Reading The Bible
I frequently encounter people online who
are interested in reading the Bible but don't know where to begin. Well; I
suggest the little books of Ruth and Esther. They're brief and they're
entertaining. And afterwards; maybe just enough chapters of Matthew and Luke to
get a first-hand look at the Christmas story. For some people: that's more than
enough Bible to satisfy their curiosity.
Towers Of Babel
Unified work on the Tower of Babel came to a halt because they could no longer communicate effectively enough to continue working together. The cause being the diversity of unknown languages.
Unlike the Tower's builders, English speaking Christians are all speaking the same language. Their lack of unity arises not from a diversity of tongues, rather, the diversity of so-called biblical meanings that Christians assign their words; which are just as effective as a barrier to communication and a hindrance to unity as an unknown language.
Seeing as how I speak English, and the people with whom I associate speak English, and my Bibles are translated in English; then it's sensible to stick with the official definitions of English words located in official English dictionaries; e.g. universal standards like Webster's and Oxford. When people stray away from universal standards; they sink into a morass of conflict and perpetual bull sessions that never get to the bottom of anything.
Now if I spoke another language, and the people with whom I associate spoke another language, and my Bibles were translated in another language, I'd use that language's official dictionary. Anything other than that not only lacks common sense, but is also contrary to Christian conduct.
● 1Cor 14:9 . . Unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
● 1Cor 14:19 . . In the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.
You see; when people prefer their so-called biblical meanings of words instead of their language's meanings, they create confusion and stir up debating and quarreling. Those are demonic behaviors which are not conducive to Christian unity.
● 1Cor 1:10 . . I
appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you
agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you
may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Translation And Interpretation
You may interpret the Bible for yourself any way you like. We will not deny you the right to do your own thinking. But there is one thing about the Bible that all of us are forced to accept; and that's the wording in the holy texts, otherwise language and grammar serve no useful purpose. What anyone might think the words and sentences mean, other than what they're obviously saying, is anybody's guess. But I strongly object to anyone who insists that we cannot permit the structure to communicate obvious statements.
Most of us have to rely upon the expertise of scholars for the best way to translate the Bible into our native languages. .Here in America our Bibles are published in English as close to a useful vernacular as scholars can make them come out. It's true that translations do, by their very nature, lose something when thoughts are moved from one language into another. But I believe our English versions are close enough for practical purposes; and anyway, what you see now is what we got.
A lexicon of the words in the Bible giving their meanings in the original languages is a big help sometimes for those of us untrained in koiné Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic; although lexicons don't take into account grammatical rules, and how they effect the meaning of a word in a particular phrasing; viz: lexicons have their uses, but they aren't meant to be substitutes for an education.
But we can
get by alright without those skills. After all, scholars and translators have
expended many, many years on the major part of that for us already.
And life is short. Unless you're prepared to commit your own
self to many years of training and study, take what they've
already accomplished, and go with
that. I have to rely upon the expertise of scholars for the best way to
translate the Bible into the English language.
Dictation vs Inspiration
Dictation and Inspiration are not synonyms nor do the two words describe the same processes. This is a common error among Muslims. They affirm that Muhammad received the Koran as dictation and for some reason they assume Jews and Christians affirm the same for the Bible. Not so.
Webster's defines "dictate" as: to speak, or read, for a person to transcribe; or for a machine to record
"inspiration" is defined as: the action and/or the power to influence the intellect or emotions
The Bible contains both dictation and inspiration. For example: Lev 26:21-39, Num 15:30-3, and Deut 28:15-68 are dictation— easily recognized as testimony. But even dictation can be inaccurate if it's recorded sometime later after the recorder hears it. Unless it's taken down in real time like stenos do in court, one's memory can be a serious impediment to verbatim accuracy.
But not all in the Bible is testimony. The sordid events in Genesis 38:1-30 were recorded not by dictation, but rather, by inspiration; and therefore it's very possible for pertinent details in that story to be inaccurate and/or missing. I'm not saying the story is a fabrication, I'm only saying that human nature begin what it is; people beings are not always perfect in getting their facts straight.
Every criminal prosecutor is fully aware that whenever there's a human element to reckon with, there's going to be mistakes and it is extremely rare for two people to see things perfectly alike. In point of fact, when witnesses agree a little too closely, prosecutors become suspicious of collusion.
