Words and Relationships

The word is the basis for our relationships. Without words we form no connections, no closeness, no self-disclosure, no knowing. Without words there is no relationship. A picture of my face will not build a relationship with you (it will more likely repel you!). But words like these can begin to do so. Self-disclosure is the first step in a relationship. Ellul makes the point from Genesis: “God is not only creator; he is creator through the word, which means that he is never far from, never foreign to, his creation. God speaking means he is in relationship” (Humiliation, 59). The word forms the basis of our relationship with God, or, rather, God’s relationship with his creation.

This point is taken to another level in the Gospel of John, a book that opens by echoing the creation event as we are introduced to the Savior as the self-disclosure of God. The theme of word and relationship returns. God’s children, his flock, listen to the Shepherd’s voice. Jesus came into the world to speak and His children hear his voice (10:16, 27; 18:37). But they do more than listen. When God speaks his children recognize their Shepherd, are drawn into relationship, and are moved to follow Him. Whenever words are spoken directly at us we are invited to respond, normally it would be odd not to respond, even of those words come from a complete stranger on the street. Or to illustrate it in a different context think of a time when you drove a car past a friend in another car and waved but got no response back. The immediate thought is “Maybe that wasn’t my friend.” A lack of response makes us question our relationship. Words are like that. Words, like the voice of the Shepherd, invite us into relationship.

If words are the foundation for our relationships, lies destroy those relationships. The one seeking to destroy man’s relationship with God–Satan–is the one who has busied himself in seeking to distort and twist the truth into lies from the beginning of God’s creation. He did this to sever man from God. And he succeeded. But it gets worse because to be a liar is to be a murderer (8:44). When truth is twisted into lies a world of relationally-networked sinners becomes a very bloody place and a war breaks out between God and the people he created. The only hope for this severed relationship between a holy God and sinful man (each of us) is through the death and resurrection of Christ. Thus the Father of Lies can be defeated–and our relationship with God can be restored–only through the ultimate murder, the severed forsakenness of our Savior on the cross. For us to know God the Word of God must be murdered by lies.

The connection between word/relationship and truth/lies has profound implications for just about every sphere of life. But the simple point of these musings is to see the connection between our Bibles, our God, and our relationship and response to Him. Scripture is more than a book. It’s the voice of our Shepherd and therefore is the foundation of our relationship with Him. Those words are God’s invitation for us to know Him, to respond, to enter an eternal relationship with Him. He speaks truth so we can know Him.

ESV Literary Study Bible

tsslogo.jpgBook review
ESV The Literary Study Bible
edited by Leland Ryken and Philip Graham Ryken

Some of the best Christian scholarship aims to unfold the beauty of Scripture for general readers. The new ESV Literary Study Bible is one excellent example.

Editor Dr. Leland Ryken is a top-notch literary scholar, noted for his many books (like a personal favorite The Word of God in English) and his work as literary stylist for the ESV. His son, Dr. Philip Graham Ryken, is a noted author and preacher known for excellent books like The Doctrines of Grace.

Together, their work has produced a masterful study Bible.

Size, price, purpose

tssesvlsb.jpgThe printed ESV LSB will be available on Sept. 14th 23rd in a hardcover format, 6×9 inches in size (slightly smaller than the reverse interlinear and slightly larger than the classic reference edition) and nearly 2,000 pages in length (700 pages longer than the reverse interlinear and classic reference edition). The LSB will retail for about $50.00.

The twofold goal of the ESV Literary Study Bible is clearly stated, “(1) to make the Bible reader friendly and (2) to show how application of literary tools of analysis helps in reading and understanding the Bible” (xvii).

We’ll look at each goal individually.

Scripture as Literature

The premiere benefit of the LSB is viewing Scripture as literature, without reducing Scripture to the level of mere literature. In Leland Ryken fashion, rebuttals are given to show that viewing Scripture as literature (1) does not show a liberal bias, (2) reinforces Scripture’s view of itself as literature, (3) does not reduce Scripture to fiction, (4) does not reduce Scripture to another mere piece of literature, (5) nor deny the inspiration of Scripture. In fact, the editors argue that an accurate interpretation of Scripture first requires an understanding of the many literary features of Scripture.

“To approach the Bible as literature as this literary Bible does is not like dessert — something pleasurable to add to more important aspects of the Bible. The literary approach is the first item on the agenda — the starting point for other approaches to the Bible. This has been a point of neglect among Bible readers and Bible scholars that this literary Bible aims to correct” (ix).

