In Love with God’s Word — and Its Many Versions

When the complete Life Application Study Bible in The Living Bible paraphrase came out around 1988 (as I discussed last week in this post), I worked on other Bible versions of the LASB by revising every ancillary feature to match that version. We began in The Living Bible, then did the King James Version, the New King James Version, Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New International Version, New American Standard, and Holman Christian Standard.

Seven years, approximately a translation a year. The life application concept was such a massive success and such a new approach to a study Bible that suddenly every publisher wanted it. (In the world of Bible publishing, there are public domain texts, such as some versions of the King James Version, and then pretty much every heavy-hitting Bible publisher owns its own—pays to have it created or purchases one. That way, they can create various kinds of study and devotional Bibles without having to pay royalties to another publisher.) Those publishers wanted to be able to sell the LASB in their own translation.

What that meant was that someone needed to go through all of the ancillary material and make it match the wording of the new Bible version text. During those seven years, I would receive the default original version of all of the Bible notes (thousands of them) and features (map copy, chart copy, people profile notes, book introductions) and a Bible (not electronic, just a book) with the new version. The base files of all that material came to me on 5-1/4-inch floppy disks. I would insert the disk in my computer, open Genesis and begin to work. Wherever we quoted Scripture, I had to look it up and make it match the new version. At times, place names or people names would be treated differently: Is that son of Saul named Ishbosheth or Ish-bosheth or Ish-Bosheth or Ish Bosheth (it’s actually all of them, depending on which Bible version).

Eventually I learned to watch for key words that might be different (NIV says the Israelites wandered in the “desert”; most other versions say “wilderness”). Some versions have John the Baptist’s mother spelled with a z “Elizabeth,” some with an s “Elisabeth”; some have his father as Zechariah and some as Zacharias. In some, Esther is married to King Ahasuerus; in others, King Xerxes. This is not an issue of error; it’s an issue of translation and sources and Greek and Hebrew—and I suppose, whatever the translation committee eventually agreed upon. And then, of course, some versions include upper-case deity pronouns (such as the NKJV) and some do not. For those that did, every single reference to God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit as a he or a him or a himself or a his had to be tracked down and fixed with a capital H.

I went through the Bible several times over the course of those seven years. A couple of years later, Tyndale House set aside their popular but often-questioned Living Bible paraphrase for an actual translation done by teams of scholars. This became the New Living Translation, and, of course, Tyndale wanted their signature study Bible to be available in this new Bible text. And who do you think they contacted for that work?

Well, it was me. What a privilege it has been to read and reread Scripture and these notes across all these years.

I’m in love with this book. Reading start to finish over and over has given me appreciation for the big picture of God’s salvation from creation to the promise of His return in the future.

It’s all about my heart’s desire to help others to fall in love with God’s Word. Because when we do that, we’ll read it and we’ll begin to understand God’s great plan for us all.

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In Love with God’s Word: The Life Application Study Bible

I have been privileged to be involved in some amazing publishing projects over the course of my thirty-plus years in the industry. But for sure one of my favorites and most life-impacting was in the early 1980s: a partnership between Tyndale House Publishers and Youth for Christ (where I worked) to create a brand-new kind of study Bible.

Bible-5What became The Life Application Study Bible involved thousands of hours and dozens of people and lots of meetings and lots of writing. Our purpose was to go beyond what most study Bibles of the day were doing, which was to offer a lot of information but little insight, a lot of esoteric and theological thinking but no real-world application. We wanted to create a Bible that gave information and insight but then also took the person from that to the “so what?” question. We wanted to help Bible readers understand what various verses and passages meant for their lives.

The partnership with Tyndale was marrying Ken Taylor’s Living Bible text (which had made such a difference in my life, as I noted in a previous post) with our vision for Bible notes (which would do the same thing). We wanted to focus on application. If some etymology or philosophy or theology were needed for understanding, we would make the explanations simple and succinct. Our focus was to make sure every note helped guide the reader to answer the question personally, “I just read this in Scripture. So what? What does that mean for my life?”

So we began work. A group of five of us kept our regular jobs at Youth for Christ, but each day several hours were set aside when we gathered in the conference room. We would stay late, sometimes come in on Saturdays. With the conference room table piled high with commentaries and Bible dictionaries, we’d begin the day’s work. One person got us started with a question working verse by verse, section by section, and everyone else dove into the commentaries and other Bible helps to read about various passages and knotty issues and then summarize them in an understandable way. My job was to sit at the end of the table, take notes on what they said (I was writing on note cards—gosh, a laptop would have been nice!), create a readable Bible note, and read it back to them. We’d edit until it felt right, and then the card would be set aside and go to the next question.

Sometimes whole teams of people joined us and were assigned to various sections of Scripture to do the same thing.

For instance, a note in a typical study Bible for John 3:16 says something like this:

3:16 God so loved the world: God’s love is not restricted to any one nation or to any spiritual elite. World here may also include all of creation (see Rom. 8:19-22; Col. 1:20).

In our Life Application Study Bible, the note at this verse says the following:

3:16 The entire gospel comes to a focus in this verse. God’s love is not static or self-centered; it reaches out and draws others in. Here God sets the pattern of true love, the basis for all love relationships—when you love someone dearly, you are willing to give freely to the point of self-sacrifice. God paid dearly with the life of his Son, the highest price he could pay. Jesus accepted our punishment, paid the price for our sins, and then offered us the new life that he had bought for us. When we share the gospel with others, our love must be like Jesus’—willingly giving up our own comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God’s love.

We sat around the tables, read the verses, read various commentaries’ comments on those verses, talked, discussed, argued a little bit, laughed, and ultimately tried to write a note on the note cards that explained to any reader somewhat unfamiliar with Scripture what the text says and, beyond that, what it means. What does it mean to take Scripture and apply it to life?

Now obviously, there are many interpretations of Scripture—from very liberal to very conservative. We tried to stay mostly “evangelical,” meaning centrist and mainstream, with our applications. When various opinions needed to be noted, we included them (for example, explaining the four main views of the end times in the notes in the book of Revelation). The applications do not tell readers what to do but instead attempt to help readers think about how Scripture is more than just words on a page; it’s meant to be lived.

My job after each of our marathon sessions was to take those note cards and type the contents into the brand new Digital computer purchased for our office just for this purpose. It had a black screen with orange lettering. I entered the notes in canonical order and then would print each Bible book’s material out on the wide paper with the holes on each side—the obnoxious holes that wouldn’t always stay on their little spindles as the paper jerked through the printer line by line, often jamming. These hard copies then went through a series of editorial passes by the head editorial team, then came back to me to enter changes. (Often with markings showing the hard work—a red splotch with the apologetic explanation, “Sorry, ketchup from my hamburger” or a brown circle, “My coffee mug leaked a bit.”)

As I entered the changes, if an edit was located far down in the file, I’d hit search and then go get a cup of coffee. By the time I got back, the computer might have finally found the note I wanted.

This process went on for a couple of busy years (66 Bible books, 1,189 chapters). In the end, we came up with an amazing product—totally and completely new in the marketplace, something never seen before.

And the privilege I had to work my way through all of Scripture with such deep study and application focus just made me fall in love that much more with God’s Word.

Scripture matters. Scripture must absolutely be the foundation and the focus for every believer’s life. It speaks. It applies to every situation, to every life.

What’s a favorite verse that has made a difference in your life?