I believe it is highly significant that although there is only one book of Genesis, there are no less than four Gospels; and those four disagree on several points. But that's really to our advantage don't you see. If they agreed perfectly, I would have to suspect that: (1) they were all written by the same author, and/or (2) collusion.
What I just stated may seem blasphemous to some Jews and
Christians, but until they get it straight in their minds that inspiration and
dictation are two entirely different aspects of revelation,
they will come across as fanatical extremists, and be fair game for every astute
opponent of the Bible who can easily point out its inconsistencies.
When my son first started reading the Bible for himself, he became very discouraged. When I asked him what the matter was, he told me couldn’t figure out the hidden messages. So I told him: Son, you’ve been misinformed; there are no hidden messages. Just read the Bible like a novel or an encyclopedia and you’ll get a lot more out of it that way. He was greatly relieved.
It's very tempting for some to spiritualize the Bible's words— to spin them and/or construe them to mean things they don't' say in writing; i.e. something unusual and disconnected —but that can be risky. Here's a pretty good rule of thumb: When the literal sense makes sense, look for no other sense. Here's an example of what I mean.
● Gen 1:1 . . In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.
Although lacking in specific scientific details, it's okay to take that passage literally because it makes sense just the way it is; and by it, people are instantly informed about the origin of the cosmos. However, information in the Bible is useless to a person who doesn't believe its words are a factual record.
● Heb 11:3 . . By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible.
[Part of that verse; the part about "what is visible came into being through the invisible" is becoming agreed upon by more and more modern theorists. The expanding universe, along with the ever increasing velocity of its expansion, is forcing scientists to the inevitable conclusion that the universe originated from no tangible source. See Agnostic's Page]
The Bible is mainly an historical record. If people would only read it for the information, like an encyclopedia or a court stenographer's transcript, then it easily becomes a whole lot more useful for consideration. I can easily promise anyone, that if they read the Bible with a practical attitude, it will tell them a whole lot more than they ever thought.
Refusing to use the appropriate dictionaries frustrates the efforts of translators who have gone to great lengths to translate the Bible's ancient languages into languages people can understand. Any attempt to understand an English translation of the Bible will prove quite confusing unless readers utilize the standard definitions of English words found in an English dictionary. Same goes for grammar and syntax.
My point is, there are always going to be elitist groups who sincerely believe it is wrong to use a dictionary to define the English words in English translations. Apparently they prefer to give common English words mystical meanings rather than standard meanings. People who give common English words mystical meanings are speaking in a foreign language when they do that. Though the spelling and pronunciation of their words are familiar to English-speaking peoples, they are actually speaking in a proprietary code that can’t be deciphered without a special decryption device to do so.
● Gen 1:1 . . In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
If I take that verse as is— understanding the English words as per their standard definitions in an English dictionary, and complying with all the standard rules governing English grammar and syntax —then I am instantly informed as to the source of the cosmos. If instead, I suppose each of those English words has a mystical meaning, rather than a standard meaning, and the grammar and syntax are also mystical rather than standard, then I will end up having no more clue what that verse is trying to tell me than if it were written in a Martian dialect.
Where And What To Buy
Christian bibles fall into two basic food groups: Catholic and Protestant. The Catholic versions typically contain forty-six books in their Old Testaments, and twenty-seven books in their New Testaments. Protestant bibles contain the very same books minus seven of the Catholic bible's Old Testament books. Some Christians feel that Catholic bibles are a more complete revelation than Protestant bibles because they contain more books; and therefore everyone should be using Catholic versions. But my answer to that is very simple and straight forward.
The Catholic Church has yet to guarantee anybody a safe passage to the other side— no, not even for its Popes; nor even for an outstanding nun like Teresa of Calcutta (a.k.a. Kolkata). So do you really think those seven extra books matter to a single one of any of the deceased Catholics who might already be in Hell this very moment even as we speak? No, I don't think they give a tinker's dam about, not only those seven books, but about any of the other sixty-six books either.
So then, it should be quite obvious to any thinking person, that the number of books in your Bible of choice is not going to make a bit of difference in your destiny. All it really says is; my dad can whip your dad— a childish rivalry that means absolutely nothing at all in the grand scheme of things; especially if people never even bother to read those seven extra books in their lifetime.
Bibles can be purchased at any well-stocked book store like Barnes & Noble. Bible book stores are another source and can usually be found listed in the Yellow Pages along with regular types of book stores.
