Category: Educational

10 Literary Features of the Bible

Posted by on 10/17/2017 in: ,

The following content can be found in the introduction notes of the ESV Literary Study Bible.

The Bible is not a totally unique book. In general, its literary forms function in the same way that these forms function beyond the Bible. A story is a story, whether in the Bible or beyond it. A metaphor is a metaphor. Nonetheless, it is possible to make generalizations about characteristic literary features of the Bible, with no implication that these features do not exist elsewhere. Below are twelve literary qualities or preferred literary techniques that we often find in the Bible.


Although the overall genre of the Bible is the anthology of individual books and passages, the Bible possesses a unity far beyond that of other literary anthologies. The technical term for a unifying superstructure such as we find in the Bible is metanarrative (big or overarching story). In the Bible, the metanarrative is the story of salvation history—the events by which God worked out his plan to redeem humanity and the creation after they fell from original innocence. This story of salvation history is Christocentric in the sense that it focuses ultimately on the substitutionary sacrifice and atonement of Christ on the cross and his resurrection from death. The unifying story line of the Bible is a U-shaped story that moves from the creation of a perfect world, through the fall of that world into sin, then through fallen human history as it slowly and painfully makes its way toward consummation and arrives at the final destruction of evil and the eternal triumph of good.


All stories have a central character or protagonist, and in the overarching story of the Bible God is the protagonist. He is the unifying presence from the beginning of the Bible to the end. All creatures interact with this central and ultimate being. All events are related to him. The story of human history unfolds within the broader story of what God does. The result is a sense of ultimacy that comes through as we read the pages of the Bible.


The subject of literature is human experience, and this is true of the Bible, too, but a distinctive feature of the Bible is that it overwhelmingly presents human experience in a religious and moral light. Events that other writers might treat in a purely human and natural light—a sunrise, a battle, a birth, a journey—are presented by the authors of the Bible within a moral or spiritual framework. Part of this moral and spiritual framework is the assumption of the biblical authors that a great conflict between good and evil is going on in our world and, further, that people are continually confronted with the need to choose between good and evil, between working for God’s kingdom and going against God.


Every literary anthology of the Bible’s magnitude displays a range of literary forms, but the Bible’s range may well top them all. We need to be alert to this, because the religious uses to which we put the Bible can easily lull us into assuming that the Bible is all one type of writing. The list of individual forms, if we include such specific motifs as the homecoming story or trickster or love poem, keeps expanding. The variety that we find in the Bible stems partly from the large categories that converge—history, theology, and literature, for example, or prose and poetry, realism and fantasy, past and future, God and people.


While the New Testament contains a great deal of theological writing, the general preference of biblical authors is for concrete vocabulary. This is especially true of the Hebrew language of the Old Testament. In the Bible, God is portrayed as light and rock and thunder. Slander is a sharp knife. Living the godly life is like putting on a garment or suit of armor. Heaven is a landscape of jewels. To read the Bible well, we need to read with the “right side” of the brain—the part that is activated by sensory data.


The prophetic and apocalyptic parts of the Bible give us a steady diet of fantasy (flying scrolls, for example, and red horses), but the general tendency of the Bible is toward everyday realism. The Bible displays the flaws of even its best characters (Oliver Cromwell famously said that the biblical writers paint their characters “warts and all”). Although the Bible does not delineate the sordid experiences of life in the extreme detail that modern literary realism does, it nonetheless covers the same real experiences, such as violence, murder, sexuality, death, suffering, and famine. Of course the Bible differs from modern realism by showing us that there is a realism of grace as well as a realism of carnality. In other words, the Bible is not content to portray the degradation of a world that has fallen into sin without also portraying the redemptive possibilities of a world that has been visited by the grace of God and is destined for glory.


Although the Bible is certainly not devoid of examples of the high style, especially in the poetic parts, its overall orientation is toward the simple. The prevailing narrative style is plain, unembellished, matter-of-fact prose. Shakespeare’s vocabulary is approximately twenty thousand words, Milton’s thirteen thousand, and English translations of the Bible six thousand. Biblical writers often work with such simplified dichotomies as good and evil, light and darkness, heroes and villains. Of course there is a simplicity that diminishes and a simplicity that enlarges. The simplicity of the Bible paradoxically produces an effect of majesty and authority.


The Bible is a book of universal human experience. It is filled with experiences and images that are the common human lot in all places and times. The Bible embraces the commonplace and repeatedly shows ordinary people engaged in the customary activities of life—planting, building, baking, fighting, worrying, celebrating, praying. The world that biblical characters inhabit is likewise stripped and elemental, consisting of such natural settings as day and night, field and desert, sky and earth. Even occupations have an elemental quality—king, priest, shepherd, homemaker, missionary.


Even though the Bible that we read is a written book, in its original form much of it existed orally. This is true because ancient cultures were predominantly oral cultures in which information circulated chiefly by word of mouth. The literary forms of the Bible show this rootedness in an oral culture. The prevalence of dialogue (directly quoted speeches) in the Bible is without parallel in literature generally until we come to the novel. Everywhere we turn in the Bible, we hear voices speaking and replying. The spare, unembellished narrative style of the Bible arises from the situation of oral circulation of the stories. Additionally, many of the nonnarrative parts of the Bible show signs of oral speech—the prophetic discourses and oracles, the psalms (which were sung in temple worship), the epistles (which were read aloud in churches), and the Gospels (where the words of Jesus are a leading ingredient).


