The New Living Translation
From “No Bible” to “Know Bible” Part 6: Living the Story

Find out what our partners at the Institute for Bible Reading are talking about and visit ImmerseBible.com to learn more about the Immerse Bible Reading Experience. Read Part 6 of the 6 part series by Bible Scholar Glenn Paauw.

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What does it mean to receive the Bible on its own terms? Dynamic, living Bible engagement happens when a community:

  • has good access to a well-translated text presented in its natural literary forms,
  • regularly feasts together on whole literary units understood in context,
  • understands the overall story of the Bible as centered in Jesus, and
  • accepts the invitation to take up its own role in God’s ongoing drama of restoration through
    the power of the Spirit.

When the Scriptures are received on their own terms like this they can once again become God’s speech act—instructing, revealing, convicting, judging, comforting, healing, and saving with all their intended power


Part 6: The Bible’s Endgame For Us: Living the Story

The first answer to the question What are we supposed to do with the Bible? is to read it well. For this to happen, it’s essential that we go there—into the world of the Bible. Reading big and reading whole will open up this strange new world of the Bible for us. We will have the opportunity to begin receiving the Bible on its own terms. We will read the Bible in all of its contexts—literary, canonical, historical, cultural—and we will read the Bible as God’s great story of the world. Clearly, this is what God had in mind when he decided to give us the kind of Bible he did.

The second answer to our central question, however, has to do with coming back again into our own lives in this present world. The point of the Bible must never be only about then. It must also be about now.

The Bible still speaks a living word for us, in our own time and place and situation.

But how? This is precisely where so many modern strategies for getting meaning from the Bible fall down, and fall badly. Fragmentary ways of reading (or maybe using, since they’re not really based on reading) lead to a fragmentary Bible, unable to do its main work of transforming lives. Reading the Bible as if it is speaking directly to us, as if it is not historical, cannot be the answer. Rather, the answer is in the story.

Or better, into the story.

Yes, that’s what the Bible is trying to do. The way we can most honor the Bible is by living its story in our own lives. In fact, we could say it’s actually the other way around. The Bible wants us to see our own lives as little parts of its own bigger, grander story. The Bible wants us to enter into this judging-then-restoring narrative and work alongside God in his new creation project in our time.

 

The Scriptures have a saving trajectory—through the world-transforming work of Messiah Jesus—reaching beyond the pages of the Bible into our time and place and beyond. Our job is to know the backstory of God’s decisive work inside and out so we can appropriately improvise it on our own stage.

Really? Improvise? Yes, improvise.

The Bible is not trying to be an instruction book speaking directly to every situation we encounter in our lives, telling us exactly what to do. The Bible tells us what God has already been doing in the world, preeminently in the life and ministry of Jesus. The more deeply we know this story, the more clearly we will know how to bring this story to life in our world today with our 21st century problems and questions. It’s true that history changes, but it’s also true that a lot of things in our human condition stay the same. Sometimes we face challenges similar to those of God’s people in the Scriptures, and we can learn directly from what God told them and how they responded.

But overall, the Bible is not trying to be an answer book. The Bible is a story telling us that we can step into it as a living drama. We can activate the Bible in our own lives by performing it, enacting it anew, as God continues to bring his salvation into our world. Story invites our understanding and insight, while drama invites our faithful action.

So knowledgeably with God’s Scriptures, powerfully with God’s Spirit, prayerfully with God’s help, and together with God’s people, we can discern how to live out the story of God’s redemption. We can live a robust and active Christian life as a work of art, looking for ways to fittingly and faithfully continue the narrative of God’s restoration of the world. We can give beauty back to beauty’s Creator.

The final step of deep Bible engagement is found in discovering the Bible as this drama. We must begin to embody the story. To live it out so others can see our biblical performance and be drawn into its light. This is why it’s so devastating when God’s people perform the story badly. Those watching us are repulsed rather than attracted to the Bible and to the God found within the Bible.

Biblical performance matters. The skill of our biblical improvisation matters.

We of course cannot even begin to enact this story today if we are only barely familiar with the story that’s gone before. Immersion in the Bible is the only way we’ll be able to pull off fresh new extensions of God’s grand narrative in front of this watching world.

Immersion, leading to improvisation. A Bible well played. This is the endgame of engagement with God’s holy Scriptures.

