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Inspired by IFBR’s Work, A New Reading Bible Emerges in Spain

Last year our Content Director Glenn Paauw received a message through Facebook from Jose María De Rus Martínez, a headmaster at a public school in Linares, Spain. Jose told Glenn that he had read Glenn’s book Saving the Bible From Ourselves, and it had inspired him to create and publish an original Reading Bible in Spanish.

When Glenn passed along the news, we were excited and we all had questions. How did Jose find out about Glenn’s book? What does his new Reading Bible look like? How did people react to this new format?

I had the chance to talk with Jose this week via the magic of Skype and hear more about the new Reading Bible he’s created.

Tell me a little bit about your background

I’m the 3rd generation of born-again Christians in my family. I grew up in a Christian context, so my mom and dad taught me to love the Bible — there was always a necessity of reading the Bible and sharing it with other people. I became an elder in a Bible church here in my town, and I’m also a Bible teacher in my home church for many years. I also teach homiletics at a Bible institute online in Spain. So the Bible is a crucial book in my life and my study, and I consider that people need to read the Bible not just as a reference book but also as a narrative book. I’m also the headmaster of a public school here in town, married to Deborah for 19 years and I’m the father of 3 kids – so I stay busy!

How did you hear about Saving the Bible From Ourselves?

I was working together with the IberoAmerican Bible Society publishing a Bible that is based in the Masoretic text, in the Samaritan Penteteuch, Qumran manuscripts, and Septuagint. And for the New Testament it’s based on the 28th edition of the Novum Testamentum. And now this Bible is being sold here in Spain and around the world.

So while working on that, InterVarsity Press sent me a copy of Saving the Bible From Ourselves by Glenn Paauw, and I think the Lord guided me to read this book in that precise moment because together with the IberoAmerican Bible Society we felt the necessity of making a new, fresh, readable, narrative way of reading the New Covenant. So we decided to start working on this publication, which we finished last September. So the Lord used Glenn’s book to guide me in this work.

(Jose held up the New Testament on our Skype call and showed me the beautiful hardcover volume with single-column layout – no chapters or verses)

This is the result of reading Glenn Paauw’s book. It’s called Nuevo Pacto – De Regreso A La Fuente, which means “New Covenant – Back to the Source.” You can see we presented this new way of reading the Bible without numbers, without notes, without subtitles, nothing except a small reference at the top where people can know where they’re reading.

But also, this volume is arranged not in the standard order, but following the most reliable testimony of the primitive church (click here to see the book order in this edition.) We finished this publication in September and within a week it was sold out, so we were very happy about that. It’s a fresh way of reading the Bible, and I would dare to say it’s the first book published in this way because all of the publications for the Spanish-speaking people are arranged in two columns, the standard way.

So I thought that the work of the Institute for Bible Reading and Glenn Paauw’s book was an inspiration for us to do this work.

Is this New Testament still being sold in Spain? Has it expanded to any new areas?

The first edition was printed and sold here in Spain, and now it’s on Amazon. The same book is being used in Central America and South America for a movement called Reading Together where people connect via a platform called Fusi and read the Bible together.

Have you found yourself reading this new edition very much?

This has changed my way of reading the Bible because you can read it as a novel or as literature, and you don’t really know when to stop reading! We read some letters in my church using this book and people found that they understood the meaning of the whole letter, the whole book, because of the continuous reading – Galatians or Philippians, for example. So you can catch the whole meaning and whole concept – why Paul wrote that letter in that way.

People who bought this book told us they found that this edition let them read the Bible in a fresh new way, a continuous way, without the human additives. It was fresh way to read the New Testament, so now we’re working on making the whole Bible into this format, hopefully by next year.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Just to congratulate you and the Institute for Bible Reading. We want to start a similar association here in Spain for the purpose of guiding people to read the Bible in this “real” way. People are struggling to read the Bible here, so we want to make the reading easier for them. So we don’t necessarily want to start our own Institute for Bible Reading, but a similar way of guiding them to read their Bible.

Jose blogs about the Bible and other Christian books at blogdebiblias.wordpress.com

Communal Reading In the Time of Jesus: How Did the First Christians Learn the Bible?

How did early Christians learn and pass on their traditions about Jesus and his teachings? What did the first communities of Jesus followers do to maintain the authenticity of their understanding of the meaning of his work, and its continuity to new generations? Further, what place did the growing collection of apostolic writings to scattered churches have in first century Christian gatherings?

