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What We’re Reading: September 2019

From time to time we’ll share some of the interesting and thought-provoking content from around the Internet that we come across during our work.

Have you come across any great Bible-related content lately? Leave a link in the comments below!

*Note: Sharing doesn’t necessarily imply agreement with the article or endorsement of the author.

Phil Vischer Wants More Gospel in the Veggies by Kara Bettis, Christianity Today

VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer wants to help kids understand the meta-story. Just as we have lamented that kids are usually taught the Bible as isolated stories with a moral takeaway, Vischer sees kids running to the Avengers and Harry Potter for their founding story. “They want to be a part of a big story, and we’ve lost the ability to excite them that the gospel is a big story. That’s what I’ve been trying to do with my most recent projects: Let’s tell the big story of the Bible and get kids excited about it again.”


The books of today have nothing on the scrolls of 2,300 years ago by Evan Nicole Brown, Fast Company

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 has been one of the most important finds of modern archaeology. But how were the scrolls even able to survive for over two thousand years? Scientists at MIT are studying the makeup of the scrolls to gain a better understanding of ancient parchment making and preservation techniques.


Introductions to the Books of the Bible by FULLER studio

This brand-new project from Fuller Seminary in partnership with the Grace & Mercy Foundation features more than 30 Fuller faculty introducing books of the Bible from their various areas of expertise. These well-produced short videos help set the table for reading Scripture by looking at the unique themes embedded within each book. The four Gospels are available now, with more videos coming soon.


Why it matters if your Bible was translated by a racially diverse group by Rev. Dr. Esau McCaulley in the Washington Post

Wheaton College New Testament professor Esau McCaulley explores the importance of using language in our Bible translations that faithfully communicates meaning and truth in ways the reader will understand. Since translation is much more complex than 1:1 correlations between Hebrew or Greek and modern-day English, faithful interpretation of the passage is essential. Dr. McCaulley argues that we must pursue diversity within translation committees that uses gifts and insights from a variety of backgrounds, rendering a Bible that speaks to all people.

What is the Apocrypha? Rediscovering Israel’s Story Between the Testaments

Imagine Israel before Moses

It is a nation enslaved, or maybe not even a nation yet. It’s more like a group of people, loosely related, now serving as fodder for the dreams of Pharaohs.

Their God, if he is there, is not speaking to them nor acting for them.

The straits are dire, and from all appearances this motley collection of family clans is on their own. They cry out to God, but the heavens are not answering.

Centuries of silence. Centuries of wondering if anything will ever change.

The rule of the foreigners is harsh. The years of relentless suffering are long. Nothing new is happening or showing any sign of happening.

It certainly doesn’t feel like much of a story for those who are stuck in the middle of it.

Now jump ahead about a thousand years

It turns out God finally did show up, calling Moses and the rescuing Israel. The people entered a new land and gained kings and princes and worship and wars. God had come down and made his home right in the midst of his people. Jerusalem—the city of the Great King—was built up and fortified, and right there on the eastern edge was the glorious Temple, God’s own dwelling place.

Then, devastatingly, all this was lost. Israel squandered her freedom, land, purpose, and apparently, even her story. This tribe that had its origins in the ancient story of Babel was now crushed and killed and those who remained were exiled back to Babylon.

In its main features, this situation of Israel in the years after the great Exile is not unlike that of the years of Abraham’s clans before the great Exodus. All that had been gained was now lost. If God is there, he’s stopped talking and stopped acting.

What has happened to their dreams, their divine election, their story? What has happened to their God?

Prophecy has ended. Israel has, at best, second-hand rulers appointed by foreign oppressors. After Babylon came Persia, then a succession of Greek kings, followed by Roman generals. Israel is trying for all she’s worth to keep it together under extreme cultural, political, and military pressure. It’s tenuous.

For their part, the Jews are stubborn. They are hanging on. But doesn’t everyone eventually reach their limit?

