on. Studies like this one — all 44 pages of it — only confuse the central issues.

Furthermore, the study is biased in several places. On the topic of where respondents find help and clarification in their Bible understanding, choices are clergy, commentaries, study groups, electronic media and the internet. I’m sorry, but my go-to resource if a passage is muddy is to use other translations. As one person taught me a long time ago, “Let the translators do the work for you.” That’s also the point behind parallel Bible editions and sites like BibleGateway, BibleHub, Biblios, etc.

I also know from decades of anecdotal experiences with teaching people about Bible translations that many people simply don’t know the names of any of them, and if asked, will answer “King James” or worse, “Saint James” because that’s the only answer they can give. Furthermore, the study has been widely criticized for not allowing the New King James Version (NKJV) as an option. The surveyors also showed a rather glaring ignorance for their subject matter by referring to The Living Bible (sic) instead of the New Living Translation (NLT), the version that is currently number one in the bookstore market where I reside.

…But then, here’s the thing. Just days after publishing a news story on the study, the same website, Christianity Today, released Three Ways to Recognize Bad Stats. Ed Stetzer suggested:

1. Be Wary of Statistics in Promotions
2. Be Wary of Stats that Cannot be Verified
3. Be Wary of Stats that do not Line up with Reality

It is the third category in which I place the Bible reading study. I would also like to propose a couple of friendly amendments to Stetzer’s article:

4. Be Wary of Stats Backed by an Agenda

Too many studies, surveys and statistical compilations are presented by people or groups who have predetermined the outcome they wish to see.

5. Be Wary of Stats Designed to Invoke Fear

There are two reasons why people do this. Some rally the troops by suggesting there is a common enemy we face in order to galvanize support for a particular ministry that can stem the tide and reverse the situation. Sadly, some Christian research firms do this in order to sell survey data. If it bleeds it leads. This is best seen in the tension between Barna Research’s David Kinnaman and sociologist Bradley Wright, the latter titling one of his books, The Sky is Not Falling.

I should also say that I don’t fault Christianity Today for the confusion, especially since they write me a weekly paycheck for the Wednesday Link Lists. In the former case, they are simply reporting the study, and writer Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra possibly plays her hand by saying, in the 4th paragraph, “The numbers are surprising;” and then links to a 2011 CT story by — wait for it — Ed Stetzer reporting on the NIV’s dominance. In the latter case, Stetzer is simply being pastoral, warning the CT-readership flock that they can’t believe everything they read.

 

Note to KJV-Only trolls: This is not the blog you’re looking for. Comments will be deleted.

 

November 29, 2013

Test Your King James Vocabulary

This appeared two weeks ago at Stuff Fundies Like and seemed a perfect Thanksgiving holiday diversion. (And proof of why we need new translations.) Gather the family and see how you do.  Leave your score at SFL where this appeared under the title KJV Vocab Test. (Not sure why there’s 49 and not 50!)

Let’s do a vocabulary test! See how well you can do on your own without reading the verse and post your score in the comments. All references are taken from the King James Version.

1. wen (Lev 2:22)

2. victuals (Mat 14:15)

3. vestry (2 Kings 10:22)

4. upbraideth (James 1:5)

5. unction (1 John 2:20)

6. trow (Luke 17:9)

Bible 37. tow (Judges 16:9)

8. surfeiting (Luke 21:34)

9. sundry (Heb 1:1)

10. suborned (Acts 6:11)

11. stomacher (Isa 3:24)

12. sop (John 13:26)

13. sod (Gen 25:29)

14. slow bellies (Titus 1:12)

15. scrip (Luke 9:3)

16. provender (Gen 24:25)

17. privy (Acts 5:2)

18. pottage (Hag 2:12)

19. peradventure (2 Timothy 2:25)

20. penury (Luke 21:4)

21. paps (Luke 11:27)

22. Osee (Romans 9:25)

23. offscouring (1 Co 4:13)

24. nitre (Pro 25:20)

