I’m a late adopter. It was only this year that I started browsing and following blogs (apart from close friends) regularly, to get myself up to date on specific issues. I’ve recently been reading a lot of Bible blogs in order to expand my limited Bible knowledge. Some of these blogs were great, and gave fantastic insights into things that I might have never found out on my own (without learning a new language).
So, we at Voxbiblia decided to embark on a series of interviews, held once a month, on Bible bloggers.
We begin our ‘blogterview’ quest with Tony Siew, author of the blog Revelation is Real.
HH: Thank you, Tony, for agreeing to be Voxbiblia.com’s first interviewee, and for your kind words about Voxbiblia’s site! Your blog (http://cherubim77.blogspot.com) has brought up many interesting topics that have been widely debated in the Christian world, and it has truly been an inspiring read.
Could you tell us more about yourself? I read that you came from Sabah – What inspired you to begin on your journey in Biblical Studies, and what led you to teach at Singapore’s Trinity Theological College?
TS: Yes, I am Sabahan, born in Sandakan but Kota Kinabalu is now my hometown having lived and worked there for more than 20 years before my move to Singapore recently.
My love for the Bible began soon after my conversion in April 1982. It’s God’s great gift in my life. I bought my first Bible (KJV) and read it and practically nothing else for three years. After reading the Bible for a couple of years I realized that there were many parts in the Bible (e.g. the Prophets, Job, Leviticus and Revelation) that required much background knowledge and research before one could begin to understand better the theology of these books. So I started reading commentaries on the books of the Old Testament and proceeded to read commentaries on most books of the New Testament as well. That process took about 10 years and I still felt dissatisfied because I did not know Hebrew and Greek then. Every time a commentator writes about the Hebrew or Greek, I had to skip over. I began to have this great desire to read the Bible in the original languages. So when the time came, I pursued a B.Theol. at the University of Auckland. In my first year, I studied both Hebrew and Greek and went on to do more advanced courses in Hebrew and Greek at both Auckland University and later at Otago University where I earned a PhD in Biblical Studies in 2003.
I entered full-time ministry when I was 30 years old in 1994 with Sidang Injil Borneo Sabah. I have been a member of SIB Likas (BM) since 1989, a church which I later pastored. After serving for more than a decade as Bible Teacher, Executive Pastor- cum-Treasurer-General and finally as Senior Pastor of SIB Likas, KK, I decided I needed to try something new and make full use of my theological training. The Lord opened the door for me in 2008 to be appointed as Lecturer in New Testament, Trinity Theological College, Singapore.
HH: We noticed that many people refer to the Bible in times of need and joy. This is the reason why Voxbiblia came up with the concept of ‘albums’, where people can upload passages that helped them through a certain period of their life.
TS: I hope that people don’t read the Bible only in times of need and joy. I read the Bible everyday. But I think it’s a wonderful idea of this concept, “albums” which you mentioned. If reading certain passages from the Bible helps people in their times of need, then it must be something good and worthwhile. However, I do want to caution that the Bible or scriptural passages are not there for us to use only in times of crisis or celebrations. The Bible must be used in a way that people deepen their relationship with Christ. Whenever there is a crisis or need, Christ is there to help them.
HH: Would you happen to have any favourite, inspirational verses that you would like to share with others?
TS: To answer this question, I would like to refer to my blogpost “Marking God’s Promises” (http://cherubim77.blogspot.com/2010/04/marking-gods-promises.html). I have many other favourite verses as those who read my blog will know. My son will tell you that I have two other favourite verses. I got him to memorize these two verses when he was little. One is Matt 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” The other is from Luke 6:20, “Blessed are you who are poor, yours is the kingdom of God.” When my son was only 2 years old, I gave up a lucrative legal practice to enter full-time ministry. For the next fourteen years (1994-2008), I lived and ministered among the tribal peoples of Borneo. Pastors and full-time workers are paid minimal salaries. So the verse in Luke 6:20 is a real strength, knowing that though we may be poor in this life but if it is for the Gospel’s sake, we will be rewarded in the Lord’s kingdom when He comes.
HH: The Bible is a pretty thick book to tackle, especially if you’ve never read it before. If someone wanted to start reading the Bible, what passages would you first recommend them to start from, and why?
TS: I remember reading about Augustine, the 4th century Church Father when he first became a believer and how he asked the same question to Ambrose who was the bishop of Milan then. Ambrose suggested to Augustine to read the prophet Isaiah but Augustine found it most difficult. So I don’t advise beginners to start with the book of Isaiah though this prophetic book has become one of my favourites.