Because, the editors make clear, “meaning is conveyed through form, starting with language itself but moving beyond that to a whole range of literary forms and genres” and “There is no meaning without the form in which a piece of writing is expressed” (vii). Forms directly impact interpretation.

The number of identifiable biblical genres in Scripture “readily exceeds one hundred” and that does not include archetypes, motifs, styles, rhetoric, and artistry (x). Scripture is a wonderfully diverse collection of literature with great variety. None are better qualified to bring these to the surface than Leland Ryken.

But this study Bible does not require an advanced degree in literature. Every term from “antithetic parallelism” to “dramatic monologue” to “theophany” is defined in the 17-page glossary of genres and literary terms.

Perhaps, like the Self-Interpreting Bible by John Brown of Haddington in the 18th century, this ESV LSB will become a primary literature text in homeschool education? Something to consider.


The goal is not to weigh the reader down in definitions and genres, but to provide helpful guidance for the reader to comprehend large swoops of biblical text. Many features make this an excellent reader’s Bible.

1. Format. The ESV text is single-column, black text set in 8.5-point Veritas font. Very clean and easy to read.

2. Introductions and overviews. Each book of Scripture receives a detailed introduction and content overviews. The overall literary genres and styles are summarized at the beginning. Ryken and Ryken bring great balance between the literary context and the content/outline of Scripture. We’ll see this later.

3. Subsection prenotes. Before each subsection of Scripture (normally one chapter in OT and every half chapter in NT), the editors provide important literary notes and an overall snapshot of the upcoming content. These are like prenotes, compared to the footnotes common in study Bibles. These prenotes peak interest and drive the reader into the text. “This literary Bible is a guide to the Bible that pushes the reader into the text instead of providing mere summaries of the content that readily become substitutes for reading the Bible” (xvii). These chapter notes reinforce the literary styles mentioned in the book introductions, provide overviews of upcoming Scripture content, and function well in helping the reader chomp through large sections of Scripture in single settings.

4. New reading plan. The annual reading plan of the LSB is quite innovative. The daily readings include one section from each of the four categories: Psalms and Wisdom Literature; Pentateuch and the History of Israel; Chronicles and Prophets; and Gospels and Epistles. But four important books – the Psalms, Isaiah, Luke and Romans – are read twice annually! The readings through the OT are arranged chronologically, and the NT readings by author. For example, readers progress from the Gospel of John to 1 John, 2 John, 3 John and conclude with Revelation.

5. Designed for group study. The LSB was designed purposefully for group studies. As stated in the introduction, the editors intend to help discussion leaders formulate application questions. The reading schedule, literary notes, and outlines are very thoughtful and will foster fruitful group study.


The value of this LSB can be illustrated with one chapter prenote from the Psalms. First, take up a favorite Bible and read Psalm 38. Now read the prenote and see how the literary backdrop changes your interpretation of Psalm 38:

“I confess my iniquity [Psalm 38]. This is the third of the church’s traditional penitential psalms. Penitential psalms are a variation on the conventional lament psalm. In them, the poet defines a dire crisis and asks for God’s deliverance. But the twists on the lament form are these: the speaker’s antagonist is not an external enemy but himself; the threat is not physical threat or slander but spiritual guilt; the petition is to be delivered not from a threat to life or political oppression but from peril of soul. The outline is as follows: introductory cry to God (v. 1); definition of the crisis, a highly metaphoric portrayal of the effects of guilt, including physical symptoms (vv. 2–10); as an extension of the crisis, a picture of the isolation of the speaker from others, in a manner reminiscent of the more customary lament psalms (vv. 11–14); statement of confidence in God (vv. 15–16); confession of sin (vv. 17–18); a return to the portrait of the speaker’s enemies (vv. 19–20); prayer to God for deliverance (vv. 21–22)” (p. 787).

You can see that both the genre and general outline of the contents are mixed together well (as you would expect from a literary scholar/pastor team). Phrases like “My wounds stink and fester, because of my foolishness” (v. 5) take on new spiritual meaning in light of the genre. The reader is now well equipped to read the Psalm for herself and glean valuable wisdom. Without any open application questions, the LSB note has brought the reader to the brink of rich application.

If you’re like me, you want more than one excerpt and a review before investing in a new Bible. Here’s a suggestion: In a few weeks, find a local bookstore that carries the Bible and set aside 1-2 hours some weekend to read the book of Job, notes and all (pp. 684-743). Start at the beginning and read it through. Don’t stop to understand every detail in the text, just keep reading to catch the overall flow and direction. Here in Job, the features and strengths of the LSB are on full display.