When we read Shakespeare or Dickens, we find ourselves moved to agreement or disagreement, but we do not ordinarily feel that we have been confronted by someone or something that requires us to make a choice. By contrast, when we assimilate the Bible we feel as though we have been personally confronted with something that requires a response. While this choice is ultimately for or against God, the ideas of the Bible, too, require us to believe or disbelieve them. The Bible displays a vivid consciousness of values—of the difference between good and evil—with the result that it is virtually impossible to remain neutral about the ideas that confront us as we read the Bible.


Interested in learning more about the literary aspects of the Bible? We just added a new resource to our store: The ESV Literary Study Bible! In fact, the content of this blog post comes straight from the introduction of this resource.

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Learn to Preach Christ-Centered Sermons

Posted by on 10/16/2017 in: ,

There are SO many Biblical resources out there—but how do you know which ones will be helpful to you?  Especially if you’re a pastor, you don’t have a lot of time or money to waste!

The Christ-Centered Exposition Series makes its purpose clear just from the title. This commentary series is made for pastors. Pastors who want to preach Christ at the center of their message.


But wouldn’t every Biblical resource mention Jesus where it’s applicable? Nope! The authors of this commentary noticed that there are two ways to study the Bible: with a magnifying glass or a wide-angle lens. For years, Bible study resources have been focused on the tiny details that can be uncovered in each verse.

There’s two issues with this for pastors:

  1. It takes a lot of time to turn those tiny details into a message that your audience can resonate with
  2. The tiny details address individual Bible stories—not the whole story of the Bible with Christ at the center

Pastors need resources to help them prepare heart-transformative messages, making Jesus known to their congregants—no matter what book of the Bible they are studying. David Platt, Tony Merida, and Daniel Akin have provided a solid, Biblical resource that accomplishes this by using up-close detail and big-picture thinking to make Jesus the hero of every chapter.

You, too, can preach with Christ at the center. Watch this 60-second video to learn more:


It’s important to research the authors/editors of any book you read! All three of these men have great credentials that make them perfect for writing Biblical resources for pastors.


Platt is currently the president of the International Mission Board and the founder of Radical, a resource ministry that seeks to serve the missional church. He is well-known for his best-selling book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. He holds a Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.


Akin is the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He is the author and editor of many popular books and Bible commentaries such as Theology for the Church and the New American Commentary on 1, 2, and 3 John. His gained his Ph.D. in Humanities from the University of Texas at Arlington.


Merida is the lead pastor at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina and is an Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written two books entitled Faithful Preaching and Orphanology. He earned a Ph.D. in preaching from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.


Yes! Inside our app, you’ll be able to pull up this commentary alongside any Bible translation of your choice, take notes, create an outline, and prepare your sermon. This series also comes with “Reflect & Discuss” sections, perfect for furthering personal devotions and small group studies.

We know many pastors who even use a tablet with our app open when they are preaching. You’ll have all the information you need at a tap of your finger.


With this resource, you’ll be able to

  1. Quickly find the content and research you need to write a well-prepared sermon
  2. Preach Christ-centered, heart-transforming messages to your listeners
  3. Grow spiritually as the Holy Spirit leads

Visit our website to learn more about the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary Set (24 Vols.). Have questions about anything? Email We’ll help you!

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A Tiny Biography on John Calvin

Posted by on 10/11/2017 in:


John Calvin


July 10, 1509


May 27, 1564


Noyon, France, 67 miles northeast of Paris


Scholar, Theologian, Preacher


Wife Idelette de Bure, 3 children, all died in infancy


Calvin was born to Gerard Calvin and Jeanne le Franc in 1509. His mother died when he was three years old, and his father soon remarried. Gerard had a good position working with the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Noyon and planned for his sons to become priests. Calvin was precocious and went to Paris at the age of 14 to study theology and philosophy.

When Calvin was 19, his father had run afoul of the church and ordered his son to become a lawyer instead of a priest. To obey his father, he moved to Orleans and Bourges to study law until his father’s death in 1531. Calvin quickly returned to Paris after his father’s death to pick up the study of theology and the classics again. During his studies, he learned about Desiderius Erasmus, who had published a more accessible Latin translation of the New Testament, and Martin Luther, whose Protestant ideas were making their way through Europe. He attended meetings with other students where they read and studied the Bible and the writings of Martin Luther. The seeds of Reformation ideas were planted in Calvin’s head, and he fully converted to the Reformation cause in 1533, at the age of 24.

Protestants were being persecuted in France at this time, so Calvin spent a year in hiding before settling in Basel, Switzerland. When he was just 26 years old, he published his first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which is his seminal work and a cornerstone publication of the Reformation. He edited it throughout his life as he studied Scripture and fleshed out Protestant doctrine.

In 1536, Calvin was in Geneva, Switzerland, on route to Strasbourg, Germany, when William Farel, a fiery Reformed preacher, pleaded with him to stay in Geneva and work for the Reformation cause. Calvin worked there two years as a professor and pastor before the City Council banished him and Farel. Calvin settled in Strasbourg to pastor refugees who had fled persecution in France. He was in Strasbourg for four years and met and married Idelette de Bure in this time.

In 1541, the Geneva City Council called Calvin back to the city to again defend the Reformed cause. He remained in Geneva until his death in 1564 at the age of 54. His years in Geneva were spent preaching, giving pastoral care, writing, lecturing, working for the welfare of the city, and defending Reformed theology and practice. Calvin’s legacy includes Reformed theology, which has also been called Calvinism, and a number of Protestant denominations, such as Presbyterian and Christian Reformed, that trace their earliest roots to Calvin.