My advice is to begin reading the Gospels first. Start with Mark’s Gospel as it is the shortest of the four Gospels but it gives an excellent portrayal of Jesus Christ in his teachings and actions. Then one must read the book of Genesis because it is the beginning of all things. I loved the book of Genesis. As a young Christian, I saw myself in the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. In a way, all Christians are Abraham’s descendants through Christ and we must know where we come from. After Genesis, one must read Exodus and Numbers where we learn how the Israelites first became a people and a nation and all their wanderings and experiences in the wilderness are also relevant and instructive for us now. Galatians and Romans must come next as these two books tell us of our salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection and how we are justified by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Last but not least, a beginner should read the Psalms of David. The Psalms contain praises and prayers to God. The collection has a psalm for every occasion in life whether there is an urgent need for deliverance, danger, enmity, joy, trial or temptation. The Psalms is the chief source of our private devotions to God. I read the Psalms almost daily as a young Christian until now.
HH: One of the things that I personally enjoy reading about the Bible are the parables that Jesus told, because I find that it is filled with many teachings that can be applied to our everyday life, even till today. The meaning of many of these parables aren’t always clear, though, and as I was reading Matthew 13:52, I found it rather difficult to comprehend. Would you mind sharing your thoughts on this passage?
(Matthew 13:52: Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.)
TS: I share your enjoyment reading the parables. This Matthean parable in 13:52 is one key parable and personally the parable means a great deal to me in the ministry. First, there is a calling to be a scribe. Scribes in those days were men of letters and experts of the Law and the Scripture generally. In today’s term, a scribe is a biblical scholar. So there is still hope for scholars in God’s kingdom. Note that Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel says this, “I will send to you prophets, wise men and scribes… (Matt 23:34). This verse together with Matt 13:52 should warn us not to be anti-scholarship. There is a section in the Church today that is anti-intellectual and those who have advance degrees in the Bible have been subjected to unfair criticism. Matt 13:52 provides a corrective to that.
First, a scribe is one who is trained for the kingdom of God. If we are called to be scholars we must go through a process of learning not unlike Daniel who is said to be intelligent and knowledgeable in many branches of knowledge. Yet Daniel had to go through three years at “the University of Babylon” before he served the king.
Second, in the Matthean parable after the scribe is trained he will be like the master of a household who brings out his treasure what is new and what is old. Simply put, the scribe is someone experienced in Scripture, both the Old and the New Testaments and he is able to draw from the new as well as the old and use them correctly and appropriately as the situation demands. It also means I think a scribe must be an experienced person who is conversant with the traditions of the Church (the old) but yet remain open to what is new in the Word of God as there is still much treasure to gain from the Bible if we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. Our speech and preaching thus must be relevant to the modern world by taking what is new as well as what is old. For example, when we preach from the Bible, it is important not just to explain what the Scripture meant in its historical context but also what it means today and how we can apply it in our world’s today, always seeking to meet the needs of God’s people and providing them with wisdom and directions in life.
HH: Many people have a particular Bible translation that they prefer to use, and we (Voxbiblia) have been trying very hard over the years to get licensing rights to as many audio and text Bible versions possible. Is reading the Bible in a particular translation an important factor to you? Do you refer to different translations in different situations? What is your favorite Bible translation, and why?
TS: All Bible versions have their strengths and weaknesses. That’s why if one wants to read the Bible for all its worth, it is imperative to learn Hebrew and Greek. If I were to choose a version, I will go for King James Version or NKJV. I use it for my private devotions together with Revised Standard Version and occasionally the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) and English Standard Version (ESV). For preaching there are times that I use the NIV because many churches use the NIV. I do not like the NIV much as it is not very accurate and tend to paraphrase too much to my liking. Obviously there are many parts in the NIV that are excellent. I own more than 20 different English Bible Versions. I use them all and whichever translation that is closest to the original, I will use it especially in preaching and lecturing. But at the end of the day, I still prefer the KJV despite its archaic English because as far as its literary and poetic qualities are concerned, it has not been surpassed. Perhaps I am a little biased as the KJV was my first Bible. I remember in my younger days I loved the Living Bible as well.
HH: I’d also like to take this opportunity to get some feedback about Voxbiblia. Our goal at Voxbiblia is to work towards using technology to help people navigate the Bible easily. Because of this, we have put together a system that allows people to upload albums (in audio and text) containing their favourite Bible verses. What do you think of this functionality, and would you use it?
TS: I am new to this Bible technology (Voxbiblia) but from what I can see at your website, it appears beautifully done. I will certainly try to use it in the future.
HH: Finally, on a lighter note, if you could meet a famous person from the Bible, who would it be, and why?
TS: That person would be the apostle Paul. There is no one more dominant and influential in the growth of the early church than Paul. His letters are masterpieces in theological profundity and it will take a lifetime of study and practice to understand what the apostle had written.
HH: Thank you once again, Tony, for agreeing to this interview! I, for one, have thoroughly enjoyed reading your responses. They were very enriching and inspiring.
We have also uploaded an album with Tony Siew’s explanation of Matthew 13:52 on Biblesearch.org. You can view it here.
Chong Hui Hui
Marketing & Communications Manager of Voxbiblia.com