Stick with contemporary versions in common use: like the New International (NIV), New American Bible (NAB), Revised Standard (RSV), the New American Standard (NAS), the New King James (NKJV), and the New Living (NLT). And try to find a reference type of Bible, one that has lots of notes, outlines, maps, and maybe even includes a concise concordance. And please do yourself a favor by using one that reads very close to our own modern way of speaking. Rickety old antiques like the Douay-Rheims, the Confraternity, the American Standard Version, and the King James version are no longer practicle because their language and grammar are obsolete.
Here's a couple of really good examples of obsolescence.
At Acts 28:13 the King James says that Paul's ship fetched a compass from Syracuse on its way to Rhegium. According to Microsoft's Encarta 98 encyclopedia, the magnetic compass didn't come into use in China and Europe until the tenth century, about 800 years after the book of Acts was written. The Greek word that the 1611 writers of the King James Bible translated "compass" is perierchomai, which means: to come all around, i.e. to stroll, vacillate, or veer.
So today, we wouldn't write Acts 28:13 like the 1611 editors did it. We would write it more like modern Catholic scholars have done it in the NAB.
"and from there we sailed round the coast and arrived at Rhegium."
That's much better, and it reflects exactly what the author of Acts really had in mind in the first place.
Another example is 2Kings 2:23-24 which reads like this in the King James:
"And [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of The Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them."
It would appear from the 1611 KJV that Elisha was guilty of violent child abuse. But to begin with, there's two different Hebrew words translated "children" in that passage.
In verse 23, the word is na` ar (nah'-ar) which has a pretty wide application; and more than one meaning: 1) a boy from the age of infancy to adolescence 2) a servant (of either gender) 3) a girl (of similar latitude in age as a boy)
The word in verse 24 is yeled (yeh'-led) which has even more latitude than na` ar; and just simply means something born; viz: offspring (of either gender— man or beast) e.g. Gen 30:26 where yeled indicates not only Jacob's sons, but also his daughter Dinah.
A far more rational scenario is that Elisha was accosted by a youth gang; not by a posse of unsupervised little toddlers; as some have supposed. Youth gangs can be dangerous at times; and Elisha was very lucky to get away before they attacked him. The curse of the bears was obviously an act of self defense. They ran interference for Elisha; distracting the youths; thus creating an opportunity for Elisha to get away before the gang did more to him than just taunting.
Modern versions— e.g. the NIV —render that verse much better.
"From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some
youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they
said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" He turned around, looked at them and called
down a curse on them in the name of The Lord. Then two bears came out of the
woods and mauled forty-two of the youths."
The King James Version of 1611
Hailed by many as God's only reliable word, the King James version of 1611 isn't God's word at all. No, it's a British translation of God's word; and it isn't your everyday American English, but rather, it's the English vernacular spoken in Britain nearly 400 years ago— a vernacular which modern Brits themselves no longer speak. Thus the KJV is not only an inferior translation, but it's also thoroughly obsolete.
Since the New Testament is so vital in the plan of salvation, I'll comment on it.
The New Testament's canon was originally penned in a kind of Greek called koiné. It was the first common supra-regional dialect in Greece and came to serve as a lingua franca for the eastern Mediterranean and ancient Near East throughout the Roman world. It was not only the original language of the New Testament, but also of the Septuagint.
The modern Greek language descends from koiné Greek. What I'm saying is; if you make the mistake of speaking to a citizen of modern Greece using koiné words and syntax, they may and they may not understand you. People in modern Greece speak a different form of Greek; which is not the same as koiné. In point of linguistic fact, koiné Greek is a dead language.
The problem is; languages are not static. So it is essential to periodically revise English translations of the New Testament so that modern English-speaking peoples can better understand what the ancient koiné manuscripts say.
Unfortunately, like all languages, koiné contains a good number of ambiguous words so that it is virtually impossible to render it into English verbatim; which is why it's wise to consult a variety of English translations in your studies. My personal favorites are the KJV, the NKJV, the NIV, the NASV, the NLT, and the current official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church; the NAB. It's also a good idea to utilize the lexicons of a Strong's Concordance; where you can see for yourself just how ambiguous koiné really is.
It's important to keep in mind that no English translation of koiné is chipped in stone; hah! far from it. The experts come as close as they can, and believe it or not, sometimes even take educated guesses; and to make matters only worse; koiné has no punctuation, so that the punctuation you see in English translations of koiné were placed in the English text arbitrarily and can sometimes make a whale of a difference in how English-speaking people comprehend a particular English translation. For example; consider the KJV rendering below:
● Luke 3:23 . . And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, etc, etc.
