Category: Bible Study Articles

The Five Solas:
Grace Alone

Posted by on 10/18/2017 in:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people
Titus 2:11

SOLA GRATIA – GRACE ALONE

Three of the five solas are so intertwined that it’s hard to distinguish their nuances. The Reformers believed that salvation is through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. These three solas operate synergistically & describe how man can be made right with God.

Grace is throughout all the Bible’s pages, from Genesis to Revelation. It is at the heart of the gospel and an essential part of God’s character. In it’s simplest terms, grace can be defined as getting something you do not deserve. Of the five solas, this is the least disputed, but often the most overlooked.

HISTORY

While oft agreed upon, that is not to say it has been without dispute in Church history. The most memorable dispute occurred between Pelagius and Augustine. Pelagius believed man was not entirely affected by the Fall, and was able to perform good works that pleased God, thus earning salvation. His teachings denied the need for God to provide grace in order to be saved. In his view, man was good enough to earn his own salvation & Jesus was more a model to be followed. With the help of Augustine’s rebuttal, the Church found Pelagius to be a heretic & excommunicated him. Church counsels throughout the centuries continued to stomp out any attempted resurrection of this heresy.

During the Reformation era this heresy once again raised its head through the teachings of Jacob Arminius, albeit in a modified form. Arminius’ view is often labeled as Semi-Pelagianism. It teaches that while man is tainted by sin, he is not unable to cooperate with God’s free offer of grace. This is the battle that the Reformers waged, hence the cry sola gratia.

The Reformers taught that man is totally depraved and wholly incapable of choosing God. This is all a result of Adam’s fall in the Garden, which brought about spiritual death for all humanity. Therefore, it took a work of God to redeem and make us spiritually alive. God’s grace is the only reason we have salvation. Protestantism has held this view throughout subsequent centuries.

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

So, why does any of this matter? Because it is core to the gospel! Your understanding of this doctrine comes as a direct result of your understanding of the Fall and man’s depravity. The doctrine of grace alone draws us back to what Adam lost for all humanity: communion with God. To restore this lost fellowship God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sin. Being a perfect judge, God cannot overlook sin, thus Christ’s sacrifice. Like the common Christian acronym for grace says, it is truly “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” We get everything we do not deserve because Jesus bore our sin. That is why this doctrine matters!

LEARN MORE

To learn more about the doctrine of faith alone check out Grace Alone: Salvation as a Gift of God by Carl Trueman and the rest of the Five Solas Series.

Continue Reading

Learn to Read Books of the Bible as Books

Posted by on 10/16/2017 in: ,

APPROACHING THE BIBLE AS LITERATURE

There’s no doubt you’ve realized that the Bible is a book, but have you ever thought about what that means? If you took a literature class is high school or college, you may remember that there’s a lot more to studying books than simply reading them. There’s a storyline, plot, characters, themes, motifs, genre and literary devices. Sometimes, the author’s intentions are easy to understand. And sometimes, the author’s intentions lie deep beneath the surface. Just like reading Shakespeare or Nathaniel Hawthorne, if we hope to understand the Bible, we have to understand how and why it was written.

But what will you gain by approaching the Bible as literature? First, you will be able to see the Bible as a metanarrative (a fancy word that means “one big story”). It’s incredibly neat to see patterns throughout not only books of the Bible, but the Bible itself. Secondly, you will be able to better understand and apply some of the more confusing books of the Bible—like Ecclesiastes.

WHAT RESOURCES DO I USE?

There are so many different ways to study the Bible, and it can be hard to know which resources will give you the information you want. Some study Bibles and commentaries are more vague, providing you with an array of different types of information. But recently we were able to add the ESV Literary Study Bible to our store—and it is the perfect resource for solving this problem.

READING THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES AS… A BOOK

Before you start reading Ecclesiastes, it’s probably good to get some background. The ESV Literary Study Bible loads their introduction notes with helpful information to get you ready. It covers the basics (such as format, patterns, rhetoric, and genres), but it also gives you a heads-up on some inferred literary intentions and theological themes.