What has happened to their dreams, their divine election, their story? What has happened to their God? Once again, centuries of silence. Centuries of wondering if anything will ever change.

It is at this point that many Christ-followers dive into the New Testament Gospels and the arrival of Jesus. It’s understandable – for a lot Christians, that’s exactly what their Bible does. Malachi straight into Matthew.

But wait.

The story of Israel betwixt and between, after the First Testament yet before the New, is crucial for us. If we want to know the context that Messiah Jesus was born into, then we need to know the Apocrypha.

What is the Apocrypha?

This collection of books was written in the centuries immediately preceding Jesus and into the first century A.D. It’s the best place to learn about God’s people in the hard years right before Jesus. Here we find what Israel was thinking about, longing for, and trying desperately to do—the heart and soul of cultural and religious survival against the odds.

The word ‘apocrypha’ comes to us via Latin from the Greek for “to hide away.” And for far too many Christians these books have remained precisely that—hidden away, unknown, and even viewed with suspicion.

I grew up thinking the word Apocrypha simply referred to “weird Catholic books.” Which is ironic, because these are profoundly Jewish books, opening up the door to the world of 2nd Temple Judaism that is so important for understanding the entire New Testament.

The Jews did not include the Apocrypha in their canon of sacred writings, and neither, therefore, did the Protestant Reformers. Generally speaking the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches do accept these books into their Bibles, under the title of deuterocanonical (or “second canon”) books. However, there is no single, firm list of which books are to be included here, with different communions accepting slightly different lists.

There are historical accounts, prayers, fascinating and insightful short stories, wisdom explorations, and apocalypses. Ezekiel’s vision had shown God rising up and leaving his home within the Temple in Jerusalem. Now God had gone silent and there were no contemporary prophets, so what could writers do? Many penned their works and spread them under the good names of the ancients like Ezra and Baruch. Some writings were simply additions to already trusted books like Esther. Some are catching up the narrative of Israel’s more recent history, like in the books of Maccabees.

At their heart, these writings reveal the struggles of Israel to confront its national life after the Exile. Things had gone so terribly wrong. What could Israel do to make sure a calamity like this would never happen again? How can Israel even be Israel under the constant pressure of foreign cultures—whether alluring or hostile? When and how will God’s presence return to them? Temple, land, victory, and God’s ruling over them as King. Will the full realities of these divine gifts ever be theirs again?

The answers found in the Apocrypha teach us much about the Judaism of Jesus’ time: the radical commitment to Torah observance, the doubling down on Jewish cultural distinctives, and the call to take up arms and fight, to give these beaten down people at least a little breathing room.

Here’s the thing: to know Jesus truly is to know the Judaism that is the context of his life. Jesus lived, worked, died, and rose again precisely within a first-century Jewish story. The only route to real comprehension of his accomplishment is to know that story. And this is exactly why the Apocrypha is of such great help to us. It catches us up on Israel’s story, and we see the Messiah so much more clearly because of it.

It’s time to reconsider our previous willingness to keep these books hidden away. If we bring them out into the light to read and learn them, more light in turn will shine on us.

In their Preface to the Apocrypha in the 16th c. Geneva Bible, the strongly Protestant editors urge readers to a significantly positive view: “as books proceeding from godly men they were received to be read for the advancement and furtherance of the knowledge of history and for the instruction of godly manners.”

A greater understanding of this Jewish history and piety provides real insight into the Messiah who came and brought life and light back to a Jewish story that had been in grave danger of sinking into the darkness.

Immerse at Bethesda Community Church

When you walk into Bethesda Community Church (Forth Worth, TX) it feels a little bit like walking into the United Nations.

On Sunday mornings, five worship services for five different language groups happen simultaneously throughout the church in English, Spanish, Swahili, French, and Kinyarwandan.

When Bethesda heard about Immerse, they jumped at the chance to go “all in” and read the Word together. They did a masterful job of including their Children’s Ministry, Spanish congregation, families, and other groups within the church to truly make it a church-wide experience.