While writing this biography, we used a couple resources that are available in our store! Our favorite is Reformation Heroes—a short book filled with biographies of the major players of the Reformation. Additionally, we used this short biography on Calvin by John Piper, which you can get for free!

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How-To Do a Word Study

Posted by on 10/05/2017 in: ,

While many have lamented the thought of having to learn the original languages in Bible college or seminary, I relished the idea. I saw it as an opportunity to unlock a new world of Bible study that would give me greater insight for Bible interpretation. But after several years of study I learned something very important. My English Bible was enough!

Yes, there were times when knowing Greek and Hebrew proved useful; but, for the most part, I found Bible translators had done a great job in conveying the thoughts of the Bible’s authors. But I was still asking myself: “How can I effectively use the original languages in my Bible study?”

Are you wondering the same thing? Let me share what I’ve learned.


A few years ago I was teaching through 1 Thessalonians at my church. As I was reading through the second chapter, I encountered a phrase in verse 4 that made me pause: “we have been approved by God.” The word “approved” felt a bit awkward to me, so I decided to investigate. To get started, I switched from my standard ESV Bible to the ESV with Strong’s tagging.


Then, I tapped on “approved” in 1 Thessalonians 2:4, which gave me some quick information from the Strong’s dictionary. I see that I’m dealing with the Greek word δοκιμάζω (dokimazō), which is Strong’s number G1381. The glosses are helpful in showing me how the word is translated, but that doesn’t satisfy my curiosity.



Next, check all the occurrences of this word in the New Testament. This will provide a wider understanding for how dokimazō is translated and its meaning(s). Our app makes this step really easy! All you have to do is tap the “Search for g1381” button, and it’ll search the ESV Strong’s Bible for every occurrence of dokimazō based on its Strong’s number.

What I found is that dokimazō has a lot to do with the idea of examining or testing something. The majority of the usage comes from Paul and refers to examining one’s self. That’s an interesting observation. And, in the case of 1 Thessalonians 2:4, it’s interesting to see how God is the one approving or examining Paul and his co-laborers for the work of ministry.

It’s also worth noting that dokimazō occurs twice in this verse, which I wouldn’t have noticed from the English alone, since the second instance is translated as “tests.” This information further improves my understanding of the original phrase in question.



At this point, I have a good grasp on the lexical range of dokimazō—at least how it’s used in the New Testament. But, I don’t want to leave my study there because I may be missing something. What can I do to go further? It’s simple! I’ll go back and tap the “Lookup δοκιμάζω” button from my Strong’s popup and search my dictionaries. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis appears and it sparked my interest! There are two things I like about this dictionary: 1) the entry provides a list of related words that I may want to study further, and 2) it looks at the word’s usage and how it is theologically relevant, instead of just giving me a list of ways it can be translated into English.



After some reading, I find my understanding of dokimazō to be on par with what the dictionaries say. As it relates to our verse, not only does God test, like on the day of judgment (1 Cor. 3:13), but He is currently testing our hearts—specifically as it relates to our usefulness in ministry.


While it takes some time to read through all the material, a word study is really easy with the Olive Tree Bible App. Everything you need to do a word study is at your fingertips! Many of the resources you need to perform a word study are currently discounted in our How to Study the Bible Sale! Pick them up today while they’re at these low prices!

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A Tiny Biography on Martin Luther

Posted by on 10/04/2017 in:


Martin Luther


November 10, 1483


February 18, 1546


Eisleben, Germany, 130 miles southwest of Berlin


Augustinian monk, priest, professor of philosophy at the University of Wittenberg


Katharina von Bora, wife, and six children Johannes, Elisabeth, Magdalena, Martin, Paul, and Margaret


Luther was born to Hans and Margarethe Luther in 1483 and was named for St. Martin of Tours, on whose feast day he was baptized. Luther’s father was determined that Martin should become a lawyer and sent him to school, including university at Erfurt. Luther studied law and philosophy, but completely changed course when he was caught outside in a thunderstorm in 1505. Scared of death and divine judgment, he cried out to Saint Anne in terror and promised that he would become a monk. True to his word, Luther joined St. Augustine’s Monastery in Erfurt in July 1505.

As a monk, Luther was plagued by spiritual despair and guilt over the depth of his sin. Over the next several years, Luther became a priest and a professor of theology and philosophy at the University of Wittenberg and preached in churches throughout the city. As Luther studied Scripture, he noticed incongruence between the Bible and certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church. The trigger for Luther’s famous Ninety-Five Theses was when a man named Johann Tetzel began selling indulgences in Wittenberg that would lessen a believer’s time in purgatory. Luther wrote to his bishop to protest the sale of indulgences and later furthered his protest by posting the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. This is considered the fated beginning of the Reformation.

The Ninety-Five Theses were written in Latin, but were soon translated into other languages and copies spread throughout Europe. Luther wasn’t alone in his protests against the excesses and skewed doctrine of the Catholic Church. Luther’s study of Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians in the years after 1517 further solidified his doctrine of justification: good works cannot earn us the salvation that we receive by faith alone in Jesus Christ. After several years and many battles with the Pope and his delegates, Luther refused to recant and was excommunicated on January 3, 1521.

Luther turned his attention to organizing a new church in accordance with new values, which has been handed down to us generally as Protestantism and specifically as Lutheranism. Besides being known as the Father of the Reformation, Luther also wrote two catechisms, translated the Bible into the vernacular instead of using the Latin Bible, and wrote hymns for congregational singing. He died in 1546 at the age of 62.


