Monday, May 29, 2023

How to Use Digital Bibles

The Word of God has been recorded in a variety of media: tablets (Exodus 32:15–16), scrolls (Deuteronomy 17:18), papyrus sheets (2 John 12), and, last but not least, human memory (Psalm 119:11). The codex—pages made from sheets that have been bound together, in other words, the object we think of when we think of a book—was adopted soon after the last Bible books were written. More than a thousand years later, the printing press made it possible to mass-produce books, spurring the Protestant Reformation.

Likewise, in our time five-hundred years after the Reformation, the electronic digital medium (through which you are reading these words) has changed the way we record, study, and distribute God's Word.

By electronic, I mean Bibles that are recorded on a media device that requires a source of electric power to access. And by digital, I mean Bibles that are recorded in a numeric code that makes their words subject to computer manipulation, as opposed to, say, the popular Gospel According to Matthew film (though speech-to-text technology is changing that).

One advantage of studying the Bible digitally is that the code allows easy access to the original languages. Similar to how I have linked the following text to a website, Blue Letter Bible and similar websites link the original Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek words of the biblical text to the English words that are used to translate them. No more lugging around heavy interlinear Bibles and concordances!

This also means that there is no excuse for relying on English dictionaries for the meaning of Bible words when at the click of a mouse or tap of a finger we have free access to lexicons—dictionaries of the original languages of the Bible—along with all the occurrences of a given word in Scripture. My favorite website for this sort of study is the Bible Study Tools interlinear Bible search.

But beware: The meaning of a word is not determined by its dictionary definition but by the textual and historical settings in which it is used. Unless you have studied the grammar and syntax of the original languages and the historical backgrounds of the Bible, a list of lexical possibilities can take you only so far towards the meaning. So always consult translations and commentaries, which are only a click or tap away in many digital Bibles, to get a sense of which sector of a word's semantic range is being selected by the text in its context.

Also, beware that certain free Bible apps and websites are known to sell information about your searches and other activity to internet advertisers. Even publishers of digital Bibles have to pay the bills. And on the internet, as the saying goes, if you're not a paying customer, you're likely the product being sold.

There are many free Bible apps available for smartphones and tablets, but I prefer those that download the Bible to my device for offline use. Again, Blue Letter Bible has a quality app, and I have successfully used Olive Tree and e-Sword in the past, as well. Beware of apps that ask for unnecessary permissions like contacts or location (if you're not the customer, ...).

These days I use only paid Bible study platforms. They are more or less expensive depending on the resources you want to get with them but are only worth it if you are prepared to use their extra features. Prices range from just over a hundred to thousands of dollars for a full library of resources. Accordance has the fastest and most powerful searches, but they charge you for the software in addition to the resource packages. Logos is slower but free and has the most resources available. Both platforms have resources specifically for Seventh-day Adventists.

The great, irreplaceable advantage of digital Bibles is that you can quickly find what you are looking for along with lots of other information about it. The inevitable disadvantage that goes along with that: Easy come; easy go. The human mind, which is where God's Word ultimately needs to be written (Jeremiah 31:33, Hebrews 8:10, 10:16), is best activated by sustained bodily contact with physical objects. We remember best what we have a sensory experience with.

So how will we know what to search for in our digital Bibles in the first place? By regularly interacting with our good, old codex Bibles.

If you're wondering How to Read the Whole Bible for the First Time, click here. 

Wondering What Bible Should I Read? See my recommendations here.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

What Bible Should I Read?

Short answer: Any Bible that you read is the right Bible for you to read.

All Bibles—regardless of which translation or what supplementary notes—convey the written Word of God. The Gospel is a translated message from its inception (Acts 2:6) and therefore always comes to us as an already interpreted message. This means that there is no one-and-only, given-for-all-time version of the Bible. To have a Bible that you regularly read is what matters most.

On the other hand, we are blessed with so wide a variety of English translations and study Bibles that many people don't know where to start or how to build a well-rounded collection for personal or family use.

The English Bible most first-time readers consider is the

King James Version (KJV or Authorized Version, AV): Authorized by King James in 1611, what set this Bible apart from previously published English translations was the fact that it did not come with interpretive notes in the margins. So, it was able to be used in churches of all doctrinal persuasions. The KJV is also an artistic achievement whose beautiful language, along with that of the works of Shakespeare, standardized Modern English.

A linguistic quirk of the KJV is its thee-s and thou-s. These second-person pronouns had already fallen out of ordinary use, but the translation committee brought them back from Middle English because they took a word-for-word approach to translation. Even if the point is lost on most readers, the KJV makes the same distinction between singular (thee/thou) and plural (ye/you) found in the original Hebrew and Aramaic of the Old Testament and New Testament Greek.

While the KJV's spelling has been revised many times, some words have changed in meaning over the last 400 years, which can result in misunderstandings. Over that time, our knowledge of the original languages has also significantly improved, so I do not recommend the KJV for in-depth Bible study.

New King James Version (NKJV): It retains the KJV's commitment to word-for-word translation and elegance of language, but uses words according to their current meanings and incorporates discoveries about the original languages made up to the early 1980s. This results in a formal-sounding translation that, while understandable, has some difficult turns of phrase that do not always clearly convey the intent of the original.

Because the NKJV sounds the way many English speakers feel that a Bible should, I like to use it for preaching.

Andrews Study Bible (NKJV/New International Version, NIV): For notes to help you understand difficult passages in the NKJV and clarify many points of interpretation from a Seventh-day Adventist perspective, I recommend the Andrews Study Bible.

It is also available in the NIV, another popular translation that attempts to balance word-for-word translation with a thought-for-thought approach, which affords an easier and often clearer reading experience. But thought-for-thought translations make it harder to understand how they translated English expressions from the original languages, and sometimes clarify things wrongly.

Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: (NIV/NKJV/New Revised Standard Version, NRSV): For a study Bible from a broader Christian perspective, I recommend the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. It has a wealth of notes and illustrations that will give you the latest scholarly understandings of the historical contexts of the biblical texts (not that I would endorse all of them). I recommend this Bible for in-depth study.

It is also available in the NRSV, which leans more toward a word-for-word approach than the NIV, but with less regard for harmonizing the texts of the Bible.

New English Translation: (NET): As its acronym suggests, this translation was meant to be presented on the internet as well as in hard copy.

The NET has a full complement of translation and study notes that explain almost every interpretive decision in detail. These notes can be clicked and expanded when reading online, so they don't take up too much space on the page. But they are also available in the thick, hardcopy Full Notes Edition of the NET.

The notes lean toward Reformed Evangelical interpretation but typically give both sides of the various arguments. I recommend this Bible for in-depth study.

ESV Reader's Bible (English Standard Version): The visual opposite of study Bibles, reader's editions remove even the chapter and verse numbers, leaving only the biblical text on the page just as you would find it in any other book. It is a liberating way to read the Bible, and I recommend it to other experienced readers.

One affordable reader's edition uses the ESV, a good word-for-word translation, but one that is controversial for translating certain passages as excluding women from church leadership in a time when it was well understood that the original pronouns could have referred to both men and women.

Bibliotheca (American Literary Version): This is a more expensive, but, in my opinion, better reader's edition. It began as a solo, passion project that received so much support on the crowd-investment platform, Kickstarter, that the founder was able to form a committee of scholars to revise the American Standard Version, resulting in an elegant, word-for-word translation that incorporates current insights into the original languages.

The Hebrew Bible by Robert Alter: While translation committees guard against individual idiosyncrasies, they also tend to make the biblical books all sound the same. But the biblical authors wrote with distinct voices. Individual translators have proven more willing to take risks in translation that allow the style of the different books to come through.

I don't endorse everything he says in his notes, but Robert Alter's literary sensitivity is second to none, and his translation of the Old Testament highlights the strange beauty of ancient expression without being impenetrable.

The Kingdom New Testament by N. T. Wright: The New Testament books were not written in the elevated Greek of the Homeric epics but in the simplified Greek spoken on the streets by people who had often learned it as their second language.

In his translation, which does reflect his theological interpretations, N. T. Wright moves away from elegant, formal-sounding English and instead uses plain-spoken, simple English to better give a sense of how accessible the original language of the New Testament was.

Common English Bible (CEB): For a translation that even young children can understand, I recommend the CEB. It will also challenge experienced readers to overcome clichés with its thought-for-thought translations of common biblical expressions (like "Human One" for "Son of Man"). Also, it is the only Bible I know of that had Seventh-day Adventist scholars working on its translation committee.

Final Thought: The farther I have gone in biblical studies—especially of the original languages—the less opinionated I have become about translations. Translation is really hard. And even where I disagree with a translation decision, I have learned not to criticize until I understand the case that can be made for it. Translators have their reasons, and they usually illuminate something in the text.

If you're wondering How to Read the Whole Bible for the First Time, click here.

If you want to know How to Use Digital Bibles, click here.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

How to Read the Whole Bible for the First Time


The Bible can be intimidating if you've never read something like it before. It's very long, and some of its texts are more easily understood—or misunderstood!—than others.

It's become a cliché that many who attempt to read the Bible straight through crash out around Leviticus.

I recommend the following sequence of biblical books for your first read-through:

  1. Mark. The shortest account of the life of Jesus (New Testament).

  2. Genesis. The first book of instruction, which is the account of origins (Old Testament).

  3. John and Matthew. The last of account of the life of Jesus and then another that is more similar to Mark (NT).

  4. Luke and Acts. A two-part account, first of Jesus's life and then of how God founded his church (NT).

  5. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The other books of instruction, which are the account of how God founded his nation, Israel (OT).

  6. Hebrews. A letter to the church about how the instruction relates to Jesus (NT).

  7. Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. The history God's nation, Israel, and stories of people who played a part in it (OT).

  8. Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Letters to the church about how Jesus helps us (NT).

  9. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Wisdom about how to deal with evil and suffering (OT).

  10. 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Letters to the church about the end times and life together (NT).

  11. Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations. A love poem and then longer writings warning and encouraging Israel along with some accounts of visions from God (OT).

  12. James, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude. Letters to the church about how to follow Jesus (NT).

  13. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Shorter writings warning and encouraging Israel along with some accounts of visions from God (OT).

  14. 1, 2 & 3 John. Letters to the church about God's love (NT).

  15. Ezekiel and Daniel. Accounts of visions about God's plans for history and the end times along with some stories about how to deal with powerful people (OT).

  16. Revelation. A letter warning and encouraging the church along with accounts of visions about God's plans for history and the end times (NT).


  1. Set a consistent time for reading the Bible every day and set up reminders for yourself.

  2. Plan to read for a minimum of five to ten minutes at a time and increase it as your attention span grows.

  3. Pray before you start; ask God's Spirit to help you find something that lets you know Jesus better.

  4. The Bible rewards a lifetime of reading, so don't try to understand everything the first time.

  5. When you feel like you don't understand all of what you're reading, keep reading until you find something you do understand.

  6. If you get bored with what you are reading, you can either pray and try again, skim ahead until you find something more interesting, or stop and come back to it tomorrow.

  7. If you feel like you understood less than half of what you read or didn't understand anything at all, ask someone more experienced to help you with its meaning.

  8. Wondering What Bible Should I Read? See my recommendations here.

    If you want to know How to Use Digital Bibles, click here.