“(Immerse) offered us the opportunity to fulfill a longing within our fellowship,” said Senior Pastor J. Daniel Smith. “This was an opportunity to have a broad spectrum of our congregation go on a journey with us through the New Testament as we started with Messiah.”

The good folks at Bethesda welcomed us into their church to capture their story. And there was so much good stuff, we had to make 3 videos! Check them out below.

To order copies of Immerse: The Reading Bible in English or Spanish, click here.

Immerse at Bethesda Community Church

Immerse at Bethesda Community Church

Biblia Inmersión -- Immerse within the Spanish Congregation

Bethesda Spanish v4

A Special Message for Pastors

Immerse – Pastors at Bethesda Community Church

Video Story: Immerse at Southern Wesleyan University

Located just outside of Clemson, SC, Southern Wesleyan University is the first university to use Immerse: The Bible Reading Experience for their course curriculum. Professor Andrea Summers’ New Testament Survey class read through the New Testament together in one semester using Immerse, gathering once a week in Immerse book clubs to discuss what they were reading.

Typically, New Testament Survey courses emphasize learning about the New Testament: history, geography, book-level themes, and other elements that provide the backdrop for reading the Scriptures well. Rarely, however, is much time spent in the text itself.

Summers wasn’t going to let that happen. She told her class at the beginning of the semester that they were going to read through the whole New Testament. Faces dropped, shoulders sagged. “You could just see by their faces, ‘Uh, there’s no way I could do that,'” she said.

“I’m setting a goal for them, and then I’m saying, ‘Guess what, you can do it. And also, here is the tool to help you get there.”

Their experience is inspiring. For almost all of the students, it was their first time reading through the entire New Testament. They got to step back and see the big picture, taking in the grandeur of the story. Some of them were able to draw close to God in ways they’d always hoped for but never experienced.

We’re so excited to share their story with you. Check it out below.

Southern Wesleyan University Students' Lives "Rocked" Reading Immerse

What We’re Reading: May 2019

From time to time we’ll share some of the interesting and thought-provoking content from around the Internet that we come across during our work.

Have you come across any great Bible-related content lately? Leave a link in the comments below!

*Note: Sharing doesn’t necessarily imply 100% agreement with the article or endorsement of the author.

More on Reading the Bible by RJS, Patheos Blog

Patheos blogger RJS comments on John Polkinghorne’s exploration of ambiguity found throughout the Bible. It’s a good reminder that Scripture is not an answer book bound by simple terms of good guys/bad guys, and black/white, but rather shows us that God’s work in the world most often takes place in the midst of “many shades of grey.”


The Old Testament and the Church – Part 1 and Part 2 from the Essential Church Podcast

It’s no secret that the Old (or First) Testament is diminishing in the life of the church. One scholar has even written a book titled The Old Testament is Dying. This podcast, hosted by a group of pastors from New Life Church in Colorado, explores the massive importance of the First Testament both as a prelude to Christ and as a window into God’s character and mission from the beginning.


Moving through the Maze: Understanding Bible Translation by Brian Russell

NIV, NLT, KJV, ESV. The number of translations available to us in English can be a bit dizzying, and many of us simply end up using what our friends are using. Asbury Seminary prof. Brian Russell gives a brief and basic introduction to how Bible translations work. Among other things he discusses the difference between paraphrases and translations, formal equivalence (sometimes called word-for-word) vs. dynamic equivalence (or meaning-for-meaning) translations, and how “literal” is not a good word for describing a translation.


Theology of the Future by N. T. Wright, Christianity Today Magazine

New Testament scholar N. T. Wright wants us to break down the silos. As academic specialization increases, Wright observes that the philosophers, theologians, and Biblical studies experts of our time all operate in isolation from one another rather than in shared conversation. “Each of these three disciplines has a vital role to play in the vocation of Christian thought,” Wright argues, and faithfully addressing the challenges of our day calls for more cooperation and collaboration across these disciplines.