While writing this biography, we used a couple resources that are available in our store! Our favorite is Reformation Heroes—a short book filled with biographies of the major players of the Reformation. Additionally, we used this short biography on Luther by John Piper, which you can get for free!

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A SOAP Study on Matthew 12

Posted by on 10/02/2017 in: ,

What’s a SOAP study? SOAP is an acronym, meaning: Scripture, observation, application, and prayer. This is one, very helpful way to get more out of your Bible study time. Join us in this short study of Matthew 12:1-14!


Matthew 12:1-14, NIV

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.


Taken from the Gospel Transformation Bible Notes

Matthew gives two examples of how Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden light (11:30). In both examples, Jesus opposes the Pharisees’ imposition on others of their burdensome way of observing the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:8–11; Deut. 5:12–15). The purpose of the Sabbath law was to show mercy to human beings and their farm animals by mandating regular rest from the hard labor of agrarian life (Matt. 12:8; Ex. 23:12). If its “observance” somehow made hungry people more miserable by forbidding them from obtaining food, or required a disabled person to remain disabled longer than necessary, then the purpose of the law itself had been violated (Matt. 12:7, 12; Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:6–8).


Taken from the Gospel Transformation Bible Notes

Christians of every age and culture have formulated ideas about how the moral teaching of Scripture should be obeyed in their own time and place. Often these ideas become translated into rules for avoiding temptation in basic areas where Christians must interact with a non-Christian culture, whether over clothing, food, speech, or entertainment. Matthew 12:1–14 cautions believers as they engage in such rule-making to understand what they are doing: they are not formulating authoritative Scripture but giving fallible human advice, however prudent (5:29–30; 18:8–9), on how best to obey Scripture in particular circumstances. Whenever the tendency of these rules hinders the basic concern of Scripture for mercy, justice, and kindness, the rules have themselves become a hindrance to obeying God and need to be set aside.


Have you ever struggled with this, putting rules before mercy, justice, and kindness? Take some time today to think and pray about this. Ask Jesus how he would like you to respond.


This content was taken directly out of the Gospel Transformation Bible Notes. You, too, can do quick, easy, and formative Bible studies with these notes—and they are currently only $15 (normally $50!). Visit our website to find out more.

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How the Protestant
Reformation Began

Posted by on 10/01/2017 in:

Why This Post?

Today is the first day of October! At the end of the month, many will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Although Olive Tree provides resources to a wide-variety of denominations, we thought this would be a great opportunity to talk a bit about history on our blog.

Throughout the month, we will be sharing posts about the reformers and the solas, along with any other information we find helpful! This first post is rather long, but covers the history of how the Reformation began and why. If you’ve never learned about this part of Christian history, it’s definitely an important transition worth knowing about.

This content is taken from a blog post by our friends at Zondervan! See the original post here.

How the Protestant Reformation Began

You probably know at least one thing about Martin Luther: that he nailed the 95 theses to a church door and defied the Roman Catholic Church.

This was Luther’s declaration of independence from Rome.

The truth is, this is historically inaccurate.

Yes, October 31, 1517, would turn out to be the first hint that the Western world was about to be turned upside down. But Luther’s act on October 31, 1517 was not an act of rebellion.

It was, in fact, just the opposite. It was the act of a dutiful son of mother church.

Someone—no one knows who—took the Latin text of Luther’s 95 Theses, translated them into German, and sent them all over Germany. When the German people realized that Luther was standing up against abuses in the church, he became a hero throughout Germany.

The Reformation Began

But how did it start? To find out, we need to know what kind of man Luther was, and where he came from.

Who was Martin Luther?

Martin was born on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, but grew up in Mansfeld. When Martin turned fourteen, he was sent to a preparatory school in Magdeburg and later in Eisenach. He attended the University of Erfurt, where he received his baccalaureate in 1502 and a master’s degree in January 1505.

Luther’s father decided that his son was to become a lawyer, so Martin went off to law school in Erfurt. But circumstances soon would place young Luther on a different path.

How Luther Became a Monk

Two experiences turned Luther’s attention from law to the monastery.

First, Luther lost a close friend when the plague swept through Erfurt. This loss seems to have shaken the young Martin and turned his attention to deeper spiritual concerns.

The second—and more famous—reason Luther became a monk was that, soon after beginning law school, he was returning to Erfurt from Mansfeld when he was overtaken by a sudden thunderstorm. A lightning bolt struck a tree close by. The young Luther, in a fit of fear, called upon St. Anne, the patron saint of distressed travelers, and vowed to become a monk if only she would spare his life. After the storm, Luther entered the monastery of the Augustinian Hermits.

While this event seems to have been the immediate cause for his entrance into the monastic life, we must recognize that the lightning bolt landed in a medieval world where the religious ideal was the life of a monk. Late medieval piety taught that the only way someone could be assured of salvation was to flee the temptations of the secular world and devote oneself to God. To this conventional wisdom, Luther bowed his head and entered the monastic life in July 1505.

Despite his anxieties, Luther was a successful monk. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1507 and later appointed as an instructor at the new University of Wittenberg. As a young professor, Luther lectured on books of the Bible. He was also a pastor and preacher in the parish church, regularly preaching three sermons a week.

How Indulgences Helped Start the Reformation

Indulgences were pieces of paper with papal insignia that granted remission of temporal punishment for sin. It may seem odd to moderns that a piece of paper became the straw that broke the camel’s back in the sixteenth century. But that’s exactly what happened.