For further reading, see: Scripture and the Authority of God by N. T. Wright; Improvisation by Samuel Wells; and Faith Speaking Understanding by Kevin Vanhoozer

 Learn more about the Institute for Bible Reading

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Saddleback Small Group Loves Immerse

CChapman

Chris Chapman has been practicing law in Southern California for well over a decade. Recently he created Chapman Sports and Entertainment—a full service sports and marketing agency where Chris is a certified agent with both the NFL and NBA. When I talked to him this week, he was on his way to the Pacific Northwest to scout out two college football players for the NFL.

Chris grew up in pastor’s home in Texas and attends Saddleback Church but had never read the New Testament. So when his small group leader at Saddleback Church recommended the group read through Immerse: Messiah, Chris jumped at the chance.

Tell me about your experience with the Bible before Immerse.
Reading the Bible, especially the New Testament, has always been on my bucket list, but when I tried to read I found it cumbersome and overwhelming. I think part of the problem was that I was reading from an older Bible that I got from church when I was a kid. I even downloaded a Bible app thinking that would help, but I found that overwhelming as well.

So how was your experience reading Immerse: Messiah?
Honestly I was a little intimidated at first. I’m not a big reader—I kind of got burned out reading so much in law school. But I was surprised at how easily Immerse read. I liked the layout, and the more contemporary language of the NLT* really helped—although at first I kept going back to my original Bible to make sure Immerse was getting it right. [Author’s note: This is what lawyers do—right?]

As a busy lawyer who’s in court a lot, were you able to keep up with the reading?
Honestly, once I got started reading, it was hard for me to stop. I’d take it to the office with me, and I actually ended up getting ahead of the 8-week reading schedule. I was surprised at how easy it was. I figured I was reading two to three hours a week. The book introductions are brilliant and helped me understand the cultural background and helped put everything in context for the reader.

How important was it that you read Immerse: Messiah with your group?
The group experience was critical. Even though I was enjoying the reading, I’m not sure I’d have kept reading without the group motivation. I really wanted to engage in the conversations when we got together, so the group really kept me on task. The book club approach was also helpful. I’m not looking for more work! So I’d just read and show up.

What were your group conversations like?
The discussions were great! People caught things that I’d missed and vice versa. A number of times we recalled that Pastor Rick had preached on this before, but now we were seeing it as part of the whole. We actually had one of Saddleback’s pastors in our group, and occasionally we’d pick his brain about something we didn’t understand, but because we’d all read about fifty pages that week, everyone had a lot to contribute.

Where do you go from here with the Bible?
I ordered copies of Immerse and sent them to members of my family. And I’m excited that Immerse: Messiah has come out in Spanish! We have relatives in Mexico and want to send them copies as well. Also, as my sports agency grows, I hope to share Immerse with the athletes I’m working with. I don’t want to cram anything down their throats, but I hope to give them a copy when the time is right.

As a group, we’re talking about starting Beginnings. I definitely want to read the Old Testament.

*This is a typical response for people who read the NLT for the first time. Another person said to me: “With the NLT, I spend more time understanding it and less time trying to understand it.”

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Find out more about the Institute for Bible Reading

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From “No Bible” to “Know Bible” Part 5: The Story of God and Us

Find out what our partners at the Institute for Bible Reading are talking about and visit ImmerseBible.com to learn more about the Immerse Bible Reading Experience. Read Part 5 of the 6 part series by Bible Scholar Glenn Paauw.

978-1-4964-2413-6

Editors Note: From “No Bible” to “Know Bible” is a 6-part series on the path toward great Bible engagement.

What does it mean to receive the Bible on its own terms? Dynamic, living Bible engagement happens when a community:

  • has good access to a well-translated text presented in its natural literary forms,
  • regularly feasts together on whole literary units understood in context,
  • understands the overall story of the Bible as centered in Jesus, and
  • accepts the invitation to take up its own role in God’s ongoing drama of restoration through
    the power of the Spirit.

When the Scriptures are received on their own terms like this they can once again become God’s speech act—instructing, revealing, convicting, judging, comforting, healing, and saving with all their intended power


Part 5: The Heart of the Matter—The Story of God and Us

We’ve been proposing that there are several steps to reaching the goal of great Bible engagement. Everything from the physical presentation to the reading of whole books, and from experiencing the Bible in community to taking note of the Bible’s various contexts. But here’s the single biggest factor: reading the Bible as the grand adventure God made it to be.