Literature as Experience

Which brings me to a final point. I am aware of my personal tendency to reduce passages Scripture to nice, indexed, systematic categories (no wonder I personally struggle through Job!). Systematizing ideas is easier for me, compared to reading narrative literature and poetry. By viewing Scripture first as literature (and secondarily as theological content to fill a systematic outline), something important surfaces. Scripture is experienced.

“The goal of literature is to prompt a reader to share or relive an experience. The truth that literature imparts is not simply ideas that are true but truthfulness to human experience. The implication for interpretation is that Bible readers, teachers, and expositors need to be active in re-creating experiences in their imagination, identifying the recognizable human experiences in a text (thereby building bridges to life in the modern world), and resisting the impulse immediately to reduce a biblical passage to a set of theological ideas” (xi).

It occurs to me that once we experience literature, literature becomes integrated into our experience. For example, Augustine’s Confessions are saturated with the Psalms because the Psalms saturated Augustine’s experience. The LSB encourages me to further experience Scripture by using the literary composition as a door into experiencing the text for myself. If you read Job, you’ll likely experience this firsthand (as I did).


If the boom in abridged Bibles and contemporary dynamic equivalence translations tell us anything, it’s this: Our church culture is noticeably uncomfortable with the literal text of Scripture. With the ESV LSB, Ryken and Ryken highlight the beautiful intricacies of Scripture and preview content to help readers navigate through the literal, unabridged text of the ESV. The product of their scholarship is both a study Bible and reading Bible, centering around a literal translation that accents the literary beauty of the Bible and invites readers to experience Scripture firsthand.

In a word, the ESV Literary Study Bible is masterful and will serve those who seek daily nourishment from the pure milk of God’s Word.

Prioritizing God’s Word (part 2)

tsslogo.jpgWords play a central role in our lives, but it’s easy to become overwhelmed with words.

Yesterday and today on TSS we ask: How do I value God’s words over the avalanche of words pressing in on all sides of my life?

Last time we broadened our definition of ‘words’ to include the person and works of our beautiful Savior as the self-disclosure of the Father who dwells invisible in unapproachable light. Christ is the Word of God, the self-disclosure of a loving God who seeks to be known through His Son.

Today I want to pursue a second answer to our question: God’s words are intended to establish and maintain a deeply personal relationship with His children.

Cheap words

In our culture, words tend towards the impersonal because words are showered over our culture like a hurricane rainstorm. The flood of spoken and written words saturate the ground of mass consumption like talk radio, books, magazines, newspapers, and blogs. This current philosophy of words – downpour and hope a few words are absorbed before running off – has brought with it the impersonalization of words. We neglect 75-percent of the words in a newspaper, and find nothing missing in our lives as a consequence.

In contrast, Scripture reminds us that words are intended as deeply personal means of connection. At a foundational level, an inability to communicate drives us apart whereas common language and words tie persons together into close relationships.

In a culture saturated in cheap words, I think this deserves some further reflection.

Tower of Babel

Maybe the best example of how words unite and draw people together comes from the story of the Towel of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. It reads:

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves (self-glory), lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’ 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them (constraining wickedness – God prevents societies from being as evil as they could be). 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ 8 So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

Lesson number one: To confuse language is to confuse relationships, disperse and separate. Sinners in Genesis 11 were conspiring towards self-glorification in the form of a tower. God intervenes and constrains the full expression of their wickedness. He constrains sin by separating sinners and He does this by confusing the common language.

Confused language separates. Using “the same words” unites.

This is not difficult to illustrate. What did immigrants do once they crossed into America through Ellis Island? The first step was to find their respective ethnic communities: Italians found their Italian communities, Germans found a home in the German communities, Irish, Polish, British, etc. Why? Because when you speak the same language you are naturally bound together. Communities, even in new lands, are established and bound by common words.

Lesson number two: The intimate communion between the Triune God operates by words. Now, I’m not saying God speaks Hebrew or English or even that God needs words like we do. The point is when Scripture reveals God’s intimate Triune communication, it says God uses words. So it is accurate to say the Triune God – the most intimate of all relationships – communes through words.

Intimate words

What all this means for the 21st century blog reader inundated with words is that God’s words are intended as a personal communication of Himself to us. God has spoken His words as an act of drawing sinners into an intimacy and closeness to Himself.

