Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 15, 2009

2009.03.15 “PoWeRSuRGe: “R” is for ‘Read the Bible’”

Central United Methodist Church

“PoWeRSuRGe: “R” is for ‘Read the Bible’”

Pastor David L. Haley

The 3rd Sunday in Lent

March 15th, 2009 

       “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
 – 2 Timothy 3: 14 –17, NRSV


Jay Leno knew he had the perfect routine. Roving through the audience of his talk show, Leno asked people how much they knew about the Bible. “Name one of the Ten Commandments,” he asked. A hand went up: “God helps those who help themselves?” Leno went on: “Name one of the apostles.” No answer.  But when he asked his audience to name the four Beatles, the names “George, Paul, John, and Ringo” flew from the crowd.

It’s an illustration of what Wheaton College professor Gary Burge calls, “The Greatest Story Never Read.” (“The Greatest Story Never Read: Recovering Biblical Literacy in the Church,” Gary M. Burge, Christianity Today”, August 9, 1999)  The Bible is on the short list of the world’s most important books.  But it’s also on another list: that of the world’s most important, but LEAST READ books.

        Unfortunately, it’s not only in society, Biblical illiteracy is almost rampant in the church. Consider some of the findings from various surveys:

–          Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels

–          Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of Jesus’ disciples

–          60% of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments

–          82% of Americans believe “God helps those who help themselves”

is a Bible verse

– 12% of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife

–          A considerable number of respondents to one poll believed that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham

            (“Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.” – George Barna)

        If this description fits, it’s not totally your fault. For several generations now, church leaders, and especially pastors, have assumed that the people sitting in the pews knew the Bible, when, in fact, they didn’t.  And the people sitting in the pews assumed that, at church, they would “learn” the Bible, when, in fact, they didn’t. 

        For 2,000 years, the Bible has been THE place where Christians have most frequently encountered the Word of God. For us Protestants, the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century was the principle not only of “faith alone,” but of “scripture alone.”  I believe that one of the contributions of the mainline traditions, such as United Methodism, is that while we do not take Scripture “literally”, as fundamentalists, we do take it “seriously” as modern Christians.  But if we are functionally biblically illiterate, what does that do to such traditions?

One thing we can do to reverse this trend is to “Read the Bible.”  So, today we come to the third of six essential spiritual disciplines, “Read the Bible. 

It’s the third sermon in my PoWeRSuRGe series. Developed by Pastor Michael Foss of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, in Burnsville, MN, the acronym stands for: Prayer, Worship, Read the Bible, Serving, Relationships, and Giving; six essential disciplines for growth in spirituality and discipleship. My emphasis throughout is more practical than theological.

Truth be told, most of us would like to be more knowledgeable of the Bible. For example, recently on Facebook I came across a “bucket list” of a distant friend; one of the items on it was “to read the Bible through.” You might say that it’s one of the Christian life’s course requirements. Who knows, maybe it will be on the final exam.

Today I would like to help you become more biblically literate, by helping you begin to read the Bible for yourself.

The first thing I would suggest you do is get a Bible for yourself, which you like.  When I say “like”, what I mean is, a Bible you can understand.

What fun! To go Bible shopping!  Unfortunately, what you will find – as I have found – is this: there are a seemingly infinite number of translations, with multiple editions of each translation, and within the editions, various sizes and styles.

So what you might want to do first of all is pick a translation. Go to a bookstore and compare, or to the library, or best of all, if you have internet access, go to a site like, where you can read the same verse in 50 online Bibles in 35 languages.

The thing about Biblical translation is this:  it operates on a continuum between two poles: accuracy of translation and clear literary style.  Furthermore, in translation, should you strive to translate “word for word”, “thought for thought”, or even paraphrase, to restore to the text the original impact it had?  Here’s a graphic illustration of what I’m talking about:

Word for Word                 Thought for Thought                    Paraphrase

          KJV    NRSV              NLT

NASB        NKJV    NAB     NIV    NJB           CEV          TLB         MSG






                        KJV King James Version

                                  NKJV New King James Version

                                  NRSV New Revised Standard Version

                                  NIV New International Version

                                  CEV Contemporary English Version

                                  TLB The Living Bible (Kenneth Taylor)

                                  NLT New Living Translation

                                  MSG The Message (Eugene Peterson)

                                  NAB New American Bible (Catholic)                                                                        NASB New American Standard Bible

     NJB New Jerusalem Bible (Catholic)

Here’s a few comments about some of the more popular translations on this scale:

KJV King James Version. (1611). Yes, I know you loved it, and if it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us. But the King James Version is a dated, sometimes inaccurate translation, in language, for the most part, that we no longer use. There is an updated version known as the NKJV. For the best literary style in an updated version, I recommend the New English Bible (NEB).

          NRSV New Revised Standard Version. (1989) An ecumenical Bible, especially popular among mainline denominations. (This is our pew version.) It is a good workhorse translation, although I find it to be “wooden” (especially in the Psalms).

