Texas Bible (plugin): Fixing the Second Person Plural Problem One Website at a Time

TExas Bible Example

Download Google Chrome Extension

Try Now at YallVersion.com

KERA, Dallas’s NPR affiliate, covered this: Southern-Style Scripture And Other Technological Leaps Of Faith

Texas Has What English Lacks

As a preteen on my first visit out of the South, I remember hearing giggles from some people on the New York Subway whenever I spoke. Since I grew up in a large city, I knew that I didn’t have a traditional Texas twang, so it took me a while to realize what was so funny – my use of the word “Y’all” to refer to a group of friends.

Fast forward 20 years, and just about any time I teach from the Scriptures I have to point out a place where the English Bible says “you,” but the original Hebrew or Greek indicates you plural rather than you singular. This means the original author was addressing to a group of people, but a modern English reader can’t detect this because in common English we use “you” for both singular (“you are awesome”) and plural (“you are a team”). This often leads modern readers to think “you” refers to him or her as an individual, when in fact it refers to the community of faith.

Here in Texas (and in the Southern US more generally), I tell my audience that we have a perfect equivalent to the original Greek/Hebrew second person plural: “y’all” the contraction of “you all.” This of course always gets me a good laugh. And this is not unique to the Southern US – many other areas of the English speaking world also have spoken forms of you plural such as “you guys,” “yinz,” and “you lot.”

A few weeks ago, I decided to see how many times this happens. It turns out there are at least 4,720 verses (2,698 in the Hebrew Bible and 2,022 in the Greek) with you plural translated as English “you” which could lead a reader to think it is directed at him or her personally rather than the Church as a community.

So I initially set out to develop a plugin for a Bible software project that would convert all “You plurals” to “Y’all” for my Bible project. I liked it so much I decided to create a Google Chrome extension that does the same thing for some popular Bible websites (youversion.com/bible.com, biblegateway.com, biblehub.com).

Texas Bible – Google Chrome Extension

If you’d like to try to the plugin, here’s the URL: Texas Bible Extension

When the plugin is running, here’s what it looks like on YouVersion.com and BibleGateway.com

YouVersion.com example

 

BibleGateway.com exampleNot Just for Texans

As I mentioned, the Southern US is not the only place to have a spoken version of the second person plural. Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) has “yinz,” the UK has “you lot,” and many Americans say “you guys” to refer to mixed gender groups. So I made all these selectable allowing you to read the any English version as it would sound read to your regional congregation.

Once the extension is installed in Google Chrome, you can go to the Options area and select which second person plural version you like and see all the variants (some of which I had to make up like the Reflexive rendering of Old English “Ye”).

Texas Bible - Options

 

Why, Why Did You Make this?

And now here’s the fun part. Why in the world would someone do this? Here’s a few reasons:

1. For Fun and Joy

I enjoy the programming gifts God’s given me, I like to tinker with the Bible, and I like to learn new programming techniques such as making a browser extension which before this I had never tried.

2. Commentary on The Individual vs. The Community

On a more serious note, it seems that since the Protestant Reformation we’ve tended to emphasize the salvation of the individual and, with inverse proportion, downplayed God’s work in the Church as a community of people.

There are, of course, many reasons for this, but I think that two technologies (i.e. human inventions) have exacerbated the issue: (a) The technology of the book which encourages us to encounter Scripture textually in isolation rather than orally in a group; and (b) The technology of the English language (again, a human creation) which doesn’t have an agreed upon second person plural and therefore discards or hides important biblical data.

I can’t do much about the first issue, but the “Texas Bible” extension does work to overcome the second. Here’s a few examples of the human community emphasis in Scripture:

And God said, “Behold, I have given y’all every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. Y’all shall have them for food. (Gen 1:29, tESV – Texan ESV)

For I know the plans I have for yinz, declares Yahweh, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give yinz a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11, pESV – Pittsburgh ESV)

…Work out your guys’s salvation with fear and trembling;  for it is God who is at work in you guys, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-14, usESV)

To me, it’s a very different Bible and one that tells us something important about the the body of Christ.