Every stitch of punctuation in that sentence was placed in their respective locations arbitrarily; and what you see above makes it look like Christ's genealogy in Luke follows Joseph's line; when actually what you're looking at is the line of Mary's father Heli. Joseph's father was a man named Jacob. (Matt 1:16)
Here's a much, much better arbitrary version of Luke 3:23.
"And Jesus himself (assumed Joseph's son) began to be about thirty years of age; being the son of Heli, etc, etc."
Before moving on, we should mention that since discussion surrounding the validity of the KJV is so fiercely contentious among Christians, then if falls within the jurisdiction of the Lord's principles stipulated in the 14th chapter of Romans regulating doubtful disputations. Some Christians swear by the KJV while others see it as a dinosaur. In cases like this, each has to decide for themselves; and God forbid that an imperious Christian attempt to bully others into using the KJV because that would be tantamount to usurping Christ's sovereign prerogative to make the rules for his own sheep.
I've actually seen that happen. In August of 2010 there was an Independent, Fundamental Baptist forum online whose rules stipulated that forum members quote only from the KJV. When I asked why, they told me that sometime in the past, the then-current members of the forum voted that the forum be a KJV-only venue. (they didn't reveal the percentage of dissenting votes cast). Was that okay? Gawd NO! What they did might be okay in the world of secular politics, but certainly not in the world of Bible-believing Christianity. They circumvented the Lord's principles regulating debatable matters in which it's clearly stipulated that individuals have the God-given right to make their own choices according to the dictates of their own conscience rather than the dictates of a majority's conscience. Can you imagine a world-wide forum calling itself "fundamental" pulling a stunt like that?! It's beyond comprehension.
Anyway, the conclusion of the matter is: The primary purpose of any language is communication.
● 1Cor 14:6-9 . . Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.
When somebody uses a 400 year-old English
translation, they are essentially reading a tongue; and though it be English,
it's vernacular is unlike their own. This instantly creates a barrier to
communication and a virtual Tower of Babel situation.
The Magic Glasses
I cut my Christian teeth on the New Scofield reference Bible of 1968; which, at that time, was a revision of Scofield's original reference Bible. At that time, the Scofield was published by Oxford press and was available only in a revised King James translation. Today the Scofield is available in the NIV as well.
I soon learned in my early experience that one's choice of English translation isn’t nearly as important as having the anointing of 1John 2:26-27 onboard to sort it all out for them and make it click.
● 1John 2:26-27 . . The anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.
Anointed Christians still need human teachers (Eph 4:11-15). But human teachers cannot train one's intuition to recognize the truth when they see it; viz: human teachers cannot give anointed Christians a feel for the truth, nor can human teachers break down an anointed Christian's natural resistance to the truth once the anointing has assisted them to recognize it; nor can a human teacher give anointed Christians a knack for applying the truth. And as for non-anointed Christians, they're not even in the ball park.
● 1Cor 2:14 . .The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are absurd to him: neither can he comprehend them, because they are Spiritually appraised.
What that's saying is that even if a non-anointed Christian should attend a class taught by a genuine Spirit-endowed teacher, they won't listen to him; no, they will reject the Spirit-endowed teacher. They have to reject him because the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are absurd to him: neither can he comprehend them, because they are Spiritually appraised.
So then, Christians lacking the anointing of 1John 2:26-27 would really be no worse off studying the Shooter's Bible instead of the Holy Bible. In cases like that, whether one chooses the KJV, the NIV, the Koran, the Book Of Mormon, or Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health with Key To The Scriptures, or one of Giada De Laurentiis' cook books is irrelevant since the end result will be the same.
All I can say is: if you by chance are a
non-anointed Christian; caveat lector.
Systematic Bible study is really the only kind of spiritual food that will effectively nourish a born-again Christian not the Talmud, not the Catholic Catechism, not Science And Health With Key To The Scriptures, not the Book of Mormon, nor WatchTower books and publications. Avoid those man-made sources of revelation just as you would seriously avoid ingesting tainted food and thus risk an infection of e-coli, botulism, and salmonella. Those diseases are not conducive to good health and long life for the body; just as those tainted sources of revelation are not conducive to good health and long life for the born-again Christian's mind. The Bible is pretty much the universal handbook for all types of Christians no matter which denomination they might choose; so stick with it.