All those books in the Bible come together to narrate the world. In concert, they take us through all those ups and downs—big moves forward and devastating setbacks and losses—to disclose the big shape of the story. We learn the beauty and glory of God’s intention in creation, the failure and darkness of human rebellion, and then the long, slow road back to the redemption and flourishing of God’s entire creation.

There are of course lots and lots of messages, big and small, throughout the Bible. We can learn particular truths about all kinds of things—from the proper worship of God to getting along with our neighbors. But overall, the Bible has one exceedingly great goal: to tell us how things are with God and his world.

More than anything else, the Bible is a story.

This has all kinds of implications.

Jesus was once questioned by an expert in the law about what must be done to gain a share in the world to come. Jesus answered the question with one of his own: “What does the Law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

That indeed is the question for us too: How do you read it?

Jesus is teaching us something crucial about the Scriptures right here. The Bible is not some collection of words that simply jump off the page and communicate by themselves. We have to read and interpret them. And we have to read and interpret them well for them to do their proper work in us. Jesus’ question implies there are options.

Unfortunately, many of our current options for reading and interpreting fail to provide the full and compelling meaning the Bible is offering. Too often the Bible is treated in a piecemeal fashion, as if it were a handy reference book for looking up short, infallible answers to all our questions.

 

But there’s a better way: big reading leads to big meaning. Because God created our world and always intended to interact with us as significant actors within it, the revelation in the Bible moves along with God’s people. If the Bible wants to enter human history as part of God’s mission to transform that history, then it has no choice but to be story. Because story is where we live. We don’t live in information — even good, inspiring, encouraging, or wise information. We always and invariably think of our lives as individual stories within some bigger, overall story.

So the Bible enters the fray of all the competing narratives that are trying to tell us they are the true story of the world. These narratives are actively trying to recruit us every day. Nationalist. Consumerist. Narcissist. Pantheist. There are would-be Master Narratives everywhere. If we don’t read and know the Bible’s story of the world, then we will end up reading the Bible for little snippets of information and bits of spiritual wisdom that we then fit into another controlling narrative that we get from somewhere else.

This is why the centerpiece of our recovery of the Bible is the recovery of the Bible as story. The piecemeal Bible fails to capture imaginations because it is simply too small. This is certainly part of the reason why fewer people, especially fewer younger people, are engaging with the Bible.

The upward journey from a minimalist Bible to being immersed in God’s full revelation takes us from bits to full books then all the way to God’s beautiful saga of world transformation. It is precisely as this surprising and redemptive story that the Bible comes into its own to confront, judge, forgive, save, and restore.

This is the Bible God intends for us. A Bible we know deeply. A Bible filled with people and covenants, with dramatic scenes, rising and falling action, and major movements that all fit into a plot that is taking us somewhere. To know the Bible is to know all these smaller stories that fit into the Story.

This, then, is our itinerary: as we continually feast on whole books, the Story will emerge with greater and greater clarity. And with clarity comes both understanding and invitation. We will begin to understand what God is doing, and then the Bible’s endgame for us will emerge. We will be invited to join him.

Learn more about the Institute for Bible Reading

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From “No Bible” to “Know Bible” Part 4: Location, Location, Location

Find out what our partners at the Institute for Bible Reading are talking about and visit ImmerseBible.com to learn more about the Immerse Bible Reading Experience. Read Part 4 of the 6 part series by Bible Scholar Glenn Paauw.

978-1-4964-2413-6

What does it mean to receive the Bible on its own terms? Dynamic, living Bible engagement happens when a community:

  • has good access to a well-translated text presented in its natural literary forms,
  • regularly feasts together on whole literary units understood in context,
  • understands the overall story of the Bible as centered in Jesus, and
  • accepts the invitation to take up its own role in God’s ongoing drama of restoration through
    the power of the Spirit.

When the Scriptures are received on their own terms like this they can once again become God’s speech act—instructing, revealing, convicting, judging, comforting, healing, and saving with all their intended power


Part 4: Location, Location, Location

Let’s suppose the preliminaries are in place and we have a well-translated and well-formatted Bible. This kind of Bible is intentionally built for reading and for understanding. We are committed to feasting (not merely snacking) and doing it together, in community.

So we take the plunge and begin. We read the Scriptures at length and in depth.

But if we are indeed doing more than scanning for our favorite verses, we can’t help but immediately notice that there’s something very unfamiliar, if not downright strange, about much of this material. The world that is described—from the things that people do to the way they think—is most decidedly not our world.

