Recommended Books on How To Better Read the Bible

I love reading books about how to read the Bible. I guess I love that because I love meta-cognition, thinking about how we think about things. There are so many treasures in the scriptures and, as Bobby Valentine has written in the last two articles, the closer we come to understand things about their world the better we will understand the Bible!

Here are my favorite books on how to read the Big Book!

Searching for the Pattern By John Mark Hicks. This book came out this year and fills a niche I had hoped someone would fill. It is an in depth look at how we read the Bible in Churches of Christ and some of the ways that has traditionally been inadequate. This is done with a great deal of care, kindness and humility. Then the book goes into another approach that can help us come to a better understanding of the text and the God behind the text. Excellent book and a must read if you are in Churches of Christ.

The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible by Paul D. Wegner – If you are going to understand the biblical text it is important to understand how the Bible came to be. This book gives you the breakdown in a readable, accessible way that doesn’t require a PhD to understand.

The Art of Biblical Narrative By Robert Alter – This book changed my thinking on the Bible in a significant way. It showed me how to better pick up on themes and how the biblical narrative strings in various themes as the stories go along that I had never noticed before.

Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson – Carson covers five fallacies people typically make when reading and interpreting the Bible: Word-study fallacies, grammatical fallacies, logical fallacies, and presuppositional and historical fallacies. Excellent book! For supporting material as to why this book is needed, check any discussion of the Bible on social media that has over 100 comments!

Scripture and Discernment By Luke Timothy Johnson – My favorite Benedictine monk writes prolifically about the New Testament and other topics like this book that tackles how to understand the Bible for application and decision making in the life of the Christian.

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Richards and O’Brien – I really enjoyed this book. It is eye opening about the presuppositions and biases we come to the text with. Again, I love metanarrative (thinking about how we think) and this book unpacks that extremely well.

God’s Holy Fire by Cukrowski, Hamilton, and Thompson (all from ACU) – skip Kenneth Bailey’s work and go right to this one. This book is a one-stop-shop for so many relevant topic on how to read ancient literature.

Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Third Edition) by Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard – Excellent book! This book unpacks everything from you as interpreter to how to interpret various genres in the Bible. This is a must read for anyone who wants to get into hermeneutics (study of how to interpret the Bible).

Can We Still Believe the Bible by Craig Blomberg – I read this on the plan to Costa Rica a few years ago and got so much out of it. I love Blomberg’s scholarship. This book is basically a FAQ for how to read the bible, answering common questions from a theologically conservative perspective. Very helpful!

No list would be complete without Gordon Fee. Here are his three main books, the first is the most important:

How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth (Fourth Edition) – This book should top your list

How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth

How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour

Taking God Out of Context

I am sure you have had the experience. You say something that someone else twists all around to mean something you never intended. Depending on the severity of it all, you can feel pretty violated by such a flagrant act!

God has had that experience as well. Millions and millions of times more than we have. I doubt he enjoys it any more than we do. In fact, it is far more serious to take God out of context than it is a human being. Because, well, He is God and we are not. His words are the words of the creator of the universe, not the words of his created ones.

In Matthew 4 the devil takes God out of context when he quotes Psalm 91 to get Jesus to jump from the highest point of the temple. Yes, even the devil takes God out of context. It isn’t a good thing to do!

I have noticed over the years that we actually soften our language about this. I often hear people say, “You are taking that scripture out of context” as if the scripture is the entity being taken out of context. If someone took N.T. Wright or Francis Chan out of context would you say “you are taking that book out of context” or would you say “you are taking that person out of context”?

Words and communication are personal. When we take God out of context, it is personal. We can’t really soften the impact of it by saying “You are taking that scripture out of context” as much as we are actually taking God out of context when we do that.

Let’s keep in mind to always mind the context of the passages we are studying to be respectful of the One who inspired the words we have in the Bible. Once we make up our mind to find a way to make the Bible say what we want it to say we are doing the same thing Satan did in Matthew 4. That is not good company!

October’s Theme – Context

Steve desperately wanted to know God’s will for his life. So he determined that God would guide him to the appropriate passage of scripture. He opened his Bible to a random page, put his finger on a verse and read Matthew 27:4,

“Then Judas went and hanged himself.”