One of the most helpful sections is called: “Ecclesiastes as a chapter in the master story of the Bible.” This resource always tries to teach you how each book of the Bible fits into the whole Bible. Here’s a snippet of what it shares:

“The book of Ecclesiastes has been called a Christ-shaped vacuum. Its contribution to the story line of the Bible is to record the longing of the human soul to find satisfaction and to point us toward the satisfaction of that longing in a Christ-centered experience of life. Jesus is the meaning of life, and if he is not at the center of our daily experience, we will find only futility and frustration.”

The Futile Quest to Find Meaning in Pleasure

Now, we’ll look at two examples of how this resource teaches you to read the Bible as literature and apply it to your life. Under this heading, you’ll find information on Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. In this passage, Solomon is telling his listeners about all the items he acquired in his search for pleasure. Because of his wealth, he was able to have anything he desired and yet, in the end, it was useless to him.

The study notes are helpful in revealing what is being communicated and how it applies to us:

 “The passage gives us a catalog of acquisitions and attempted avenues of pleasure. Even as we observe a courtly version of the acquisitive lifestyle, it is easy for us to see real-life applications: a fancy house and yard (vv. 5–6); possessions (v. 7); money, entertainment, and sex (v. 8). The passage asserts the paradox of hedonism: the more one searches for pleasure, the less of it one finds.

The World’s Most Famous Poem on the Subject of Time

In this section, the ESV Literary Study Bible covers the famous poem on time (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, “a time to be born, and a time to die…”). Poetry definitely requires more literary analysis in order to understand. Here’s what the resource shares on this section of Scripture:

The poem illustrates the haunting and cumulative effect of Hebrew poetry: by the time we finish the poem, we are emotionally convinced that there is, indeed, a time for everything. In terms of the rhythm of the book of Ecclesiastes, the poem is positive in mood: within the given that we cannot control the events of life, the poem (a) implies that life is as much good as bad, (b) embodies a spirit of calm resignation rather than protest in regard to the time-bound nature of human life, (c) affirms an order to human life, and (d) asserts the positive theme of timeliness (if we cannot control time, we can plug into its flow).

LEARN MORE

If you’re using these notes and you come across a term you don’t know—that’s okay! Many of the literary devices are hyperlinked to a glossary. Also, all of the verses are hyperlinked for easy study.

Want to starting reading books of the Bible as literature? Check out the ESV Literary Study Bible.

Continue Reading

The Five Solas:
Faith Alone

Posted by on 10/09/2017 in:

FAITH ALONE?

One of the pillars of the Reformation was the belief that we are saved by faith alone. The cry sola fide declared that we come to salvation, not through any righteousness of our own, but solely through the work and person of Jesus Christ.

What does faith alone mean? This is the doctrine of justification. Here are some of the questions the Reformers sought to answer:

  • Are we saved by faith alone or faith plus works?
  • Does Christ’s righteousness only clean our slate of past sins (before salvation)?
  • Does Christ’s righteousness wholly replace our own?

Sola fide declares that we are saved by faith alone and all of Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account. There is nothing more we can or need to do to achieve our salvation. If there were remaining work on our end, then salvation would be in our hands, not God’s.

DOES IT MATTER?

While this may have been an important question for the Reformers, does it still matter 500 years later? The answer is a resounding yes! Throughout history the question has not changed: How can a person be made right with God? We all must confront this question, and sola fide gives us our answer. This doctrine reminds us of the grace of God and his gospel. We can testify that God is good because he is the one who ultimately and completely accomplishes our salvation. He loves us so much that he did all the work. How we are justified and able to stand before God is one of the key components of the gospel, and one that is worth fighting for.

When this doctrine is rightly understood, you can join Christian rapper Shai Linne in saying, “It feels so good to be justified!”

LEARN MORE

To learn more about the doctrine of faith alone check out Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification by Thomas Schreiner and the rest of the Five Solas Series.

Continue Reading

The Five Solas:
Scripture Alone

Posted by on 10/03/2017 in:

THE HISTORY

When the Reformation began the doctrine of Scripture was central. During this time the Bible was not something for the common man. Through the centuries the Roman Catholic church had elevated the authority of tradition and the papal office’s interpretation over that of scripture itself. The Bible had not authority in the lives of Christians or even its teachers.

In 1516, a year before Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Erasmus of Rotterdam published a Greek New Testament alongside the Latin text of the Vulgate. Through his own reading of the Bible and reading this Greek New Testament, Luther was led away from Roman Catholic traditions that had obscured the gospel. No longer relying on tradition but scripture alone, Luther rediscovered the heart of the gospel. Others like Ulrich Zwingli were also affected and began preaching through the New Testament.