For some time the academic study of early Christianity has maintained an emphasis on the role of oral tradition and social memory in the initial spread and growth of the new Jesus movement. It was assumed that due to things like the scarcity of both writing materials and professional readers, actual communal reading from sacred texts must have been somewhat rare and limited especially to more urban areas, at least until later in the second century.

But now there is an increasing recognition that early Christianity, like the Judaism from which it was born, was a “bookish” religion through and through. (See our earlier article How the First Christians Challenge Us to Be Bible Readers.) Larry Hurtado, a New Testament scholar and historian of early Christianity, has been a key voice helping us explore the evidence for this more closely. His books Destroyer of the Gods (2016) and The Earliest Christian Artifacts (2006) have directly examined this theme. Brian Wright’s new book continues this effort to bring more clarity to our understanding of the place of reading in the earliest church.

Wright’s key point is that communal reading was geographically widespread and that such reading was a way of avoiding any serious alterations in the traditions and teachings of the first Christians.

There are two backgrounds to this: first, the fact that public reading was a common feature of life across much of the Roman Empire. Letters, proclamations, poetry, and the great literary sagas of the time were all frequently read in public places. These did have a kind of performance aspect to them, but the point is that they were not performed from memory, but rather read aloud from written texts.

The second key background is of course the Jewish matrix from which Christianity emerged. Just as the Jews met and read the Scriptures together regularly, so did the early Christians. (See the chapter “Sharing Our Synagogue Bible” in my book Saving the Bible from Ourselves.)

Wright’s book is an important piece of detailed, collected evidence from the first century, in both the broader Roman culture and in specifically Christian settings. He includes chapters on relevant social, economic, and political factors, arguing that all of these were actually conducive to the widespread practice of public reading, making it a familiar feature of life for everyone. In the case of the Christian communities, it’s more clear than we’ve realized that the New Testament documents themselves are filled with evidence that they were expected to be widely shared and then publicly read.

In short, a standard part of the experience of the first Christians was the public, out-loud reading of the founding documents of the faith.

Should We Recover Communal Reading Today?

Of course most of the first Christians didn’t have any opportunity to own a personal copy of the Scriptures, and the preponderance of evidence remains that most people could not even read or write. But they were experienced, focused listeners, and this served them well. Christian formation in the early church was centered on immersion in the story of God, Israel, and the world as found in the sacred writings, both old and new. This tangible, practical focus on the Scriptures also helped ensure the integrity of the message over time.

But what about us?

In the modern era we’ve largely turned away from the early Christian practice of communal immersion in the Scriptures. Reading and study of the Bible is largely done individually, surrounded by all manner of reference-type helps, commentary, and devotional aids. The research evidence is clear that this is not working as an overall strategy for Bible engagement. People report that reading alone in this way is complicated and overwhelming. In short, it’s hard. And as a result, folks admit they’re not doing it much.

What new kinds of communal encounters can we imagine? What new forms of public reading and dialogue around the text can we envision?

The consequences have been serious for both private and public expressions of the faith. Unfamiliarity with the Big Story has produced Christians who don’t really have a good chance of living into the story in our contemporary setting because they don’t know who they are or where they came from.

There is no shortcut to this biblical knowledge. It comes only from sustained attention to our founding narratives, letters, songs, and wisdom. It comes from reading big and reading whole, not piecemeal sampling.

So what if we were to reclaim the practice and simplicity of the early Christ-followers?

What if we were to rediscover the unique value of communal reading of the Bible?

There have been a number of shifts in the nature of congregational life in recent history. A new emphasis on small groups, a move toward contemporary music and worship styles, and others. Why couldn’t we commit to similarly shifting how and when and where we engage the Bible? What new kinds of communal encounters can we imagine? What new forms of public reading and dialogue around the text can we envision? There are lots of different kinds of churches, lots of different ways this might look.

A commitment to biblical fluency should be at the center of every church’s life.

We can all ask: What could my community do?

Is Bible Literacy The Right Goal?

I have only recently understood the difference between “literacy” and “fluency” when it comes to the Bible.

Like most, I grew up with reference Bibles that were formatted for study, but not necessarily for reading. Like any good reference work (think dictionary, encyclopedia, textbook), the chapters, verses, subheadings, footnotes, cross-references, and other well-meaning additives were designed to make it easier to “reference” content. But it turns out they were also barriers to simply reading and losing myself in the story. There wasn’t a clear invitation to just read, to read unencumbered, to read for distance, or even to read for enjoyment. And as such, it was more difficult to find myself in the story.

