My Favorites

ChatGPT imagines what it looks like when I’m studying the Bible with PocketBible.

I’ve been writing Bible software and publishing Bibles and Bible reference books for over 35 years now. For some reason, people think I’m intimately familiar with every one of the hundreds of titles we publish. Obviously I can’t be and I’m not. But I do have some favorites. I’ve never taken the time to say which ones I like and why, so let’s do that today.

I’ve intentionally not linked these to our online catalog, as I don’t want to give the impression that I’m promoting any of these titles over others we might carry. Feel free to list what you think are indispensable Bibles and reference books for your own study in the comments.

Bibles

At the risk of offending those who think there’s only one English translation of the Bible with God’s imprimatur, here are my faves.

Modern English: The World English Bible

The WEB is an updated version of the 1901 ASV text. It doesn’t go out of its way to be overtly “modern” but rather just updates the language to sound more natural to today’s readers. I especially like that it uses “Yahweh” for the name of God in the Old Testament, which I believe “personalizes” God and makes him more of an active character in the narrative instead of a distant and disconnected force that meddles in human affairs in ways beyond our understanding.

Because I use this Bible in my 7-Minute Bible devotional, I’ve read through it a few times and have been happy to have been able to suggest some corrections to it in a handful of verses.

“Literal” Translation: The New American Standard Bible (2020 Edition)

When the 2020 NASB was introduced, I started in Genesis and read it cover-to-cover. I was expecting to be disappointed, as I had always been when trying to read the 1995 edition. While the latter was good for word studies, it didn’t read well. It was rather jarring to the ears. The 2020 edition seemed much smoother without resorting to paraphrase or functional equivalence.

I tend to use the version of this Bible that includes Strong’s numbers when I need to reference the original languages. I like the literal translation better in that case.

When I Can’t Remember a Verse: The King James Version

As a new Christian, I attended churches that taught from the KJV for about 25 years. I’m one of a shrinking number of people that don’t find the KJV, which mixes a little Middle English grammar into its Early Modern English text, to be off-putting. When I remember a few words of a verse and need to do a search to find it, I tend to do that search in the KJV, betting that the dark corners of my memory are recalling its particular wording.

As you know, back in 2014 Laridian switched its KJV text to the 1910 Cambridge version to bring it into line with what most modern KJV readers expect. We then added Louis Klopsch’s original red-lettering to the New Testament to make ours a very special edition of the text.


Commentaries

This is where we really get into differences of opinion. But I’m the one writing this article, so I get to express mine here.

Whole-Bible Commentary: Constable’s Bible Study Notes

Dr. Tom Constable from Dallas Theological Seminary does an outstanding job of presenting a conservative, evangelical point of view while making room for alternative explanations. He backs up both his own opinions and alternative opinions with quotes from third parties who champion those points of view. Since these are literally just his own personal notes collected over the years, they don’t suffer from having been over-edited by a publisher and a marketing department.

Because the book hasn’t been overly edited, it doesn’t contain anything superflous, like random color images of sites in Israel. But it does contain charts and maps when appropriate to understanding the text.

New Testament Word Studies: Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament

This is an update to Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, which is also a recommended book. You would think a book on word studies would be a dictionary in PocketBible, but Robertson presents his work verse-by-verse, which makes it easy to find what you’re looking for while reading.

This book is intentionally written to people like me with an interest in the original languages but not the expertise to study word origins and learn how to parse nouns and verbs on my own. I feel like I get the benefit of knowing the languages without having to learn them.

Expository Commentary: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (full edition or abridged)

I tend to keep the full edition of this commentary on my devices, but the abridged edition is an affordable alternative that doesn’t lose much in the abridgement. I like this commentary for its deep, scholarly treatment of the subject matter and its willingness to discuss alternative points of view.

We used to be able to sell this 12-volume set for a very reasonable price. But recent changes at the publisher make this one hard to discount. It’s worth every penny, but if you ever catch it on sale, you should scrape together the shekels to buy it.

Old Testament Commentary: Keil and Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

This is not for the faint of heart. You don’t have to be able to read Hebrew, but it might help. This commentary isn’t for everyone, but it’s one place I look when sussing out nuance of meaning from Hebrew.

Most of the time, almost any other commentary will do when studying the Old Testament. But if you really want to get into the meanings of words and how they’re used, this is the tool you need. It’s not something you can give a quick read and learn everything you need — it takes some effort to figure out what they’re talking about and where they’re going. But if you want that level of detail, this is the place to find it.


Dictionaries

In PocketBible, atlases are often categorized as dictionaries, so I’ll cover those here as well.

Strong’s Numbers: Complete Word Study Dictionaries

These dictionaries (OT and NT volumes) are ideal companions to any of our Bibles that contain Strong’s numbers. They provide significantly more detailed definitions than do the default dictionaries that come with those Bibles.