So we should never begrudge the Bible its context. It is not a problem to be solved, it is a gift to be received.

The ancient Near Eastern world is the natural habitat of all the stories of the Bible. The different kinds of writing in the Bible and the shape of the big story they tell are all deeply connected to this ancient world they were born in.

As when buying real estate, so in the Bible: location is everything.

The deep connection of the Bible to the real world, to a particular time and place in our long history, is a gift from God. This embeddedness of God’s revelation in God’s world—cultural, historical, human and complex—is exactly where we want his revelation. This demonstrates clearly that God takes our world and our setting with real seriousness. He does not merely drop his message from heaven in some timeless way. He comes into our world with his message, and ultimately with himself. It is precisely this world and our time—the human story—that God comes to redeem.

So we should never begrudge the Bible its context. It is not a problem to be solved, it is a gift to be received. For it is this context that tells us God is entering our own story.

Here, then, are the things we should know to put ourselves smackdab in the middle of the Bible’s action:

The Literary Context

The Bible is a collection of different kinds of writing from the ancient world. So the first question to ask ourselves when we’re reading is: what kind of writing is this and how does it work? How did the variety of literatures in the Bible—history writing, poetry, law codes, letters, prophecy, parables, proverbs, songs, and apocalyptic visions—function in the ancient world? The first location we must get familiar with is: how do these kinds of words do their work? What kind of book are we reading right now?

The Historical/Cultural Context

Next, we embrace the recognition that this revelation from God was given in particular historical moments and cultural settings. God didn’t change everything at once, but rather began working with people right where they were. So we see the Bible assuming ancient understandings of marriage arrangements (polygamy), how work got done (slavery), and who ran things (patriarchy). God introduces redemptive movement into all these contexts, but again, it didn’t happen all at once. We need to learn how to hear these sacred words the way their first audience would have heard them, and watch for how change was beginning to happen.

The Narrative Context

Finally, if we take seriously the fact that the Bible is an ongoing story, then we will learn to always ask of any particular passage: Where in the story are we? The Bible is a canon, an assembly of books that come together to tell the compelling story of God and the world. In stories, things don’t stay the same. They move along, so there are changes, surprises, and new developments. The Bible is no different. Just because something was true for God’s people in the earlier part of the story doesn’t mean it was his final word on the matter. God’s story moves toward God’s ultimate purpose. When we read we look for how the story is developing—what’s changing and what’s staying the same.

______________________________

Karl Barth once said that there is a strange new world to be discovered within the pages of the Bible. And it’s true, there is. The whole big collection is about God’s long-term project to turn this newness into the dominant reality of the universe. But this new world comes to birth within a strange old world that must first be understood on its own terms.

If we are willing to take this journey, to go back then before returning to here and now, the Bible’s promise is that we will find the enduring, restorative meaning that’s been there all along. Then we will ask: What is the trajectory of such a meaning into our world and our lives today? Where is the story going? And the Scriptures will shine their light and we will see everything more clearly.

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The Swindoll Study Bible (Special Edition Giveaway)

The Swindoll Study Bible brings the best of Chuck Swindoll’s biblical wisdom, wit, charm, and practical pastoral insight that gets straight to the heart of the transformational message of God’s Word.

“This study Bible was designed with you in mind. As you read the Scriptures, imagine my sitting beside you and sharing personal stories, important insights, and hard-earned lessons that will encourage you to walk more closely with Jesus Christ.”

– Chuck Swindoll

978-1-4143-8725-3.PT01

Learn more at: SwindollStudyBible.com

 

 

Enter to win a special edition Swindoll Study Bible with a cowhide cover. This edition is not available in stores or through retailers. It has the full Swindoll Study Bible text with a beautiful cowhide cover.

Here’s how to enter:

  • Fill out the Gleam form below.
  • Follow the directions for sharing to earn extra entries.
  • Enter your e-mail to receive special offers from Tyndale House Publishers
  • We’ll choose four winners on 1/5/2018.

 

Swindoll Study Bible Giveaway

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Africa Study Bible Launches in Five Countries

We have loved partnering with Oasis International on the Africa Study Bible. This beautiful Bible brings the Word of God to life through African eyes. This year it launched in five countries:

  1. Kenya
  2. Ghana
  3. South Africa
  4. Nigera
  5. USA

Enjoy some highlights of the celebration as we thanked God with our African brothers and sisters for his amazing word.