SOLA SCRIPTURA

What does “sola scriptura” mean? In a nutshell, it speaks to the authority of the Bible for the church. Because God’s Word is inspired, inerrant, and wholly sufficient, it alone is the final authority for the church and the Christian. This means, Christians are not to place feelings, tradition, or teachings of men above that of the Bible. While some of these may have a authority, they all must submit to and agree with God’s written word.

This quote from Martin Luther sums it up well:

Scripture alone is the true lord and master of all writings and doctrine on earth. If that is not granted, what is Scripture good for? The more we reject it, the more we become satisfied with men’s books and human teachers.

IT STILL MATTERS

In as much as the authority of the Bible mattered for Martin Luther and the reformers, it is just as important today. Part of the Reformation included putting the Bible in the hands of everyone, not just those who were given authority to teach it. Instead of taking your pastor or favorite Christian author’s word for what the Bible says, read it yourself. Let the Bible always be your final authority. With the Olive Tree Bible App the final authority is always at your fingertips!

To learn more about the doctrine of scripture alone check out God’s Word Alone by Mathew Barrett and the rest of the Five Solas Series.

Continue Reading

Church History & Why It Matters

Posted by on 08/17/2017 in:

MY OWN STORY

A couple months ago I talked about how I learned to love church history. Around that time, I started work on another history project: my family tree. I don’t remember what motivated me, but I spent countless hours stitching together my family’s history on Ancestry.com. While working on this, I learned some interesting things. The most notable tidbit is that my second great-grandfather was a pastor & founded the church that my grandparents still attend. On my grandfather’s 90th birthday two years ago, I got to preach at that church. How awesome is that?!

OUR STORY

Now, what does my story have to do with church history? Well, Scripture teaches us in Ephesians 2:19 that Christians are members of the “household of God” because we’ve been adopted into his family. This means we’re reading about our own family & heritage when we study church history. Knowing that we’re learning about our own family should motivate us to dive into church history with fervor. These aren’t random people we’re learning about; no, the great theologians of times past are our spiritual family, and we should relish the opportunity to learn about them!

7 TITLES TO GET YOU STARTED

It doesn’t matter if you’re heading into Bible college or seminary or just looking to brush up on your church history, Olive Tree has some great resources that’ll meet your needs. I challenge you to pick up at least one of these titles and begin learning about your spiritual family’s history.

Continue Reading

From Nothing to Everything

Posted by on 07/12/2017 in: ,

I look absolutely nothing like the rest of my family, sporting stick-straight blonde hair and blue eyes. My mother is a quarter Native American, my dad is an Irishman, and my sister is half African American. We always look like an odd bunch of people when we go out for dinner. I’ve even been asked by a waiter how we all know each other. I looked around the table at all our contrasting faces; “They’re my family,” I said.

Throughout my life I’ve been asked many questions about this characteristic, such as:

Do you wonder about your biological family?

If you could live with them, would you?

Do you really consider your mom to be your mom?

When you say dad… you mean your adopted dad, right?

Is it weird?

I honestly don’t mind the questions, but that’s probably because I don’t mind being adopted. Instead, it’s this one characteristic that brought about a deep understanding of God’s love for me—and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

You see, in Romans 8, the apostle Paul talks about adoption. He says, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:14-15, NIV).

From my personal experience and observation, I took a few key points away from this passage. When I watched my parents adopt my little sister, I saw them dedicate time, money, and energy so that they could leave the courtroom saying, “This is my daughter. I love her. She’s mine.” And it doesn’t stop there. They then embarked on a life-long journey of caring for my sister, teaching her and shaping her. God does this for us, too. We leave the courtroom with him, calling him Father.

My personal understanding of adoption speaks volumes into my understanding of God. But it is also so important to investigate the cultural understanding of adoption during the time of the apostle Paul. The Archaeological Study Bible explains that, in the ancient Greco-Roman world, “only free men (not women or slaves) could adopt, and the adoptee was often an adult rather than a child.” Additionally, an adoptee “took the adopter’s name and rank and became his legal heir.”

