Shelf Life Book Review: Atlas of the Bible

Stephen M. Vantassel

Atlas of the Bible
Zondervan, 2010

Knowledge of biblical geography and an appreciation for its role in understanding Scripture is a common weakness for Christians. Carl G. Rasmussen addresses this weakness in Zondervan’s Atlas of the Bible as he progresses through Old and New Testament history with clear, easy-to-read maps, photographs and supporting commentary.

Part 1 covers the physical attributes of biblical lands, such as elevations, climate and habitat zones. The relief maps reveal why the ancients chose certain valleys and passes for both travel and the founding of cities. Particularly noteworthy is a land chart that illustrates the size of areas in the Middle East by comparing them with the us.

Part 2 contains atlases based on historical periods, beginning with the pre-patriarchal age and ending with Paul’s travels. Bible students will appreciate Rasmussen’s succinct description of key events in the period and maps that illustrate political boundaries and battles.

This atlas gives due attention to both the New Testament lands and Paul’s travels. The political and relief maps are reinforced by photographs that provide a good sense of the land and times.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 2

The KJV: Something Old, New, Borrowed and True

John R. Kohlenberger III

“I had rather be rent in pieces with wild horses, than any such translation by my consent should be urged upon poor churches … The new edition crosses me. I require it to be burned.” In 1612, these words were written to King James I of England by Dr. Hugh Broughton. He fiercely condemned the Bible translation James had sponsored. Though not alone in his criticism of the 1611 version, such criticism has had little effect on the publication and influence of the “Authorized Version” or “King James Version” for the last 400 years. Instead, many say it is “the noblest monument of English prose.” 1


The Origin of the 1611 Version
The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, with some portions in Aramaic, while the New Testament was written in Greek. The Old Testament had already been translated into Greek before the time of Jesus and the Apostles, so the early church had their entire Bible in Greek. Not surprisingly, the Bible was also translated into Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. The Roman church’s official Latin translation, the Vulgate, was completed early in the fifth century AD.

The Bible was translated in part or in whole into many European and African languages over the ensuing centuries, either from Latin or from Greek. But it wasn’t until the 1380s that the whole Bible appeared in English. John Wycliffe, Nicolas of Hereford and other Oxford scholars produced two translations from the Vulgate: the first, very literal, and the latter, much more idiomatic. But neither Wycliffe’s translations nor his teachings were well received by the authorities, and both were outlawed.

Johannes Gutenberg refined movable type around 1449 and began printing the Latin Vulgate in 1452. By the end of the century, the Bible had been printed in 11 different languages. Moved by his desire to see every Christian with a Bible in hand, William Tyndale produced the first English New Testament, translated from the Greek, in 1526. Because he did this without the permission of the Roman Church, his translations were destroyed (only two survive). Tyndale was eventually strangled and burned at the stake in 1536. But before his martyrdom, he published the Pentateuch (Gen–Deut), Jonah, and two revised New Testaments, and left Joshua through 2 Chronicles in manuscript form.

Tyndale worked in Germany because England was too dangerous. But his associate, Miles Coverdale, managed to publish the first complete English Bible in England in 1535. He combined both Tyndale’s Pentateuch and New Testament with his own translation of the Latin and Luther’s famous German Bible. Coverdale’s Bible was officially licensed. Revisions of Tyndale and Coverdale appeared in editions by John Rogers (Matthew’s Bible, 1537) and Richard Taverner (1539). Coverdale’s own revision of Matthew’s, known as the Great Bible, was also published in 1539 and became the first authorized English Bible. The first English Bible translated from the Hebrew and Aramaic Old Testament and Greek New Testament was published in 1560 by English expatriates working in John Calvin’s Geneva. The Geneva Bible became the most popular translation of its time and went through at least 140 different printings over the next 80 years. A revision of the Great Bible done by bishops of the Church of England, called the Bishops’ Bible, appeared in 1568. And Roman Catholic scholars produced an English translation of the Latin New Testament, published in Rheims, France, in 1582. The Old Testament soon followed in Douay in 1609–10.

Following the pattern of Luther’s German Bibles of 1522–34, the English translations had many explanatory notes, often condemning teachings of the Roman Church and sometimes challenging the English monarchy. When James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603, one of his first tasks was to satisfy the English churches’ demands to have a single English Bible without notes, except to explain alternative translations or similar texts. In 1604, at a conference in Hampton Court, James gave permission for this new translation to be produced by six panels of “learned men” working at Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster. The 48 to 54 translators were actually revisers, who based their work on the Bishops’ Bible in light of the original languages and the other major translations of the 16th century.

The translation sponsored by (not written by) King James was published in two separate editions in 1611. As had all the English Bibles before it, the new version contained the Old and New Testaments with the 14 books of the Apocrypha between the testaments. Though not recognized by the Church of England (or Lutherans or other Protestants) as authoritative for doctrine or teaching, the books of the Apocrypha were part of the Greek and Latin Bibles and continued to appear in most English Bibles well into the nineteenth century.

From 1611 to 2011

It took nearly a generation for the new translation to replace the popular Geneva Bible, which was last printed in 1644 (outside of facsimile editions). Although there are no documents officially authorizing the KJV, it became known as the Authorized Version—the title page simply states “Appointed to be read in Churches.” Because of its association with James I, it is now known as the King James Version.

There were many translations by individuals over the next centuries, but it was not until 1881 (New Testament), 1885 (Old Testament) and 1895 (Apocrypha) that an official church translation was published in England: the Revised Version. The American Standard Version of 1901 was its American edition. Both versions were revisions of the KJV, as was the more-popular Revised Standard Version of 1946 (New Testament), 1952 (Old Testament), and 1957/77 (Apocrypha). The second half of the 20th century saw an explosion of English Bible translations, but it took until the mid-1980s for the KJV to be surpassed in new Bible sales by the New International Version (NIV).

