Poets, Volume 5 of Immerse: The Reading Bible | Book Review


The Hebrew Bible divides itself into three sections: Torah, Nevi’im (“Prophets”), and Ketuvim (“Writings”). Immerse: The Reading Bible largely follows this order. Beginnings is identical to Torah, the first five books of the canonical Bible. It divides Nevi’im into Kingdoms and Prophets. It divides Ketuvim into Poets and Writings.

Poets consists of two broad sections. The first section is Israel’s sung poetry: Psalms, Lamentations, and Song of Songs. The second section is its read poetry: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job.

The New Living Translation of these books is very readable. However, I find that it often flattens idioms in order to explain them. For example, compare the ESV and NLT translation of Proverbs 20:8:

  • ESV: “A king who sits on the throne of judgment / winnows all evil with his eyes.”
  • NLT: “When a king sits in judgment, he weighs all the evidence, / distinguishing the bad from the good.

The ESV is a formal equivalence translation, which means—roughly—that it translates word for word. The NLT is a functional equivalence translation, on the other hand, which means—again, roughly—that it translates thought for thought. Formal equivalence translations generally tells us what a text says, while functional equivalence translations often tell us what it means.

The upside of functional equivalence is that it explains idiomatic language, which is often hard to understand. The downside is that explanation relies on abstraction rather than concrete imagery. Also, it forecloses on other potential interpretations. The upside and downside of formal equivalence translations are the mirror image of those of functional equivalence ones.

I found that I understood the NLT well, but as someone who reads the Psalter monthly, I missed the poetic, metaphorical quality of a more formally equivalent translation. Still, as I said, the meaning of the poetry came through.

One more thing: As I read through Poets, I was struck with great force by the dialectical character of wisdom literature. Proverbs especially lays out a morally ordered universe in which God prospers the righteous and punishes the wicked. (This is the general trend; individual proverbs present a more complex picture.) On the other hand, Ecclesiastes and Job depict a universe that is morally disordered. The race is not to the swift. The righteous suffer.

What strikes me is that both depictions of reality are true at different times and places. This points to the diverse character of human experience. Wisdom literature, based as it is on the observation of humanity, reflects this diversity. Personally, I think Proverbs advice is best, but it must be received humbly, knowing that Ecclesiastes’ and Job’s contrary observations are also true at times.

My full review of Immerse follows below.

Book Reviewed
Immerse: The Reading Bible, Vol. 5, Pets (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017).

P.S. If you liked my review of Prophets, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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Most Americans own a Bible, but few read it. According to American Bible Society’s State of the Bible 2017 (SOTB), 87 percent of U.S. households own at least one copy of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, only 50 percent of U.S. adults read the Bible, listen to it, or pray with it at least three or four times a year.

How can we help people move toward greater Bible engagement?

There are many ways to answer this question, but I want to focus on a new Bible product I believe merits attention. It’s called Immerse: The Reading Bible, which Tyndale House Publishers created in Alliance with the Institute for Bible Reading. You can read more about it at ImmerseBible.com (BibliaInmersion.com for the Spanish version).

Immerse is designed to take the church — from junior high to senior adults — through the Bible in three years. It presents Scripture in six high-quality, low-cost paperbacks or e-books.

  • Messiah (New Testament)
  • Beginnings(Genesis–Deuteronomy)
  • Kingdoms (Joshua–2 Kings)
  • Prophets (Isaiah–Malachi)
  • Poets (Job–Song of Songs, plus Lamentations)
  • Chronicles (1Chronicles–Esther, plus Daniel)

According to its website, “Immerse is built on three core ideas: reading a naturally formatted Bible, reading at length, and having unmediated discussions about it together.”

While most Bibles are formatted like a dictionary — a two-column format with scholarly apparatus, including chapter and verse numbers, headings, cross-references and notes — Immerse presents Scripture in a single-column format and eliminates the scholarly apparatus entirely. According to SOTB, 8 percent of U.S. adults cite difficult layout as a significant frustration when reading the Bible. Immerse’s formatting reduces that frustration.

Using this Bible, a church’s small groups or Sunday School classes meet twice a year for eight weeks each time to read and discuss one of Immerse’s six paperbacks, starting with Messiah. Reading each paperback takes 20 to 30 minutes daily, five days a week, for the duration of the small group. This is what Immerse means by “reading at length.” Thirty percent of U.S. adults say lack of time is a significant Bible reading frustration. By delimiting how much and how often participants read, Immerse’s program addresses this concern.

During meetings, a leader facilitates open discussion around four questions:

  1. What stood out to you this week?
  2. Was anything confusing or troubling?
  3. Did anything make you think differently about God?
  4. How might this change the way you live?

State of the Bible 2017 found that readers are motivated to increase Bible reading when encountering difficulty (41 percent), a significant life change, such as marriage or childbirth (17 percent), or contemporary discussions about religion and spirituality in the media (17 percent). By focusing on four open-ended questions, Immerse encourages readers to ponder what the Bible teaches in the specifics of their lives.

Several other features of Immerse are worth highlighting. First, it uses the New Living Translation of Scripture (NLT). According to SOTB, 16 percent of U.S. adults are frustrated by the Bible’s difficult language. The NLT features readable, idiomatic English for a broad audience.

Second, within each paperback, Immerse reorganizes the books of the Bible in an interesting fashion. For example, the standard New Testament order of books is Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, other epistles and Revelation. Messiah pairs each gospel with letters related to it: Luke–Acts with Paul’s letters, Mark with Peter’s and Jude’s letters, Matthew with Hebrews and James, and John with John’s letters and Revelation. This helps readers see thematic connections between each gospel and its associated letters.

Third, Immerse provides resources to help readers understand the theological, historical and literary context of each book of the Bible. All six paperbacks include brief introductory essays. And the website includes free aids for small groups: a weekly 3-minute video that introduces each week’s readings, audio files of daily Bible readings, and downloadable guides for pastors, small-group leaders and participants.

God inspired the Bible to equip us for holy living (2 Timothy 3:16–17). If we don’t use it, however, it does us no good. Immerse offers church leaders a well-thought-out strategy for guiding readers through Scripture.

Book Reviewed
Immerse: The Reading Bible, 6 Volumes (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017).

P.S. If you liked my review of Immerse, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

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