3. Commentary on Language

You might notice that in the second example above, the term “the LORD” has been switched to “Yahweh.” In English translation, the Hebrew name for God (the four letters YHWH) has been traditionally translated as “the LORD” (usually in small caps) in an effort to revere the name of God and carry on a a tradition of the Jews not to speak his name

However, I find that outside nerdy academic circles almost no one knows that “the LORD” (Yahweh) is different from “the Lord.” What was originally meant as reverence may now actually be unintentionally hiding something important about God himself. This leads to the question: Which is worse, not revering the name of God or not knowing it exists to revere?  In the Chrome extension this is an option, so you get to decide.

I, too, want to revere God and his holy name, and yet I also want to take this chance to point out how powerful language itself is in shaping what we see in the world. Just as Adam formed his world by naming the animals, we continually form and reform our world by what we words we assign to it (are you pro-life or anti-choice?). These words are not simple references or tags, they color what we see… and what we cannot see.

Bible translators, therefore, have an enormously complex task of trying to transfer whole worlds between cultures and inevitably things get “lost in translation.” Hopefully, this plugin will offer some options as to what we read.

4. Commentary on “Text” in the Age of Remixes

Penultimately, I am doing something rather radical here: I am messing with God’s word.

But is it really “God’s Word” which which I am messing? As we’ve said, isn’t a translation already that but also more?

This means I am only taking the work of translation one step further. But what right do I as an individual have to remix, reuse, and change someone else’s hard work? Zondervan/Biblia is free to update the NIV1984 to the NIV2011, but what about me? If I were to publish these changes, I could rightfully be sued. So what have I done exactly?

To answer this question, we must realize that in the Age of the Internet, a “text” is something very different than it was in the Age of Print. Texts are not fixed entities sitting on shelves, reflecting only the notes and highlights that one person has added. On the web, a “text” is something more like an oral story from the age before Print, in that anyone can take, change, and edit the “text,” and then reproduce it.

And yet, I have not even done that. I have only provided the tools to mass produce a change that is stored as data. Ah, what a strange new world in which we live where a “text” is not a “text”!

5. Commentary on Scripture Itself

Finally, I am deeply interested in talking about what exactly Scripture is and how mediums contribute to our understanding of them.

Is the Bible, “a love letter from Jesus” or a storehouse of “timeless truths” captured in chapters and verses? Is it the very words of God dictated through several different men or does it merely record events of revelation? Does it become revelation as we read it and does it have a single meaning in all ages or multiple meanings that expand with the canon? Is it like other books or it is somehow sanctified and holy? Can a nonbeliever study it the same way Christian do, or does the Spirit have an ineffable role in interpretation? Furthermore, is Scripture it something to be studied, proclaimed, and understood, or does it change us as we hear it spoken aloud in a community? Does any of this change if we hear a scroll read aloud, read a printed book in our own room, scan the text on our phones, or hear it on the radio in a closed country?

However you y’all answer these questions, I do hope you y’all like the tool, and it helps you y’all grow closer to the LORD Yahweh!

Seminary Chapels on Technology, Theology, Culture, and Ministry

A few months ago, I had the distinct privilege of speaking for Dallas Theological Seminary‘s “Issues in Educational Ministry” chapel series. In the first talk, I attempted to layout a biblical and historical perspective on technology, and in the second  I addressed 9 issues that future seminary graduates will likely face. The first video is embedded below, but the links below will take you to pages with the slides included.

Hope you find these resources helpful!

Interview with BigBible.org.uk

bigbible logo
Following the interview with DJ Chuang, I wanted to post a text interview I did with BigBible.uk.org, and also point you to their website as a great resource.

Interview with BigBible.uk.org

If you haven’t checked out the “BigBible” website, you’re definitely missing out. They are doing some great work on how to help Christians think about “bible engagement” in the digital age. I’m hoping to being doctoral work in this area soon, and I really value the research and blogging they are doing. Andrew Byers (a Ph.D. student in New Testament) put together a book review and multipart interview with me, and I’d like to thank him and the site for doing this:

Here’s a sampling:

AB: What are some ways that digital technology may be shaping us unhealthily in our media habits?