Found out more about the African Study Bible.

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From “No Bible” to “Know Bible” Part 3: Reading Together

Find out what our partners at the Institute for Bible Reading are talking about and visit ImmerseBible.com to learn more about the Immerse Bible Reading Experience. Read Part 3 of the 6 part series by Bible Scholar Glenn Paauw.

978-1-4964-2413-6

What does it mean to receive the Bible on its own terms? Dynamic, living Bible engagement happens when a community:

  • has good access to a well-translated text presented in its natural literary forms,
  • regularly feasts together on whole literary units understood in context,
  • understands the overall story of the Bible as centered in Jesus, and
  • accepts the invitation to take up its own role in God’s ongoing drama of restoration through
    the power of the Spirit.

When the Scriptures are received on their own terms like this they can once again become God’s speech act—instructing, revealing, convicting, judging, comforting, healing, and saving with all their intended power.


Part 3: Reading Together

We read a well-translated Bible, and we read it holistically. We read complete literary units. If at all possible, we read in a nice, clean, elegant Reader’s Bible. They’re built to make reading easier and better, so no surprise there. But wait. Who is reading? We are. We are reading.

Really? We? Yes.

Because, first, the research evidence shows most of us are not really reading the Bible very much. And second, when we do read it, it’s not really “we.” It’s more like me or you. Those who are doing something with the Bible are overwhelmingly doing it alone.

The fact is, we’ve largely privatized our experiences with the Bible. We hold up the “daily quiet time” as the center of what we’re supposed to do with the Bible. We’ve created a Bible culture in which an individual experience is at the heart of what a serious Bible reader does.

Alone with a Bible, I have my private time with God.

Which is fine.

Of course, we’re not against any of this. It’s great to read your Bible alone. Lots of very good things can and do happen.

But not all of the good things that God intended. Two historical points are really important right here. First, when the Scriptures were first experienced by God’s people, they were always experienced in community. There were very few copies, and so a village in ancient Israel or one of the earliest Christian gatherings would at most have a copy of some of the books that now make up the Bible. So these would be read aloud for the community, and people would simply listen.

Of course, they could listen well and remember what they heard, because they lived in an oral culture, not a book culture. And the historical evidence is that these experiences were interactive, not merely one-way communication. Leaders and people were processing the sacred words together.

But secondly, and just as importantly, the original audience knew that the Bible itself was a community formation book, not a private me-and-God book. The word “you” in the Bible is most often a plural word, not a singular. It is addressed to the gathered people of God and is intending to speak to them in their corporate actions and beliefs. As a group they are invited to get caught up in God’s great restoration movement.

We’ve moved away from this ancient, oral, community-based culture in lots of ways. In fact, it is worth noting that the Bible first became widely available to individuals in their own language right at the time that modern individualism was growing as a cultural force. We live and move and have our being in this individualism. It is the air we breathe. Without even thinking about it, we think and act in independent, self-oriented ways.

So for us, recovering a deep, transformative engagement with the Scriptures has to include rediscovering ways of experiencing the Bible together. And this means more than doing Bible study together. We must back up a step and find new ways of simply reading the Bible together, listening to it being read and letting these words wash over us.

Then we must craft new ways of interacting openly and honestly with what we’ve read or heard. We must learn the humility to speak our own views respectfully and well, and then listen closely and seriously to what others have to say.

This communal engagement will look more like a book club than a traditional Bible study.

Finally, we need to think about the communal implications of a passage, not only the personal impact for ourselves in isolation. Our Bible reading must explicitly raise community-based questions. What kind of community will embody this teaching or instruction? How can we become that kind of community?

Bringing community-based engagement back to our Bibles won’t happen unless we are intentional about making it happen. The Institute for Bible Reading has created a whole-church-based Bible reading program called Immerse precisely for this reason.

I don’t see, hear, experience, or know enough to experience the Bible sola me. I am too small a person to read the Bible only by myself. Together, we are the people of God’s new creation and we need each other. Even in our Bible reading, understanding, and, yes, living.

Learn more about the Institute for Bible Reading

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From “No Bible” to “Know Bible” Part 2: Feasting on the Bible

Find out what our partners at the Institute for Bible Reading are talking about and visit ImmerseBible.com to learn more about the Immerse Bible Reading Experience.