25. murrain (Exodus 9:3)

26. mess (Gen 43:34)

27. meet (Mark 7:27)

28. mazzaroth (Job 38:32)

29. marishes (Eze 47:11)

30. listeth (John 3:8)

31. let (Rom 1:13)

32. kine (Gen 41:2)

33. jangling (1 Timothy 1:6)

34. inditing (Psa 45:1)

35. husbandman (Joel 1:11)

Bible 536. holpen (Psa 86:17)

37. hoary (Job 38:29)

38. heady (2 Timothy 3:4)

39. hart (Psa 42:1)

40. haply (Mark 11:13)

41. habergeon (Exo 28:32)

42. gainsay (Luke 21:15)

43. gaddest (Jer 2:36)

44. fuller (Mark 9:3)

45. flux (Acts 28:8)

46. execration (Jer 42:18)

47. euroclydon (Acts 27:14)

48. earing (Gen 45:6)

49. crisping pins (Isa 3:22)

This list came from elsewhere on the Internet but I haven’t been able to find the original source. If it’s yours please let me know and I’ll be happy to give you credit.

 

How about the phrase “cleanness of teeth” from Amos 4:6 for # 50?

June 25, 2013

In The Days of King James

I have never been a reader of history books, be they Canadian or American history, or even world history. The middle and high schools I attended were the product of experimental education theories, and I actually have no history credits in high school itself, and my middle school history notes would fill about 16 notebook pages. As a result I have a reading deficiency which fortunately does not extend to fiction or biography, but does impair my knowledge of church history.

God's SecretariesSo when I picked up the book God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible a 2005 HarperCollins title by Adam Nicholson a few days ago, I didn’t realize I was going to finish it, or I might have made more notes.  Still there are few things I remember the next morning worth noting, especially given the strange Bibliolatry which surrounds this version in the 21st century.

The Translators were highly motivated by the prestige the project would bring. Climbing the ecclesiastical ladder was as important then as now, and also brought with it political ramifications to more than a few of them. Being a Translator (always spelled with a capital T) meant being part of an exclusive echelon of pastors and theological professors. Like today’s megachurch pastors, they were religious superstars.

Politics guided certain aspects of the translation and what did — or in this case what mostly didn’t — get included in marginal notes.

The Christian community included several different streams. Although the Translators were ostensibly working for the state church, the Church of England, it was against a backdrop which included Roman Catholics and Puritans.

The King, for all his failings, was astute theologically. There was more Biblical literacy back then, and the King was capable of engaging a variety of Bible themes. When was the last time you heard Queen Elizabeth discuss doctrine? Perhaps today advisors to the monarch encourage keeping a safe distance from topics that could be divisive.

However, once it was initiated, the King distanced himself from the day to day workings of the project.  There is no evidence that the King interfered once the work was underway.

There is no hint of inspiration included in the mandate given to the Translators. This is important because today there are some marginal groups that use the KJV exclusively and insist that the translation team rested on an inspiration that was secondary or even equal to the original Biblical writers. “There is no hint of inspiration, or even of prayerfulness, no idea that the Translators are to be in the right frame of mind. [Instead] There are exact directions, state orders, not literary or theological suggestions…This is a job to be done…” (p.72)

While literacy increased greatly in the 17th century, priority was given to how the Bible sounded when spoken aloud, not how it communicated when read quietly to oneself. They prized ornamental language, however this had one drawback…

The King James Bible was considered outdated on the day it was published. We often complain about the older language of the KJV being difficult to follow, but from day one the same complaint was heard; the Bible was considered to be using language that was 60-70 years out of date.

The preface to the original KJV doesn’t quote itself. It’s interesting that there are references in the preface to verses from other translations. In one spot, this affected the verse numbering system used, which means the citation referred to in the introduction is very difficult to find in the Bible it is introducing. It is as though the translation team did not have confidence in the product on offer, a fact confirmed by the following…

Many of the Translators continued to preach from existing versions after completion of the project.  Initial acceptance of the project was minimal to say the least.