In 2011, the version of 1611 remains the most widely circulated and influential English translation of all time. It’s available in more editions and bindings than any other translation, and has been published digitally in every Bible software program ever available, as well as for every smart phone. The translators’ “zeal to promote the common good” continues unabated after four centuries. 2

» KJV-ism:

“Do as I say, not as I do”
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not” (Matt 23:2–3 KJV).

For more information on the history of the KJV see:

Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired by Benson Bobrick

God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson

A Textual History of the King James Bible by David Norton.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 2

1. Robert Lowth. Quoted from Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (New York: Doubleday, 2001), pg. 278.
2. The Holy Bible: 1611 Edition King James Version (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010).

Spellchecking the Bible

Michael S. Heiser

The words of the original biblical text cannot always be read with certainty. Genesis 49:10 is a famous example. These three translations show the differences.

NASB: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

ESV: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

NIV: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.”

Three translators arrived at different conclusions because the Hebrew text itself is ambiguous. The problem is one word made up of four letters: שילה (shiyloh).

The NASB takes these four letters as spelling “Shiloh,” the place where the ark of the covenant was kept during the days of the Judges, Samuel and David. As it is written, this is how the word should be pronounced, but “Shiloh” is not spelt this way anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible. 1 The odd spelling has led many translators to suspect that “Shiloh” is not the correct translation.

Another problem with translating this word as “Shiloh” is that the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible produced a few centuries before Christ, which is often quoted by the New Testament writers—has a different rendering. The Septuagint literally reads: “until that which is stored away for him comes.” The Hebrew text used by the Septuagint translator did not read שילה (shiyloh).

The Septuagint translator saw one of two things. The four consonants in our problem word could have been divided into two words: שי לה (shay loh). That option would result in “until tribute comes—is brought to him.” 2 The ESV reflects this option. Or, the text of the Septuagint translator may have had three consonants instead of four. His Hebrew Bible may have read שלה (shiloh). Although this is a frequent spelling for “Shiloh” in the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint translator did not regard the word as the place name. Instead, he took the word as a combination of two other words: ש (“that which”) followed by לה (“to him” or “to whom”). The result is typically translated, “that which to whom it belongs.” When the verb (“he/it comes”) is added, we get something akin to the NIV: “until he comes to whom it belongs.”

Traditional Hebrew Text

שילה (shiyloh)
“until Shiloh comes” (NASB)

Hebrew Behind Septuagint: Option One

שי לה (shay loh)
“until tribute comes to him” (ESV)

Hebrew Behind Septuagint: Option Two

שלה (she loh)
“until he comes to whom it belongs” (NIV)

Both of the possible Septuagint textual readings have a messianic flavor. They speak of a person—specifically, a descendant of Judah—coming to reign, or having tribute brought to him as king. While translators don’t have to guess about messianic prophecy in dozens of other places, Gen 49:10 has kept them guessing for centuries.


“Go the extra mile”
“And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (Matt 5:41 KJV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 2

1. The most frequent spelling is שׁלה (shiloh), but שׁלו (shilow) and שילו (shiylow) also occur. To further muddy the waters, some scribes “corrected” Genesis 49:10 to read שׁלה (shiloh) so it would conform to the most frequent spelling elsewhere.
2. The word שׁי (shay, “tribute”) occurs in Isa 18:7, Psa 68:30 and Psa 76:12.

Finding Sustainment

Rebecca Van Noord

Exodus 39:1–40:38; John 6:52–71; Song of Solomon 5:5–9

Following Jesus isn’t like developing a crisis-aversion system. So often, it’s tempting to treat our faith in this way—relying on Him when things get tough or when others expect us to do so. But He wants us to rely on Him continually.

After Jesus miraculously fed the crowds, He told them that He was the bread of life. But they were fickle. They wanted evidence—another sign. Instead of feeding their transient desires, Jesus delivered hard teaching: “The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me and I in him” (John 6:54–56).

For the Jews, this teaching would have been shocking and strange—drinking blood was forbidden by Old Testament law, and He was speaking about His own body. They followed Jesus because they wanted a sign, a prophet, or a Messiah. A sacrifice was not part of their plan.

But a sacrifice was exactly what they needed. Forgiveness and eternal life were discarded by some, but not by all. Simon Peter’s simple confession is actually quite stunning in the midst of all the confusion: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69). The disciples didn’t put hope in a transient sign—in one meal. And although they didn’t always understand Jesus’ teaching, they recognized that He was the true bread of life, and they relied on Him for sustainment even when His teaching seemed strange to their ears.

How are you challenging yourself to accept all the teachings of Jesus—not just the ones that are easy? How can you put your hope in Christ and look to Him for continual support?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Shelf Life Book Review: Interpreting Gospel Narratives

Chelica Hiltunen

Interpreting Gospel Narratives: Scenes, People, and Theology
B&H Publishing Group, 2010

In this book, Timothy Wiarda shows how exploring character development, plot line, object description and setting can lead to a deeper understanding of the biblical text and its theological implications.

Understanding gospel narratives can often be difficult, with seemingly unrelated scenes and details inhibiting our ability to draw practical conclusions. Wiarda’s book explores the complexity of narrative while providing techniques for understanding the text. His work is driven by his belief, based on John 15:26–27, that two testimonies continue to affect the church: the Spirit’s and the apostles’—both found in the gospels.

Wiarda uses examples that show how narrative details can lead to discerning theological emphasis. He explains how passages function within the narrative whole. His method provides insight to gospel episodes and traces overarching and connecting themes for use in practical, theological application.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation . Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 2