In 1460 Pope Sixtus IV decided that the buying of indulgences not only was good for the sinner in this life, but could be applied to deceased family members in purgatory as well. This had a profoundly powerful emotional appeal. Sinners were given the opportunity to reduce or even end the suffering, pain, and punishment of beloved family members.

During Luther’s generation these elaborations of the doctrine of indulgences were still relatively new.

In 1507, Pope Julius II permitted the sale of indulgences to raise money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Pope Leo X renewed approval in 1513.

In fact, Pope Leo later made a deal with Albert of Brandenburg, archbishop of Mainz (Germany): If Archbishop Albert would agree to allow the sale of indulgences, Leo agreed to split the profits with him. The person hired to travel all over Germany to sell indulgences was Johan Tetzel.

There was something especially crass about Tetzel, whose sales pitch was, “Once a coin into the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.” In fact, Frederick the Wise, a prince in the electorate of Saxony refused to let Tetzel into his territory. In response, Tetzel set up shop just over the border.

Frederick was concerned about the money leaving his territory, so, when Luther expressed outrage over the practice of indulgences, he found a friend in Frederick.

The stage was set for the Reformation.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses

Luther was appalled that people were lured across the border into Saxony to be relieved of their money and persuaded to purchase indulgences.

Luther was concerned with Tetzel’s crass abuse of a papal indulgence. And he was also concerned about the economic exploitation. He explicitly mentions “money” or “wealth” in nine of the theses, which suggests that he was upset about Tetzel’s financial exploitation of Luther’s fellow Wittenbergers.

Luther was troubled by Tetzel’s actions and wrote up ninety-five assertions to be debated with his theological colleagues at the University of Wittenberg. The church door functioned as an academic bulletin board, so it was the appropriate place to notify fellow faculty members of a faculty meeting.

Luther also sent a copy to Archbishop Albert, following proper ecclesiastical protocol.

Within a relatively short period of time, Luther was perceived as a loyal German standing up to the Roman religious occupation of Germany, and Albert was seen as a collaborator with the enemy of the German people.

A groundswell of support for Luther emerged in late 1517 and early 1518.

Was Luther really revolting against the Roman Catholic Church?

Despite Luther’s boldness, and contrary to what most people think, there was nothing in the 95 Theses that rejected traditional Catholic doctrine. It was not in these theses that Luther developed his doctrine of justification. That would come later.

The posting of the theses was not an act of rebellion against the church. Instead, it was the work of a responsible church theologian who was seeking to address what he perceived to be distortions of Catholic teaching.

He did not reject papal authority, the sacrament of penance, or the concept of indulgences. He did, however, stand firmly against exploitation of his congregants.

How Rome Responded

The Roman Catholic Church didn’t see it that way. Even though the 95 Theses were intended for discussion purposes of the theological faculty at Wittenberg, the papacy saw in them an implicit challenge to the authority of Rome.

Pope Leo X initially called Luther a “drunken monk” who would change his mind once he sobered up.

But three months went by and the “drunken monk” was still at it, so the pope asked Prierias (Silvester Mazzolini), the Master of the Sacred Palace and Dominican professor of theology, to investigate.

Prierias concluded that Luther had crossed the line into heresy, and he wrote a dialogue against him, thinking this would put an end to the German problem. The official response asserted that the deeper issue beneath Luther’s criticism of Tetzel was papal authority.

The repercussions of the theses reverberated even in Luther’s own cloister. Luther’s colleague at Wittenberg, Dr. Jerome Schurff, professor of canon law, cautioned, “Do you wish to write against the pope? . . . It won’t be tolerated.”

Emperor Maximilian in his letter to Pope Leo X (August 5, 1518) asserted that in the 95 Theses “the authority of the Pope is disregarded” and added that they appear to be “injurious and heretical.”

Tetzel himself (in 1518) characterized Luther’s challenge as an overt denial of the authority of the pope. From Tetzel’s perspective, the pope had authorized him to sell the indulgences, and therefore to challenge the sale of indulgences was in fact a challenge to papal authority.

What Luther intended to address as a matter of the abuse of indulgences quickly became a matter of the authority of the pope.

Luther’s Response to the Pope

Luther was bolder than anyone realized. He wrote a reply in early August 1518 calling Prierias’s dialogue “supercilious.” The two theologians exchanged writings again with no resolution or repentance. The effect of this brief exchange was to fan the flame of suspicion.

Pope Leo lost patience and on August 7 ordered Luther to appear in Rome within sixty days to recant his heresies. The pope also demanded that Elector Frederick should arrest and deliver this “child of the devil” to the papal legate. Frederick did not arrest Luther, but he did arrange a meeting with the papal legate — another Dominican, Cardinal Cajetan (Thomas de Vio) — at the upcoming Diet of Augsburg in October.

Cajetan initially took an avuncular approach to Luther, calling him “my dear son.” The monk and the cardinal met three times in Augsburg (October 12 – 14). The cardinal was courteous, but insisted on a retraction and submission to papal authority.

However, Luther stubbornly refused to recant his opinions. He asserted that Scripture has ultimate authority, to which Cajetan thundered in response, “The pope is above the council and also above the Holy Scripture. Recant!”

Luther Concedes to Rome

There was one final papal attempt to persuade Luther to recant his views.

Pope Leo sent Karl von Miltitz, to meet with Luther. But at their meeting on January 6, 1519, Miltitz expressed sympathy toward Luther and laid blame for the indulgences controversy at the feet of Tetzel.

At the same time, he also implored Luther not to destroy the unity of the church. Miltitz agreed that the accusations against Luther should be settled in Germany by a German bishop and not in Rome. For his part, Luther agreed that he would seek the pardon of the pope and advocate unity.