978-1-4964-2413-6

What does it mean to receive the Bible on its own terms? Dynamic, living Bible engagement happens when a community:

  • has good access to a well-translated text presented in its natural literary forms,
  • regularly feasts together on whole literary units understood in context,
  • understands the overall story of the Bible as centered in Jesus, and
  • accepts the invitation to take up its own role in God’s ongoing drama of restoration through the power of the Spirit.

When the Scriptures are received on their own terms like this they can once again become God’s speech act—instructing, revealing, convicting, judging, comforting, healing, and saving with all their intended power.


Part 2: Feasting on The Bible

by 

As we explored last week, the first step to deep Bible engagement happens when a community has good access to a well-translated text presented in its natural literary forms. The first half of this statement is now true for a fair part of the world (though the translation need remains for many). The second part of this statement is becoming a reality for more and more people as publishers increasingly realize the immense value in Reader’s Bibles.

Elegant reader’s editions give people the opportunity to regain something that’s been missing from our Bible practices for nearly five centuries: reading the Bible in its natural, uncluttered form. Reader’s Bibles reintroduce us to Bible feasting.

Bible feasting is reading whole books, taking in the literary units that the Bible’s first authors and editors created and intended for their audiences to read as complete works.

Bible feasting is reading the Scriptures as the kind of literature they were inspired to be.

Bible feasting is reading the Bible without distractions and interruptions. It is reading deeply, at length, and with more understanding.

Bible feasting recognizes the natural literary breaks that existed before chapter and verse numbers inartfully imposed their foreign structure on the Bible. The best kind of in-depth Bible reading is not just reading more (though it is that too!) — it’s reading better because we are seeing what the Bible really is.

Bible feasting is reading all those long-overlooked books like Judges, Zephaniah, Philemon, and Habakkuk and discovering the crucial pieces they contribute to the overall biblical narrative. Bible feasting is taking 35 minutes to hear the entire crashing chord of Paul’s anguished plea for suffering, servant leadership in 2 Corinthians. Bible feasting is seeing a whole sequence of parables in a Gospel and asking why they were put together that way. It’s reading all five of those sad songs of devastation and loss in Lamentations, allowing those few words of hope right in the center to hit us with their full force:

Yet I still dare to hope

when I remember this:

The faithful love of the LORD never ends!

His mercies never cease.

Great is his faithfulness;

his mercies begin afresh each morning.

In short, Bible feasting reacquaints us with an undiminished Bible. Eating the Bible whole is essential to receiving the Bible that God actually gave us. Feasting is the thing that gets us back on track to big, deep Bible engagement. If the Bible is going to be our story and form our lives the way it was meant to, then there is no shortcut to simply reading more of it.

So long as we merely snack on the Bible, taking preselected bits and pieces out of their bigger literary settings, we will never know the real Bible nor receive all its intended gifts.

Snacking on Bible verses allows us to set our own agenda, to hear only what we want to hear. Feasting introduces us to the complete message—good encouraging words and good hard words—that we so desperately need.

There is a crisis in Christian identity in the world today. Too many who claim the status of Christ-follower allow this or that ideology to be the primary force that shapes and forms them. Too many Christians are getting the story of their lives from somewhere other than God’s Scriptures. If we are to know who we really are, and the story we are supposed to be living, then we have to re-immerse ourselves in these holy words—songs, stories, letters, and prophecies—that God gave us for a purpose.

There is a complete meal for us in the Bible. Feasting is the only way we’ll ever discover it.

Learn more about the Institute for Bible Reading

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How are the NLT Study Bible and Illustrated Study Bible Different?

One of the most common questions we hear is, “How are the NLT Study Bible and the Illustrated Study Bible different?” Kevin O’Brien, who helped develop the Illustrated Study Bible and oversees Tyndale’s study Bible and reference books, helps us understand the difference between the two Bibles.
ISB and NLT Study Bible side by side

The NLT Study Bible serves as the base for the Illustrated Study Bible. From a textual standpoint they are probably about 85% the same. The differences come in to play in several areas:

  • Book and Section introductions – in some places these have been editorially “tightened” to fit the new format. We also greatly increased the Intertestamental Period section adding a profile of Antiochus IV and a 2 page explanatory article on the Maccabees.
  • Study Notes –both the Illustrated Study Bible and the new edition of the NLT Study Bible incorporate the latest (2015) edition of the NLT text. These textual changes did affect a small number of study notes. Further, the textual notes that are part of the NLT text itself (these include things such as textual variants or alternate translations of words and phrases) are handled differently in these two products. The Illustrated Study Bible treats them as footnotes below the Bible text but above the study notes. The NLT Study Bible incorporates them into the study notes. This leads to some minor differences in wording.