          NIV New International Version (1978) In reaction to the Revised Standard Version, which some conservative scholars felt compromised doctrinal language, the New International Version began after a meeting in 1965 in Palos Heights, Illinois. The group that sponsored it went on to become the Colorado Springs-based International Bible Society. Though of conservative origin, it is a very good and very popular translation. The New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI) is an inclusive language version of the NIVersion, published in 1996, only released in the UK. Today’s New International Version, published in 2002, is similar in its use of gender inclusive language, and has been subject to similar criticisms.


          CEV Contemporary English Version (1995) is a translation first published in 1995, by the American Bible Society. It is marked by simplicity, with a text is easily read by grade schoolers, second language readers, and those who prefer a more contemporary form.

          NLT New Living Translation. Out in Wheaton, IL, in 1971, Kenneth Taylor produced The Living Bible, a paraphrase, through Tyndale House. (I used to have a Living Bible, but I never could figure out what to feed it.) In the early ‘90’s, a new group of scholars began work on The New Living Translation, based on the most recent scholarship in the theory of translation. The challenge was to create a text that would make the same impact in the life of modern readers that the original text had for the original readers. In the New Living Translation, this is accomplished by translating entire thoughts (rather than just words) into natural, everyday English. The end result is a translation that is easy to read and understand and that accurately communicates the meaning of the original text.  I like it. 

          MSG The Message (1993) (Eugene Peterson, by NavPres, 1993.) Why the Message?  The best answer to that question comes from Eugene Peterson himself:

           “While I was teaching a class on Galatians, I began to realize that the adults in my class weren’t feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed as I read and studied the New Testament in its original Greek. Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way. I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat.'” 

        Enough about translations.  Each of these versions has their own website, where you can learn more about them and compare.  You can also do the same on (except for the NRSV, which may be found at  (Oremus Bible Browser.)

One you decide on the version you like best, get an edition. There are luxury versions:  leather, fine paper, india ink. There are study versions: e.g., the New Oxford Annotated Bible is among one of the best and most recommended study bibles. Another best-selling Bible is the Life Application Bible, available in multiple versions. And then of course, there are “lifestyle” versions: Men’s/Women’s/Youth versions. I wouldn’t recommend those annotated by “celebrities.” The C. I. Scofield Study Bible, for example, popularized that whole “2nd coming/dispensational/ rapture” way of thinking across the country (especially the South), because, as someone said, “people tended to read it from the footnotes up.”  Remember, as one of my Old Testament professors used to say, “put your finger on the text.”  You will find that the Bible sheds a lot of light on all those footnotes and commentaries.

Finally, in each edition, there are various sizes and styles.  You can go from one like this (the altar Bible), to one like this (pocket edition) but then, if you’ve like me, you can’t read a word of it without magnifying glasses, in which case you need to go to a large print version.

After you get your Bible, to help you read it, use Bible Helps. Do not – repeat – do not try to read it through from beginning to end. You’ll give it up somewhere about three books in, in Leviticus or Numbers, parts of which are like reading the phone book.  Try using one of several Bible reading plans available, such as this one (The Cambridge Daily Reading Bible.)  Most involve some sort of system where you read a chapter from the Old Testament, a Psalm and a chapter from the New Testament.  Such plans are also available on

        For those who don’t read well, or no longer have time to read, consider the wealth of audio versions available: CD’s, iPod, even versions for the iPhone.  I was surprised to discover a high quality audio bible on There are also video versions. In combating Biblical illiteracy, the use of such media may be for us as stained glass windows and art served in medieval times. 

Once you have your Bible (text or audio), you need a method. (It’s a good thing we’re Methodists!) To make your reading devotional and not just informational, try a method such as “Lectio Divina,” which our current Companions in Christ group is studying right now.  Lectio Divina is Latin for “divine reading,” and is a way of praying with Scripture that calls one to study, ponder, listen and, finally, pray, and even sing and rejoice from God’s Word.

In conclusion, when we talk about our liberty, we are reminded of those who gave their lives that we might enjoy it.  But did you know that when we talk about the Bible, and the wealth of resources available to us today, did you know that there are those who gave their lives, that we might have it? 

John Wycliffe (c.1325 – 1384) was an English theologian, lay preacher, translator, and reformer, who lived almost 200 years before the Protestant Reformation. In 1382 he translated an English Bible — the first complete European translation done in nearly 1,000 years. For his work, 44 years after he died, the Church declared him a heretic, and Pope Martin V ordered his bones exhumed, burned, and his ashes cast into the River Swift, which flows through Lutterworth, England.

A little more than a century later, William Tyndale (c. 1494 – 1536), translated the Bible into English. Tyndale’s was the first English translation to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, and the first to take advantage of the new medium of print, which allowed for its wide distribution. Once, in response to criticism, Tyndale was supposed to have said this: “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest.” For his work, he was tried on a charge of heresy in 1536, and condemned to death. He “was strangled to death while tied at the stake, and then his dead body was burned”.

When you get to heaven, do you want to be the one to say to Mr. Tyndale – that despite the wealth of resources available to us, that despite his efforts and sacrifice: “I’m sorry . . . Mr. Tyndale . . . I . . . never . . . read . . . the . . . Bible.”

I, for one, do not.  READ YOUR BIBLE!


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