For each word you’ll see its Strong’s number, Hebrew or Greek spelling, transliteration, forms, synonyms, antonyms, and definitions of every usage of the word. There are many links to verses where the word is used and links to related words in the dictionary.

Atlas: Deluxe Bible Maps and Timelines or the Holman Bible Atlas Bundle

Deluxe Bible Maps is a thorough atlas of every region, battle, time period, people group, etc. The maps themselves are pretty simple, but the place names are linked to short descriptions in the accompanying dictionary of Bible places.

The Holman Bible Atlas Bundle consists of the Holman Bible Atlas and the Holman Book of Biblical Charts, Maps, and Reconstructions. The atlas contains over 130 maps plus hundreds of timelines, charts, and articles. The book of charts, maps, and reconstructions is a perfect supplement, containing dozens of images that are ideal for both study and teaching.

Topical Dictionary: Dictionary of Bible Themes

This is a hidden gem in our catalog. It’s actually two books. The Dictionary of Bible Themes is like Nave’s Topical Bible. The topics are organized like a systematic theology. Each contains links to verses and other related topics. Also included is the Dictionary of Bible Themes Scripture Index, which functions like the Thompson Chain Reference Bible and is organized like a commentary in PocketBible so that it follows along with verses as you read them and links you to topics appropriate to that verse.


Devotionals

I’m more of a read-through-the-Bible guy than a daily-nugget-of-truth guy, so my preferences are going to lean in that direction. I don’t like the plans that scramble the Bible up by chapter or by OT+NT+Psalms+Proverbs each day. I just get lost that way. I strongly prefer to read chronologically. I feel I know the history better that way.

Chronological Bible Reading: The 7-Minute Bible

Yeah, I know — this is my book so of course I picked it. Think of it this way instead: This is how I prefer to read through the Bible in the morning, so I wrote it. The 7-Minute Bible is the text of the World English Bible (WEB) organized chronologically, harmonized where appropriate (i.e. Kings/Chronicles and the Gospels), the edited to remove the things that are going to cause you to stop reading through the Bible (like 9 full chapters of names at the beginning of 1 Chronicles). I find I can read through the entire 7-Minute Bible in 4 months if I read just 15 minutes per day.

Reading in Bible Order: OT in One Year and NT in 6 Months (Twice)

If I feel I must read ever verse in the Bible, I have done it by reading one day from the Old Testament in One Year plan and one day from the New Testament in 6 Months plan each day. When I finish the New Testament at the end of June, I start over. These reading plans are free when you register PocketBible, so everyone has access to them.


Other Books

There are a few books that PocketBible categorizes as “other” (because they don’t fit in any of the categories above) that I find useful.

The “Lost World” Series

This is a recently published series of books that takes a fresh look at the Old Testament in the light of our best understanding of the Hebrew language and the literature of the Ancient Near East. The goal is to read the text from the perspective of the people to whom it was originally written.

While all “Bible background” commentaries try to provide historical and cultural information, this series focuses on key passages, such as Genesis 1, Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, the Israelite Conquest, etc. to find hints in what we know about Ancient Near East cultures to help us understand how those who may have heard or read what we know of as the Old Testament would have understood it.

Scottish Metrical Psalms

I’m not a fan of the Psalms. It’s an interesting little book of song lyrics but I find it hard to identify with. I’m not pursued by my sworn enemies into caves and crevices on a regular basis. I’m not a song-writer looking for lyrics. But — if I have to read a song book, I need it to rhyme and I need it to be singable in standard meter. This little book translates the book of Psalms into truly singable works. I thought about modernizing the language and using this for my 7-Minute Bible, it’s that good. Maybe in version 2.

The Trail of Blood

This is a fascinating little pamphlet that makes the case that there has always been one true, biblical church fashioned on the principles of the New Testament and not falling under the hierarchy of any denomination. It argues that Catholicism (and subsequently Ortodoxy and Protestantism) split from this true version of the Church and went off in their own direction but that there still exists pockets of real New Testament churches today. Whether you believe that or not, it’s a fascinating hypothesis that happens to be correct. Like I said — my article, my rules. 🙂

Understanding the Bible Collection

This 22-volume collection provides a wealth of historical, cultural, and geographic background on what we read in the Bible.

Each volume covers a different subject and is loaded with photos, maps, and charts.

About the Image

I asked ChatGPT to create a picture of me studying in my home office. Unfortunately I couldn’t get it to make me clean-shaven except for a mustache, give me a knuckle for every finger and a finger for every knuckle, give me an Apple Watch instead of some generic Android watch, give me just one rectangular phone and not an additional trapezoidal phone, make sure my books aren’t bound along two opposite or two perpendicular edges, put any less than 14 or 15 hours on my alarm clock, and give me a spiral bound notebook that wasn’t bound along one edge and also across the middle. Other than that — nailed it.

What’s Your Excuse for Not Reading the Bible? #5

Rubens, Peter Paul. The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek. 1626.
Oil on panel, 65.5 x 82.4 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

This is the fifth in a series of articles on common excuses for not reading through the Bible.

