I'm getting very close to being done with my Great Bible Readthru of Lent 2018. I have just read three of the four gospels; all three synoptic gospels down, John to go. Which begs the question that has occurred to me from time to time: why are there four gospels? And why are three so similar, while the fourth is so different? When you read them all in a row, it becomes very clear how similar Matthew, Mark, and Luke are to each other. And then you reach John, and things get really different. It's still kind of amazing and confusing to me that someone in the early days didn't sit down and just compile all of the gospels into one super-gospel. Don't get me wrong, I'm kind of glad they didn't; it's more interesting to have the New Testament as it is. But it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, does it?
The most common modern answer tends to be the old "car accident" analogy: if there is a car accident witnessed by several different people, who saw it from different angles, wouldn't you want all of the reports? And wouldn't they all be slightly different? This one has always struck me as being a little silly. Of course you would get several different reports, but wouldn't you eventually want to compile those disparate reports into a coherent narrative? To extend the car accident metaphor: if you were a reporter who had interviewed all the witnesses, you would probably collate the reports into one narrative, perhaps quoting from the different witnesses. You wouldn't just write down all the different reports, one after another. This analogy also doesn't explain why John's gospel is so different from the other three, and why the synoptics obviously borrow material from each other, down to specific wordings.
I've also read about how the four gospels examine Jesus' life and ministry in different ways: Matthew appeals to the Hebrew Scriptures more often, Mark's account is really concise, Luke's gospel is more meticulously researched, John's is more "spiritual" in its approach. I agree with this analysis, but it still doesn't explain why there are four, and not, say, five...or twelve. And while I agree that it's useful to be able to view Jesus from different perspectives, it still doesn't explain why the canon developed in this way. I guess it's a little like the way the narrative from Samuel and Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures were reinterpreted in Chronicles. It's still weird, though...
I can't find it online right now, but I've also read that, in the early days of the development of the canon, some church fathers said there have to be four gospels, just as there are four points of a compass. In other words, there was a mystical kind of numerological significance to the number four. I imagine it could have been related to the ancient concept of four elements: earth, air, fire, water. Or the "four corners" of the earth. This strikes me as a little more accurate than a lot of the modern analogies. Our forefathers were more concerned about the meaning of the canon, and there are probably some questions about how that canon developed that we'll never really know the answer to. (After all, we don't find many New Testaments that include the Didache or the Shepherd of Hermas, do we?)
I guess, in the end, the answer to my question is simply..."just because." We have four gospels because we have four gospels. (And despite the Jesus Seminar's attempt many years ago to get the Gospel of Thomas accepted into the canon, there's not a significant movement to expand Scripture in that way.) As I said above, I'm actually glad there are four gospels; I think the New Testament is a richer tapestry because of it. But if anyone has any other perspectives on the topic, I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to comment...
We're just under a month away from Easter at this point, and I am nearing the midpoint of the Bible. I am halfway through the book of 2 Chronicles, so I'm basically in the middle of a big recap..."Previously on...THE BIBLE!" It's not the easiest read: there are lots of long stretches of genealogies that make it slow going. And I can't help thinking, "I just read about all these people...why do I have to go through the whole thing all over again?" It actually gives me greater appreciation for the traditional Jewish order of the Hebrew Scriptures, where Chronicles comes at the very end.
Still, now that I've finished the whole saga of the kings of Israel and Judah, as told in 1 Samuel-2 Kings, I do feel a sense of accomplishment. Sure, it's an almost endless saga of good king/bad king, but it ends with the very dramatic event of the Babylonian Captivity, so there is a payoff at the end of the sequence. Meanwhile, 2 Kings has one of my favorite odd stories in it: the little paragraph at the end of the second chapter, where the boys mock Elisha the prophet, with disastrous consequences. I'll let the Bible tell it...
He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. (2 Kings 2:23-24, ESV)
Pretty weird, no? It's one of those weird little, oddly detailed stories that you come across in Scripture from time to time. They often don't advance the larger story at all, but they are interesting.
