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Friday
Aug272010

Five (5!) Days Left to Preregister for the Accordance Users Conference

You've got five days left to preregister for the Accordance Users Conference, set for September 24-25 in Mesquite, Texas. You can still register afterwards, of course, but it will cost you more!

If you preregister, the cost is $70 ($35 for students), but beginning September 1, the cost goes up to $100 ($50 for students).

There's a lot happening over the two days of the conference, including multiple sessions and two different tracks (download conference schedule here). The headliners are Martin Abegg and Daniel Wallace:

Dr. Abegg is the Ben Zion Wacholder Professor of Dead Sea Scroll Studies at Trinity Western University. He is an active Accordance user and developer of all the Qumran and Dead Sea Scrolls modules used in Accordance. He will give a presentation on the relationship of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible, and will be present during the entire conference for anyone who would like to meet with him.

Dr. Wallace is Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. He will give a presentation describing the Center’s work of discovering and photographing New Testament manuscripts in order to further New Testament textual criticism.


Plus, it's been announced that the upcoming iPhone/iPad Accordance app will be shown off at the conference, and yours truly has been asked to chair a panel discussion: "The Impact and Future of Mobile Bible Software." Joining in this discussion will be Drew Haninger, founder and CEO of Olive Tree Bible Software, makers of BibleReader for the iPhone, iPad, and a host of other mobile devices (see, who said Bible software companies can't get along?).

So, don't miss the preregistration deadline, and I'll see you there!

Thursday
Aug122010

The Times, They Are A-Changin' (Are You Paying Attention?)

Do you have a friend or relative who forwards you a dozen emails a day? Who sometimes even forwards you the same thing six weeks later? If so, you may have seen this one, but what's new here is that I've added a few of my own responses.

My parents are very judicious in what they forward to me. They only send what they think I'll recently be interested in, and such is the subject of this post. Below you will find one of the various memes traveling around the internet interspersed with my comment. The meme's content is in the quotation box, and my response follows.

I tried to find the original writer of this, but it's been repeated so many times on the internet, I'm not certain as to its origin. If you know who wrote this, send me an email at RMansfield@mac.com and I'll give proper credit to the writer.

The original title on the email reads "This is very interesting...and a little sad!" I do believe that it's interesting, but not all of it is all that sad to me.

Whether these changes are good or bad depends in part on how we adapt to them.  But, ready or not, here they come!

1.  The Post Office. Get ready to imagine a world without the post office.  They are so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term.  Email, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive.  Most of your mail every day is junk mail and bills.


I doubt the post office is going completely away, but we may see five-day or even four-day service instead of the six-day delivery we are used to. The last sentence above is very true. Most of my mail is made up of bills, advertising circulars, and magazines (to add one item). With my iPad, I've already converted a couple of my subscriptions to electronic formats. The magazines that Kathy and I both read—Time, Christianity Today, Entertainment Weekly—will remain in physical form until a way is developed for us to share electronic versions between devices.

But back to the Post Office... More than Fed Ex and UPS, which is limited in what they're allowed to deliver to your door, the real threat to the future of the Post Office has been email. They say that the written letter is dead. But it doesn't have to be. Want to really impress someone? Write a handwritten letter or thank you note, and send it in the mail.

2.  The Check. Britain is already laying the groundwork to do away with checks by 2018.  It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks.  Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check.  This plays right into the death of the post office.  If you never paid your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office would absolutely go out of business.


I pay as many of my bills electronically as I can. Saves postage costs (there goes the Post Office) and time. But we can't get rid of the check until all my bills take electronic payment. I can't pay my local water bill over the internet because their payment system is based on a 25-year-old DOS-based billing system! (West Shelby Water, are you reading this?)

Checks are still handy for other things, too, like when I owe my buddy $20 for some expense he covered for me. But that's only because it's more convenient to write him a check and make him go to the bank instead of going to the ATM myself. Speaking of which, we'll probably see physical cash disappear in our lifetime, too. I'm not so concerned really.

And speaking of checks, I realized not long ago that the only time I still use cursive handwriting was to sign my name and write the payment line on checks. So, I decided to quit cursive handwriting all together. I mean, what's the point? My handwriting is bad regardless, but I promise you that my print is easier to read than my cursive. I guess I'll keep cursive for my signature. But that's it.

3.  The Newspaper. The younger generation simply doesn't read the newspaper.  They certainly don't subscribe to a daily delivered print edition.  That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man.  As for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it.  The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers has caused all the newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance. They have met with Apple, Amazon, and the major cell phone companies to develop a model for paid subscription services.


Let's be honest, the newspaper is on life support because the traditional press has not kept up with the times. People don't sell their stuff in the classifieds anymore; they use craigslist and eBay. Further, the internet delivers the news almost immediately (and with services like Twitter, it's often literally in the immediate). By the time a newspaper story is written, printed, and delivered, it's not longer news.

And I've questioned why I still subscribe to certain magazines when they often deliver the same content for free on the web before it arrives to my door. And I'm not talking about breaking news stories, I'm referring to feature articles. In this regard, they're shooting themselves in the foot.

I do believe a free press is important. It's part of who we are as a democracy. But newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals need to rethink delivery. Printing on dead trees, paying for people to drive trucks, and paying for the trucks themselves is not an efficient use of the press' income anymore. I don't subscribe to the local Shelby County newspaper, The Sentinel News, anymore, but I'd be willing to subscribe again if it came "magically" to my iPad every morning at a price less than what they charge for a print subscription. It's basically their choice of getting some money from me or no money from me. It might be less money, but they could make that up by not having to pay for printing, vehicles and delivery.

4.  The Book. You say you will never give up the physical book that you hold in your hand and turn the literal pages.  I said the same thing about downloading music from iTunes.  I wanted my hard copy CD.  But I quickly changed my mind when I discovered that I could get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get the latest music.  The same thing will happen with books.  You can browse a bookstore online and even read a preview chapter before you buy.  And the price is less than half that of a real book.  And think of the convenience!  Once you start flicking your fingers on the screen instead of the book, you find that you are lost in the story, can't wait to see what happens next, and you forget that you're holding a gadget instead of a book.