When Paul embraced the metaphor of adoption, he meant so much more than receiving a new guardian. Where an adopted child may learn the new family’s customs, share in the labor, and easily fit into the new societal ranking, a grown adult may not. An adopted adult would cling to their old ways. An adopted adult would struggle to transition into their new identity. But, despite these challenges, the adoptee is welcomed in, being brought from poverty to riches, from shame to honor, from slave to free, from nothing to everything.

We, too, can welcome this change in our identity. We can rejoice in the eternal relationship we have with our God. We can call him Abba, Father, and he calls us his children.

Interested in learning more about the archaeological, historical, and cultural information tucked inside your Bible? The Archaeological Study Bible contains over 500 articles and 500 full-color photos. Best part? It’s on sale right now.

Continue Reading

Introduction to the Gospels

Posted by on 05/25/2017 in: , ,

Originally posted at Bible Connection.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe[a] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” —John 20:30–31

The English word “gospel” derives from the Anglo–Saxon word godspell, which can mean either “a story about God,” or “a good story.” The latter meaning is in harmony with the Greek word translated “gospel,” euangellion, which means “good news.” In secular Greek, euangellion referred to a good report about an important event. The four gospels are the good news about the most significant events in all of history—the life, sacrificial death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The gospels are not biographies in the modern sense of the word, since they do not intend to present a complete life of Jesus (cf. Jn 20:30; 21:25). Apart from the birth narratives, they give little information about the first 30 years of Jesus’ life. While Jesus’ public ministry lasted over three years, the gospels focus much of their attention on the last week of His life (cf. Jn 12–20). Though they are completely accurate historically, and present important biographical details of Jesus’ life, the primary purposes of the gospels are theological and apologetic (Jn 20:31). They provide authoritative answers to questions about Jesus’ life and ministry, and they strengthen believers’ assurance regarding the reality of their faith (Lk 1:4).

Although many spurious gospels were written, the church from earliest times has accepted only Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as inspired Scripture. While each Gospel has its unique perspective, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, when compared to John, share a common point of view. Because of that, they are known as the synoptic (from a Greek word meaning “to see together,” or “to share a common point of view”) Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, for example, focus on Christ’s Galilean ministry, while John focuses on His ministry in Judea. The synoptic Gospels contain numerous parables, while John records none. John and the synoptic Gospels record only two common events (Jesus’ walking on the water, and the feeding of the 5,000) prior to Passion Week. These differences between John and the synoptic Gospels, however, are not contradictory, but complementary.

Each Gospel writer wrote from a unique perspective, for a different audience. As a result, each Gospel contains distinctive elements. Taken together, the four Gospels weave a complete portrait of the God–Man, Jesus of Nazareth. In Him were blended perfect humanity and deity, making Him the only sacrifice for the sins of the world, and the worthy Lord of those who believe.

Learn something new? Share your thoughts!

Excerpted from the Introduction to the Gospels in The MacArthur Study Bible.

Continue Reading

Soil, Seed & Sower – A SOAP Bible Study on Matthew 13:3–8

Posted by on 05/15/2017 in: ,

Originally posted at Bible Connection.

Scripture
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places…Other seed fell among thorns…Still other seed fell on good soil.”
—Matthew 13:3–8, NIV

Observation
Although this is often known as the parable of the sower and the seed, it can also be said this is a parable about the soil. All four types of soil are essentially the same dirt but are in different conditions and respond in different ways to cultivation.

What made one soil more responsive and the other less?

When the New Testament was written, communities were agriculturally based. A family would be appointed a section of land to farm. Every farmer’s plot was adjacent to their neighbor’s. In order to get to the fields, the farmers would walk along the boundaries bordering each field to avoid stepping on the growing plants. The “path” was held in common by all the farmers. Over time, the soil on the path would compact. It was never plowed and never fertilized. In the parable, the seed that is sown on the path is not able to penetrate the ground because of the constant use. The condition of the first soil is hard and impermeable.

The second type of soil mentioned in the parable is the “rocky places” or the shallow soil where the plow didn’t cut deeply enough to break up the shale or hard ground just below the surface. This soil produced only plants with weak, shallow roots.

The third type of soil mentioned is the thorny soil, most likely found in the corners of the field where the plow couldn’t reach; here, weeds overtook what was planted.