In a letter of March 3, 1519, Luther humbly acknowledged the authority of the papacy and affirmed that he had never sought to undermine the Roman Church, although he still expressed concerns over the sale of indulgences.

How Martin Luther Responded to the Roman Catholic Church

In response to the courtesy of Miltitz, Luther agreed to cease public hostilities. But as it turned out, this was the calm before the storm.

Dr. Johann Eck (Johann Maier of Eck), one of the leading theologians at the University of Ingolstadt, sought a public debate with Luther and published twelve (later thirteen) theses against Luther in December 1518.

Luther immediately replied with thirteen countertheses.

Sparks flew, so it was agreed that a disputation should be held in Leipzig between Eck and Luther and his senior colleague at the University of Wittenberg, Karlstadt (Andreas Rudolph Bodenstein von Karlstadt). The exchange was explosive.

The more Luther was provoked, the more defiant he became. On July 7 he argued that church councils could err. Eck seized on this as undeniable heresy: “If you believe that a council, legitimately called, has erred and can err, be then to me as a Gentile and a publican. I do not have to explain further what a heretic is.”

Martin Luther’s Final Break from the Roman Catholic Church

In 1520 Luther boldly began to put his distinctive convictions to pen and paper. The result was the publication of several books, which marked Luther’s break from Rome.
One of the most significant works of Luther is On the Papacy of Rome, written in May 1520. In August he wrote The Address to the German Nobility. A third book was written in September and a fourth in November, titled On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church and The Freedom of the Christian Man respectively. All of these were either written or translated in the German vernacular, thus ensuring broad circulation.

Meanwhile, Johann Eck’s work was not finished after the Leipzig debate in 1519. He soon went to Rome and assisted papal jurists in preparing the papal bull titled Exsurge Domine, issued on June 15, 1520. Quoting from the opening words of Psalm 74:22, the opening sentence of the papal bull read, “Rise up, Oh Lord, and judge Thy cause. A wild boar has invaded Thy vineyard.”

The boar, of course, was referring to Martin Luther.

The papal bull cited forty-one alleged errors and gave Luther sixty days to recant or be excommunicated.

Luther didn’t recant.

On December 10, 1520, in front of the people of Wittenberg he burned the papal bull at a bonfire on the bank of the Elbe River. In response, the pope issued the bull of excommunication (Decet Romanum Pontificem) on January 3, 1521.

The Diet of Worms (April 1521)

Rome had rendered its ecclesiastical decision about Luther. Now it was the emperor’s turn to deal with Luther from the perspective of the state.

Once the pope excommunicated Luther, it then became the judicial responsibility of the Holy Roman Emperor to bring Luther to trial.

Ever since the Leipzig disputation, Frederick the Wise had pressed the young Charles V to allow Luther to appear at the next imperial diet (the formal assembly of all the princes of the Holy Roman Empire). Initially, the emperor hesitated, but the elector finally prevailed, and Luther was summoned to a hearing at the imperial Diet at Worms in April 1521.

The summons included a safe conduct and spoke only of a hearing. Luther was fully aware of the danger of traveling to and from the hearing, but he was equally determined to take his case to the emperor.

It took Luther two full weeks to travel from Wittenberg to Worms, and every mile along the way revealed immense popular support. Word of this triumphant procession created enormous anxiety among the imperial dignitaries in Worms. As his wagon neared the city on April 16, a hundred nobles rode out to accompany Luther, which made for a rather grand entrance to Worms.

The imperial marshal informed Luther that he was scheduled to appear before the Diet the next day (April 17) at 4 pm. He arrived promptly at the Bishop’s palace, but was not summoned until 6 pm.

As he entered the great hall of the Bishop’s palace, he found himself standing before more than two hundred of the most powerful men in Germany. Besides the young Emperor Charles V, there were six of the imperial electors, papal legates, archbishops, bishops, dukes, margraves, princes, counts, deputies, and various ambassadors from foreign courts. Several hundred Spanish soldiers ringed the hall, and thousands of spectators filled the streets.

What Would Luther Do?

As his eyes scanned the hall, Luther heard his name. The imperial prosecutor, Dr. Johann von der Eck (different from Johann Eck who debated Luther at Leipzig), called out to him with two questions.

First, pointing to a table with his writings, Dr. von der Eck asked Luther if they were his. Dr. Schurl, Luther’s advocate, asked that the titles be read, and they were. Luther acknowledged authorship of the books.

Second, the imperial prosecutor then asked if Luther would renounce them. This second question caught Luther off guard, for he had expected a hearing and not a summary condemnation.

Instead of answering the question, Luther asked for more time.

The young emperor gave Luther twenty-four hours.

Luther spent a sleepless night consulting with friends and regaining his composure. His resolve remained. In a letter he wrote that evening to a friend, he said, “I will not retract one iota, so Christ help me.” After waiting two hours again the next day at the Bishop’s palace, he was admitted to the diet. Because of the darkness, torches were lit and Luther could see the crowded room. Though somewhat timid the day before, on this day his voice was firm and resonant.

Luther explained, first in German and then in Latin, that his writings belonged to different categories.

First, some were devotional writings that were edifying for Christians, and even his opponents would not want him to renounce those.

Second, there were some writings against the corruptions of the papacy. To renounce those would be tantamount to affirming wickedness, and that he could not do.

Third, some of his works were directed against individuals who defended papal corruption. He confessed that he had at times used harsh words, but wickedness had to be dealt with, and therefore he would not retract them either. He then urged Charles V to begin his reign by upholding the Word of God.