I completely agree with the writer. My first electronic book came in the way of the Online Bible for DOS which an acquaintance gave me on multiple 5.25" floppy disks back in 1988. Over the last couple of decades, thanks to programs like Accordance, Logos, and Wordsearch, I've accumulated electronic books in the thousands. But I still held on to my physical books, also numbering in the thousands, with many titles duplicated in both physical and electronic form.

It took Apple's iPad to convince of what I can now say with no reservation: I absolutely don't care if I never buy another book in physical form. And since Logos has an iPad app and there's one in the works for Accordance, I've been pulling the physical duplicates from my shelves and have them stacked in my front room waiting to be catalogued and sold. Some books I'll never get rid of for sentimental and in some cases, practical reasons, but I'm definitely reducing all the "stuff" in my house.

I'm not knocking physical books, and I have no agenda to change your mind. It's strictly a personal decision. But carrying thousands of books on a device as small as the iPad as opposed to using up the entire guest bedroom to hoard my own personal library is a much better choice for me.

5.  The Land Line Telephone. Unless you have a large family and make a lot of local calls, you don't need it anymore.  Most people keep it simply because they're always had it.  But you are paying double charges for that extra service.  All the cell phone companies will let you call customers using the same cell provider for no charge against your minutes.


Absolutely agreed. I haven't had a landline since 2002. Why would I need it? Why do you need it?

6.  Music. This is one of the saddest parts of the change story.  The music industry is dying a slow death.  Not just because of illegal downloading.  It's the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it.  Greed and corruption is the problem.  The record labels and the radio conglomerates simply self-destruction.  Over 40% of the music purchased today is "catalog items," meaning traditional music that the public is familiar with.  The older established artists.  This is also true on the live concert circuit.  To explore this fascinating and disturbing topic further, check out the book, "Appetite for Self-Destruction" by Steve Knopper, and the video documentary, "Before the Music Dies."


I guess I stopped listening to new music sometime after I graduated from college in 1990. Occasionally, I'll hear a musician I like and pick up something new, but for the most part, music is simply not part of my day. And when it is, I'm listening to something from decades past. My tastes definitely aren't mainstream, so I can't judge the quality of current pop music. Everyone believes the next generation's tastes and talent are not as good as their own.

Like the press, the music industry is also an example of an industry not keeping up with the times. I don't encourage breaking the law, but I do believe the laws concerning music sharing should be changed to accommodate the reality of how easy it is to share music electronically. Look, I want everyone to get paid their due, but we need a different paradigm for musicians to accomplish that.

I haven't read the books mentioned above, but I did read Michael Lewis' book Next: The Future Just Happened way back in 2001. In that book, Lewis discussed the idea of bands who simply give their music away and support themselves from fan support either through donations (We'll make our next album when we've raised enough money to cover costs), concerts, and selling of merchandise. Patron funding is actually how musicians supported themselves for millennia. Of course, it eliminates the need for middlemen, i. e. the record labels.

Well... good riddance.

7.  Television.  Revenues to the networks are down dramatically.  Not just because of the economy.  People are watching TV and movies streamed from their computers.  And they're playing games and doing all lots of other things that take up the time that used to be spent watching TV.  Prime time shows have degenerated down to lower than the lowest common denominator.  Cable rates are skyrocketing and commercials run about every 4 minutes and 30 seconds.  I say good riddance to most of it It's time for  the cable companies to be put out of our misery.  Let the people choose what they want to watch online and through Netflix.


Well, I'm not in disagreement, but I feel that I still watch too much television. And when I do watch, I've recorded it on my TiVo, and I fast forward through the commercials. That's not good for the networks that depend upon advertisers' dollars, but it saves me 15 minutes of every hour-long television show.

Further, I've become mistrustful of new television shows. With the immediate ratings expectations that networks have (Fox seems to be the worst), a show will get pulled for low numbers just as it gets interesting without resolving the conflict that was the basis of the show. These days, I'd rather wait and see if a new show is successful in the long run before investing my time end emotions into it. This is the kind of approach that Netflix was made for.

I don't know what the exact solution to this is for those who make television shows, but I do know that this is clearly yet another medium that hasn't kept up with changes in technology and lifestyle.

Plus, if television were to actually go away tomorrow (which it won't), we wouldn't get bored for lack of something to do. We're entertaining ourselves to death as it is.

8.  The "Things" That You Own. Many of the very possessions that we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own them in the future.  They may simply reside in "the cloud."  Today your computer has a hard drive and you store your pictures, music, movies, and documents.  Your software is on a CD or DVD, and you can always re-install it if need be.  But all of that is changing. Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all finishing up their latest "cloud services."  That means that when you turn on a computer, the Internet will be built into the operating system.  So, Windows, Google, and the Mac OS will be tied straight into the Internet.  If you click an icon, it will open something in the Internet cloud.  If you save something, it will be saved to the cloud.  And you may pay a monthly subscripti on fee to the cloud provider.

In this virtual world, you can access your music or your books, or your whatever from any laptop or handheld device.  That's the good news.  But, will you actually own any of this "stuff" or will it all be able to disappear at any moment in a big "Poof?"  Will most of the things in our lives be disposable and whimsical?  It makes you want to run to the closet and pull out that photo album, grab a book from the shelf, or open up a CD case and pull out the insert.


Well, yes and no. First, the idea of a simple dumb terminal, connected to a larger network, has been around since the nineties, and technically even earlier. It's yet to be a complete reality for the majority of computer users. To me "the cloud" is great for backup and transfer, but I still prefer to keep actual copies of my files handy and easily accessible, regardless of whether or not I have a wireless connection or not.