All the types of soils mentioned here are actually in the same plot of ground with one major difference: Only one area was fully yielded to cultivation, to being changed and prepared for planting. That area was called the good soil.

The greatest amount of fruit produced was not determined by how rich the soil was, but how yielded to the plow it was. The soil in each condition received seed, but not all produced quality fruit.

Everyone receives seed, the Word of God. Everyone has potential for the harvest, living a fruitful life, but the ones who will produce the most fruit will be the ones most yielded to cultivation.

Application
How I apply this passage is by asking questions: Can I be “cultivated” in my life? How correctable am I? How quickly do I repent? Can I self–correct? The greater my yielding to God’s cultivation the greater the capacity of my fruitfulness in life.

Prayer
Father, create in me a soft heart, an open heart that is readily yielded to your Word and your commands. Make me fruitful, I pray. Amen.

Drawn from a “SOAP” article in the LifeConnect Study Bible Notes.

How has God “cultivated” your life or someone you know? Do you see how that caused a more fruitful life? Post a comment below!

Continue Reading

Discover the 5 Covenants in the Bible

Posted by on 04/06/2017 in: ,

This is a guest post from Bible Connection

Content adapted from the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. Don’t own your own copy? Click here to view your buying options.

Covenant is one of the most important theological ideas in biblical theology. It is reflected in the traditional labels Old and New Testaments, i.e., covenants. The concept exists at significant points in the Bible’s storyline and is the theological glue that binds promise to fulfillment. So the biblical history of salvation and the unfolding of God’s covenants are almost synonymous.

Although the Bible does not explicitly mention a covenant until Gen 6:18 (when God announces that he intends to establish a covenant with Noah), many believe that God made a covenant with Adam (cf. Hos 6:7; see NIV text note there). They refer to this covenant with Adam as “the covenant of works” or a “covenant with creation.” Others, however, while not denying that God had a relationship with Adam involving mutual obligations, distinguish this from a covenant, which involves additional formalizing elements such as a sworn and/or enacted oath. Understanding covenant in the more formal sense, the first divine-human covenant is the one God established in the days of Noah (cf. Isa 54:9). That covenant affirms God’s commitment to creation after the flood.

However, while the concept of a covenant may not appear until after the flood, the major divine-human covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and the new covenant) all support and advance God’s creative (and redemptive) goal. Each covenant provides further divine assurance that God will realize his purpose for creation in general and humanity in particular by fully establishing his kingdom on earth.

The Universal/Noahic Covenant

While God announces his covenant with Noah and all creation prior to the flood (Gen 6:18), he establishes it after the deluge subsides (Gen 8:20—9:17). The first mention of this covenant simply highlights God’s plan to preserve Noah and the others in the ark (Gen 6:18). God’s covenant with Noah reaffirms his original creational intent that the flood had “disrupted.” So he solemnly promises that a suspension of the natural order will never again interrupt (Gen 8:21–22; 9:11–15) the fulfillment of humanity’s creational mandate (cf. Gen 1:26–30; 9:1–7). Moreover, the additional commands (Gen 9:4–6) emphasize the value of human life in particular, which further highlights the primary rationale for this covenant: preserving life on earth without further divine interruption. It is at least implicit from the scope of this covenant that God’s redemptive goal will ultimately encompass the whole creation. That global emphasis in Gen 1–11 is not lost in the subsequent chapters of Genesis and beyond, despite their narrowing focus.

The Abrahamic Covenant

The promises encompassed by the patriarchal covenants (those God established with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) are recorded in Gen 12:1–3. The essence of these divine promises is that God would bless Abraham in two ways: (1) God would make him into a great nation and so make his name great, and (2) through him God would mediate blessing to others (i.e., all peoples on earth). Significantly, each of these two aspects are subsequently ratified by covenant: (1) the national dimension of God’s promise is the focus of Gen 15, where God establishes (lit. “cuts”) “a covenant with Abram” (Gen 15:18); (2) the international dimension of the promise is apparently ignored in Gen 15, but it is alluded to in Gen 17 (cf. vv. 4–6,16), where God announces an “everlasting covenant” (Gen 17:7), the so-called “covenant of circumcision” (Acts 7:8). While many hold that the latter simply elaborates or enhances the covenant already established back in Gen 15, the different circumstances and emphases at very least suggest that this is a significant second stage in God’s covenant history with Abraham. Indeed, if Gen 17 is read in conjunction with Gen 22 (see below), these chapters arguably present a second covenant—one that is distinct from, but related to, the earlier covenant established in Gen 15.