Bible LiteracyIn fact, most of my life with the Bible has been constrained by that reference format, leading to the inevitable outcome of lots of study, mastering propositions and doctrine, sword drills around individual verses, ensuring a clear “world view” and so on. Per the definition of literacy, I would say I am actually pretty “literate” when it comes to the Bible. I developed a certain level of competence or knowledge about the Bible, including memorizing lots of verses. And I did it through diligent, personal quiet times.

But when it comes to “fluency” with the Bible—which is defined as “the ability to express oneself readily, effortlessly, and articulately”— I don’t feel nearly as confident. An educator referencing the 21st Century Fluency Project describes the difference between literacy and fluency this way: “To be literate means to have knowledge or competence. To be fluent is something a little more, it is to demonstrate mastery and to do so unconsciously and smoothly.”

When it comes to the Bible, I am not nearly as fluent as I am literate. And the data seems to indicate I am not alone! Being able to confidently relay the complete story of the Bible, to delineate the different types of literature that combine to form our canon, to easily recognize historical context and linkages between the major sections of the Bible is very different from being literate about the Bible. Glenn Paauw in his new book, Saving the Bible from Ourselves, (InterVarsity Press, May 2016) talks about the Bible as drama and describes what I mean by fluency this way: “to become so immersed in the script of (all) the acts of the Bible that we come to know this story in our bones.” He goes on to say, “We have virtually no chance of playing our parts well if we don’t really know how the full story goes.” I am not nearly as confident in my ability to accurately tell the complete story of the Bible, with all its majesty, mystery and nuance. Are you? Literacy is different than fluency. I’m convinced that to read the Bible well, I need to leverage literacy with greater fluency.

The first Reformation ushered in mass access to what we now know as “reference Bibles.” Perhaps on the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses next October, God’s Spirit will usher in a renewed reformation of deeper Bible absorption via mass use of “reading Bibles” as communities gather in conversations around the Text. Perhaps we can build on whatever level of literacy we have by deepening our fluency with God’s amazing creation and restoration story.

Watch: Glenn Paauw’s Interview With Phil Vischer

If you have an appetite for ukuleles, lighthearted singing, and good discussion on the Bible, well, you’ve come to the right place. Institute Director Glenn Paauw was a guest on the Phil Vischer podcast recently, recording an extended interview about his new book, Saving the Bible From Ourselves. Phil and Glenn are joined by Christian Taylor and Skye Jethani.

Phil is the Founder of Big Idea Productions, Jellyfish Labs, and the creator and storyteller behind VeggieTales and What’s in Bible. If his voice sounds a little familiar, that’s because he is the voice behind several VeggieTales characters including Bob the Tomato. You can see more of what he’s doing at philvischer.com

Check out the interview and leave your comments below!

 

Listen: Glenn Paauw Interview with Desiring God

Yesterday desiringgod.com, the website affiliated with pastor and author John Piper, posted an interview with Glenn Paauw, one of our Directors and author of Saving the Bible From Ourselves. The interview, titled A Short History of Bible Clutter, focused primarily on the modernization of the Bible and the consequences of engaging with a Bible that has so much extra-biblical information packed into its pages.

“I think what happened over time is we just started inserting more things into Bible design, all with the interest of providing help, of course,” said Paauw, “There were practical reasons for these things. But by the time you get to the end of the history of the Bible in our time, these helps, these additions have pretty much overwhelmed the text.”

Saving the Bible From OurselvesThe interview was conducted by Tony Reinke, a staff writer at Desiring God and host of the Ask Pastor John podcast. Reinke asked Paauw about the implications of the “data smog” that comes with using a modernistic Bible, specifically the column of cross-reference texts that are present in many study Bibles.

“I think cross-references down the middle column of a Bible are kind of an early version of a built-in distraction system. They tell us to jump around the Bible looking at this verse and that verse, not necessarily stopping to take the time to read each of those references in its own context.” Paauw explained, “The danger is I think I am really getting significant Bible study, topical study, these sorts of things, but there is a clearer danger and, again, I say: The first and the primary and the most natural thing to do with the Bible is to read individual books at length in their own terms.”

You can listen to the beginning of the interview below; the full interview and transcript is available at www.desiringgod.com.

Saving the Bible From Ourselves is available from InterVarsity Press and Amazon. Join our mailing list to receive the first chapter for free!