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.