The imperial princes felt Luther had evaded the question. They had asked for a simple yes or no, but he had offered qualifications and explanations. They again asked for an unequivocal statement. Luther then gave his famous reply in Latin:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor wise to go against conscience.
Then he was reported to have concluded with these words in German: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”

How the Princes Responded to Luther’s Stand

The immediate response was dramatic. Dr. von der Eck blasted Luther, saying, “Abandon your conscience, Martin, for your conscience errs.”

Luther began to reply, but the emperor quickly dismissed the proceedings amid shouting from the Spanish soldiers, who were chanting, “To the flames!”

Charles V was only twenty-one, but he kept his word and permitted Luther to walk out of the Bishop’s palace alive.

When Luther reached his rooms, he threw up his arms and exclaimed, “I made it through! I made it through!”

The following day, Charles called the diet back into session to discuss its response. Frederick the Wise defended Luther. Complicating the decision was the fact that the German people were solidly behind Luther. Popular support became evident that evening when a placard appeared, declaring that four hundred nobles and eight thousand soldiers were prepared to defend Luther against the emperor. The placard carried the dreaded word “Bundschuh” (that is, a tied shoe of the German peasants) — which was the ominous sign of rebel peasants. The last thing the new emperor needed was civil war in Germany.

In the immediate aftermath of the diet, a series of imperial and ecclesiastical emissaries met with Luther, desperately seeking some kind of compromise. Various concessions and modifications were offered if only Luther would recant.

Luther steadfastly rejected every proposal.

On April 26 Luther was finally permitted to leave Worms with only the emperor’s promise of protection for twenty-five days. The diet continued to discuss Luther’s fate for nearly a month. Finally, Elector Frederick left on May 23 before any decision was rendered. Two days later, the emperor made the inevitable decision and issued an imperial edict declaring Luther an outlaw of the empire.

What the Edict of Worms Meant for Luther and the Future of the Protestant Reformation

The Edict of Worms was severe. It not only proclaimed Luther a criminal, but also prohibited anyone from assisting him in any way on penalty of death. All his books were banned as well. For the rest of his life, Luther was declared a heretic of the church and an outlaw of the state.

Much to his surprise, Luther departed Worms alive. Danger was still in the air as Luther departed on April 26. As his wagon neared the small town of Moehra, on the evening of May 4, five soldiers intercepted the wagon and kidnapped Luther. When news reached the artist and Lutheran sympathizer Albrecht Dürer, he lamented, “O God, Luther is dead. Now who will preach the holy gospel to us so clearly?”

As it turned out, this kidnapping was part of an elaborate plan to save Luther’s life. Before Luther left Worms, a clandestine message from Elector Frederick was conveyed to Luther that his journey home would be interrupted and he would be taken to a secret location for his own safety. After running alongside the elector’s soldiers for a short distance, Luther mounted a waiting horse, which took him to the Wartburg Castle in the Thuringian forest. Elector Frederick’s bold act not only saved Luther’s life; it also saved the Reformation movement.

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A Little Research on the Hermeneia Commentary Series

Posted by on 09/27/2017 in: ,

Hermeneia is a Greek word, referring to a detailed, systematic exposition of scriptural work—a word entirely fitting for the title of a commentary series.

But what makes the Hermeneia Commentary Series different than any other commentary series? It might be difficult to discern. A quick search for the resource on the internet reveals a publisher-created description that might leave you with more questions than answers.

So, what’s the first step in deciding whether a commentary may be right for you? Check out the authors.


This series has two main editors, one over-seeing the Old Testament contributions and the other over-seeing the New Testament.

Peter Machinist – Head of the Old Testament Editorial Board

Peter completed his undergraduate program at Harvard and then went to Yale, where he finished an MPhil and PhD. He then taught at several universities—Arizona, Michigan, and Munich to name a few. Then, in 1991, he returned to Harvard to teach in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, the Committee on the Study of Religions, and the Harvard Divinity School.

He recently retired at the beginning of 2017, and is now the Hancock Research Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages. However, he continues to be vastly interested in the cultural, intellectual, and social history of the ancient Near East—the primary reason he led the Old Testament Editorial Board for the Hermeneia Commentary.

Helmut Koester – Head of the New Testament Editorial Board

Helmut was a German-born, American scholar who sadly passed away at the beginning of 2016. He received several large degrees from the University of Marburg, University of Geneva, and Humboldt University of Berlin. Additionally, he was an ordained minister of the Lutheran Church.

Helmut spent his life fascinated by New Testament interpretation, the history of early Christianity, and archaeology. This led him to his final career as the John H. Morison Research Professor of Divinity and Winn Research Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard.


Based on the bios of the two authors, it’s evident that these men are fascinated with history. This commentary series isn’t going to be application-heavy or relying on tradition. Instead, these men most likely come to the Biblical text like an ancient artifact that needs de-coding. That’s why, in the publisher’s description, there is this caveat:

“The editors of Hermeneia impose no systematic-theological perspective upon the series (directly, or indirectly by selection of authors). Its authors lay bare the ancient meaning of a biblical work or pericope.”

Instead of coming to the text with tradition and theology in mind, Hermeneia looks to the historical context first, and rather strictly. Additionally, the scholars invited to write for this publication come from a variety of cultural and theological backgrounds. That’s a very purposeful decision. Hermenia doesn’t want to portray a certain theological or cultural bent.