The first of these covenants (Gen 15) formally ratified God’s promise to make Abraham into a “great nation” (Gen 12:2), thus the primary focus is on how God will work out his creative goal in Abraham’s biological “offspring,” subsequently identified as the sons of Jacob (Israel).

This, however, was only the preliminary stage in God’s unfolding plan of redemption. The second stage relates to how Abraham, through that great nation descended from him, would mediate blessing to “all peoples on earth” (Gen 12:3). This seems to be the main focus in Gen 17 and 22.

Even though the promise of nationhood is not altogether absent in Gen 17 (cf. v. 8), stress is placed on “nations,” “kings,” and a perpetual divine-human relationship with Abraham’s “offspring” (Gen 17:4–8,16–21). Significantly, particular focus is placed on Isaac (Gen 17:21; cf. Gen 21:12) as the one through whom this covenant will be perpetuated, highlighting what was at stake in the divine test of Gen 22. There Abraham’s obedient faith (Gen 22:16b,18b) met the demands of Gen 17:1 (cf. Gen 18:19; 26:5), thus prompting God to ratify the promises of Gen 17 (cf. Gen 22:17–18a; 26:4) by a solemn oath (Gen 22:16a; cf. 26:3).

Thus understood, two distinct covenants were established between God and Abraham. The first (Gen 15) guaranteed God’s promise to make Abraham into a “great nation.” The second (anticipated in Gen 17 and ratified by divine oath in Gen 22) affirmed God’s promise to bless all nations through Abraham and his “offspring.”

The Mosaic Covenant

God established the Mosaic covenant just after a significant development anticipated in Gen 15 had taken place: the emancipation of Abraham’s descendants from oppression in a foreign land (cf. Gen 15:13–14; Exod 19:4–6; 20:2). The focus at Sinai is less on what Abraham’s descendants must do in order to inherit the land and more on how they must conduct themselves within the land as the unique nation that God intended them to be (Exod 19:5–6). In order to be God’s “treasured possession,” “kingdom of priests,” and “holy nation” (Exod 19:5–6), Israel must keep God’s covenant by submitting to its requirements (i.e., the stipulations set forth in Exod 20–23). By adhering to these and the subsequent covenant obligations given at Sinai, Israel would be manifestly different from other nations and thus reflect God’s wisdom and greatness to surrounding peoples (cf. Deut 4:6–8).

By such means, Abraham’s descendants would not only follow in the footsteps of their ancestor (cf. Gen 26:5) but also facilitate the fulfillment of God’s promises (Gen 18:19). Thus, like Abraham, Israel must “walk before [God] faithfully and be blameless” (Gen 17:1). Failing to do so would undermine the very reason for Israel’s existence, a lesson that the golden calf incident so graphically illustrates (Exod 32–34). Although God reestablished the covenant (Exod 34), this was an act of grace rather than justice (Exod 34:6–7). Moreover, by reissuing the same covenant obligations at the end of this incident, God demonstrated that Israel’s responsibility had not changed.

Israel had to obey God in order to fulfill his purpose for delivering them from Egypt and subsequently giving them the promised land: They were to be his priestly kingdom and holy nation. By reflecting God’s holiness (Lev 19:2), Israel would showcase true theocracy and thus serve as God’s witnesses to a watching world. Moreover, since human rebellion threatened to jeopardize God’s ultimate objective (i.e., blessing all nations through Abraham’s “offspring”), the Mosaic covenant also encompassed the means by which the divine-human relationship between Yahweh and Israel could be maintained: Sacrificial worship, particularly on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16), would ritually atone for Israel’s sin and symbolically express God’s forgiveness. Therefore, just as the Noahic covenant guaranteed the preservation of human life on earth, so the Mosaic covenant guaranteed the preservation of Israel, Abraham’s great nation, in the land. Such was crucial for the next stage in fulfilling God’s promises: establishing a royal line through which Abraham’s ultimate “seed” and covenant heir would eventually come (cf. Gal 3:16).