JD: In the previous century, wonderful advances in transportation and food availability have allowed more mobility and prevented hunger. However, this has also led to the obesity epidemic sweeping over America for people without proper disciple in diet and exercise. I think we might be seeing the same thing with our information diet, in that many people are training themselves to consume lots of small bits of information, but they are failing to exercise their ability to do deep thinking and reading.

AB: What about healthy aspects of digital technology? Are there ways that our use of the Internet and the latest communication devices are strengthening us?

JD: In the Southern part of the United States, we’ve had Christian sub-cultures where people could go about their lives never exposed to the way most of humanity actually lives. I think digital media make it very hard to stay in that kind of cloistered world, and forces Christians of all stripes to enter into a broader society and have some contact with the Other (albeit, often in a disembodied way). Social media can expose areas of real need in the world, and it also allows Christians from around the world to connect on common ministry goals and gifting.

Beautiful Collection of Ancient Bibles on Display in Dallas, TX

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend the opening of a fantastic new collection of Bibles on display at the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas, TX.

Charles Ryrie with John Dyer
Charles Ryrie with John Dyer

Charles Ryrie, a former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary probably best known for the Ryrie Study Bible, has been collecting rare Bibles for around 50 years. To me, he is known as the man whose writings (such as Basic Theology) got me interested in studying the Bible and the theology of the church. Meeting him for the first time was a pleasure, and the exhibit was far more extensive than I imagined.

I’m still astounded that all of this is in Dallas. According to the website,

The Collection includes such masterpieces as a page from the Gutenberg Bible (1450’s); the first edition of the King James Bible (1611); the Wycliffe New Testament (1430); Genoa Psalter (1516) with its footnote about Christopher Columbus; Coverdale’s first edition (1535) of the first printed English Bible; early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament; one of the world’s few copies of Tyndale’s Pentateuch (The first five books of the old Testament, called The Torah or Law in Hebrew-1530); and Erasmus’ New Testaments.  Additional elements include Eliot’s Indian Bible (1663) in the Algonquin language – the first Bible to be printed in America – as well as a variety of Greek, Hebrew, Latin and other language Bibles.

Here’s a few of them:

Hopefully one day someone will followup with a museum dedicated to the Bible in digital form!

DJ Chuang on Social Media Church

DJChuang-JohnDyer

DJ Chuang is one of those rare individuals who is able to be helpful to the church in many areas.

He’s a fellow DTS grad who writes and speaks on a variety of topics from issues in the Asian-American church to leadership and ministry through social media. One of his projects is Social Media Church where he as a weekly podcast. This week, we Skyped together and had a great conversation on technology, church, Google Glass, and more.

Where Are Rob Bell’s Glasses?

Bell Glasses Off
Bell going “Glasses Off” in 2013

About a month ago, Rob Bell, former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, released a book called What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Since then, there have been quite a few reviews offering various critiques and overviews as well as treatises on Bell’s significance.

This book hasn’t generated quite the firestorm his last book did, and while I think that and the content of Bell’s message are interesting, I’m even more fascinated by Bell’s uncanny ability to use various media to his advantage.

Mastering a New Medium

Bell - Nooma
Bell with his trademark glasses (pre 2013)

As just two examples of Bell’s use of media, I’d point to his ground breaking Nooma videos and the release strategy of Love Wins.

When the first Nooma video was released, there were plenty of other DVDs with Christian material. But most of these videos simply replicated the church-based preaching or speaking of a popular teacher. They might change the setting slightly from a church pulpit to a more interesting stage, but the delivery was essentially the same with a new coat of paint.

This was similar to the way reporters treated television when it was first introduced. In their radio days, reporters read well-written scripts to a microphone, so that’s what they did in front of a camera. After a while, they figured out that to use  TV as TV they would have to figure out a completely new delivery method.

Bell seems to have instinctively understood that the new medium of DVDs demanded an entirely new message format. DVDs are capable of transferring 45 minutes of data speech, but they are much better at telling visual narratives. So that’s what Bell did. He turned his teaching into a well-produced mini-movie rather than a well-recorded sermon. And people bought them. Lots of them.

Many people felt Bell’s content was weak or even in doctrinal error. But the masses who bought Nooma weren’t buying his message. They swiped their credit cards to get the feeling the DVD gave them, because that’s what DVDs do.