I’ve spent the last 40+ years studying the Bible, but not necessarily trying to read each word from cover to cover. Several years ago I began setting aside time each day just to read the Bible, with the goal of getting through the whole thing over the course of a year. Having spent many years coming up with excuses not to read the Bible this way, I thought I’d record them here for you. But take note: I’ll be shooting them down in the end, so don’t get your hopes up.

Excuse #5: Why bother reading the entire Bible anyway?

It can be reasonably argued that we only need to read the New Testament.

We meet Jesus in the Gospels. One of the things I like about reading a different translation of the Bible is re-reading the Gospels and re-meeting Jesus. Same characters, same events, but different words so that it sounds fresh and makes you think.

The book of Acts is both an adventure story, as Paul travels thousands of miles on foot to establish churches and preach the gospel, and it is where we first see the teachings of Jesus being put into action by his disciples.

The Epistles address the kinds of issues we face in our churches. Your issues will be different from mine, but they’re all covered.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John tells us about the future. Well, it does with imagery and symbols, but it does nonetheless.

What could possibly be in the Old Testament that would benefit us in any way? I mean, once you have a general idea of what’s there then what’s the point of slogging through it? Creation? Yep; got it. Flood? Know about that. Chosen people? The Jews; heard about ’em. Exodus from Egypt, the Law, the tabernacle, wandering in the wilderness, taking of the promised land, establishment of a king and kingdom, building of a temple, division of the kingdom, good and bad kings, and deportation? Sure, fine, whatever. Return to the land, rebuilding of the temple, promise of a messiah? Yes, yes, I know.

The Familiarity of Home

I was never an athlete, but at 50 years old I started running because my heart was trying to kill me. I started slow. And dumb — the first time I ran a mile, I did it by running straight away from my house, then I had to walk back. It took time for me to figure out that I should run a circular route so I’d end up at home.

Eventually, I ran into parts of my neighborhood that, while just blocks away, were unfamiliar to me. A curious thing began to happen: my concept of “home” was expanding. My “home” went from the yard I mowed every week to an entire neighborhood. My “neighbors” were not just the ones who lived next door to me, whose names I couldn’t remember but whose faces were familiar, but now included a woman a mile away who was always out on her front porch smoking a cigarette. And after you run past the house a few times you happen to see a woman dropping off some kids, and realize the smoking lady is a grandmother who watches her grandkids while mom works.

When we read the entire Bible and not just the few passages our preacher quotes on Sunday morning, our spiritual neighborhood expands. We meet more of our biblical neighbors. We discover Job’s dark sense of humor, not just his suffering. We find that the woman at the well was no unclean Gentile, but, like Jesus, could probably trace her lineage back to Jacob, but through Manasseh and Ephraim. Her debate with Jesus over the correct mountain on which to worship was not the idle babble of some random pagan but accurately stated a religious difference between the remnant of Israel that returned and settled in Shechem, and that of Judah, which settled in Jerusalem.

We also begin to appreciate our own place in history; especially in the history of how God has related to his creation through the ages. Familiar New Testament passages take on new meaning as we see similar thoughts being expressed hundreds of years before. And we’re amazed at the degree to which the Old Testament prophets accurate predicted the events of the New Testament.

Continuity of History

I like to read the Bible chronologically. The more I do this the more I begin to see the entire Bible as one long story. When I start reading Genesis, I will first read John 1:1-5:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it.

It reminds me that this is a book that isn’t just ultimately about Jesus, but it’s literally the story of Jesus. I like to describe the logos or “the Word” or “the Word of God” as God’s message — what God has to say. That message was embodied — took on human flesh — in Jesus. Jesus is the embodiment of what God has to say. In Genesis, God spoke and the universe came into existence — that is, without that spoken message from God, that message that we know as the person “Jesus” — nothing was made that has been made.

God wants to have a relationship with humans; humans rejected God; God punished them and selected one family with which to start over; God tried giving them laws, tried living among them in a tabernacle, tried giving them a king they could see — but none of these things restored that relationship he originally had wanted. So he said he would send a prophet, then the “righteous branch” of David.

All of this happens before we even get to the New Testament. When reading chronologically, you come out of the Old Testament reading Malachi, which is as big of a build-up and as big of a cliff-hanger as you get in the Bible.

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me! The Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple. Behold, the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, is coming!”

You come out of the Old Testament knowing that a prophet like Elijah is coming, and you read about John the Baptist. You know how it began in the Garden, how humans messed it up, and you know the only way this is going to every work is if God comes down here and does it himself. And then he does in the next day’s reading. Hollywood couldn’t write this kind of story.

And you wanted to skip the Old Testament — especially the prophets.

