Tuesday, February 21, 2017

5 Essential Resources for Serious Students of the Bible

1) The New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS)

In Heb 1:6, the author cites a verse from the OT:
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."
Your Bible may note that this is a citation from Deut 32:43. However, when we turn to Deut 32:43, we find this:
Rejoice, you nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.
What happened? English Bibles base their translations of the OT on the Hebrew Masoretic text. However, in the 3rd century BC, an older form of the Hebrew text was translated into Greek. This translation is called the Septuagint. If we read Deut 32:43 in the Septuagint, we find a form of the text much closer to what the author of Hebrews was citing:
Be glad, O skies, with him, and let all the divine sons do obeisance to him. Be glad, O nations with his people, and let all the angels of God prevail for him. For he will avenge the blood of his sons and take revenge and repay the enemies with a sentence, and he will repay those who hate, and the Lord shall cleanse the land of his people.
In addition to preserving a form of the text that may, in certain places, be closer to what the NT authors are citing, the NETS also contains the noncanonical Apocrypha. This collection of books is quite helpful in understanding the world of the NT. For example, consider the following parallels between the Jewish wisdom recorded in the book of Sirach and the ethics of the NT:
Do not prattle in the assembly of the elders, nor repeat yourself in your prayer. (Sir 7:14)
And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matt 6:7-8)
Do not fail those who weep, but mourn with those who mourn. (Sir 7:34)
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Rom 12:15)
Do not say, "It was [God] who led me astray"; for he had no need of a sinful man. (Sir 15:12)
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one. (James 1:13)
Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does a man harbor anger against another, and yet seek for healing from the Lord? Does he have no mercy toward a man like himself, and yet pray for his own sins? If he himself, being flesh, maintains wrath, who will make expiation for his sins? (Sir 28:2-4)
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt 6:14-15)
Lose your silver for the sake of a brother or a friend, and do not let it rust under a stone and be lost. Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold. Store up almsgiving in your treasury, and it will rescue you from all affliction. (Sir 29:10-12)
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matt 6:19-20)
Consider also the contrasts:
Give to the godly man, but do not help the sinner. Do good to the humble, but do not give to the ungodly; hold back his bread, and do not give it to him, lest by means of it he subdue you; for you will receive twice as much evil for all the good which you do to him. For the Most High also hates sinners and will inflict punishment on the ungodly. Give to the good man, but do not help the sinner. (Sir 12:4-7)
But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. ... Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)
2) The NET Bible

This translation of the Bible is filled with detailed notes on variants readings, translation issues, and background info. The translation itself is nothing special, but the notes are invaluable.

3) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

This collection of Jewish writings is extremely valuable for understanding the world of the NT. Have you ever wondered why the Jews made such a big deal about circumcision and the food laws? Read 4 Maccabees. Have you ever wondered what the Jews were expecting of their Messiah? Read the Psalms of Solomon. Have you ever wondered what connotations the title "son of man" might have had for a first century Jew? Read 1 Enoch. Have you ever wondered how Paul's anthropology and soteriology might relate to the theology of other first-century Jews? Read 4 Ezra.

4) The Works of Josephus

The writings of this first-century Jewish historian are essential for understanding the world of the NT. Josephus discusses the Pharisees, the Sadducees, Herod, Pilate, John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, the death of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:20-24), and many, many other people and events found in the pages of the NT.

5) The IVP Bible Background Commentary

This excellent 2 volume resource contains essential background information on every chapter in the Bible.