Carl Trueman writes, “God’s use of language is the basic element which allows the encounter between God and humanity to be considered as a personal relationship” (The Wages of Spin, p. 46).

God created words to speak to His children.

Words and friendship

Last time we highlighted that Jesus Christ (the Son) is the revelation of the Father. It’s significant that God did not just speak the Bible but His words came in the form of a man – Christ Jesus! His Word is the incarnate God-man to illustrate the personal nature of God’s self-disclosure.

Now listen to those Christ considers the closest and most intimate of friends: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

Christ’s words reveal the very thoughts of the Father. When God opens our sin-blinded eyes to the beauty of Christ’s words in Scripture, we hear the Son echoing the words of His Father. And when we hear the voice of God through Christ in Scripture, we have entered into personal communion with God.

By God’s sovereign grace, we can hear the words of Christ disclosing the motives of the Father. For those who have ears to hear, Christ considers them close friends.

To state it another way: By His disclosed words, God draws us into intimate communion and fellowship with Himself!

Such amazing grace!


Abiding in Christ’s words – that is, reading and meditating upon Scripture and letting His words richly dwell in our hearts – means we are engaged in nothing short of intimate communion with Christ! To abide in His words is to abide in Him (John 15:7-9)!

May God prevent the mountain of words in our lives from making God’s words impersonal. They are not. Words are the “basic element which allows the encounter between God and humanity to be considered as a personal relationship.”


Related: See part one of this two part series here.

Prioritizing God’s Word (part 1)

tsslogo.jpgWords, words, words. My career and ministry center around words – selecting the ‘right’ words and assembling these ‘right’ words into a correct sentence order that follows some cohesive progress towards stating and defending an argument. Likewise, my favorite hobby is reading words. Some of my favorite books promise to help me select and order my written words better. What I’m saying is words are central to my life.

Now, this deep exposure to words has a few drawbacks. Besides the natural tendency towards weight gain and nerdiness, the bigger problem is a spiritual one. In the avalanche of words read and written, I easily forget their value and importance. Specifically, I forget the value of God’s Word.

Let me explain.

I tend to put God’s Words on the tall stack of other words I need to read. I have newspapers, magazines, how-to books, books about writing, biographical books, dozens of blogs, emails, Christian living books, websites, electronic books and commentaries all waiting for attention like a quiet dog staring at its owner. What this means is that I have a hard time correlating my stack of words alongside God’s Word.

Today and tomorrow I want to answer this question: How do I value God’s Word over the avalanche of words pressing in on all sides of my life?

Defining ‘words’

First we must expand our understanding of ‘words’. Remember how the Gospel of John begins?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).

What’s all this about? This prologue sounds foreign because we think of words only as sound waves in the air, ink on paper or pixels on the screen. But understanding God’s Word is a bit more complicated than written words. Let me broaden the theme a bit.

Unapproachable light

Crucial to properly valuing God’s Word is to understand God, Who “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16, cf. 1:17). We cannot approach (still less see!) God in His magnificent holiness and glory. Moses, you recall, asked to see God’s glory and God told him, ‘I will show you My abundant goodness but you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live’ (Ex. 33:18, 20).

The face is what most identifies us. Our mug shot captures ‘us’ for the yearbooks (or for the police records). We have Botox, facelifts and facial implants of all types because a general improvement of our face is an improvement of the perception of our entire being. Yet surprisingly in Scripture we are told we cannot see God’s face (i.e. we cannot see “Him”). There is a majesty and holiness to the glory of God that we cannot behold. This is another way of saying He is unapproachable and invisible.

If I preached with a veil over my head (like the minister in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Minister’s Black Veil), you would naturally perceive me to be impersonal. Being shielded from God’s face means He is (at some level) impersonal. Hawthorne’s minister veiled himself in shame. God veils Himself in perfection.

We recognize we are utterly different than He is and we worship Him in His transcendent majesty and holiness. (Now hold this thought until tomorrow when I pick up this impersonal/personal theme.)

Now all this does not mean God’s existence is unknown to the world. We can all see enough of God to know He exists and that we should bow in thankfulness for all He has given us (Rom. 1). Atheism is inexcusable. But at some level, God the Father in His full-orbed majesty and glory is impersonal. His face is veiled to us.

An understanding of this veiling sets the foundational bedrock for developing a deep value for God’s Word.

