Tolstoy's "Where Love Is, There God Is Also"

A few days ago I picked up an old book—a collection of Christian short stories—called "The Seas of God," edited by Whit Burnett. After perusing the table of contents, I turned to a 12-page story, by the famous author Leo Tolstoy, first translated into English in 1885. I really enjoyed the story. It's a little lengthy for a blog, but it's worth the read. Consider it a parable for missional-incarnational living.

Reading the Bible Without All Those Numbers 3

So, here we are again, talking about those numbers. I wanted to share with you a few remaining thoughts that may be a bit more practical.

The fact is, with only a few exceptions, every Bible you are likely to own or buy will have the familiar chapter and verse divisions. So, here are some things for you to remember as you approach these editions of the Bible. They will help you to break the chapter and verse divisions in your mind, even if they can do nothing about the page.

Remember that the Bible really has no true verses. A "verse" is defined as "1) a piece of poetry; 2) a line of metrical text; 3) literature in metrical form." The only English translation I have seen to actually attempt to translate the Bible's poetry into true verse is the International Standard Version. We might say that some of the Bible's poetry has stanzas, especially with all the parallelisms in Proverbs. And it would be appropriate to say that each of the Psalms has an unmetered verse, but only one, unless there is a musical division (such as a "selah"), or an acrostic format (such as Psalm 119). Other than those and similar exceptions, there are no real verses in the Bible.

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Instead, what we have in the Bible is sentences, and the "verses" by no means always coincide with the sentences. All you have to do is read through the letters of Paul to discover that. So—and this is the practical part—think of the Bible's "verses" only as addresses to the location of a sentence or clause within the text. If you don't, the "verses" and "chapters" chop up the Bible into tiny, disembodied pieces. This mentality is the big reason why Christians can often tell you what their "favorite verse" is and be totally unable to articulate how that "verse" has anything to do with the larger flow of thought within the book they quoted.

With that in mind, remember that the Bible was given to us in it's ideal format—books. God gave us this holy Volume as He intended it to be understood. Chapter and verse numbers were not a part of that original intention. They are the invention of men and were added in the 1500s. That doesn't make them evil. It just makes them unnecessary. If they are strictly understood as locators within the text, then they are helpful, but if they go any wit beyond that, then they become destructive to God's people's understanding of His Word. So, don't read "verses." Read books. Don't read "chapters." Read epistles. How does your favorite verse fit into the discussion of the book it's in? How is that book similar and different from other books in the Bible? How do the teachings of Paul compare to the teachings of James? God gave us the books of the Bible, so this is the primary way He intends for us to understand it.

So, how can you begin to study books of the Bible and to break out of the versified mentality? For one, I would suggest reading a book backward, as Maggie and I discussed in the comments of one of the other posts in this series. A book like Hebrews, Romans, Ephesians, or Isaiah, where there is a logical progression of thought throughout the book, is an excellent place to start. This does one very important thing: it forces you to be intentional about watching and understanding how everything fits together. You will have to begin to notice critical words like "therefore," "so," "for," "that," "and," "but," "to," "unto" (which often means something like "for the purpose of"), and "nevertheless." This exercise will help to train your mind, and I think you'll find, the more you focus on understanding books and the whole progressions of thought within them, the easier it will become to ignore the false-chapters and verses, except for locating a part of the text. As you focus on the context and how what you've just read fits into that context, it will become natural to see past the numbers and margins, right through to the parchment and scroll.

And I know I've already mentioned it in a previous post, but I would again like to suggest that you send off for a copy of "The Books of the Bible" edition available through IBS. It's a totally de-versified edition of the Bible, with great book introductions and an interesting and helpful re-ordering of the Books. You can pick one up for about $9 from the IBS website. I can't wait until it comes out in hardback and leather! I'm also looking forward to other publishers running with the concept. If you want to keep up with developments, join the active community on the De-versify Facebook group.

As always, I encourage you to comment, contribute, critique. Join the discussion. Jump on in, the water is fine!

Approval Ratings

I just read the following article, written by Neil Cole (author of "Organic Church," "Cultivating a Life for God," and the new "Search & Rescue: Becoming a Disciple Who Makes a Difference") in this month's "Tools & Trainings for Organic Church Movements" e-newsletter from CMA Resources. I thought I'd pass it on to you. Good thoughts, Neil.

As the world looks at our churches, particularly in the West, it sees only what people have done or what programs they are doing. The world is not impressed. In response, we scheme and plot and plan, "What can we do to make our church more appealing to the people in our community?" This is, once again, the wrong question. It's as if we we're trying to boost God's approval ratings. It is God's name that is at risk, not ours, and we are not responsible for protecting His reputation. He can handle that, by Himself, just fine.

A better question is, "Where is Jesus seen at work in our midst?" Where do we see lives changing, and communities transforming simply by the power of the Gospel? Where do we see fathers restored to a life of holiness and responsibility? Where do we see daughters reconciling with fathers? Where do we see addicts who no longer live under the bondage of chemical dependency? Where are wealthy businessmen making restitution for past crimes that went unnoticed? These are the questions that lead people to recognize the living presence of Jesus, loving and governing people's lives as their King. When people encounter Jesus, alive and present as King, they get a taste of God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

If Jesus is missing in our understanding of church, He will likely be missing in our expression of church as well.

I have come to understand church as this: the presence of Jesus among His people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet. That's what a church is....simply Jesus Followed.

Pressing on,

Neil Cole

Favorite Deviants