Nonetheless, the King James Bible was considered a great achievement for both the 17th century church and the nation itself. “…It is easy to see it as England’s equivalent to the great baroque cathedral it never built…”

The King James edition of the Bible was published containing the Apocrypha. I know this is old news to some of you, but it’s interesting to mention it again in light of who currently most uses and reveres the KJV today.

The Translators did not view the KJV as guided by the principles of formal correspondence. They would be very surprised to see the current classification of their work among formal equivalence translations since their goal was dynamic equivalence. What we call formal equivalence was a Puritan value they were seeking to avoid.

The King James Bible of 1611 was, depending on who you ask, about 80% identical to the Tyndale Bible. Although the Lutheran pastor was unable to finish his Old Testament, and worked in exile and was eventually martyred, it’s clear the Translators held William Tyndale’s work in high esteem as they drafted the KJV.

Because of the original KJV was consider an update of an existing work, there is nothing of what we would call today “Library of Congress Publication Data.”  This means there isn’t an official record of its publication since it was considered an update of an existing work. Today, that’s almost — but not quite — like saying the book wouldn’t have been assigned an ISBN.

The authority of scripture did not negate the need to work out the details of ordinary living. “The difference came in deciding on the lawfulness of religious behavior and belief that were not mentioned in the Bible. If something wasn’t mentioned, did that mean God had no view on it? Or if it wasn’t mentioned, did that mean that God did not approve of it?” (p. 123)

Would the Translators be surprised to see their edition still on bookstore shelves today? Yes and no. I think they would be surprised to see the extreme cult following that has surrounded it, especially among those who claim that salvation cannot be found in any other translation.

It’s also doubtful that those same KJV-Only leaders would be aware of the history I just finished reading. The story frequently refers to Lancelot Andrewes, director of The First Westminister Company (one of six translation teams) who ought then to be revered as a saint by those who hold the KJV in such high esteem. But how many of those who claim the King James edition’s exclusivity have ever heard his name? Perhaps the truth would get in the way of the agenda.

The beauty and majesty of the KJV are unique. It has served us well enough for 402 years. For this writer however, perhaps it’s time now to move on…

December 26, 2011

KJV 400th — The Party’s Over

Last one out, turn off the lights, okay?

Well that was fun.  But now it’s over.  We politely saluted the survival of a 400-year-old or 222-year-old (if you prefer the present 1789 edition to the 1611) translation of the Bible.  The KJV version is more than a mere blip in thousands of years of Bible translation in hundreds of languages, but not much more than that in the larger scheme of languages and centuries.

It served us well.  It propelled the idea advanced by William Tyndale that the Bible should be available in the common language; that whoever your society counts as the least — the classic ‘garbage collector’ comes to mind, though they often make good money — should be able to access the Bible and understand it.

Today however, the understandability of a Bible translated in 1611 but not significantly updated since the late 1700’s is a questionable premise.  For several reasons:

  1. English is a fluid, changing language.  In the words of the Cliff Richard song, “It’s so funny how we don’t talk like that anymore.”  (I may have added a couple of words.)  Furthermore, some words actually mean the opposite today of what they did then.
  2. We now have better manuscripts.  And verification from a greater number of fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  And a whole lot of other documents that are contemporary to the time the Bible documents were written.  So we know, for example that some KJV place names are really people names and vice versa.  (John White’s The King James Only Controversy is must-reading on this subject.)
  3. We have higher standards of translation and a better understanding of when to include something in the text and when to add it as a footnote or save it for a commentary.  We also know — for sure — that Paul did not invoke the name of God in Romans 6:1.  No other translation adopts the KJV “God forbid!”  It is — to use a word that offends Bible translation purists — a paraphrase.  A British colloquialism.
  4. Perpetuating language written in a Shakespearean form somehow robs the Bible of its relevance to real people living real lives in the 21st century.  Yes, it may be  easier to memorize, and it sounds churchy, but it clearly has what linguist Eugene Nida calls “a high fog index.”  Really, to cling to it in 2012 is no different than the attitude of Roman Catholics who perpetuated the Latin Mass.  And it defies the spirit of William Tyndale, who the KJV translation team greatly revered.
  5. There’s a guilty-by-association thing going on with the KJV-only crowd:  The people who stand for the exclusivity of this particular text often tend to stand for other causes.  I wouldn’t necessarily associate them people who picket soldier’s funerals, or the people who burn the Koran, or the people who wildly predict dates for the world to end.  No, I’d leave that for you to connect the dots.  Heck, even the King James Bible translators weren’t KJV-only.