Focus on Questions, Not Answers

When it comes to Bell’s books, it’s also no surprise that he was capable not only of understanding how to use a new medium (like a DVD), but also how to turn an older form on its head and do something new.

With each of his books like Velvet Elvis, Sex God, and Drops Like Stars, he was able to write in a non-traditional prose style that infuriated traditional readers, but appealed to a generation skilled in consuming smaller bits of information like tweets, texts, and facebook updates.

Then with Love Wins, Bell also created a brilliant social media campaign. It started with a trailer that didn’t tell you the problem it was going to solve (5 steps to a better life) or offer a question it would answer (how does the atonement work?), but instead simply communicated, “This book is about a posture of questioning.” He then sent the full book to those likely to support his position, and only part of to those unlikely to support it. These moves captivated both popular and professional bloggers (including me) and catapulted what an already successful author into an even bigger space.

The point in both of these cases is that – contrary to popular belief – Bell isn’t using the medium to seem cool. Rather he chooses to use them in such a way that the medium itself communicates as powerfully, if not more so, than his actual message. Over breakfast, a very-well known author who publicly praised Love Wins told me, “The problem with Love Wins is that it’s not very well written.” Whether that’s true or not didn’t matter. It was the world around the book and way Bell used media that performed the communicative acts on his behalf.

So What about the Glasses?

All of this leads me to think that Bell’s decision to take of his glasses has been carefully thought out. It’s not designed to update his style, be more cool, or seem more relevant.

It’s designed to communicate.

To have meaning.

To “tell a story.”

But what is the story? Where does it start? And more importantly, where is it going?

See what I did there?

How Google Hacked Our Imaginations with #IfIHadGlass

htgo_banner

In just about every James Bond and Batman film, there is a segment where Q (or Morgan Freeman) introduces us to a few new gadgets. At first, the hero looks over the objects quizzically, but then the handler demonstrates how to use them, unlocking their mystery and inviting both the hero and the audience to imagine how the tool might become integral to the story about to unfold.

Google Just Made You Batman

If you’re a tech junkie like me, you might have noticed that Google is attempting to become our own personal Q in its efforts to promote Glass, the futuristic/super-nerdy looking eyewear that present a user with a heads up display and an always-on camera.

Just like Q, they first showed us the strange looking device (pictures of impossibly good-looking people wearing the hideously unfashionable glasses), then they demonstrated a few basic uses (queue the demo video with spunky music below), and finally – and most importantly – they created a social media campaign inviting people to use the hashtag #IfIHadGlass and imagine how Google Glass might become integral in the story of their life.

The Importance of Imagination for New Technology

Google recognizes that the success of Glass has very little to do with how many features it has, and everything to do with embedding the product in our collective imagination. They know that if you want to get the entire world to buy something that no one is asking for, you can’t start with specs, you have to start with story.

Before people buy things, they have to “see themselves” with the product. For example, if you try on a new cardigan and you look ridiculous, you probably won’t buy it. But if the mirror reflects a more awesome you, then you’ll probably bring it home. With technology, we too need to “see ourselves” using the device, and the image we create in our minds needs to show us overcoming some obstacle that would be difficult without the gadget. Without that story in place, we’ll never feel compelled to buy.

Creating an Alternate Ending

Tell Me a StoryIn his great new book Tell Me a Story, Scott McClellan writes, “A story is progress, action toward an outcome. Characters without a pursuit do not make for a [good] story” (29).

The problem for Google is that when we first look at Glass, we’re not quite sure what the “outcome” is or how Glass gets us there. My life seems fine, we say, why would I want to look like a cheesy character from Argo?

Google is saying, “Yes, yes. Ask that question. Ask it again and again and again, until you find the answer. Once you do, you’ll love it.”

If we try to imagine what it will be like to use Google Glass, and we can’t come up with anything, Google looses big time. But if they can coax us to keep imagining and keep trying to tell and hear better #IfIHadGlass stories, then one day the once strange product will become a normal, unquestioned part of our larger cultural myth and we’ll consider it as necessary as a microwave or mobile phone.