NLT and ISB interior side by side

  • Charts, Maps and Illustrations – All of the charts were reconfigured for the Illustrated Study Bible, most as infographics and many incorporated into the Theme Notes or Profiles that they were supplementing. Maps were all colorized reconfigured for greater precision. We also commissioned new illustrations for the tabernacle, temple, Jerusalem at different points in time as well as a first century synagogue and house. Timelines have been colorized to for easier reading (and the one at the beginning has been completely redone to make it easy to see how the books of the Bible map onto history). In addition you will find photos of ancient artifacts that could not be included in the NLT Study Bible.

ISB Pauls Journey

  • Profiles and Theme Notes – perhaps the biggest overall content difference between the two products. We updated many of these short articles when we created the Illustrated Study Bible. A few articles of each kind were dropped and several more were added.
    • Profiles – for major figures such as Moses or Abraham multiple pieces were often consolidated and reconfigured. For example, in the NLT Study Bible the profile of Moses at Exodus 2 takes up a single page. There is a small chart on the following page breaking down Moses’ life. In the Illustrated Study Bible, this has become a 2 page feature with a larger timeline and a family tree. The text of the article changed slightly to fit the space and to reflect the images. Additionally, we created a new set of profiles for the nations that play major roles in the Biblical narrative (Egypt, Babylon, Rome, etc.). Most of these are illustrated and often take up two pages. This content is entirely new.
    • Theme Notes – here the process of illustrating the content of the Bible had perhaps its most significant impact. The process of illustrating the text led us to remove a few Theme Notes that overlapped and to add a significant number where we realized illustration would greatly enhance understanding. Several examples include adding a note on Citizenship in the Kingdom at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, articles about the major cities in the letters addressed to the Churches there (e.g., Ephesus), and the article on Jewish society at Matthew 22. We also added articles which help readers to get a sense of the realities of everyday life in the world of the Bible – fishing in first century Galilee, kinds of plants and animals in ancient Israel or what a 1st Century Jewish home would have been like and more. Many of these kinds of articles and illustrations simply aren’t possible in the non-illustrated version.

ISB I AM Sayings of Jesus

An additional note on the illustrations in the Illustrated Study Bible: We made a very conscious effort to only include color if that color actually made a significant contribution, not simply as “eye candy”. We wanted to make sure that the color actually communicated meaning; if you look at the bottom of the page, for example, you will find a colorized section indicator bar that tells you what section of the Bible you are in. Each photograph or painting was chosen to help you understand the story better, to help you visualize what was going on by seeing a place or evoking an emotion. We tried to keep images of modern people to a minimum (except in places like Proverbs where a principle or idea was primary) because we wanted to help readers enter into the world of the Bible. Even when we included classic paintings of Biblical characters or stories we tried to present them in interesting ways so that the emphasis was always on seeing something about what the Bible communicates, not on the piece of art itself. There is a very practical reason for this – most western Christian art is European, therefore biblical characters and places show up looking very European and that wasn’t the case at all so we worked hard to avoid unintentionally making it seem like they were.

ISB Outside NLT SB 1

At the end of all of this you may well be wondering why anyone would choose the NLT Study Bible over the Illustrated Study Bible? I have two reasons. First, the NLT Study Bible is smaller, and significantly lighter. Chances are you won’t be carrying the Illustrated Study Bible to church, but the NLT Study Bible is quite portable. Second, many people find the visuals distracting and simply want the study text without it. I totally understand this. While I really love the visuals (I helped figure out what we should illustrate and was involved in working with the design team to find a good direction to go in so I better love them!), sometimes when I study I need to cut the distractions back and just read. The NLT Study Bible allows me to do this. Either way, both Bibles have great study resources that will help you to understand both the words and the world of the Bible, allowing you to more clearly understand in be changed by God’ message.

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An Insider’s Look at the Swindoll Study Bible

We sat down with Sarah Johnson, editing coordinator for the Swindoll Study Bible, and asked her to share her thoughts on the Bible. She worked closely with Chuck and his team on every aspect of the Bible. Check out her insights and thoughts on how she hopes God uses this Bible.

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