So enough, already.  Let’s put the KJVs on a shelf and display them only when the occasion arises.   Let’s haul them out when we’re trying to find that verse we learned in our childhood.  Let’s refer to them when we want to see what verses Grandma and Grandpa underlined or highlighted.

But otherwise, in terms of everyday use, let us determine that anyone under forty (at the very least) will finally lay the KJV to rest, because, truth be told, most of us attended the KJV-400 party only because we love the Bible and we love a good celebration.

November 19, 2010

Why You Can’t Buy a Loaf of Eggs, or Bananas

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:28 pm

I’m only going to say this once.

The King James Version of the Bible is an English translation.   You can’t buy The King James Version in Spanish.   You can’t buy the King James Version in French.   You can’t buy the King James Version in Italian.

It is the name given to a particular translation in English.

You can request a traditional translation.   You can request something that is not an easy-to-read translation.   You can even go on something called the Internet and find out the names of the available translations in the language you need.

But you can’t buy a King James bible in a language that isn’t English. Each language has its own unique history of Bible translation.   Each is an entirely distinct story.

July 15, 2010

Currently Reading: The Book of Tobit

The Old Testament deuterocanonical book of Tobit is fourteen short chapters and may be read in under 15 minutes.   I’d read a number of these books a couple of decades ago, but took advantage of not being the driver on a short car trip to read this one again.

Most of the story centers on Tobit’s son Tobiah and his soon-to-be wife Sarah, and an incognito angel named Raphael.    Tobiah is cooling his feet in a stream when a fish grabs hold of one foot and the angel advises him not to discard the fish because cooking some of the organs can expel demons and heal eye cataracts, which is key to the resolution of the plot.

This aspect of the story seemed to me to be the one which sets Tobit apart from other O. T. books which are part of the 66-book Protestant canon.   But then I thought about that other fish story, the book of Jonah with its regurgitated prophet, and wondered how we would react to that if it were not part of our heritage (or how the unchurched react to the creation narrative with its talking snake and seemingly magic tree.)

Tobit contains a couple of Psalm-like chapters of worship to God’s greatness and provision.   There is nothing in the story which directly conflicts with Protestant belief and it is historically and geographically rooted enough to suggest that the characters are real.    God’s dealings with Israel in the O.T. were both weird and wonderful by contemporary standards, and I haven’t studied enough on this book to dare to suggest it never happened.

As Tobit was part of the original 1611 King James Version, you can read that online here.    If you’re curious however, I’d prefer to recommend reading it as I did in the New American Bible.   It’s also in the Catholic NRSV and Catholic Good News Bible.

March 27, 2010

Sometimes You Just Know

Part One — The Apocrypha

There are a number of reasons why the Apocrypha doesn’t appear in the majority of Bibles that will be sold today.   The issues of canonicity (it’s a word now!) are varied and complex, and have more to do with authorship and authenticity.

But after reading almost every chapter and verse several years ago, I sensed there was a different “tenor” to those books.   That’s subjective on my part, and I know that by applying the same criteria, others have rejected the book of Esther or Song of Solomon, while still others will be quick to remind us all that the original edition of the 1611 King James Bible actually contained these extra books, something KJV-only advocates are not quick to mention.