The Davidic Covenant

After Sinai, the next major covenantal development comes with Nathan’s message to David (2 Sam 7; 1 Chr 17). David intends to build a “house” (i.e., temple) for God, but God promises to build a “house” (i.e., dynasty) for David. Neither 2 Sam 7 nor 1 Chr 17 explicitly describes God’s promise as a “covenant,” but several other texts do (cf. 2 Sam 23:5; 2 Chr 7:18; 13:5; Ps 89:3; Jer 33:21).

The Davidic covenant continues the trajectory of both the Mosaic and Abrahamic covenants. God’s plans for David and Israel are clearly intertwined (cf. 2 Sam 7:8–11,23–26). Moreover, significant parallels link David to Abraham:

  • God promises both a great name (Gen 12:2; 2 Sam 7:9).
  • In the future both will conquer their enemies (Gen 22:17; 2 Sam 7:11; cf. Ps 89:23);
  • Both have a special divine-human relationship (Gen 17:7–8; 2 Sam 7:24; cf. Ps 89:26).
  • A special line of “offspring” perpetuates both of their names (Gen 21:12; 2 Sam 7:12–16).
  • The descendants of both must keep God’s laws (Gen 18:19; 2 Sam 7:14; cf. Pss 89:30–32; 132:12).
  • The offspring of both would mediate international blessing (Gen 22:18; Ps 72:17).

The Davidic covenant thus identifies more precisely the lineage of the “offspring” who will mediate international blessing: He will be a royal descendant of Abraham through David.

This covenant therefore introduces a subtle but significant shift in focus. With the great nation promised to Abraham now firmly established (2 Sam 7:1), attention zooms in on his royal progeny (cf. Gen 17:6,16). This royal line, already traced explicitly in Genesis (cf. Gen 35:11; 49:10; see also Gen 38; Ruth 4:18–22), culminates in an individual, conquering “offspring” who fulfills the promise of Gen 22:18 and the hope expressed in Ps 72:17.

The New Covenant

Persistent failure to live according to God’s covenant requirements led to inevitable disaster for both the nation and its monarchy, culminating in judgment: the destroyed temple and Babylonian exile. This might have spelled the end had God’s plans for Israel not been crucial for fulfilling his covenant promises. The exile of the nation and the demise of the monarchy had to be overcome for God’s creation plan to be realized. Covenant history thus continued through the prospect of a “new covenant”—one that would be both continuous and discontinuous with those of the past.

Though referred to explicitly as a “new covenant” only once in the OT (Jer 31:31), several passages, both in Jeremiah and elsewhere, allude to it. In Isaiah this everlasting covenant of peace is closely associated with the servant figure (Isa 42:6; 49:8; 54:10; 55:3; 61:8). It is inclusive in that it incorporates even foreigners and eunuchs (Isa 56:3) but also exclusive in that it is confined to those who “hold fast to” its obligations (Isa 56:5–6; cf. 56:1–2).

While Jeremiah and Ezekiel use different terminology to describe it, both anticipate a fundamental change taking place in the covenant community: Jeremiah speaks of internalizing the Torah (Jer 31:33), whereas Ezekiel speaks of spiritual surgery and radical transformation (Ezek 36:26–27). For both prophets, this inner renewal would result in the ideal divine-human relationship, which this and earlier covenants express in terms of the covenant formula “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” In this new covenant, all the hopes and expectations of previous covenants will attain climactic fulfillment and eschatological expression.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that the New Testament (“covenant”) declares that all God’s covenant promises are realized in and through Jesus (cf. Luke 1:54–55,69–75; 2 Cor 1:20), the long-awaited Davidic Messiah (Matt 1:17–18; 2:4–6; 16:16; 21:9; Luke 2:11; John 7:42 Acts 2:22–36). As the ultimate offspring of Abraham (Matt 1:1; Gal 3:16) and royal offspring of David (Matt 1:1; Luke 1:27,32–33; 2:4; Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5; 22:16), Jesus also fulfills the role of Isaiah’s servant (Acts 3:18; 4:27–28; 8:32–35)—not only in redeeming Israel (Luke 2:38; Acts 3:25–26; Heb 9:12,15) but also by mediating God’s blessing to an international community of faith (Acts 10:1—11:18; 15:1–29; Rom 1:2–6; 3:22–24; 4:16–18; 15:8–12; Gal 3:7–14,29).