This is typical of a more liberal and post-modern approach to hermeneutics, fitting for these authors because Harvard Divinity School holds to a more liberal school of thought.


If you’d like to learn more about the individuals who put together this commentary, head on over to their publisher’s website. That’s how I gathered research for this blog! You can really Google anyone these days.

Then, if you’re interested in seeing all the Hermeneia commentaries that we offer, check out this page of our website.

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Poetry in the Bible: Parallelism

Posted by on 09/21/2017 in:

This content is from the Believer’s Bible Commentary, currently on sale.


Bible poetry’s greatest technique is not to rhyme sounds, as in much English poetry, but to “rhyme” ideas—that is, to put two or more lines together that somehow match each other. We should be grateful to God that this is the mainstay of biblical poetry because it translates nicely into nearly all languages and not too much beauty is lost in the translation process. Our Lord Himself also frequently spoke in parallelism. (Carefully reread, e.g., Matthew 5–7 and John 13–17 after studying the following notes.)

We would like to present some examples of the main types of Hebrew parallelism so that you can look for similar structures, not only while studying the OT with the help of the Believer’s Bible Commentary, but also while having daily devotions and listening to sermons.


As the name implies, this type has the second or parallel line saying about the same thing as the first—for emphasis. Proverbs is especially full of these:

In the way of righteousness is life,
And in its pathway there is no death (Prov. 12:28).

I am the rose of Sharon,
And the lily of the valleys (Song 2:1).


This type puts two lines “against” each other that form a contrast:

For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish (Ps. 1:6).

Hatred stirs up strife,
But love covers all sins (Prov. 10:12).


This type is parallel in form only; the two (or more) lines don’t contrast, expand, or emphasize. It is just two lines of poetry put together to express a thought or theme:

Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion (Ps. 2:6).


The second line of poetry builds up (synthesis is Greek for “putting together”) the thought in the first line:

The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want (Ps. 23:1).

Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life (Prov. 4:23).


A figure of speech in the first line of poetry illustrates the content of the second line:

 As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God (Ps. 42:1).

     As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout,
  So is a lovely woman who lacks discretion (Prov. 11:22).


Want to learn more about poetry in the Bible (or really, anything in the Bible). This content is from the Believer’s Bible Commentary, currently on sale.

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Psalm 51: Repenting Like David

Posted by on 09/20/2017 in: ,

Psalm 51 has long been one of my favorite passages of Scripture, and I came to love it because of Jon Foreman’s song White as Snow. Funny thing is, this psalm is entirely about sin. It’s pretty humbling to read (and even more humbling to sing and confess to God yourself!).

This week, we have the MacArthur Study Bible with ESV on sale, so I was looking through it. I came across MacArthur’s notes on this passage, and they were so helpful in reminding me of the power of this psalm.


If you didn’t know already, here’s the background of Psalm 51:

“This is the classic passage in the OT on man’s repentance and God’s forgiveness of sin. Along with Ps. 32, it was written by David after his affair with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah, her husband (2 Sam. 11–12). It is one of seven poems called penitential psalms (Ps. 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143). To David’s credit, he recognized fully how horrendous his sin was against God, blamed no one but himself, and begged for divine forgiveness.

OUTLINE: Plea for Forgiveness (51:1–2); Proffer of Confession (51:3–6); Prayer for Moral Cleanness (51:7–12); Promise of Renewed Service (51:13–17); Petition for National Restoration (51:18–19).”


Ps. 51:1 steadfast love. “Even though he had sinned horribly, David knew that forgiveness was available, based on God’s covenant love.”

Have you ever been overwhelmed by your own sin, to the point of believing that God would abandon you? Or perhaps, you are so frustrated by what you have done, you become severely depressed and don’t know how you can keep on going? Sin can make us feel as if we are entirely unloveable.

But MacArthur points out here in his notes that David, before apologizing for his sin, calls on God’s unconditional love. Remember, David just MURDERED someone. Murder! I can’t image the weight of the shame and guilt he must have been carrying. I’m so thankful that the Bible doesn’t cover up the mistakes God’s people. Instead, we can read this and be encouraged.

Ps. 51:4 Against you, you only. “David realized what every believer seeking forgiveness must, that even though he had tragically wronged Bathsheba and Uriah, his ultimate crime was against God and his holy law (cf. 2 Sam. 11:27). Romans 3:4 quotes Ps. 51:4.”

When we sin, it is so important to remember that our mistakes are ultimately against God. I can think of two good reasons for meditating on this idea. The first is that we don’t want to act as if our sin only has to do with other people—it affects our relationship with God and we need reconciliation with Him. We need to ask for forgiveness! But also, we know that God is faithful and just to forgive us, and it is His forgiveness that matters. We are able to move past our sin and pursue holiness, even when the people we have sinned against won’t accept our apology.

Ps. 51:6 you will not delight in sacrifice. “Ritual without genuine repentance is useless. However, with a right heart attitude, sacrifices were acceptable (see v. 19).”

What kind of rituals surrounding repentance have we created? Maybe at your church, you recite a prayer of repentance each week. Or, it may be that you have a habit of asking God for forgiveness, but it’s become numb to you. God cares less about the action and more about the heart. Make sure to take the time you need to truly repent of your wrongdoing. Your relationship with God (and own struggle with sin, guilt, and shame) will be better for it.


These insights were inspired by the MacArthur Study Bible with ESV. Not only are there notes about Psalm 51 that I didn’t cover, but there are thousands of other notes, giving insight to all the passages of the Bible! This title is currently a part of our Fall Sale, so head on over to our website to learn more about it.

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