Jesus Death Has No Meaning Apart from the Old Testament Law

This is why some people get Jesus all wrong. They haven’t read the Old Testament. They say, “Jesus died as an example.” An example of what, exactly? “Well, Jesus died to show us he loved us.” Couldn’t he have just bought us flowers? How does just dying for some random crime (threatening to destroy the temple, I guess — of which he was innocent) demonstrate ‘love’? “He died for his disciples.” In what way? None of them were being threatened with death — he didn’t die instead of them.

But now insert the Law. Jesus was innocent of his crime, like an unblemished lamb. Jesus died in our place, like that lamb does when it gives its life on the altar to satisfy God’s justice.

At the same time, Jesus’ sacrifice was different. The next day, the Old Testament priest had to sacrifice another lamb, then another the day after that. But Jesus needed to die just once because he perfectly satisfied God’s need for sin to be punished.

The New Testament tells us that Jesus became a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. If you haven’t read the Old Testament, you don’t recognize what the New Testament is talking about. Melchizedek was a priest of Yahweh before Abraham, before Isaac, before Moses, before Aaron, before the Law. (And FYI, he was a contemporary of Job, which you won’t know if you don’t read the Old Testament, and if you did read it, you won’t know it if you read it in Bible order after the book of Esther instead of in chronological order.) He took a tenth of the spoils of Abraham’s battle with Chedorlaomer in the Valley of Siddim before the tenth (or “tithe”) was written into the Law. Jesus isn’t a high priest in the way that Aaron was a high priest; he’s of an entirely different order. An earlier order that wasn’t under the Law.

You won’t know this if you don’t read the Old Testament.

It’s great that you want to read the Bible, and it’s fantastic that you want to read and understand the New Testament. But it’s just one part of the story. And it’s a part that’s going to seem mighty strange if you don’t know what came before it.

What’s Your Excuse for Not Reading the Bible? #4

Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is the fourth in a series of articles on common excuses for not reading through the Bible.

I’ve spent the last 40+ years studying the Bible, but not necessarily trying to read each word from cover to cover. Several years ago I began setting aside time each day just to read the Bible, with the goal of getting through the whole thing over the course of a year. Having spent many years coming up with excuses not to read the Bible this way, I thought I’d record them here for you. But take note: I’ll be shooting them down in the end, so don’t get your hopes up.

Excuse #4: I’m not a levitical priest. I don’t need lessons in animal dissection.

Several long passages in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Ezekiel describe, in minute detail, how to cut up, clean, discard, wave, dip one’s thumb into, and burn a variety of animals. These instructions were extremely important to the priests who ministered in the tabernacle and later, the temple. But beyond knowing that these sacrifices were done and what their purpose was, we don’t really need the details. We won’t be donning our ephods and slitting the throats of sheep during the Sunday morning worship service any time soon.

The passages I’m talking about go beyond “sacrifice a bull to Yahweh”. They explain how it is to be done — in detail. This makes sense in context, since these are literally instruction manuals for Aaron, his sons, and their descendants.

5The anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull, and bring it to the Tent of Meeting. 6The priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before Yahweh, before the veil of the sanctuary. 7The priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of sweet incense before Yahweh, which is in the Tent of Meeting; and he shall pour out the rest of the blood of the bull at the base of the altar of burnt offering, which is at the door of the Tent of Meeting. 8He shall take all the fat of the bull of the sin offering from it: the fat that covers the innards, and all the fat that is on the innards, 9and the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the loins, and the cover on the liver, with the kidneys, he shall remove, 10as it is removed from the bull of the sacrifice of peace offerings. The priest shall burn them on the altar of burnt offering. 11He shall carry the bull’s skin, all its meat, with its head, and with its legs, its innards, and its dung 12—all the rest of the bull—outside of the camp to a clean place where the ashes are poured out, and burn it on wood with fire. It shall be burned where the ashes are poured out. — Leviticus 4:5-12

Yeah, but there’s not a lot of these verses, right?

I counted 468 verses (12,866 words) on this subject. That’s around 1.7% of the text (counting by words). If you’re reading the Bible in a year, you’ll spend just short of one whole week reading nothing but procedures for wringing the necks of doves and removing the lobes that cover the liver of bulls.

But it wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t important!

These details are absolutely important — if you’re a descendant of Levi ministering in the tabernacle or temple. But a more general understanding of the Old Testament sacrificial system is all that is needed for Christians trying to read and understand the Bible today. We need to know that God required a blood sacrifice for sin. Then we can understand what we read in Hebrews:

1For the law, having a shadow of the good to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. 2Or else wouldn’t they have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having been once cleansed, would have had no more consciousness of sins? 3But in those sacrifices there is a yearly reminder of sins. 4For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. — Hebrews 10:1-4

11Every priest indeed stands day by day serving and offering often the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins, 12but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God, 13from that time waiting until his enemies are made the footstool of his feet. 14For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. — Hebrews 10:11-14

One of the fascinating things about the Law is that it ostensibly existed as a guide for its followers to make themselves righteous before God, but that in reality its purpose was to teach us the futility of believing that merely following a set of rules can make us right with God. This more subtle and enlightened (i.e. “basic Christian”) understanding of the Law makes the idea of spending a week learning how to dissect a goat in a way that pleases God even less rewarding than it literally is.