According to the NT Gospels and letters, the new covenant was ratified through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross (cf. Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25). In the inaugural Lord’s Supper, Jesus alludes to both the forgiveness linked by Jeremiah to the new covenant (Matt 26:28; cf. Jer 31:34) and the blood associated with the establishment of the old (i.e., Mosaic) covenant (Luke 22:20; cf. Exod 24:8. Accordingly, the NT emphasizes the forgiveness of sins, something only fully attainable under the new covenant (Acts 13:39; cf. Heb 10:4), as the primary benefit of Jesus’ death (e.g., Luke 1:77; 24:46–47; Acts 2:38; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18; Rom 3:24–25; Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; Heb 9:12,28; 1 John 1:7; Rev 1:5; 7:14; 12:10–11).

Thus, according to both Paul and the writer of Hebrews, the new covenant is far superior to the old (i.e., the Mosaic covenant). Such is already implicit in the use of the adjective “new” in 1 Cor 11:25 (cf. Luke 22:20), which clearly alludes to Jeremiah’s negative contrast (Jer 31:31–32). Paul is even more pointed, however, in 2 Cor 3, where he explicitly contrasts the new and the old covenants, highlighting the vast inferiority of the old in comparison with the surpassing glory and permanence of the new. A similar, negative comparison is also made by his “figurative” contrast between Hagar and Sarah in Gal 4:21–31.

Analogous conclusions are drawn by the author of Hebrews. Having noted the superiority of the new covenant in Heb 7:22, the writer elaborates his point through an extended comment on Jer 31:31–34, which forms a literary bracket around much of the argument in Heb 8–10 (cf. 8:9–12; 10:16–17). Not only does Jesus exercise a permanent, perfect, and heavenly priesthood (Heb 7:23—8:6), but the covenant of which he is mediator “is established on better promises” (Heb 8:6b), explained in terms of an “eternal redemption” (9:12) and “eternal inheritance” (9:15) secured through the blood of Christ (Heb 9:11—10:18)—later described as “the blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb 13:20). Like Paul, therefore, the contrast is not between something bad and something good, but between something good (but temporal) and something better (because, unlike the old covenant, the new is unbreakable and eternal).

While these new covenant realities are in many respects already present (cf. Heb 9:11), it is nevertheless true that the best is still to come. Just as Israel’s restoration hopes were not exhausted in repatriation after the Babylonian exile, neither were they fully realized in the first coming of their Messiah. While in Jesus—the promised “seed” of Abraham (Gal 3:16), the anticipated prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22–23; cf. Deut 18:15; Matt 17:5), King David’s greater son (Matt 22:41–46), and the mediator of the new covenant (Heb 8:6)—God’s covenant promises for both Israel and the nations have come to fruition, the ultimate expression of God’s creative and redemptive goal awaits fulfillment in the eschatological reality of the new creation. Only then will the hope expressed in the age-old covenant formula be most fully experienced (Rev 21:3), for “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him … And they will reign for ever and ever” (Rev 22:3,5).

Content adapted from the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. Don’t own your own copy? Click here to view your buying options.

Continue Reading

What is an ‘Enhanced’ title?

Posted by on 02/22/2017 in: ,

If you’ve ever been on OliveTree.com or browsed the in-app store, you’ve probably seen the light bulb icon on a number of titles.

In the app, it looks like this:

On the website, it looks like this:

So what’s different about a title that has been ‘enhanced’ compared to one that isn’t?

An enhanced title means that we’ve taken a plain eBook and given it extra functionality, so that it can be easily accessed in the Resource Guide.

For example, many study Bibles include not just commentary notes but also maps, charts, images, and outlines. When we enhance a study Bible, all the information from the study Bible that is relevant to the passage of Scripture you’re reading will appear in the Resource Guide. All you have to do is tap on an outline, a map, etc. in the Resource Guide to make use of the study Bible’s full capabilities.

Now, whenever you see that a title is marked as enhanced, you’ll know you’re getting a great resource designed specifically to help you go deeper in your study of God’s Word.

For more information about how the Resource Guide works, go HERE.

For more on specific types of enhanced resources, check out our blog series.

To add enhanced titles to your library, browse our store.

Continue Reading