A Strong's Concordance is a very valuable tool for comprehensive Bible study. It lists every key word in the Bible and the verses where they reside. If you think of a verse in the Bible, but can't remember where you saw it; a Strong's will help you locate it in no time at all. The Strong's also has lexicons that give the meanings of the English words in their original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
Each of the original words are given a special number so an Englishman's Concordance can be used to locate every place in the Bible where that specific foreign word is used. For example; the word "lord" is common in the Old Testament, but not every instance comes from the very same Hebrew word. In the book of Genesis, no less than three separate Hebrew words are translated lord, and only two pertain to God. With the Strong's and Englishman's Concordances you can see not only the difference in those words, but also see how they were used in other passages.
Here's an example of English translation ambiguity that is easily cleared up with the Strong's and Englishman's concordances.
The very first word translated "god" in the Bible is 'elohiym. Because it is translated in upper case in Genesis 1:1, you might be led to conclude 'elohiym an exclusive word that applies only to the Supreme Being. But not so. If we take the Strong's number, which for 'elohiym is 430, and look it up in an Englishman's Concordance to see how it was used in other places in the Bible, we soon discover 'elohiym not only applies to the Supreme Being, but also to angels, and to human beings. It even applies to idols and pagan deities.
Bible software is also available
online and from many Christian Supply
and Book stores. It's often bundled with several
popular versions of the Bible plus handy references like Strong's Concordance,
Englishman's Concordance, Bible Encyclopedias, Nave's Topical Bible, Nelson's Bible
Dictionary, Matthew Henry's Commentary, Interlinear Bible, Maps, and Barne's Notes
et al. Bible
software can save you a lot of typing because passages can often be copied and pasted
directly into a word processing document.
With regard to the Old Testament, the chief distinction is between texts in Hebrew and the versions, or translations, into other ancient languages. The most important, and generally most reliable (although not guaranteed verbatim) witnesses to the ancient Hebrew are the Masoretic texts, those produced by Jewish scholars (called the Masoretes) who assumed the task of faithfully copying and transmitting the Tanach. These scholars, active from the early Christian centuries into the Middle Ages, also provided the ancient Hebrew text with punctuation, vowel points (ancient Hebrew text contains only consonants) and various notes.
The standard printed Hebrew Bible in use today is a reproduction of a Masoretic text written in 1088 AD. The manuscript, in codex or book form, is in the collection of the Saint Petersburg Public Library. Unfortunately, the original Hebrew texts no longer exist and it is impossible to know for sure whether or not today's Jewish bibles are 100 percent faithful to the writings that existed in Malachi's day.
Another Masoretic manuscript, the Aleppo Codex from the first half of the 10th century AD, is the basis for a new publication of the text in preparation at Hebrew University in Israel. The Aleppo Codex is the oldest manuscript of the entire Hebrew Bible, but it dates from well more than a millennium after the latest biblical books were written, and perhaps as much as two millennia later than the earliest ones.
Extant, however, are older Hebrew
manuscripts Masoretic and other texts of individual books. Many from as early
as the 6th century were discovered during the late 19th century in the genizah (storage
room for manuscripts) of the Cairo synagogue. Numerous manuscripts and fragments, many
from the pre-Christian era, have been recovered from the Dead Sea region since 1947.
Although many of the most important manuscripts are quite late, the Masoretic
texts in particular preserve a textual tradition that goes back to at least a
century or more before the Christian era and were likely the ones in use in
Israel during Christ's day along
with the Septuagint.
The Septuagint and Other Greek Versions
The most valuable versions of the Hebrew Bible are the translations into ancient Greek. In some instances the Greek versions actually offer readings superior to existing Hebrew texts, being based on older Hebrew texts than are now available. Many of the Greek manuscripts are much older than the manuscripts of the full Hebrew Bible. They were included in copies of the entire Christian Bible that date from the 4th and 5th centuries. The major manuscripts are Codex Vaticanus (in the Vatican Library), Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Alexandrinus (both in the British Museum).
The major Greek version is called the Septuagint
(seventy) because of the legend that the Torah was translated in the 3rd century
BC by seventy-two scholars.
The legend is probably accurate in several respects: The first Greek translation included
only the Pentateuch, and was done in Alexandria in the 3rd century BC. Eventually the
remaining Hebrew Scriptures were translated, but obviously they were translated by other
scholars whose skills and viewpoints differed.
