Bible Roulette (Willard)

Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by [Dallas Willard]

Although I’m a Christian who is Reformed by conviction, I’ve been very blessed in many ways by Christian resources that are not Reformed. From C.S. Lewis to Blaise Pascal to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and others!), I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated books from other Christian perspectives. I certainly don’t (and won’t!) limit my reading to “Reformed-only” books.

One such book I’ve been reading is Hearing God by Dallas Willard. I just finished the third chapter called “Never Alone” and I came away with a lot of good stuff to think about. I don’t agree with everything in it, but everything in it has made me think, contemplate, and reflect on various biblical truths and teachings. Here’s a section from this chapter that I thought was very helpful. It has to do with one wrong way of trying to hear God speak or discern his will:

A misguided expectation of the Bible’s ability to speak specifically to an individual or a situation leads some people to play the Bible roulette mentioned earlier. They allow the Bible to fall open where it will and then stab their finger at random on the page to see which verse it lands on. Then they read the selected verse to see what they should do. This is trying to force God to give you a message.

Despite the fact that some great Christians have used this technique, it is certainly not a procedure recommended by the Bible, and there is no biblical reason why one might not just as well use a dictionary, the Encyclopedia Britannica or the newspaper the same way or simply open the Bible and wait for a fly to land on a verse.

A novel approach was recently suggested by a minister who stated in all seriousness that we should look up the year of our birth to cast light on what we should do. Unless you were born in the first half of the twentieth century (the earlier the better), this method will do you no good, since there are few verses numbered beyond 20 or 30. I was born in 1935, so I thought I would see what direction I could get from Genesis 19:35. I will leave it to your curiosity to see what that verse says, but I shudder to think what instruction might be derived from this method.

…You hear people tell of opening the Bible at random and reading a verse to decide whether to undertake some enterprise or move or to marry a certain person. Many devout people will do such things to hear God because their need and anxiety to hear God is so great—though they may later try to hide it or laugh at it when revealed. Worse still, many actually act on the fruit of this “guidance” to the great harm of themselves and others. They are the losers at Bible roulette. What a stark contrast to this unhappy condition is the simple word of Jesus: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). We have problems when we try to force God to tell us something. We don’t force a conversation. We respect and wait and listen.

Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


The JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh

 If you’re looking for a nicely formatted and carefully edited Hebrew-English Bible, I very much recommend the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh (published in 2000).  I like to have a Hebrew Bible that gives some “helps” for reading, and I’m finding this one to be a good fit for me.  I tried the Reader’s Hebrew Bible, but I didn’t like the Hebrew font and I didn’t like how the Hebrew text was all crammed together with very few spaces or breaks.  For me, it wasn’t laid out very well.

The JPS Hebrew-English Bible, on the other hand, is laid out very nicely.  The left column contains the second edition of the new JPS translation (English) and the right column contains the Hebrew text (based on the BHS – Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia).  Both the English and the Hebrew fonts are very readable.  The font size isn’t huge, but it is clear and larger than some other Hebrew Bibles I’ve seen.  The poetry sections are displayed as poetry, there are regular paragraph breaks, there are footnotes for both the Hebrew and the English, and the actual appearance of each page looks very good (you can see previews on Amazon).  The binding seems strong and the covers are solid.

I like how the English and Hebrew are usually very closely linked.  That is, if you read the Hebrew, your eyes don’t have to look long for the English translation because it’ll be right across the column in the same line or nearly the same line.  I personally like the JPS translation; it’s a good one to have in the study.  Another nice feature of this Hebrew-English Bible is that there’s an index of the books of the Hebrew Bible inside both the front and back covers.  The Jewish order of the OT books in the Tanakh (Tora, Nevi’im, Kethuvim) differs from the English order, so it’s helpful to have an easily accessible Tanakh index with page numbers.

The paper is relatively thin, so you can faintly see through the page to the words on another page.  It’s not bad though, and neither my highlighters nor my pens have bled through so far.

Anyway, if you’re in the market for a good Hebrew-English Bible, I’d very much recommend looking into this JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh.  It’s not terribly expensive (under $40 right now) but it’s a very nice Bible.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


The NET Bible, Ruth 1:17, and Text Notes

The NET Bible (NET) I’ve mentioned the NET Bible here before including the fact that I use it quite a bit and appreciate it along with other good translations.  I like the NET Bible because the translation is accurate and readable.  I also like it because it has quite a few footnotes to “show the work” of the translation, to give more insight into a translation, or to give alternate translations.  I don’t always agree with every translation and every footnote, but I always appreciate reading them!

For one good example of a footnote, while studying Ruth 1:17 recently, I came across this one (I split up the paragraph to make it easier to read):

Heb “certainly death will separate me and you.” Ruth’s vow has been interpreted two ways:

(1) Not even death will separate her from Naomi—because they will be buried next to one another (e.g., NRSV, NCV; see E. F. Campbell, Ruth [AB], 74–75). However, for the statement to mean, “Not even death will separate me and you,” it would probably need to be introduced by אִם (’im, “if”) or negated by לֹא (lo’, “not”; see F. W. Bush, Ruth, Esther [WBC], 83).

(2) Nothing except death will separate her from Naomi (e.g., KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NIV, TEV, NJPS, REB, NLT, GW; see Bush, 83). The particle כִּי introduces the content of the vow, which—if violated—would bring about the curse uttered in the preceding oath (BDB 472 s.v. כִּי 1.c; e.g., Gen 42:16; Num 14:22; 1 Sam 20:3; 26:16; 29:6; 2 Sam 3:35; 1 Kgs 2:23; Isa 49:18). Some suggest that כּי is functioning as an asseverative (“indeed, certainly”) to express what the speaker is determined will happen (Bush, 83; see 1 Sam 14:44; 2 Sam 3:9; 1 Kgs 2:23; 19:2). Here כִּי probably functions in a conditional sense: “if” or “if … except, unless” (BDB 473 s.v. כִּי2.b). So her vow may essentially mean “if anything except death should separate me from you!”

