Professor battles bible illiteracy with new website

Here’s how the article begins:

“Sing it, see it, study it,” is the key to Bible professor Kenneth Berding’s new program “Bible Fluency,” designed to combat biblical illiteracy. The website launched on Sept. 28 and received about 6,000 views as of Oct. 24.

Throughout Berding’s 13-year career at Biola, he has seen incoming students’ amount of biblical knowledge trending downward. Biblical illiteracy is a hot button issue at the forefront of church discussion, Berding said.

“We’re complaining all the time about biblical illiteracy,” Berding said, “and it’s a real problem, as serious as they’ll come. 150 years ago, people knew about the Bible. Now, they don’t. I decided to do something about it.”

(2 min read; 575 words)

Professor battles bible illiteracy with online program « The Chimes | Biola University.

Why I Love Strong’s Concordance

Strong’s Concordance is an index of every word in the English Bible.  That’s why you’ll often see it titled as “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.”  Originally compiled in the 19th Century for the King James Version, it has since been produced for the New American Standard Bible (and other translations as well).  This Wikipedia article on Strong’s will give you more background on the man (James Strong 1822-1894) who produced it long before the computer age made such tasks easier.  As well, this article will give you some descriptive information which will help you better appreciate this tool’s benefits and limitations.  Nevertheless, I hope you will use it for yourself before you make a final decision on its worth.

My introduction to Strong’s was a watershed moment in my life.  I was a new Christian in the late 1970’s when I found myself in a large discount Christian bookstore in Atlanta, GA.  Bookcases lined the walls of this huge single-room strip mall location.  The floor was filled with table after table of books.  Things weren’t busy that day, and after a while the elderly sales clerk on duty behind the cash register walked over to where I was browsing.

We made a little conversation and in a few minutes he puts a Strong’s Concordance in my hands and says something to the effect of, “This is THE book you NEED to get.”  His point was that with the Strong’s, I’d be able to have one part of the Bible teach me about another part…and that Strong’s Concordance would thereby become the most important book besides the Bible that I could buy.  I had a sense that I should heed him, but I had no idea of just how profoundly true his words actually were.

Over the years, I have gained so much from using Strong’s to let the Bible be “a commentary on itself.”  While other people were reading innumerable commentaries and theology textbooks which often led them away from Scripture, I was being taken by Strong’s deeper into Scripture itself.  That’s the great value of the tool.  It helps you study a word from one end of Scripture to the other.  It keeps you in the Scripture, closer to God’s word.  Instead of reading endless stacks of books about other people’s interpretations of Scripture, you learn to read it for yourself.

Strong’s does not enable you to know Greek or Hebrew.  I would never think that I could translate a single sentence of either.  But it does allow an English speaker to find his way around an ancient text in a way that would otherwise be impossible to him.

Of course, Strong’s works best on a literal translation like the New American Standard Bible.  Paraphrastic translations lack the discipline of translating words consistently to make a Strong’s beneficial.

If I were allowed to own only two books, it would be the NASB Bible and a Strong’s Concordance.  Print editions are still valuable in our age, even though you can find Strong’s Concordance as well as Bibles online, too.  The NASB site has a Strong’s concordance built into the searchable NASB text, so it is very, very helpful.  I use it constantly, as well as the print versions of both.

Glossary of Terms Relating to First-Century Biblical Matters

The following short list is given only as an introduction to the terms.  You should rely on more substantial reference works for your understanding of these terms.  My purpose here is simply to sensitize you to their importance for understanding how the New Testament and Old Testament mesh.  

Aramaic -The language most common to first-century Jews in and around Jerusalem and Judea.

Greek – the language most common to all peoples living in the Mediterranean world of the first century.

Midrash (singular), Midrashim (plural) – This definition taken entirely from Donald Juel’s Messianic Exegesis:  “The most frequently used term to describe biblical exegesis in the postbiblical era is “midrash”-from the Hebrew darash, “to seek,” “to interpret.” The term is used in several different ways. It refers first to a body of literature, the midrashim, scriptural commentaries or collections of individual reflections on biblical material which began to appear in the fifth century. Second, the term is used to speak of a particular comment on a biblical phrase or verse-a midrash.  Finally, the word is used more loosely to speak of the approach to scriptural interpretation characteristic of”midrashic” literature.”  Later, Juel adds “Midrash was the vehicle by which meaning was actualized in the present.”  [Note: “postbiblical” in this context should be understood as “post-Old Testament; note also that Juel spends p. 35-59 of his book on a section titled “Midrashic Exegesis,” so it is not an easy concept to encapsulate.]

Pesher (singular), Pesherim (plural) – a form of midrash particular to the Qumran community (of the Dead Sea Scrolls) offering, unlike rabbinic midrash, but a single interpretation of the text.  There is “continuous pesherim” which offers commentary on each succeeding verse of a given biblical book (e.g. Habakkuk) or unit (e.g. as psalm), and “thematic pesherim” which pulls together texts from various locations in Scripture when dealing with a common theme.   Donald Juel points out that pesher (given that it existed in a sect) was presented as revelation whereas rabbinic midrash (which allowed a variety of views) was presented as reason.  However, Juel also says, It is possible to overstate the differences between pesherim and midrashim, however, or at least to misunderstand the differences.”

Septuagint – The Old Testament translated from Hebrew to Greek; often referred to by the LXX (an allusion to the 70 original translators).  

Targum (singular), Targumim (plural) – Translation, paraphrases, or interpretation of the biblical text into Aramaic (or perhaps Greek); necessary since Hebrew had fallen out of common use.  This practice is traced to the time of Ezra.  He also says, “In many cases, the Targumim are fairly literal translations. Often, however, the translations-or paraphrases-presuppose creative interpretations of the Hebrew known from other exegetical literature…[and the] Targumim are important as evidence of interpretive traditions…”

Why I Love the NASB

I love the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and believe it is the most useful of all English translations of the Bible.  Here are my reasons:

1. It is the most literal of all English translations.  For a native-English-speaker who is not fluent in Greek or Hebrew, the NASB is as close as I will ever get to what the prophets and apostles originally wrote.

2. Because of its faithfulness to the what the prophets and apostles originally wrote, the NASB makes an exhaustive concordance (e.g. Strong’s) most effective.  That is, it is much easier to do study specific words with the NASB, allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture.

3. Most editions of the NASB include a cross-reference apparatus which correlates a given verse with other similar verses, many of which a concordance word study wouldn’t necessarily catch.

4. Those who created the NASB translation were convinced that the Scriptures are the word of God.  While many Bible translators have this conviction, the breadth and depth of this belief among the NASB translation committee is noteworthy.  I believe it drove them to literalness and discouraged undocumented emendations to an unparalleled degree.

The only improvement I could see to make to the NASB would be to have its Old Testament based on the Septuagint text (i.e. Greek) rather than on the Masoretic text (i.e. Hebrew).  This is because, of course, the New Testament when quoting the Old Testament seems to be referring much more often to Greek than to Hebrew renderings of the Old Testament text.

There are other literal English translations of the Bible (e.g. the King James Version, the English Standard Version, the New King James Version), and they are all useful.  There are also good translations of the Bible which are less literal (e.g. the New International Version, the Good News Bible, the Living Bible), and they, too, have their appropriate uses.  And there are certainly other worthwhile English translations which I have not mentioned specifically here.  My favorite of all English Bible translations, however, remains the NASB – for the reasons I have given.