Save yourself a week

I skim and skip these passages when I run into them. I give you permission to do likewise. Don’t let a description of the fat around the kidneys keep you from getting all the way through the Bible.

What’s Your Excuse for Reading Bible the #3 Not?

This is the third in a series of articles on common excuses for not reading through the Bible.

I’ve spent the last 40+ years studying the Bible, but not necessarily trying to read each word from cover to cover. Several years ago I began setting aside time each day just to read the Bible, with the goal of getting through the whole thing over the course of a year. Having spent many years coming up with excuses not to read the Bible this way, I thought I’d record them here for you. But take note: I’ll be shooting them down in the end, so don’t get your hopes up.

Excuse #3: The events in the Old Testament are out-of-order and confusing.

Christianity and the Jewish faith from which it sprang are somewhat unique among the belief systems of the world in that they have a rich connection to human history that is essential to understanding them. Christianity isn’t a philosophical system that suddenly developed in the mind of the Apostle Paul some 2000 years ago. It claims to have started in the very creation of space and time. Its details were revealed in God’s work of creation, in direct revelation to selected humans over thousands of years, and in an historical, first-person manifestation of God to humans in the person of Jesus Christ.

We could choose to ignore the gospels and just read the New Testament epistles to discover Christian doctrine, but our understanding is immensely enhanced when we understand the life and teachings of Jesus from the gospels. We could read just the New Testament, but we won’t understand the work of Jesus on the cross without some knowledge of the job of the Levitical priesthood from the Old Testament. We could try to live lives without sin, but won’t understand the futility of that goal if don’t know about the Mosaic law from the Old Testament. We could simply accept God’s choosing of Abraham, but won’t understand the motivation of this choice unless we have read about antediluvian life and the Noahic flood. We would be bewildered by the expectations of some arbitrary deity that destroyed all life in the flood unless we also understand who that deity is and what he did in the first chapters of Genesis.

How Are the Books of the Bible Arranged?

When we sit down to read the Bible, it appears to begin at the beginning of time in Genesis and end with the eternal state that follows the destruction and recreation of the known universe in Revelation. But once we know the Bible, we realize that everything in between is a jumbled mess.

The books of the Bible are arranged by genre, not by chronology. The Old Testament begins with the Pentateuch, or the books of the Law. Next are books of history, then books of wisdom and poetry, then the prophets. The New Testament starts with the gospels — 4 different accounts of the life of Jesus — then an historical book, Acts, followed by various letters written to churches and individuals, then the record of a revelation given to the Apostle John.

The Messed-Up Chronology of Kings and Chronicles

Constable, Thomas L., Dr.. “Constable’s Bible Study Notes”. Marion, IA: Laridian Inc., 2021.

The Old Testament starts out in chronological order, but fairly quickly gets confusing. The books of Kings and Chronicles cover much of the same material. If you’re reading through the Bible in a year, cover-to-cover, you’ll read 1 Kings in April and 2 Chronicles in May. As a result you’ll be re-reading the same events twice. On top of that, the order of events described within a single book is often not correct. For example, Rehoboam is king in Judah in 1 Kings 12, but isn’t actually crowned king until two chapters later. Then (a month later in your reading plan), he becomes king again in 2 Chronicles 10 before becoming king again two chapters later.

The Messed-Up Chronology of Job

The biblical character Job is among the most ancient persons in the Bible. He is believed to be a contemporary of Abraham (circa 2000 BCE). In the traditional 66-book Bible, the story of Job is found after the book of Esther and before the book of Psalms. The book of Esther describes events in Persia around 480 BCE, around the time that the first remnants of the Jews were returning to Judah after being deported. Most of the Psalms date to the time of King David, 500 years earlier (around 1000 BCE). Based on what you read before and after Job, it would be easy to get the impression that Job was a Jew (he was not), or that he was a contemporary of Saul, David, and Solomon (he was not), or that he lived after the deportation and captivity of Israel and Judah (he did not).

This isn’t just a matter of dating Job correctly. Reading about Job before meeting Abraham helps us better understand God’s relationship with humans at this point in history. Job didn’t have the benefit of God’s direct revelation to Abraham, nor of the Mosaic Law. But he still had an understanding of God’s character and holiness. Like Melchizadek (who may have been a contemporary of Job), he was a worshiper of Yahweh at a time when we traditionally picture humanity in darkness, awaiting the more well-known revelation of Yahweh to Abraham and eventually to Moses. His story challenges us to come to a better understanding of how God’s relationship with his creation morphed over time.

To Whom Did the Prophets Prophecy?