Targums aren't translations; but rather, very old Aramaic paraphrases of the Hebrew bible. They were authoritative, and spoken aloud in the synagogues along with the Hebrew of the Torah and Haftarah readings. Public readings of the scriptures in ancient synagogues were accompanied by commentary in Aramaic because that was the spoken language of most Jews in Israel and Babylonia during the Talmudic era. The normal practice was that after each verse was read from the sacred Torah scroll, an official commentator known as the Turgeman, or Meturgeman, would then recite orally an Aramaic explanation; usually from memory.
Targums were utilized in the synagogues before, during, and after the times of Christ— being necessary because many of the Jewish people of that day could not understand Hebrew.
That's still true today. Because of their assimilation and world-wide dispersion, the vast majority of modern Jews cannot read, nor speak, nor understand the Hebrew language. Today, no doubt the most important, and the most influential translations of the Scriptures are no longer in Hebrew or in Aramaic, but in English.
The major Targums are those that originated in Palestine and those that were revised in Babylon. Recently a complete manuscript of the Palestinian Targum has come to light— Neofiti 1 of the Vatican Library. The best known Babylonian Targums are those of Onkelos and Jonathan.
Targums are important as evidence for a
history of thought among the Jewish communities in Israel and abroad during
Christ's day.. For more on the Targums, click here.
Available Jewish Bibles In English
We're familiar with two English translations of the Hebrew bible. My favorite (though not accepted by all Orthodox Jews) is printed by the Jewish Publication Society the 1985 JPS Tanakh. Its vernacular is contemporary and very easy to read and understand. It's a scholarly work and reasonably faithful to the available Hebrew. If deviations do occur, the editors footnoted them so the reader can make comparisons. The JPS is very easy to find. Well-stocked book stores like Barnes & Nobel usually carry a few on their shelves.
The second is called the Stone Tanach. This is a relatively recent version; first published in 1996. The pointed Hebrew text, along with complete cantillation (musical notation) for the Torah and Haftarah readings, is displayed alongside a very readable modern English translation that effectively conveys the traditional Jewish understanding of the text. The Stone Tanach also contains a number of useful charts and illustrations, and is very well indexed.
The English of the Stone is not a strictly literal, word-for-word translation. The primary goal was to provide a readable English translation that conveyed the nuances of the Hebrew idiom. Credit is due the editors for pointing out that the author didn't set out to tamper with Scripture and deliberately mislead; but their purpose was to produce a version that, although not totally faithful to the available Hebrew, is one that does a pretty good job of reflecting traditional commentary. This bible is very useful as an aid in understanding modern Judaism.
Unfortunately, the Stone and the JPS are not compatible. In making comparisons between the two, it soon becomes readily apparent that the syntax of each is so inconsistent with the other as to represent two entirely different Jewish belief systems. We do not recommend the Stone for Christian students of the Bible because the Stone will easily throw the Christian mind into oscillating vapor lock trying to make it say what they're used to reading in standard English versions of the Old Testament. The 1985 JPS is much gentler on minds that haven't been conditioned by rabbinical commentary; and far more useful for disciplined study.
As an experiment, compare the text and syntax of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah in the Stone with the text and syntax of the same book and chapter in the JPS (and the same book and chapter in standard English versions). I'm afraid the Stone is only going to widen an already-frustrating barrier to communication between Orthodox Jews and Fundamental Christians regarding the identity of the righteous servant of Isa 53:11.
The Stone can accurately be said to be a
proprietary Jewish version of the Old Testament that is pretty much just a
curiosity to the rest of the world. Orthodox Jews can now say; "We have our own
Old Testament" because that statement is quite true; no question about it.
We today have the advantage of the discoveries of archaeology to reinforce our confidence in the Bible record. A relatively new science, archaeology as a formal discipline is barely two hundred years old; but has been an immense aid to understanding, and verifying the existence of many heretofore mysterious ancient biblical cities, peoples, and cultures. Without doubt, archaeology brings the Bible to life and makes it become surprisingly real. Two books on biblical archaeology that we highly recommend are:
The Bible As History
by Werner Keller
ISBN 0-553-27943-2 (paper back)
The Stones Cry Out
by Randall Price
ISBN 1-56507-640-0 (paper back)
You might enjoy a periodical too. Our favorite is:
Biblical Archaeology Review
a bi-monthly magazine usually available in well stocked bookstores.