But sometimes you just know.   It just doesn’t feel right.   I think that’s the application of the gift of discernment.    There is much accuracy in the books of I and II Maccabees.   There is much wisdom in the book of Sirach.  But these things are true of a host of extra-Biblical writings, not to mention the contribution of contemporary authors.

Part II — God Calling

I’m all for devotional readings to start or end the day — I include a link on this blog’s sidebar to Daily Encouragement in case you missed this morning — but I’m not sure that it should be one’s entire source of spiritual input for the day.

Some of the books available are published by general-market publishers and simply contain the odd Bible verse here and there.   Others are simply too short.   And then there’s God Calling, written by “The Two Listeners” and edited by A. J. Russell.

This book came out of the Oxford Group (don’t Google ‘Oxford Movement,’ that’s different) which also was the ground zero for the Alcoholics Anonymous program.    The unknown authors ‘received’ the book through a process called ‘automatic writing,’ sitting with pads of paper in a room and waiting for God to speak to them.

Several years ago it’s origins were reconsidered in an article in the Christian bookstore trade magazine Christian Retailing which resulted in many such stores pulling it off the shelf.    Others don’t have a problem with it however, and two Christian publishing giants, Baker Books and Barbour Publishing, each continue distribution to this day.

If you negate the book’s orthodoxy on the basis of automatic writing alone, you’re also negating every prophetic word ever published by Charismatics, the “Footprints” poem and the book and video of The Father’s Love Letter. (And yes, there are some reading this who are quite prepared to do this.)

But God Calling presents other challenges as well, and if someone can find one or two good critiques online, I’d be happy to post them here and in my book industry blog.

There is a huge sometimes-you-just-know factor at play here.

Part III — 66 Love Letters

Applying all the above discussion to a new book by respected Christian author Larry Crabb, 66 Love Letters, (Thomas Nelson) it’s hard to see a difference.    The book is based on major themes from each of the 66 books in the core Biblical canon, but again written in the first person as though from God.

I haven’t read the book, but I subscribed by e-mail to the Lenten reflections based on 40 of the 66 chapters.   After negotiating the first few, I found myself skimming the remainder or filing them away for future reference if I ever wanted to consider those major themes.

It’s a personal thing; I just find there’s a danger in putting words in God’s mouth in a format like this.    I’m not questioning the theology or the doctrine contained in Crabb’s writing, and it’s not about him in particular.  And I am in no way dispensational when it comes to “Thus Saith the Lord” prophetic messages from persons having that gift, if it’s truly God speaking.

It just doesn’t feel right; it just doesn’t resonate with my personality or with my spirit; and it brings me back to the same position:  Sometimes you just know.

February 12, 2010

Church History in the Dan Brown Tradition

Although the mainstream press — outside of book reviewers — ignored the hardcover release in May 2009; the May 2010 paperback release of The King James Conspiracy still threatens to do to the renown Bible translation project of the 1600s what Dan Brown’s books did to the disciples and the early church. Furthermore, one shudders to think there might be movie rights at play.

Here’s the marketing from St. Martin’s Griffin:

The turning of the wheel by the tilling of the wheat.

With these cryptic words, a conspiracy is set into motion that threatens the new translation of the Bible ordered by King James I, and the lives of the scholars working on it.

In 1605, in Cambridge England, a group of scholars brought together to create a definitive English translation of the Bible finds one of its members savagely murdered by unknown hands. Deacon Marbury, the man in charge of this group, seeks outside help to find the murderer, to protect the innocents and their work. But the people who offer to help are not who they claim to be and the man they send to Marbury–Brother Timon–has a secret past, much blood on his hands, and is an agent for those forces that wish to halt the translation itself.

But as the hidden killer continues his gruesome work, the body count among the scholars continues to rise. Brother Timon is torn between his loyalties and believes an even greater crisis looms as ancient and alarming secrets are revealed–secrets dating back to the earliest days of Christianity that threaten the most basic of its closely held beliefs.

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