Even at the most practical level, while WiFi access has become fairly commonplace, it's not completely ubiquitous yet. How many times have I gone to a coffee shop to do some work for a couple of hours, only to discover the wireless router is on the fritz, only after I've already ordered my coffee, pastry and had a seat? Too often. If I completely depended upon a cloud service like GoogleDocs and wanted to finish a half-written document, I'd either have to relocate or start over. No thanks. I'd rather have my files local, thank you. Oh, I know WiMAX, cellular internet service and similar technologies are supposed to be the answer. But all of them are either too expensive or not quite ready.

I moved ThisLamp to WordPress almost a year ago, a completely cloud-based website service. Yesterday, accidentally, I completely overwrote my previous post after I used a different device to attempt to compose a new post. Although I am partly to blame, this could not have happened with my previous method of blogging. Had it not been for an internet cache of the original post, it would have simply been lost. Therefore, I am seriously tempted to begin using a program like MarsEdit to compose local files that will then upload to WordPress on the internet.

One more example: a couple of weeks ago, in trying to test out the personal notes feature in Logos Bible software, a function that is primarily cloud-based, a number of the notes I created were corrupted during the synchronizing process to and from their servers to my computer That left me with the choice of either deleting them and forgetting about it or re-creating them. Now, granted, the Mac version of Logos is in beta, so I knew my risks, but beta or not, this shows the danger of not having complete control over local files as well as having good backups.

Of course, lack of backups is the real danger to the current "things" we own on our computers. The average computer user simply never backs up his or her files. How many friends have called me wanting to know what they can do to retrieve the years' worth of digital photos sitting on a dead hard drive. I even have one of those hard drives myself, although with just a few weeks' worth of un-backuped pictures, waiting for the day when I have an extra couple thousand dollars to pay a professional data retrieval company to get my pictures back.

I've learned the hard way. I backup my my main laptop, my iPhone, and my iPad multiple times a week and my primary backup is not kept in my home.

9.  Privacy. If there ever was a concept that we can look back on nostalgically, it would be privacy.  That's gone.  It's been gone for a long time anyway.  There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, and even built into your computer and cell phone.  But you can be sure that 24/7 "They" know who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View.  If you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and your ads will change to reflect those habits.  And "They" will try to get you to buy something else.  Again and again!


Well, this is a double-edged sword, isn't it? While we might feel those cameras in public places are an invasion of our privacy, we certainly are glad for their presence if we've been robbed, assaulted, or wronged in any way. Cameras in public places come as a cost of our safety. If I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, they will never be used against me.

And while it might make me feel a bit squishy to know that Kroger is tracking my purchases when I use their discount card, I certainly like the discounts and the coupons they send me now and then based upon my shopping habits.

The real invasion of our privacy often comes at our own doing in this technological age. I finally embraced FaceBook, but I don't share my information with just anyone (including strangers, teenagers and children of friends who try to friend me). I don't post anything that a current or future employer might frown upon. I don't post anything that would shock my mother. I'm careful when installing new software to at least scan through the user agreement and not allow something to be added to the toolbar of my web browser (these little apps are often being used to track a user's movements). I don't add people to my Foursquare friends list whom I don't know because I don't want strangers tracking my movements. Yes, I sometimes rebroadcast these updates on Twitter (which is public), but I purposefully don't post all of them.

All we will have that can't be changed are Memories.


Well, yes and no, here, too, right? How often do I look at photographs from way back and wonder why I can no longer remember the names of some of those people or even wonder who they were and what I was doing in the picture? We're concerned about serious conditions such as Alzheimer's, but we continue to eat food cooked in aluminum and reheat the leftovers in plastic—neither of which are probably a good idea.

Look, things change. And it's not always clear cut as to whether it's for the good or bad. We think of our past as being a simpler time, but often we do that to the neglect of remembering how many conveniences we have now.

A service like Facebook, for instance, allows me to stay in at least minimal touch with a significant larger number of my graduating high school class than my parents could have at my age. Are those "friendships" as relevant as the relationships I have right now in my immediate community of work, neighborhood, and church? Probably not, but I'm glad I have them anyway.

When I can play Words with Friends with an old classmate I've known since the second grade, but haven't seen in two decades in person, I still prefer that connection over playing with a stranger. And I'd rather have that than no contact at all.

Yes, I run the risk of legacy file formats twenty years from now for eBooks I buy today, but I also know of people who have lost hundreds of books from fire and flood. I'm willing to take the risk on the technology and hope that with millions of us making the same choice, there will be enough momentum to ensure we can still access them years down the road.

Here's a new question for all of us to face: Can I leave my virtual properties to a family member or friend when I pass on? This will be the next question (among many) to answer in our changing and increasingly technological world.

Tuesday
Aug102010

Top Ten Bible Versions: Revisited (2010)

In 2006, I created a top ten list of my favorite versions of the Bible. It was partly based on preference and partly categorical. Then, over the next year, I attempted to write meaningful reviews as to why these selections were chosen. Some liked my selections and some didn’t, but they were mine. See “Top Ten Bible Versions: The Complete Boxed Set” at my old site.

As I’ve written many times before, collecting English versions of the Bible has always been a bit of a hobby for me—going back to my teenage years. I was fascinated by even the minute choices that translators could make. Studying Greek and Hebrew in seminary, and incorporating original languages into my own personal study of the Bible gave me even greater insight into my fascination. In other words, one might think that learning biblical languages would negate any need for translations, but rather it made my interest deepen.

Further, I still use English translations in front of an audience. It takes a lot of time to create good translation that is better than what a committee has spent a few years on. And this is made even more clear when I attempt to translate a passage from Greek on the fly (previously unprepared), so I usually have both original languages and translation with me.

When not in the classroom or not in church, my study of the Bible comes mostly from electronic platforms such as Accordance on my Mac and Olive Tree’s BibleReader on my iPad. Electronic platforms especially accommodate the use of comparative readings of the Bible, much easier than laying out multiple physical copies side-by-side.