Today and tomorrow I want to build from this foundation and construct two profound truths that will change how we view Scripture. Tomorrow we will look at the intimate, personal nature of God’s Words to draw us to Himself. But today I want to capture the importance of God’s Word in the person of Christ.

Seeing God

So how do we see God? This question takes us back to Christ as the Word.

At one point the disciples ask to see the Father – we’ve seen the Son, but we really want you to show us the Father, too. Jesus says, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me … Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” (John 14:9).

Christ reveals His Father to us. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18).

What all this means is the arrival of Christ Incarnate is an act of God’s self-disclosure. How do we know the “invisible” God? Through the visible Son. This is what makes Christ the Word of God. He is God’s revelation to us. He is the Word of God as the message of God spoken to sinners. Christ is our hope, He is our life, He is our light! Christ is the self-disclosed Word sent from the Father who dwells in an unapproachable light.

(Later, when we look at Communion with the Triune God by John Owen we will see that God’s love, grace and truth is revealed in the Son’s love, grace and truth. This is super important to grasp if we are to understand God the Father as our loving Father. More later.)

God reveals Himself holistically, not merely in written words but also in Christ’s humility, mercy, grace, truth, sinless nature, awesome works, blameless character and especially in His substitutionary action on the Cross! Everything about Christ speaks the Word of God to us. Scripture is the infallible account of God’s self-disclosure in Christ.


I find myself neglecting Scripture simply because I fail to see God’s Word as the precious self-disclosure of an invisible God. Without Scripture, where will we find Christ? Without Christ, where will we find God? Without Christ, where is life and hope?

Armed with this awesome reality, pull your Bible from under the stack of words begging for attention. It’s more than words. It’s life. It’s God’s self-disclosure to you.

If you don’t know where to begin, start in the Gospel of John and read the precious Words of God as they display the Incarnate Word of God.

May God reform our definition of ‘words’.

Disputations on Holy Scripture by William Whitaker, 1573580902

Disputations on Holy Scripture by William Whitaker [1588]

After rebuking the false Roman Catholic notion that Scripture cannot be understood by the common man and reinforcing the Reformers insistence that every truth sinners must know to be saved can be gleaned by the simple from reading Scripture, William Whitaker next continued to explain that there are difficult passages in God’s Word. Why? This is his answer …

First, God would have us to be constant in prayer, and hath scattered many obscurities up and down through the scriptures, in order that we should seek his help in interpreting them and discovering their true meaning.

Secondly, he wished thereby to excite our diligence in reading, meditating upon, searching and comparing the scriptures; for, if every thing had been plain, we should have been entirely slothful and negligent.

Thirdly, he designed to prevent our losing interest in them; for we are ready to grow weary of easy things: God, therefore, would have our interest kept up by difficulties.

Fourthly, God willed to have that truth, so sublime, so heavenly, sought and found with so much labor, the more esteemed by us on that account. For we generally despise and contemn [scorn] whatever is easily acquired, near at hand, and costs small or no labor. But these things which we find with great toil and much exertion, those, when once we have found them out, we esteem highly and consider their value proportionally greater.

Fifthly, God wished by this means to subdue our pride and arrogance, and to expose to us our ignorance. We are apt to think too honorably of ourselves, and to rate our genius and acuteness more highly than is fitting, and to promise ourselves too much from our science and knowledge.

Sixthly, God willed that the sacred mysteries of his word should be opened freely to pure and holy minds, not exposed to dogs and swine. Hence those things which are easy to holy persons, appear so many parables to the profane. For the mysteries of scripture are like gems, which only he that knows them values; while the rest, like the cock in Æsop, despise them, and prefer the most worthless objects to what is most beautiful and excellent.

Seventhly, God designed to call off our minds from the pursuit of external things and our daily occupations, and transfer them to the study of the scriptures. Hence it is now necessary to give time to their perusal and study; which we certainly should not bestow upon them, if we found every thing plain and open.

Eighthly, God desired thus to accustom us to a certain internal purity and sanctity of thought and feeling. For they who bring with them profane minds to the reading of scripture, lose their trouble and oil: those only read with advantage, who bring with them pure and holy minds.

Ninthly, God willed that in his church some should be teachers, and some disciples; some more learned, to give instruction; others less skillful, to receive it; so as that the honor of the sacred scriptures and the divinely instituted ministry might, in this manner, be maintained.”

Disputations on Holy Scripture [1588/1849], by William Whitaker [1547-1595], pp. 365-366. Reprinted by Soli Deo Gloria, 2005.