Frustrated, he tried again…flipping over a few more pages, he randomly opened his Bible to Luke 10:37,

“Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.'”

This is obviously problematic for a number of reasons. First, we don’t pretend to think that we would get any sort of consistently accurate, personal message from God in this way. Second, it is reading the text devoid of context. Who would want to go the way of Judas rather than the way of Jesus?

Context is essential to our understanding. Far too many people ignore it far too often. Word studies are an especially dangerous place for ignoring context as are three point sermons.

Context is not just important in studying the Bible, it is also important in discussing the Bible – we have to understand others through the context of their statements.

This takes work, but it will pay huge dividends if we will try. Welcome to October and a discussion on the importance of context for greater understanding!

September’s Textual Theme: Revelation

We run a textual theme here at Wineskins twice a year. The reason we do this is because we don’t want to get too out of focus with the scriptures. When you tackle topic after topic it is easy to get out of tune with the Word of God. The Bible is so important that we want to make sure we keep coming back over and over to particular texts of scripture and unpack them together. We did this back in April with Torah and we do it again in September with Revelation!

I want to emphasize something I don’t usually emphasize on social media and that is this – if you want to make sure you catch all the posts here please subscribe by email. If you rely on Facebook to get all the content in front of you, you are going to miss some. Go to the top of the right sidebar here on the site and type your email address in, hit enter and there you go!

Looking forward to discussing Revelation with you this month!



Was Junia An Apostle?

The question came up in my previous article about whether or not Junia was an apostle. I am thankful the question didn’t come up of whether or not she was a she. She most certainly was.

There are two standard works on this subject for further consideration:

Scot McKnight – Junia is Not Alon (2.99 on kindle)

Eldon J. Epp – Junia: The First Woman Apostle

First, we can be sure that Junia was a woman for several reasons. Why this is even in question is because of translations like the RSV which says this in the text,

“Greet Androni′cus and Ju′nias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. “

And the ESV which says this in the footnote on Junia,

“Romans 16:7 Or Junias”

Early English translations have “Junia” (Female). Early translations of the Bible have Junia as a female according to McKnight citing Epp, “First, all early translations of the New Testament into other languages listed Junia as a woman. Epp, a master of the history of our New Testament in all its various translations, says that Junia was a woman in the Old Latin, the Vulgate, Sahidic and Bohairic Coptic and Syriac.” – McKnight, Scot. Junia Is Not Alone (Kindle Locations 121-123). Patheos Press. Kindle Edition.

McKnight goes on to say it was Martin Luther whose influence solidified the shift from universally accepted Junias (female) to Junias (male),

“Martin Luther played a decisive role in turning Junia into a man. Clearly dependent on Jacobus Faber Stapulensis (or Jacques LeFèvre d’Étaples), Luther gave to the German name Juniam a masculine article (den Juniam [today, den Junias]). Then he said, “Andronicus and Junias were famous apostles” and were “men of note among the apostles.” Luther’s influence is inestimable, and some have suggested that he might be the one on whom to pin the blame for the sex-change from Junia to Junias. We are aware, however, that prior to him by two centuries, back in the 13th or early 14th century, Aegidius or Giles of Rome called Junia a male. Luther didn’t invent the change, but his influence made it significant. – McKnight, Scot. Junia Is Not Alone (Kindle Locations 126-131). Patheos Press. Kindle Edition.

Second, McKnight shows how the Greek New Testament NA13 made the change by changing Junia to Junias in 1927 and placing Junia in a footnote. This is the text students and scholars typically base their English translations off of. According to McKnight this was taken a step further in 1979 when that edition of the Greek New Testament even removed Junia from the footnotes! This was corrected in the 1998 edition.