But back to Chronicles for a second. It's also interesting to me that the Chronicles version of King David's story completely skips the embarrassing tale of Bathsheba, and David's murder of Uriah the Hittite (Bathsheba's husband). If you were to read only the Chronicler's depiction of David, you would come away with a picture of him as the greatest king ever, with no evidence to the contrary. Oh, and another thing: the story of King Saul almost completely disappears in Chronicles. It's a really big deal in the earlier version of the story: Saul trying to kill David, and David always outwitting him. Saul only rates a brief paragraph in 1 Chronicles, almost an afterthought. The Chronicler just wants to move the story along to the hero--King David.
Well, after Chronicles, it's just a few relatively short books before I come to the Writings (as they're often called in Jewish Bibles): Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon. That's good stuff, and I'm looking forward to reading it all again. Thanks for reading!
This year for my Lenten observance (about which I've been very lax these last several years), I chose to do something I haven't done in many years: read through the entire Bible from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. With the reading plan I'm using (created by Logos.com), that amounts to twenty or so chapters per day, a fairly large amount of reading, but not impossible. Some thoughts as I've been reading over the past six days:
There's an awful lot of free audio of people reading the King James Bible out there. About the best one I've discovered recently can be found here: King James Bible Online. All you have to do is to navigate to your favorite passage, and click on the listen icon in the Bible Options box (see below). Presto! You get to hear a fine reader with a plummy British accent. Enjoy.
From time to time, I like to post the current spreadsheet of my Bible collection. The reason for this is actually twofold, now that I think of it. First, I suspect my readers (whoever they are) might enjoy seeing it, and second, it gives me a back-up copy online, just in case. So without further ado, here is my Bible collection as of 9/15/2016. (I'm embedding a copy here in this blog post as well...) At the moment, I have a total of 291 volumes in my collection. I may actually have missed a few, so this number may change in the near future!
I know that some mainline Protestant denominations (including the one where I work) are still trying their best to promote the Common English Bible (CEB), but the more I read of this Bible, which came out back in 2011, the less I like it. Several months ago, I had this verse brought to my attention:
Those born from God don't practice sin because God's DNA remains in them. They can't sin because they are born from God. (1 John 3:9, CEB)
Oh my, this is such an awful rendering of that verse! "God's DNA"? What, now?
The Greek word in question is σπέρμα (sperma), which (as you may have guessed, is pretty similar to the English word "sperm." Now obviously, they weren't going to translate the verse as "God's sperm remains in them." They want to sell a few copies, at least. Most other translations say something along the lines of "God's seed is in them," which seems a bit more tactful. But using the word DNA? That just seems ridiculous to me. What's more σπέρμα, or some variant thereof, appears a few dozen times in the Bible, but this is the only verse where the CEB translators rendered the word as "DNA." So it's inconsistent at best, completely anachronistic at worst.
I've complained in the past about the CEB's use of "Human One," rather than "Son of Man." That one still grates on me, even though I understand the linguistic/theological choice behind it. But the DNA thing is just...weird. And don't even get me started on their use of the word "divvy" in Psalm 22...
I don't generally rant against particular Bible versions, but the CEB was the go-to Bible in our church for quite awhile. It actually looks like the pastors have been leaning back towards the NRSV lately, which I think is a good choice. And I don't think the CEB is completely worthless. I just don't think it will ever become a standard choice for my personal use. Thanks for reading.
I'm gradually collecting all seven volumes of an illuminated Bible called St. John's Bible. So far, I have both volumes of the New Testament, and the Psalms are on the way! You can read more about the St. John's Bible at its official website. All the original calligraphy was done by hand, and the artwork is stunning. I'm including a brief gallery below, with some pictures of some of the artwork. The seven volumes of the series are as follows:
Today, I discovered a website called Typatone, that assigns musical tones to letters typed into it, thereby making anything you type into a musical composition of sorts. Just for fun, I typed the text of the first verse of the Gospel According to John, in both English and German, just to hear what it would sound like. The results are rather lovely, I think...
[The following is re-blogged from a Tumblr user with the handle wisdomfish.tumblr.com. It's a nice, concise guide to some of the best Bible search engines on the interwebs.]
If you are looking for access to the Word of God, you will find that there are a number of options for reading the Bible online. You can find full-text Bibles, as well as different versions.
(Source: accreditedonlinebiblecolleges.org, via wisdomfish)
(adj.) wild and frenzied; from Greek κορυβαντες (Korybantes)