I occasionally get asked if I would update my top ten list now that a few years have gone by. Well, these kinds of preferences are always open to change. So, in light of that, here’s my list for 2010. The first five or so are actually ranked more or less. The latter five are more categorical in nature.

1. Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

See original review here. I still find this translation to be the most significant version of the Bible to arrive in decades. I chose it in the first place because of what I called “technical accuracy” in translation and the willingness to break with traditional renderings for the sake of correct meaning. The HCSB is essentially a median translation (the best kind in my opinion), sometimes more literal and sometimes more dynamic according to the need.

Since I placed the HCSB at the top of my list in 2006, I drifted from it a while, but last year while teaching a series on the Psalms I came back to it, and I haven’t left since. Yes, there are some renderings I don’t always agree with, but I reserve the right to “correct” on the fly if necessary.

This is the primary translation I’m currently using in public, and having just recently bought a new edition with the revised text, I don’t expect that will change for a long time.

If you’ve dismissed the HCSB because you think it’s a “Baptist” Bible, you’re selling it short (half the translation committee, including the general editor, are not Baptist) and both you and your audience are missing out.


2. New Living Translation (NLT)

See original review here. Continually improved since its debut as an actual translation (as opposed to its predecessor’s status as a paraphrase) in 1996, the NLT remains the best example of contemporary, conversational English language of any translation. It’s a great choice for both new believers as well as seasoned Christians who might have heard the Bible so many times in traditional terms that they no longer hear it so clearly.

The narrative portions are the best. If you’re preaching through the gospels, I don’t have a better recommendation than the NLT. However, by the same token, I don’t find it as helpful in poetic sections as metaphors are often flattened out a bit more than I’d prefer. Nevertheless, even this has been improved in recent years.

I still haven’t found a good “carry with me” copy of the second edition text, although I had a couple of favorites in the first edition.


3. NET Bible (New English Translation)

See original review here. Note that I switched title and abbreviation order for this version because it’s known better by its acronym which also makes a play on the word internet, where the NET Bible was first released. This version didn’t even make my original list because I was still in the process of familiarizing myself with it. But a few years later, after using it extensively in personal study, in the classroom, and from behind the pulpit, I can recommend it without hesitation.

As I said in my long-delayed review, “I recommend the NET Bible–especially the standard edition with 60,932 notes–to all believers.” Hands down, the complete NET Bible has the best set of notes I’ve ever seen in any study Bible. The translation, while still having a few rough places, is solid, too. Ultimately, this is simply a translation of the Bible in need of better exposure.


4. New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

No official review, but see NRSV tags on both the classic and current This Lamp site. This is another translation that didn’t make my original list. While I had used the NRSV a good bit in the early nineties, I’d neglected it afterwards. But in recent years, I find myself referencing it more often and have come to appreciate it again.

The NRSV often gets a bad rap as a “liberal” Bible in some conservative circles. And while there are certain renderings that I would translate differently, I find the NRSV to be quite reliable. Its senior editor was the late, great Bruce Metzger, and because I trust him, I trust the NRSV. It’s the current de facto standard translation in academic circles, and the NRSV contains the widest selection of apocryphal/deuterocanonical literature of any English translation.

 

5. New American Standard Bible (NASB)

See official review here. For better or worse, I doubt I’ll ever escape the NASB (and don’t necessarily want to). This was the first Bible as a teenager that I could understand (claims of woodenness be hanged!). The NASB was the first translation I read from cover to cover. I taught from this translation for almost two decades. Most scripture I have memorized is in the NASB. In many ways it is still standard for me, even if it is a bit dated these days. If someone wants a formal equivalent translation in the Tyndale tradition ,this is still the version I recommend.


6. Good News Translation (AKA Today’s English Version; GNT/TEV)

See original review here. I can remember looking at Annie Vallotton’s simple, but profound line drawings, even before I could read, in my parents’ paperback copy of Good News for Modern Man. I’m very thankful to have access to this translation in Accordance, but I wish I had the pictures, too!

After reading Eugene A. Nida’s book, Good News for Everyone: How to Use the Good News Bible, I gained new respect, not only for this translation but also for the method of translation. While somewhat dated, the GNT remains the best pure dynamic equivalent (DE) Bible in my opinion, perhaps closely challenged by the Contemporary English Version. However, the CEV removes most parallelism in poetic passages (making them quite unpoetic), so I still give favor to the GNT. Plus, I still like the pictures; I don’t care what you think.


7. The Message

See original review here. While I would never recommend it as a primary Bible, the Message is easily the best pure paraphrase of the entire Bible ever produced. Those who detest it don’t “get” it, in my estimation. Eugene Peterson essentially redefined the word paraphrase, which had previously been applied to works reworded from existing translations, since Peterson created his paraphrase directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts.

Some parts of the Message are admittedly troublesome and some parts are genius. I particularly like the Old Testament wisdom literature (especially Proverbs) in the Message.


8. New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)

See original review here. Essentially, a Catholic Bible, this translation is far superior to the “official” Catholic New American Bible. I like to say that if I were Catholic, this would be the Bible I would use. I don’t keep up with the NJB’s wider use much these days, but I’ve heard for a long time that a third edition was in the works. I wouldn’t doubt with the Catholic Church’s recent disallowance of the use of the Divine Name in worship services (which the NJB uses almost exclusively over the traditional LORD), the NJB may have fallen on even harder times than before. This is another translation I’m fortunate to have access to in Accordance.


9. Revised English Bible (REB)

See original review here. While not as risky or quite as dynamic as its predecessor, the New English Bible, the REB is still the best literary translation of the entire Bible since perhaps the King James Version. It never quite caught hold in the United States but had a small following in Great Britain. I continue to read it for my own enjoyment. It still surprises and delights me at times. And this might still be the only Bible I’d take to the desert island. As far as I know, Accordance is the only software to offer the REB in electronic form.