Reclaiming the Narrative

There is nothing particularly troubling about all this. But as always there is a danger lying around the corner, and that when we spend a lot of time focusing on what the product can do for us, we sometimes allow the product to takes over the story we were originally trying to tell. Instead of using Glass toward some larger pursuit, the acquisition and use of Glass becomes the outcome.

We’ve probably all caught ourselves doing this on occasional. For example, we all bought cameraphones to remember those great moments in life, but then we found out that sometimes the goal of “capturing the moment” gets in the way of the moment itself. Or imagine a pastor who wants to tell people about the surpassing beauty of Jesus, but then becomes enamored with bigger and bigger screens and more and more downloads.

The goal of this post is not, of course, to bash on cameraphones, podcasts, or Glass, but to give us the chance to rethink on the place of technology in our lives and in the stories we are trying to tell with our lives.

What is the true outcome toward which we are striving? Do our tools help us overcome conflict to get to that goal, or somewhere along the way did acquiring new toys become a chief pursuit?

Awesomely Awkward Technology Poses

Curious Rituals, an new ebook from the Art Center College of Design (by Nicolas Nova, Katherine Miyake, Nancy Kwon, and Walton Chiu) does a fantastic job of illustrating some of the “new” poses we make with modern technology products. They start the book with gestures like swipe and pinch, but then quickly move into the social behaviors we’ve unconsciously adopted.

Download the book (PDF), and see the blog here.

Below are a few of my favorites:

 

Side-Laptop

I’ve never done this one, but now I must try it.

side-laptop

Nintendo Wisper

If you remember this one, you’re awesome.
nintendo

 

Baboon’s Face

I think we’ve all done this utterly useless one at Starbucks once.

mouth-cover

Share a Bud

The social commentary in Curious Rituals is spot on this one.
earphone-share

Tired Arm

Sometimes you just have to switch ears, but not hands…driving

Social Media

Sharing funny stuff is the new small talk.conversation

Phone Trace

Pacing around like you just don’t care.cell-trance

 

Download the book (PDF), and see the blog here.

A Technology Consumption Resolution

My Discipline Problem

Even though I regularly write, think, and speak about faith and technology, that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the lure of “technology addiction.”

Specifically, one area that I often struggle in properly disciplining is avoiding unnecessary email and social media checks when I’m home with my family. Sometimes when I pull out my phone “just to check the time,” I find myself wanting to check various apps and clear out unread items.

That’s not to say I’m always on my phone. Judging by other dads around me who are often glued to their glowing rectangles, I think I do a pretty decent job of keeping my phone in my pocket. Yet, the battle seems tougher than it needs to be, and being a rather lazy soul, I wanted to find a way to make things easier on myself.

Old Tech to the Rescue

Swiss Watch

So for Christmas I asked for something simple: a watch.

When I have my phone in my pocket and I my mind wanders to something I could do on the phone, I have to make a choice not to pull it out. Or if I need to check the time, I have to make a choice not to do more.

But now that I have the watch, when I got home from work the first thing I do is put my phone on the kitchen counter (turning the ringer on so I can hear it). This way, I’m free to play with my kids and enjoy my family, but I can still keep up with the time if needed.

By putting the phone off to the side, it’s a little harder to get to, and therefore less of a “temptation.” Of course, there are time when I do need it, and it would be more convenient to have it readily available. But with a watch on my arm, I have the tool I need is readily available, and the temptation I don’t want is just far enough away to make it unworthy of pursuit.

Thresholds are Your Best Tool

This strategy is very similar to techniques often recommended for diet and exercise. If you want to avoid sweets, you can make it easier on yourself by removing them from your immediate area and thereby “raising the threshold” necessary to consume them. Driving to the gas station is much harder than walking to the fridge, so when temptation strikes, you’re more likely to conclude it’s too much trouble to get them and then the feeling will pass.

Similarly, you can lower a threshold to make a difficult task easier. If you want to exercise in the morning, it’ll be easier if you set out clothes and shoes the night before. When you wake up, there will be less resistance (and fewer excuses) and you’re more likely to do it.

With technology, if there’s something you want to avoid you can raise the threshold a bit, intentionally making it just a little harder to consume so that you’ll have to think twice about whether you really need to.

I’ll let you know how my little watch experiment goes.