All of the prophets are lumped together at the end of the Old Testament, even though much of their work happened before the captivity of Israel and Judah, and certainly before the return of a remnant of the people to the land.

Conclusion

All of this confusion leads to a paradoxical conclusion: It’s necessary to understand the whole Bible before you can read and understand any of it. You need an historical framework when reading the Bible “out of order” (that is, reading it “in order”) so that you can reorganize it in your head as you read it.

I would strongly recommend finding a chronological reading plan for PocketBible and reading through the Bible in calendar order. You’ll be surprised how much your understanding of God improves when you can put his relationship with his creation in historical order.

What’s Your Excuse for Not Reading the Bible? #2

This is the second in a series of articles on common excuses for not reading through the Bible.

I’ve spent the last 40+ years studying the Bible, but not necessarily trying to read each word from cover to cover. Several years ago I began setting aside time each day just to read the Bible, with the goal of getting through the whole thing over the course of a year. Having spent many years coming up with excuses not to read the Bible this way, I thought I’d record them here for you. But take note: I’ll be shooting them down in the end, so don’t get your hopes up.

Excuse #2: I get bogged down in the endless genealogies (the dreaded “begats”)

If you’ve tried to read through the Bible you know the frustration of happily reading along, then running into a long list of “so-and-so begat so-and-so”. You want to be faithful and read every word, but come on — there are a lot of random, unpronounceable names here.

Somebody told me once that there are only 25 such genealogies in the Bible — suggesting I should just buckle down and keep reading. I think they severely underestimate the problem. Now, to be fair, when trying to count such lists, it is difficult to define what constitutes a purely “genealogical” passage. Some are lists of names are mostly there to describe where people settled. They just happen to be organized by family. Others are lists of related people along with their responsibilities in the service of the tabernacle, temple, or army. A few are census records, which are naturally organized by family. So the exact number of genealogies could be subject to interpretation

In the end it doesn’t matter. When you run into this passage, you know it’s boring, no matter how you classify it (1 Chronicles 1:1-27)

1Adam, Seth, Enosh, 2Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, 3Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, 4Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

5The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. 6The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Diphath, and Togarmah. 7The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim.

8The sons of Ham: Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. 9The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabta, Raama, Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. 10Cush became the father of Nimrod. He began to be a mighty one in the earth. 11Mizraim became the father of Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, 12Pathrusim, Casluhim (where the Philistines came from), and Caphtorim. 13Canaan became the father of Sidon his firstborn, Heth, 14the Jebusite, the Amorite, the Girgashite, 15the Hivite, the Arkite, the Sinite, 16the Arvadite, the Zemarite, and the Hamathite.

17The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, Aram, Uz, Hul, Gether, and Meshech. 18Arpachshad became the father of Shelah, and Shelah became the father of Eber. 19To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan. 20Joktan became the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 21Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 22Ebal, Abimael, Sheba, 23Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab. All these were the sons of Joktan. 24Shem, Arpachshad, Shelah, 25Eber, Peleg, Reu, 26Serug, Nahor, Terah, 27Abram (also called Abraham).

To make matters worse, this is just the first 27 of 397 verses that make up the first 9 chapters of 1 Chronicles, all of which are lists of names.

Out of curiosity, I made a detailed list of all the genealogies, census records, and lists of people I found in the Bible. I found 38 overt genealogies, 53 other lists of (sometimes related) people, and 5 census records (family names and counts). Together, these passages account for 3.5% of the text of the Bible. 3.5% doesn’t sound like much, but it means that in your one-year trip through the Bible, you’ll spend 13 days just reading lists of names.

Let’s put that in perspective: There are only 8 books in the Bible (all in the Old Testament) that are longer than that list of names. You’ll spend more time reading lists of names than you will reading Joshua, Judges, or Daniel. You’ll spend more time reading those names than you will reading any single book in the New Testament. — more time than you’ll spend in Luke, Acts, or Romans. In fact, you could read Romans through 3 times and have time left over to read more names.

How to Finish 13 Days’ Reading Instantly

So here’s the secret of those lists: The important people are going to be mentioned again. The in-betweeners are not. So if you simply skip those passages, you literally aren’t missing anything. And you’ve saved yourself 2 weeks of laboring through long lists of names.

Yeah, But Look at All You’re Missing!

A hardcore Bible scholar is going to complain that if you skip the genealogies, you could end up missing the fact that Ruth, a gentile, is an ancestor of David (and therefore Jesus). And that Jesus is a member of the tribe of Judah. And that Methuselah, the longest-living person in the Bible, died in the year that Noah’s flood began.

But then, you just read those facts here, so there you go. Problem solved. Skip the “begats”.

What’s Your Excuse for Not Reading the Bible? #1

This is the first in a series of articles on common excuses for not reading through the Bible.