10. Today’s New International Version (TNIV)

See original review here. There’s not much more I can say about the TNIV that I haven’t already said. I’ve called it “the best translation no one ever read.” While it received the worst (and often mean-spirited) attacks of any modern translation since the RSV, I blame the real demise of the translation on its handlers: Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society) and Zondervan. There was too much money to be made on the NIV, and the TNIV was never fully backed or promoted as it should have been. I used it for quite a while as a primary public translation. The folks at Zondervan used to keep in pretty good contact with me while I was writing about the TNIV. They even flew me up to Grand Rapids for a day once for meetings and conversation. Funny that I don’t hear from them anymore. Well, the NIV 2011 is coming. Knowing who is on the translation committee, I assume it will be a solid translation, but the real test of the NIV 2011′s endurance will come down to whether or not Zondervan and Biblica can finally let go of the NIV 1978.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

The King James Version. No one is fully culturally literate without reading the entire KJV Bible at least once. And you should probably read it twice.

The English Standard Version. Some will be surprised that I put this here. But I’ve mellowed, and I also realize that quite a few folks really hear God speak to them through this version. I’ve privately used it a little bit myself now and then over the last couple of years, and I do admit the ESV can start to grow on a person.

The Modern Language BibleSee original review here. This is the Bible that “could have been.” If you read my review, you’ll see why it almost could have been what the NIV is/was. I’m not certain that it couldn’t be updated and regain its voice, but we do have enough English translations, don’t we? I do wish I had the MLB electronically, though.

God’s Word. I’ve received two review copies of this Bible and what I’ve had time to read, I like; but reviewing an entire translation takes time. Nevertheless, this will be my next major translation review.


So there it is. Perhaps I’ll update the list again in 2013 or 14. Feel free to discuss the particulars in the comments below. And consider offering your own top ten (or even top five, maybe) list yourself.

Sunday
Aug082010

Plagiarism Is the Worst Part of Teaching

Clearly, the worst aspect to teaching is dealing with plagiarism—and I'm not referring to the inevitable confrontation about it. That's awkward enough. No, plagiarism is an ethical issue. It's a personal violation on multiple levels. And I grieve to see a student do that to himself or herself no less than I'd grieve to see physical harm come to a student.

Granted there's an initial thrill involved in the "detective" process. However, in the end, knowing that there's a real live person connected to the offense grieves my soul. It grieves me because this person has not only violated the assumed trust between us, but more seriously the student has taken an ethical shortcut, endangering academic status as well personal integrity.

Every time I begin a new class, I warn my students about this. I tell them I assume that they will not plagiarize, but I discuss the issue because I have found that discussing it up fronts cuts down on its occurrence. I implore them to come to me to negotiate turning in a paper late if they are behind in their work. But it still happens. I've actually had students turn in plagiarized papers in the same class where we've had the discussion about it, which along with signed statements that the paper is their own, included at the beginning of the paper, makes the act even more egregious.

I know the difference between carelessness and willful intent. I can handle carelessness or lack of experience citing a source properly and help the student correct these issues. Careless work is not the issue, although I often stress to students that carelessness can result in plagiarism, intended or not.

I suppose that when a student plagiarizes, I ought to feel anger at some level. Yet, that is rarely the emotion I feel. Normally, for those who seek to knowingly pass off work that is not theirs, I can only feel grief (that is indeed the correct emotion).

And sadly, I've dealt with plagiarism at every institution in which I've ever taught, despite the fact that most of these institutions have religious affiliations.

The majority of my students do not plagiarize (or I'm not as good at detecting it as I think I am). Occasionally, I hear from an instructor that he or she never has to deal with plagiarism. All that tells me, based upon my experience and the simple odds of occurrence, is that those individuals are not reading their students' papers closely enough.

Some of the tells for plagiarism are so obvious that I can't imagine a student thinking that there's any chance of getting them past me. I never share the signs of plagiarism with students; why equip them to become better at deception?

I do seem to be "gifted" at detecting plagiarism. I jokingly refer to it as one of my super powers. But ultimately, it's no joking matter because the exercise of this "gift" brings to the forefront how flawed we (as a culture) really are. But I still press forward with idealism and naivete. I really do assume that no student will ever plagiarize again. I will not allow myself prejudice against them.

Surely, I'll never have to send another paper to the dean again...

Tuesday
Aug032010

Official Word (pun intended): STILL No RTL Text Support in Office:Mac (2011)

Over at the MacMojo blog, the Microsoft Office for Mac team has officially announced that Office 2011—and most significantly, Word 2011—for the Mac will not handle right-to-left text. This means no Unicode language support for anyone writing in languages such as Hebrew and Arabic. So, not only does Word remain fairly useless for native speakers of these languages, but it also has significant impact on any Mac users who are engaged in biblical, Middle Eastern, and Ancient Near East studies.

The announcement itself was sandwiched between two other announcements about language support in the post, "Добро пожаловать ! Zapraszamy ! (And I know I've spelled this right!)." The post itself is written to be a bit lighthearted, but clearly the big news is that yet again, Mac users still do not have RTL support, meaning the Mac version of Word plays second fiddle to the Windows version. Yes, Windows users, feel free to gloat. This is one instance where Windows users have an advantage.

There are other alternatives on the Mac, including Mellel, but Word is such a universal format, used both in the academic and non-academic world that this exclusion continues to put Mac users at a disadvantage, especially those engaged in biblical studies. While a Mac user can request a PDF file from a Windows user who includes Unicode Hebrew in a document, obviously, such a request precludes direct collaboration on a file between users of the two platforms.

What I found most interesting is that  Microsoft's Mac Business Unit managed to blame Apple for the lack of RTL support in their announcement:

Office 2011 relies on the Apple Type Services for Unicode Imaging (ATSUI) as the set of services for rendering Unicode. Due to technology restraints on the text input tools, Office for Mac’s Unicode support doesn’t include languages such as Hebrew and Arabic.

