Category: Educational

Six Major Theses of Richard Longenecker’s Romans Commentary

Posted by on 04/23/2018 in:

6 Major Theses of Richard Longenecker's Romans Commentary

The Epistle to the Romans (NIGTC) by Richard Longenecker is truly the work of a lifetime. This volume has been in the works for several decades; the introductory material alone was enough to fill a 500-page book (Introducing Romans, 2011). Now the commentary itself is finally here, and it’s sure to be a standard reference work for decades to come.

Richard N. Longenecker

The following are six major theses for the volume identified by Longenecker himself, who presented them at a book launch at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, where he is professor emeritus of New Testament.

* * *


Believers in Jesus at Rome in Paul’s Day Looked to the Mother Church at Jerusalem for their Christian theology, piety, and ethics.

While Jewish believers in Jesus were undoubtedly in the majority when the Christian gospel was first accepted at Rome (with some Gentiles being won to Christ through their witness), after the restrictions on the Jews imposed by Emperor Claudius in A.D. 41 and Claudius’ Edict of A.D. 49 that expelled “all” (or at least a great number) of Jews from Rome, Gentile Christians became more prominent in the Christian meetings of the capital city of the Roman Empire. So Paul considered the believers in Jesus at Rome as being within his Gentile ministry.

Thus as Raymond Brown has argued: rather than trying to determine the theological character of the apostle’s addressees at Rome on the basis of ethnic origin, “the crucial issue is the theological outlook of this mixed Jewish/Gentile Christianity” (Antioch and Rome).

And as Brown (along with others) has concluded:

(1) for both Jews and Christians at Rome, “the Jerusalem-Rome axis was strong,”

(2) “Roman Christianity came from Jerusalem, and indeed represented the Jewish/Gentile Christianity of such Jerusalem figures as Peter and James,”

(3) both in the earliest days of the Roman church and at the time when Paul wrote them, believers at Rome could be characterized as “Christians who kept up some Jewish observances and remained faithful to part of the heritage of the Jewish law and cult, without insisting on circumcision.”

Or as Joseph Fitzmyer has described the character and concerns of Paul’s addressees: “Roman Christians seem to have been in continual contact with the Christians of Jerusalem” — further, their form of the Christian faith “seems to have been influenced especially by those associated with Peter and James at Jerusalem, in other words, by Christians who retained some Jewish observances and remained faithful to the Jewish legal and cultic heritage without insisting on circumcision for Gentile converts” (Romans).


Paul had at least five purposes in writing to the believers in Jesus at Rome:

A First Major Purpose:

To give to the believers in Jesus at Rome what he calls in 1:11 his “spiritual gift,” which he considered was something uniquely his to give them (cf. his reference to “my gospel” in 16:25; see also 2:16) and which he felt they needed to understand if he and they were to “mutually encourage” one another (cf. 1:11-12) — and which he evidently wanted them to know in order that they might understand more accurately and more appreciatively what he was proclaiming in his Christian mission to pagan Gentiles.

A Second Major Purpose:

To seek the assistance of the Christians at Rome for the extension of his Gentile mission to Spain (cf. 1:13; 15:24), which desired assistance should probably be understood as including both their financial support and their willingness to be used as a base for his outreach to the western regions of the Roman empire — just as the believers in Jesus at Antioch of Syria had assisted him and served as the base for his outreach to pagan Gentiles in various eastern regions of the Roman empire.

A Prominent Auxiliary Purpose:

To defend himself against certain criticisms of his person and various misrepresentations of his message that the Christians at Rome seem to have heard from others (and possibly somewhat believed), with the intent that the believers in Jesus at Rome would properly understand his person, his ministry, and his message, and so would assist him in his outreach to pagan Gentiles.

A Further Important Purpose:

To counsel regarding a certain dispute that had arisen among the Christians at Rome, who evidently, on one side of the dispute, called themselves “the Strong,” while on the other side of this dispute there were other Christians who were being called “the Weak” (evidently by the so-called “Strong”), either within or between various house churches at Rome — as Paul does in 14:1–15:13 (and seems to recall in the further admonitions given in 16:17-30a).

Another Significant Purpose:

To counsel regarding certain attitudes of the Christians at Rome with respect to the city’s governmental authorities and the responsibilities of believers in Jesus to pay their city’s taxes and revenues — as he does in 13:1-17.


Paul writes to the Christians at Rome in a manner that rather closely corresponds to a “Logos Protreptikos” form of ancient philosophical letter writing (that is, a “Word [or, ‘Speech’] of Exhortation”) — as proposed and developed principally by Klaus Berger, Stanley Stowers, David Aune, Anthony Guerra, and Christopher Bryan.

As David Aune has aptly identified the contents of ancient “Speeches of Exhortation”: “They characteristically consist of three features:

(1) a negative section centering on the critique of rival sources of knowledge, ways of living, or schools of thought that reject philosophy;

(2) a positive section in which the truth claims of philosophical knowledge, schools of thought, and ways of living are presented, praised, and defended, and

(3) an optional section consisting of a personal appeal to the hearer, inviting the immediate accepting of the exhortation” (Westminster Dictionary).