This is a huge problem but one that demonstrates the point – Junia was a female in Rome. There isn’t any question about that. If the above evidence isn’t enough let me give you one more detail from Jewett’s commentary on Romans,

“Junia is a Latin feminine name, ordinarly given to slaves or freedwomen of the Junia family, of which some 250 examples have been found in Roman evidence. The modern scholarly controversy over this name rests on the presumption that no woman could rank as an apostle, and thus that the accusative form must refer to a male by the name of Junias or Junianus. However, the evidence in favor of the feminine name ‘Junia’ is overwhelming. Not a single example of a masculine name ‘Junias’ has been found. The patristic evidence investigated by Fabrega and Fitzmyer indicates that commentators down through the twelfth century refer to Junia as a woman, often commenting on the extraordinary gifts that ranked her among the apostles.” (p.961).

The last sentence from Jewett gets us to the second question, was Junia an apostle of some sort or was she notable to the male apostles of Jesus?

Exhibit A: Church history
According to Jewett the first 1200 years of evidence show that not only was she a she but that they considered her to be an apostle. Consider what Chrysostom said about her in the 300s, “Even to be an apostle is great, but also to be prominent among them – consider how wonderful a song of honor that is!” (Hom. Rom. 31.2)

Exhibit B: The Greek
The comments on the previous post both on site and on Facebook questioned her status as an apostle. I agree that the English seems a bit ambiguous, “outstanding among the apostles.” That could mean she was among the apostles and viewed as outstanding or she wasn’t an apostle but among the group who are apostles she was viewed as outstanding.

Jewett: “the adjective επισημος [outstanding/noteworthy] lifts up a person or thing as distinguished or marked in comparison with other representatives of the same class, in this instance with the other apostles.” He gives many instances of this where those being talked about are compared with people or things of the same type or class.

Our being troubled by something does not determine its truthfulness. Let’s back up a bit. We have already shown the assumption that because women cannot be apostles, and she is clearly called an apostle, therefore she cannot be a she so let’s make her a he – is erroneous. Then we have to wrestle with the next issue and that is “what is an apostle?”

Exhibit C: Defining “Apostle”
In Dunn’s Word Biblical commentary on Romans he believes that when Jesus appeared to people per Paul’s comments in 1 Cor 15:7 where it says he appeared to “all of the apostles” that at that time Jesus designated more apostles.

Literally the word apostle means a “sent one.” We might say a missionary or evangelist. Someone who is sent to preach/teach the good news about Jesus. That is the general meaning. We might add more specifically that to be an apostle at this state of the game in the first century would have been someone who witnessed the resurrected Lord. And note she is not alone but her husband is also called an apostle in Romans 16:7. It seems to me apostolicity expanded beyond the twelve for some of those who met the above criteria (witness and sent to proclaim). I would not count her as one of the 12 or them as #13 and #14. I would say Paul can freely call them apostolos and mean it and that shouldn’t trouble us or convince us to finagle a way to make her a man.

Here is Schreiner’s take in Baker,

“Murray (1965: 230) is virtually along among modern commentators in understanding it as ‘outstanding in the eyes of the apostles.’ The consensus view is that the phrase means ‘distinguished among the apostles.’…In saying that they are apostles, however, Paul is certainly not placing them in the ranks of the Twelve. In 1 Cor 15 (vv. 5,7) Paul distinguished between the Twelve and the apostles, and so it would be a mistake to think that the latter are coterminous with the former. Other members of the early church had apostolic authority in addition to the Twelve: Paul, Barnabas (Acts 14:1-4, 14), and James the brother of Jesus (Gal 1:19). It is improbable, however, that Andronicus and Junia had the same level of authority as Paul, Barnabas, and James. The term αποστολος is not a technical term (cf. 3 Cor 8:23; Phil 2:25…), and in the case of Andronicus and Junia the idea is likely that they were itinerant evangelists or missionaries…As a female missionary Junia may have directed her energies especially to other women.” (p.796-797).

We really don’t know about her level of authority compared with Paul and we really don’t know if she solely focused on women (“may have”) but I do appreciate his making clear how we absolutely do have others called apostles who were not of the twelve and what sort of role people like that would have filled. Understanding the passage through this lens I have no trouble calling Junia an apostle and see no need to translate Romans 16:7 in a way that is less accurate and/or negates her role for the sake of upholding my presuppositions or comfort zones. I hope you feel the same way.