Okay, I'll be honest. I really don't understand half of that. But here's what I do understand: RTL language support is fully supported in specialty word processors on the Mac such as Mellel as well as a host of other programs. Heck, it's even supported here in Safari, where I'm composing this post in WordPress.

Hey, Microsoft MacBU: ‏אָבִיךְ הָאֱמֹרִי וְאִמֵּךְ חִתִּית

Look, I'm not anti-Microsoft like some Mac users. In fact, I use Word just about every day. But if this affects you, I encourage you to give the Microsoft MacBU grief over this. RTL support needs to be added as soon as possible. If it doesn't make the October release of Office 2011, it needs to closely follow it with a point update.

It's not as if this is a new issue. In fact, it feels a whole lot like 2005 all over again.

Friday
Jul302010

Review: NIV Application Commentary (New Testament) for Accordance

Click for a larger view.
Earlier this month, OakTree Software released the complete NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC) on the New Testament for Accordance. The NIVAC Old Testament Prophets will soon be available (see details about the entire series here). The NIVAC has long been a favorite of preachers and anyone else who regularly teaches others from the Bible. The series is known for having a stellar list of evangelical contributors (see list at the end of the review), many of whom have written on the same texts in other, more technical commentaries. To borrow a phrase from one of the key components of every passage treated in the NIVAC, this series attempts to "bridge the gap" between the ancient text and the modern audience.

From OakTree's product description:

Most Bible commentaries take us on a one-way trip from our world to the world of the Bible. But they leave us there, assuming that we can somehow make the return journey on our own. They focus on the original meaning of the passage but don’t discuss its contemporary application. The information they offer is valuable—but the job is only half done! The NIV Application Commentary Series helps bring both halves of the interpretive task together. This unique, award-winning series shows readers how to bring an ancient message into our present-day context. It explains not only what the Bible meant but also how it speaks powerfully today.


As one would expect, the Accordance module brings everything included in the print editions of the NIVAC, but, of course, with the advantages of an electronic text (more about that latter aspect in a minute). Each introduction to individual books of the New Testament includes background information on issues such as title, author, date and context of writing. Each introduction also includes explanations of features unique to that NT book, a section explaining the contemporary significance of the book, an outline and an extensive bibliography of other commentaries and articles about  each NT book.

The commentary portion on the text itself is divided into sections that could easily be handled in the time allotted for the average sermon or serious Bible study or lesson. The NIV text is included in the commentary followed by three major sections: (1) Original Meaning, (2) Bridging Contexts, and (3) Contemporary Significance.

The section, "Original Meaning," examines the passage in its original context, attempting to determine how its original hearers would have understood it. As stated in the series introduction: "All of the elements of traditional exegesis—in concise form—are discussed here. These include the historical, literary, and cultural context of the passage. The authors discuss matters related to grammar and syntax and the meaning of biblical words." Note that a knowledge of biblical languages is not necessary for using the NIVAC.

Since certain aspects of the human experience are common regardless of the age in which one lives, the "Bridging Contexts" section looks for the timeless themes from a passage that are mostly universal in nature.

Often many contemporary readers treat the Bible as if it were written in a vacuum, or worse written in their times. Therefore, these first two sections are crucial before addressing the purpose of the third section, "Contemporary Significance." Proper understanding of the Bible (or any ancient text for that matter) must include the proper historical setting and significance of a text before making contemporary application. It's been said that the majority of heresy in the church comes in our application of the Scriptures. No doubt, there is some truth to this idea which makes attention to the first two sections of the NIVAC's chapters so very important. When discussing "Contemporary Significance," the NIVAC writers attempt to


  1. [I]dentify contemporary situations, problems, or questions that are truly comparable to those faced by the original audience. Because contemporary situations are seldom identical to those faced by the original audience, you must seek situations that are analogous if your applications are to be relevant.

  2. [Explore] a variety of contexts in which the passage might be applied today. You will look at personal applications, but you will also be encouraged to think beyond private concerns to the society and culture at large.

  3. [A]lert you to any problems or difficulties you might encounter in seeking to apply the passage. And if there are several legitimate ways to apply a passage (areas in which Christians disagree), the author will bring these to your attention and help you think through the issues involved.

The NIVAC can be searched in Accordance according to a number of very specific categories.

The advantage of any electronic text over a physical one comes with the ability to perform both simple and complex searches. Any reader with a physical book that has an index in the back is at the mercy of what the indexer thought was important. An electronic text can be searched for any word or any combination of words.

Accordance has long been unparalleled in regard to text searches and the same remains true for the NIVAC. Every part of the NIVAC has been tagged in the underlying code so that the user can search for very specific information. For instance, perhaps you want to find discussions of the word grace, but not everywhere it appears in the text itself (1978 hits) as this would be too broad, but rather every time grace appears in subject headings (9 hits). This is done by specifically searching through Titles rather than English Content.

Even searches for Scripture content have been specifically separated between "Reference" and "Scripture." If you want to search to find overall treatments of a passage, you can run a Reference search and your search is limited to those places where the Scripture reference is part of a heading. If you want to see every place a particular passage is referenced within the content of the commentary, run a Scripture search.

When I ran a generic search simply for "Matthew," I found 468 separate headings that treat a passage from Matthew's gospel. But when I run a Scripture search to find any place that a text from Matthew is referenced anywhere in the entire series, Accordance responded with 5867 hits—in the literal blink of an eye! Accordance is easily the fastest software available for these kinds of searches, able to scan through the nearly 10,000 pages of the entire NIVAC NT and produce such results instantly.

Searches can also be made for any specific Greek or Hebrew content in the NIVAC. As with any module in Accordance, when searching for a Greek or Hebrew word, the user does not have to change keyboard layouts or specify in any way that a biblical language is being used. Accordance is smart enough to figure out what kind of text is being searched based on the category the user selects (or in the case of an original language text, the type of text being searched).