I spent most of my Christian life studying the Bible as needed to teach a class, preach a sermon, or answer a question. I did some whole-book studies on my own or with friends. But other than a couple failed attempts early on, I never made an effort to read through the Bible cover-to-cover. New Testament? No problem. Genesis and Exodus? Sure. But Leviticus, Job, and all those prophets? Yeah, right. Not happening.

Several years ago I was encouraged by a group of people in our church to set aside time each day to read the Bible, with the goal of getting through the whole thing over the course of a year. In our group, you can choose any plan you want, as long as it gets you through the Bible in a year. Every month, we are encouraged to share what we’ve learned and report our progress. That first year was hard, but I repeated the exercise the following year and have done so since.

Having spent many years coming up with excuses, I thought I’d record them here in case you want to use them. Full disclosure: I will be shooting them down in the end, so don’t get your hopes up.

Excuse #1: The Bible is a long book, and I’m a busy person. I don’t have any time to read it.

Have you ever wondered why Bibles are always printed on that tissue-thin paper? Why the text is so small? They have to do those things in order to get it to fit in your hand. It’s a long book.

The Bible contains 1189 chapters and a total of 31,102 verses. Those verses combine to contain over 750,000 words. That’s the equivalent of about 11-12 average-length novels. It’s longer than the first 5 Harry Potter books, and you know how much you hate to read those!

About 25% of us don’t ever read any books. Another quarter of us read fewer than 4 each year. With the Bible equaling 11-12 books (or 5.2 Harry Potters), no wonder reading the Bible seems daunting to most people.

Figuring out how long it takes to read the Bible depends on your reading speed. A quick Web search turned up different estimates for adult reading speed. Depending on the site you visit, you’ll see:

  • 200-250 words per minute
  • 238 words per minute when reading non-fiction; 260 for fiction
  • 200-300 words per minute
  • 100-200 when reading for comprehension

Last year, we at Laridian decided to determine the average reading speed of adults when reading the Bible. We undertook a study of 1000 individuals to measure their reading speed. We used Old and New Testament sample texts and a modern English translation (the World English Bible). Our research suggests that 98% of people read between 229 and 251 words per minute when reading text from a modern translation of the Bible. At that rate, 98% of us should be able to read the Bible in 8-9 minutes per day.

Curious about your Bible reading speed? Take the test here.

That’s 8-9 minutes I don’t have!

Imagine adding 8-9 minutes to your morning routine. Most of us would have to get up 10 minutes earlier, and that’s just not going to happen! We could carve it out of the 3 hours per day we spend watching TV, but then how would we keep up with the Kardashians? One website says we spend 63 minutes each day eating. Maybe we could skip breakfast. Or dessert.

What I did was add it to the tasks I do each morning in front of my computer. Every morning I visit our church’s prayer list site, check for tech support issues that need my attention, visit Facebook and MeWe, and catch up on the news. It wasn’t a problem to launch PocketBible at the start of that session, do my reading, then continue my day. It was very painless.

Reading through the Bible in six months.

I’m a data-oriented person, so after a while I started timing my morning reading sessions. Turns out I was only taking about 7 minutes to read the passage for that day. So I started doing 2 readings each morning. It generally took less than 15 minutes, which wasn’t much more than the original 8-9 I thought I’d need. Next thing I knew, it was mid-July and I was finishing Revelation!

Everybody is different. Some are going to read slower, and some faster. The point is that a lack of time doesn’t need to be a deterrent. We all have 10 minutes we can spare somewhere. For 98% of us, that’s going to be plenty of time to spend each day to get through the Bible in a year.

Reading Through the Bible in 2021

Every year, our church encourages members to start a program of Bible reading with the goal of reading the entire Bible by the end of the year. Each month we all exchange emails with progress reports and are encouraged to keep going. Despite the planning, the encouragement, and the reminders, about half of those who start don’t finish.

The NIV Bible contains 753,429 words. Divided into 365 equal readings, that would be 2064 words per day. The average person reads at a rate of 200-300 words per minute. If you’re a college graduate, you probably read around 450 words per minute. So reading through the entire Bible can be easily done by most people in 4-1/2 to 8-1/2 minutes per day. Certainly less than 10 minutes.

So why do so many people fail at keeping this goal? The time itself is not the problem; we all have 5-10 minutes sometime in our day to read the Bible. Here are some suggestions on how to get through the Bible this year.

Make it a part of your morning ritual.

We all have a list of things we do like clockwork every day. Wake up. Shower. Shave. Brush teeth. Get dressed. Have breakfast or at least a cup of coffee. Check email and social media. Go to work. The next day it repeats. Maybe on the weekend it happens later in the morning, but it happens.

Put your Bible reading on that list. In my case, I make a cup of coffee and sit down to make my first pass through email, Facebook, and moderation of my church’s email prayer/announcements list. It was easy to add 5 minutes of Bible reading to that schedule.

For you it might be 5 minutes before you even get out of bed. Or while you eat breakfast. The important thing is to find it a place in your morning ritual so that it becomes habitual.