We can't let you go without recommending a really
outstanding radio Bible program. I began listening to Thru The Bible Radio in 1971; and
Joanne started about 1980. The old gentleman who hosted it died back in the mid eighties but
benefactors have kept his voice on the air to this day. It's a systematic study of the
entire Bible, over a five year period; practically verse by verse. They have a web site at
http://www.ttb.org/ and you can get program
information for your area from there.
The Bible can be a very tiring, boring book for new readers. To help soften the tedium, it might prove helpful to avoid attempting the entire thing all at once. You could start with Genesis and Exodus. Stop there, jump ahead to one of the Gospels, and then Acts. That's a mere four books out of the sixty-six total. A well-rounded liberal arts education should include at least that much Bible reading if for no other reason than to broaden the student's horizons, and become somewhat familiar with the more commonly known personages and events in Judaism and Christianity.
If you're Jewish, Matthew's gospel might appeal to you. Being a Gentile myself, I prefer the others; especially Luke's because it focuses on Jesus the human being; whereas Matthew's primary focus is upon Jesus' relationship to David, and his office as Messiah, Israel's future monarch Jewish aspects which, to Abraham's descendants, are extremely important matters indeed, but of relatively little importance to the average Gentile. And in point of fact, Gentiles typically put a "Christian" spin on Matthew (and Luke too) and thereby totally miss it's messianic message.
If you're a busy, on-the-go kind of person, who
feels they could better devote their time and energy elsewhere than reading a
book, then Mark's report would be good for you since it is so brief
compared to the other Gospels. Mark gets right down to
business: no frills and no extras. John's gospel is for the ethereal mind—
people who prefer the divine aspect. So you could say that Matthew is best for
the Jewish mind, Mark is best for the on-the-go mind, Luke is best for the intellectual
mind, and John is best for the spiritual mind.
A Special Note On The New Testament
The Gospel narratives advertise the New Testament's Jesus to the general public; most especially targeting his fellow Jewish countrymen. In that respect, the narratives are there for everyone and anyone who cares to read them and/or listen to them preached. But the epistles are internal; viz: the epistles are personal letters whose contents were custom crafted to address specific issues within churches, not to the outside world. (e.g. Rom 1:7, Jas 1:1, 1Pet 1:1-3, 1John 2:1, Jude 1:1-2, and Rev 1:4).
A good example is the epistle of 1John. The entire epistle is nobody's business but the classification of people to whom it was written: a church of people who were already in possession of eternal life even before John's letter arrived.
● 1John 5:13 . . I write this to you who believe in the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.
When unbelievers begin probing into the epistles, they're tampering with other people's mail. The epistles contain insider information that can be properly understood only by the classification of people to whom those letters were written. They were specifically written to people who have accepted Jesus of Nazareth as Israel's messiah, and also accepted him as their vicarious proxy put to death as a ransom to rescue their souls from the wrath of God. In that respect, the epistles are meant for a very exclusive body of folk— they're not for everybody.
When outsiders snoop into things that are none of their
business; they invariably get the wrong message.
It's a well-known political axiom that if you repeat a lie often enough, and widely enough; anon the public will accept it as true. For example: the racial label that the media pinned on President Obama. They say he is "African American" and they also say he is America's first "Black President". (chuckle) He's neither. Mr. Obama is neither African nor Black: he's mulatto; which is a genetic hybrid of Black and Caucasian. The term mulatto is apparently no longer acceptable in polite circles. The politically correct term nowadays is Multi Racial; which I have yet to see the media use to label the new US President. Mr. Obama chose to label himself Black on the 2010 census, but he could just as legally chosen White; but didn't. Well, that's not to hard to understand is it? Black is certainly more to the President's political advantage than White and/or Mixed Race.
Anyway, point being: a common rumor out and about is that the Roman Catholic church produced the Bible. Nothing could be further from reality. We all owe it to ourselves and to our children to educate ourselves as to the origin of the Bible so we don't help perpetuate falsehoods about the Bible like that one.
For the curious as to the true origin of the Bible, we highly recommend the book below.
How We Got The Bible
By Neil R. Lightfoot
It's a small book, approximately 5½ x 8½ of 224 pages counting the index and the notes. The font is roughly Courier New, size 11, which is large enough to be easily read by most folks.
Jesus Loves Me