As already stated, the NIVAC does not require a knowledge of biblical languages. In my examination of this kind of content, what I found was that nearly all of the Greek and Hebrew content appeared in titles of articles listed in the series' many bibliographies. When original languages are referenced in the commentary itself, it is transliterated, and Accordance allows the user to search for specific transliterations of Greek and Hebrew words as well.

The NIVAC includes the entire text of the NIV Bible, and although the NIV can be accessed separately in Accordance, the text is still included in the NIVAC module. Thus the user, who might be looking for a specific passage but at the same time might be unable to remember the passage, can search for a phrase specifically in the NIV text of the NIVAC to find the passage in question.

It's a short list, but you can even run searches for specific NT manuscripts referenced in the NIVAC.

As the NIVAC is not a technical commentary, there is not a lot of emphasis placed on textual criticism and attention to specific manuscripts. But nevertheless, if the user wants to see exactly how the NIVAC treats manuscripts, these can be searched as well.

Searches may also be made of content found in the bibliographies. So if you're looking for a particular article title or author, you can easily find that reference. Page numbers can even be searched, too.

And of course using the "More Options" feature that is available in any Accordance tool, including the NIVAC, allows you to combine any of these very specific category searches with another category search to make your query even more precise.

The fact that the NIVAC in Accordance includes page numbers (set in brackets in green text) is especially helpful in citations. These brackets interrupt the text when necessary so that you know exactly where a page ended and a new one began in the physical book.

This can be very important for citing your source. Although technically, electronic sources don't require page numbers in a citation, the connection to the original printed book is often vitally important or even required.

I copied a random sentence from the 1 Corinthians commentary and pasted it into Microsoft Word. Here is the resulting footnote placed at the bottom of the page in Turabian format:

Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, ed. Terry C. Muck, The NIV Application Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 25.


The user could even remove the reference to Accordance and his or her readers wouldn't even know an electronic source had been used.

Note also that the text is correctly cited by the individual commentary writer's name (Craig Blomberg). This is a bit amazing when you realize that Accordance does not create a separate module for each volume of the NIVAC, but treats it as a whole in one single data file. This may be something of a philosophical difference of practice, but some Bible software platforms create a separate  electronic file for each component part of the series, requiring the user to create a grouped collection of the titles (20 separate files!) to run a search through the entire series. But the entire series is in one file in Accordance. What's the advantage of this? Well, first, every one of the different and specific kinds of searches described above can be performed in the same window in which the text itself resides. Secondly, there are often occasions in which I might be studying a passage, for instance, in one of the gospels, but at the same time need to see if or how that passage is referenced in other parts of the commentary. Thus, the value of the earlier mentioned search in which I can look for a particular scripture reference from one book of the New Testament in all the other commentary volumes is easily recognized. Or as mentioned with the search for a subject like grace, I might want to see how it is treated throughout the NIVAC. It's not that it's impossible to do that kind of search in software that treats each volume as a separate file, but its simpler, requires fewer steps and is decidedly faster (blink of an eye!) in Accordance.

Hyperlinks are another advantage to electronic texts over printed books. In the NIVAC for Accordance, moving a mouse over any Scripture reference immediately makes that text appear in the Instant Details window. Clicking on the text opens a tab or window (based on the user's settings) with that text in context. In fact, there are over 4700 hyperlinks to other resources in Accordance, including not just biblical texts, but extra-biblical texts, other commentaries, lexicons, and dictionaries, too—assuming that the user has these resources in his or her library.

The same functionality applies for footnotes. Hovering over a hyperlinked footnote with the mouse makes the footnote's content display in the Instant Details window while clicking on the hyperlink moves the reader to the entire list of footnotes for that particular section of the commentary. Clicking on the "Move to Prior Location" button takes the user back to the original part of the text where the footnote was first cited.

Accordance allows a wide flexibility of options for how one uses a commentary like the NIVAC. One can easily use the NIVAC by itself in a window as seen in the first image at the top of this post. This is especially helpful if specific searches need to be applied to the commentary text. But the NIVAC may also be integrated with other texts:

NIVAC with the HCSB, Greek NT, and personal notes. Click for a larger view.
So, although the NIVAC uses the NIV text as a base, Accordance allows the user to easily place other texts, such as the HCSB and the Greek NT seen above, next to the commentary. Notice also my personal notes in the window. All four of these panes are synced automatically (i.e. they do not have to be manually linked) and as one pane progresses through a passages, the other panes automatically stay at the same point in the passage.

The NIVAC New Testament is regularly priced at $532 for all 20 volumes. However, until September 30 it can be obtained for the sale price of $317. It is available for immediate download, so the purchaser can start using it within minutes after payment. The eight-volume NIVAC Old Testament Prophets will be released in a few days (regular price: $218/sale price through Sept. 30: $130).


List of NIVAC NT contributors:

General Editor: Terry C. Muck
Consulting Editors: Eugene Peterson, Scot McKnight, Marianne Meye Thompson, Klyne Snodgrass

Matthew: Michael J. Wilkins
Mark: David E. Garland
Luke: Darrell L. Bock
John: Gary M. Burge
Acts: Ajith Fernando
Romans: Douglas Moo
1 Corinthians: Craig L. Blomberg
2 Corinthians: Scott J. Hafemann
Galatians: Scot McKnight
Ephesians: Klyne Snodgrass
Philippians: Frank Thielman
Colossians and Philemon: David E. Garland
1 & 2 Thessalonians: Michael W. Holmes
1 & 2 Timothy, Titus: Walter L. Liefield
Hebrews: George H. Guthrie
James: David P. Nystrom
1 Peter: Scot McKnight
2 Peter & Jude: Douglas J. Moo
Letters of John: Gary M. Burge
Revelation: Craig S. Keener


Disclosure: Oak Tree software provided me with a review copy of the NIVAC NT.