Use PocketBible on your phone or tablet.

You might think this goes without saying, since it’s coming from Laridian, but it’s a valuable point to make. Laridian offers a number of free and low-cost Bible reading plans and devotionals for PocketBible and makes it easy to access each day’s reading and keep track of your progress. Simply tracking your progress by marking each reading as complete will motivate you to keep going and help you catch up if you get behind.

In addition, for most of us, our phone or tablet is with us all day. This makes it easier to take advantage of break-time, commute-time, standing-in-line-time, and other moments in our day to do our Bible reading. Instead of Candy Crush or Facebook, spend those minutes getting your Bible reading done.

Be realistic.

Figure out how much time you want to devote to the Bible and schedule your reading appropriately. 5-10 minutes will get you through the Bible in a year. 10-15 minutes will get you there in 6 months. Don’t set out to get through the whole thing in a month unless you have an hour each day to set aside for Bible reading.

Try a different translation of the Bible.

Because PocketBible reading plans are not tied to any one translation of the Bible, you’re free to experiment with something different. My previous reads through the Bible have always been in the KJV or NIV. So last year I tried the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). This year I’m using the World English Bible (WEB). (Note that neither the CSB nor WEB are compatible with the Windows versions of PocketBible, but work fine in the Android, iOS and Mac OS versions.)

I think the unfamiliar wording of familiar verses helps me comprehend the passage better. For example, the WEB uses “Yahweh” where the KJV, NASB, and NIV all use LORD. Encountering “Yahweh” in the text seems to make God more personal to me – as if he’s more of a character in the story with his own plans, motivations, and ways of interacting with the people I’m reading about. When I just see LORD in the text, he seems to just blend in and is more of a nameless force or entity in the background. It’s a subtle but important difference in the way I’m perceiving the text.

Last year I ran into the phrase “half the tribe of Mannaseh” (vs. the more familiar – to me – “half-tribe of Mannaseh”). I found this confusing, since I had always assumed the “half tribe” title was because Mannaseh and his brother Ephraim shared the inheritance of their father Joseph (each was half the tribe of Joseph). Running into this wording in verses such as Deuteronomy 3:13 caused me to realize the title is based on the fact Moses gave land on the east side of the Jordan to half the tribe of Manasseh and land on the west side to the other half. The important point here being that running into an unfamiliar phrase caused me to stop, ask the question, and go looking for an answer.

Don’t tell anyone, but it’s OK to skim some passages.

I had a person tell me that they were doing fine reading through the Bible until they got to “the part with all the ‘begots'”. To be honest there aren’t that many of these, but they are mind-numbing. Come back some time and look at the names in those lists and try to learn more about them, but if those lists are what’s keeping you from getting through the rest of the text, just scan ahead to where the story picks up and keep reading from there.

You may run into other places you just can’t get through. I get bogged down in the various sacrifices, dimensions of buildings, descriptions of furniture and draperies, and quantities of items plundered in battles. It’s ok to skip ahead a few verses. None of these are that long. Don’t let a verbal description of an architectural diagram keep you from finishing your reading.

Read it in a different order.

The order in which the books of the Bible appear isn’t ideal for reading through from start to finish. The Old Testament is ordered by genre – first the books of Moses (the Pentateuch), then history, wisdom/poetry, major prophets, and minor prophets. The New Testament follows a similar model, but more by author – first are the gospels; then history; letters from Paul (kind of in order by length, longest to shortest); the letter to the Hebrews (which some argue was written by Paul, but the author is generally considered to be unknown); letters by the apostles James, Peter, John, and Jude; and finally the New Testament’s only book of prophecy.

This year I’m reading through the Bible in chronological order using The Harmony Bible. The author of The Harmony Bible has rearranged the text so that you read about events in the order they occurred, not the somewhat random order that they appear in the Bible. So Job is inserted into the Genesis narrative. David’s psalms are inserted into the stories of his life. The prophets are inserted into the historical narratives, primarily in the books of Kings and Chronicles. In the New Testament, letters to the churches are intermingled in the book of Acts.

Other alternatives include reading a little from the Old and New Testament each day, which is what I did last year.

Some of the devotional books for PocketBible include short commentary or homiletic passages for each day. These can provide context for the passage and help you find application for what you’re reading in your daily life.

Be accountable.

I have really benefited from my email group that is made up of people who are all reading through the Bible at the same time. Find some other people in your church who want to read through the Bible. Meet together or at least exchange emails throughout the year to discuss what you’re reading. Encourage each other to keep reading. Ask your partner what was in those passages you only skimmed. 🙂

Don’t stop.

If you miss a day, keep reading the next day. PocketBible lets you adjust your reading schedule to account for missed days. If it ends up taking you an extra couple of days or weeks to get through the whole thing, that’s fine. Nobody’s keeping score. Don’t let a missed day derail your entire year. Just keep going.

Photo by Rohit Tandon on Unsplash