The most likely view is (2): Ruth is swearing that death alone will separate her from Naomi.

The NET Bible is one that you can use to help you in your Bible reading and studies. If you haven’t looked at it, I’d recommend doing so!  For those of you who use Logos, it’s $9.99, notes included.  Enjoy!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Taking the Sufficiency of Scripture Seriously (Murray)

 John Murray’s article, “The Finality and Sufficiency of Scripture” is a wonderful explanation of those twin biblical truths about Scripture.  One section of this article that I read today had some comments in it that are still applicable for us in our setting:

Here, I believe, we have too often made the mistake of not taking seriously the doctrine [of Scripture] we profess.” If Scripture is the inscripturated revelation of the gospel and of God’s mind and will, if it is the only revelation of this character that we possess, then it is this revelation in all its fulness, richness, wisdom, and power that must be applied to man in whatever religious, moral, mental situation he is to be found.  It is because we have not esteemed and prized the perfection of Scripture and its finality, that we have resorted to other techniques, expedients, and methods of dealing with the dilemma that confronts us all if we are alive to the needs of this hour.

Later Murray wrote,

..Let us learn from our tradition, let us prize our heritage, let us enter into other men’s labours; but let us also know that it is not the tradition of the past, not a precious heritage, and not the labours of the fathers, that are to serve this generation and this hour, but the Word of the living and abiding God deposited for us in Holy Scripture, and this Word as ministered by the church.  And we must bring forth from its inexhaustible treasures, in exposition, proclamation, and application what is the wisdom and power of God for man in this age in all the particularity of his need, as for man in every age.  There will then be commanding relevance, for it will be the message from God in the unction and power of the Spirit, not derived from the modern mentality, but declared to the modern mentality in all the desperateness of its anxiety and misery.

…Let us reassess the significance of Scripture as the Word of God and let us come to a deeper appreciation of the deposit of revelation God in his grace and wisdom has given unto us as the living Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, and let us know and experience its power in its sufficiency for every exigency of our individual and collective need, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in our hearts.

John Murray, Collected Writings, Vol. 1, p. 21-22.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The NET Bible

The NET Bible (NET) As I’ve mentioned here before, while I use the ESV it’s not necessarily my favorite translation.  Sometimes the language in the ESV is dated (e.g. small in stature, impudence, merry-hearted, etc.).  Other times the grammar/syntax is quite coarse.  I was recently reading 1 Cor. 12:12-26 in the ESV with a friend.  After we finished reading, we both paused and noted how rough the translation was and therefore more difficult to understand.  And why does the ESV sometimes put the subject after the verb as in 1 John 4:17a: “By this is love perfected...”?  Anyway, back to the point: the ESV is a good translation, and I use it, but it’s not my favorite.  I also use other translations in my studies such as the NASB, the NIV, the CSB, the NLT, and the NET Bible.

Speaking of the NET Bible, I appreciate the translation notes this Bible includes.  I don’t always agree with them, but they are helpful in studying the text and translation in more depth.  For one example, thinking again of 1 John 4:17a (by this love is perfected…), here is the NET Bible’s translation note:

The referent of ἐν τούτῳ (en toutō – [by this]) here is more difficult to determine than most, because while there are both ἵνα (hina) and ὅτι (hoti) clauses following, it is not clear whether or not they are related to the ἐν τούτῳ. There are actually three possibilities for the referent of ἐν τούτῳ in 4:17: (1) it may refer to the ἵνα clause which immediately follows, so that the love of believers is brought to perfection in that they have confidence in the day of judgment. The main problem with this interpretation is that since the day of judgment is still future, it necessitates understanding the second use of the preposition “in” (second ἐν [en]) to mean “about” or “concerning” with reference to the day of judgment in order to make logical sense. (2) The ἐν τούτῳ may refer to the ὅτι clause in 4:17b, meaning “love is perfected with us … in that just as he [Christ] is, so also are we in this world.” This makes logical sense, and there are numerous cases where ἐν τούτῳ is explained by a ὅτι clause that follows. However, according to this understanding the intervening ἵνα clause is awkward, and there is no other instance of the phrase ἐν τούτῳ explained by a following ὅτι clause where a ἵνα clause intervenes between the two in this way. (3) Thus, the third possibility is that ἐν τούτῳ refers to what precedes in 4:16b, and this also would make logical sense: “By this—by our residing in love so that we reside in God and he resides in us—is love brought to perfection with us.” This has the additional advantage of agreeing precisely with what the author has already said in 4:12: “If we love one another, God remains in us and his love is brought to perfection in us.” Thus option (3) is best, with the phrase ἐν τούτῳ referring to what precedes in 4:16b, and the ἵνα clause which follows indicates the result of this perfection of love in believers: In the future day of judgment they will have confidence. The ὅτι clause would then give the reason for such confidence in the day of judgment: because just as Jesus is, so also are believers in this world—they are already currently in relationship with God just as Jesus is.

 Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005).

If you haven’t used the NET Bible, it is worth checking out.  As with all translations there are strengths and weaknesses.  One thing we can be very thankful for is the fact that in English we have access to quite a few good translations.  In a good way, we should be taking advantage of that as we study God’s Word to grow in it!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015