Thursday
Jul222010

Oak Tree Releases Teaser Image of Accordance iPhone App

In their July, 2010, email newsletter, OakTree Software included a brief first look at their much rumored iPhone/iPad app. Also mentioned is an approximate release date—Fall, 2010. Here's the actual wording:

Accordance on the iPhone/iPad

Progress on the Accordance app for the iPhone/iPad is dramatic. We expect to release it this Fall. It will run your Accordance modules, and offer most Accordance search functions. Convenience, speed, and privacy are maximized; there is no need to be on-line to use it. Once you download your modules to your mobile device you can search and read your modules and edit your notes off-line. In the future we plan to add even more features.
Monday
Jul192010

In Spite of the iPad (and Other Electronic Resources), I Still Teach from a Physical Bible

I watched a friend preach a sermon the other day, and while his sermon was quite good, and while he quoted Scripture throughout the message, he never actually preached from a physical Bible. Instead, he read Scripture as it was projected onto a large screen. Now, I have no problem with projecting Scripture onto a screen; in fact, I believe this not only helps those who don't have a Bible with them (although it may encourage that, too), but when words are held in front of us in large letters, I believe it can even help us reflect on what the text is actually saying.

However, I saw two immediate downsides with this mode of delivery. First, he was dependent upon a person in the back of the auditorium running the slides to advance each part of the passage from which he was reading. Because the person advancing the slides did not do so in anticipation of the next part of the text, there was a pause at the end of each slide full of text, regardless of whether the break was a natural break or not. This drastically reduced my friend's ability to read the biblical passage with any kind of natural sounding expression, and ultimately the reading of God's Word became a necessary "task" rather than a meaningful part of the sermon. This is not too different in the end result from sermons I've heard in my lifetime in which a biblical passage was rushed through, read with little meaning or expression, so the preacher could get on to the "meat of the sermon."

Secondly, I really believe that there's something psychologically (meant in the most positive sense) beneficial for people to see a preacher or teacher actually reading from a physical Bible. Maybe it's the fact that I've been a lifelong Baptist, and most of us have a high view of Scripture anyway, but to me there's a certain perceived authority that comes from having that Bible in hand. I realize God's Word is God's Word and still just as authoritative whether it's on the lips of someone speaking it, on a scroll, on a Bible's printed page, on a computer screen, iPad, projector, or tattooed on a right ankle. But I also know there's  perceptual difference if you and I are about to have a heart-to-heart talk, and I place a physical Bible between us as opposed to my iPhone with BibleReader pulled up (and that's not a knock against BibleReader).

Now, if you know me at all, you understand that I'm often the first to embrace technology of many different kinds. Sometimes, I'm probably guilty of embracing technology simply because it's "new and shiny." So, I'm not coming from the perspective of a Luddite here. Further, most of my time spent in Bible study—whether for personal or professional reasons—is in front of Accordance on my MacBook Pro. And since the iPad was released, BibleReader has been my main Bible on-the-go for settings such as the Wednesday morning Bible study I'm a part of. But in those instances, I'm not in front of a group. That's the difference. And if in front of a group, whether in the church or in the classroom, you will still see me use a physical Bible.

In the Bible study I teach on Sunday mornings at church, I do use my iPad—but not as a source for biblical readings. I've been carrying my iPad for running my Keynote slides. It's much more convenient than carrying my entire laptop. So I run the slides from the iPad, but I teach from my Bible and a page of notes (once Keynote for the iPad gives us presenter notes, I'll stop bringing the page of notes).

As the class and I walk through a passage together, I don't "hog" the reading of Scripture. I invite others to volunteer to read. But I often make a statement something like this: "Now, if I could have a volunteer to read _______ with a loud and clear voice, with great expression and annunciation." That usually draws a bit of a laugh, especially from newcomers, but I really do mean it.

Public reading of the Bible seems to be quickly becoming a fading skill. My first preaching experiences came when I was in college in the late eighties on our mission trips and at the little country churches fairly close driving distance. My Louisiana Tech BSU director, Lynn Hawkins, spent time with me to show me how to read the Bible in front of an audience. He taught me how to hold it up in front of me, but not covering my face. He demonstrated how it should be held in one hand while the other hand traces the words I'm reading, allowing for periodic eye contact with the congregation without losing my place. He told me not to rush through the reading, but to read the Bible with clarity and expression—as if it were the best thing I'd ever read. He told me that it was okay to read a verse or two from my notes, but when reading more than a couple of verses, and especially when reading a main passage, it should always be done from the Bible.

For better or worse, and regardless of the already mentioned fact that Scripture is Scripture is Scripture, people want to see a Bible in your hand if you are engaged in public proclamation of God's Word. I really believe that. And I believe it crosses multiple generations.

I certainly can't be accused of not embracing new formats. Since I first got my iPad, I'm now convinced that electronic books are (for the most part) much more practical than their physical counterparts. In fact, I don't care if I never buy a physical book again. When looking at a new title, I immediately look to see if it's available as an eBook. But if you hear that I'm going to be teaching or preaching somewhere, don't let it surprise you when you see me holding a very non-tech, analog, turn it page-by-page...Bible.

Wednesday
Jul142010

Amazon Offers FREE Prime Accounts to Students

Yes, I occasionally put Amazon ads in some of my posts, but this isn't one of them. This is just my way of passing on a good deal.

Amazon is offering free Prime memberships to any student with a .EDU email address. That means FREE TWO-DAY SHIPPING on any order.

Go here to sign up: http://www.amazon.com/gp/student/signup/info

Tuesday
Jul132010

Comments NOW Working

If you've submitted a comment here since July 5, no, I'm not censoring you—unless you're a spammer.

I've discovered that there's a problem with my comments here on This Lamp. I kept receiving notices of new comments that were blank. At first, I thought these might actually be some kind of spam comments, but I kept getting them. And I noticed I wasn't getting any new comments.

I'm trying to get to the bottom of the problem. If you know what might be causing it, please email me directly at RMansfield@mac.com.




Okay, I believe comments are now working. If you don't mind, throw out a comment or two on this post to test it out. We don't need many--maybe just four or five.