Paul in Romans sets out for his readers

(1) three major “Body Middle” Sections (i.e., 2:16–4:25; 5:1–8:39; 9:1–11:36), each of which sets out the Gospel for three somewhat different types of people (Jews, pagan Gentiles, and a body of Jewish and Gentile believers) all of which is followed by

(2) a fourth major “Body Middle” Section (i.e., 12:1–15:33) consisting of general Christian ethical exhortations that the apostle had evidently proclaimed in his earlier Christian mission to pagan Gentiles — together with a further section of exhortations having to do with how believers in Jesus should live together in their respective Christian congregations.


In the four sections of the apostle’s “Word/Speech of Exhortation” in the “Body Middle” of Romans 1:16-4:25, 5:1-8:39, 9:1-11:36, and 12:1-15:33 Paul uses material that he had previously preached

(1) to Jews (in 1:16–4:25),

(2) to Gentiles without any Jewish contacts or instruction (in 5:1–8:39), and

(3) to mixed congregations of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds at Syrian Antioch (in 9:1–11:36) — as well as in the fourth ethical section of the letter (I.e., 12:1–15:33) he contextualizes the Christian Gospel both generally and then quite specifically.


In these contextualizations of the apostle’s letter to first century Christians at Rome, Paul is both

(1) encouraging believers in Jesus today to do likewise in their Christian thinking, lives, and ministries, and

(2) setting out paradigms for our doing similar in our own philosophical and cultural situations today.


The New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) is available inside the Olive Tree Bible App. Head on over to our website to learn more about this resource!

Have thoughts on this blog? Share in the comments below!

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Does the Old Testament Law Still Apply?

Posted by on 04/16/2018 in:

Does the Old Testament Law Apply Today?

It’s a question we all ask ourselves at some point: does the Old Testament law still apply? Read the passage below along with the notes taken from the Chronological Life Application Study Bible to help you explore this question.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”MATTHEW 5:17-20


If Jesus did not come to abolish the law, does that mean all the Old Testament laws still apply to us today? In the Old Testament, the law can be understood to have three dimensions: ceremonial, civil, and moral.


The ceremonial law related specifically to Israel’s worship (see Lev 1:2-3, for example). Its primary purpose was to point forward to Jesus Christ; these laws, therefore, were no longer necessary after Jesus’ death and resurrection. While we are no longer bound by ceremonial law, the principles behind them—to worship and love a holy God—still apply. Jesus was often accused by the Pharisees of violating ceremonial law.


The civil law applied to daily living in Israel (see Deut 24:10-11, for example). Because modern society and culture are so radically different from that time and setting, all of these guidelines cannot be followed specifically. But the principles behind the commands are timeless and should guide our conduct. Jesus demonstrated these principles by example.


The moral law (such as the Ten Commandments) is the direct command of God, and it requires strict obedience (see Exod 20:13, for example). The moral law reveals the nature and will of God, and it still applies today. Jesus obeyed the moral law completely.


God’s laws were given to help people love God with all their hearts and minds. Throughout Israel’s history, however, these laws had often been misquoted and misapplied. By Jesus’ time, religious leaders had turned the laws into a confusing mass of rules. When Jesus talked about a new way to understand God’s law, he was actually trying to bring people back to its original purpose. Jesus did not speak against the law itself but against the abuses and excesses to which it had been subjected (see John 1:17).


Some of those in the crowd were experts at telling others what to do, but they themselves missed the central point of God’s laws. Jesus made it clear that obeying God’s laws is more important than explaining them. It’s much easier to study God’s laws and tell others to obey them than to put them into practice. How are you doing at obeying God yourself?


The Pharisees were exacting and scrupulous in their attempts to follow their laws. So how could Jesus reasonably call us to greater righteousness than theirs? The Pharisees’ weakness was that they were content to obey the laws outwardly without allowing God to change their hearts (or attitudes). They looked pious, but they were far from the Kingdom of Heaven. God judges our hearts as well as our deeds, for it is in the heart that our real allegiance lies.

Jesus was saying that his listeners needed a different kind of righteousness altogether (out of love for God), not just a more intense version of the Pharisees’ obedience (which was mere legal compliance). Our righteousness must

(1) come from what God does in us, not what we can do by ourselves,

(2) be God-centered, not self-centered,

(3) be based on reverence for God, not approval from people, and

(4) go beyond keeping the law to living by the principles behind the law. We should be just as concerned about our attitudes that people don’t see as about our actions that they do see.


This content came directly from the Chronological Life Application Study Bible! Get this resource today to read through the Bible in chronological order, giving you a fresh take on your Bible study. Plus, you’ll receive thousands of notes just like these to enhance your understanding of God’s Word. Buy it today!

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How to Build Your Ultimate Study Bible

Posted by on 04/09/2018 in:

How To Build Your Ultimate Study Bible

Paper copies don’t allow you to build your own study Bible—at least, not without a lot of glue, precision, and paper cuts. With digital resources, you can have the exact study Bible you want in just four, easy steps. Here’s how to build your ultimate study Bible with Olive Tree.


In fact, pick two or three. Using multiple translations in your Bible study is much more helpful than you may realize.


Translations can be categorized across a spectrum. On one side, there are word-for-word translations. These sometimes sound awkward and can be a bit confusing, but are meant to be a more literal interpretation or the original language. The further you get to this end of the spectrum, the better than translation is for word studies and academic research.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are thought-for-thought translations. When we hire translators to interpret a presentation or book, they often use this method. Language does not always translate well word-for-word. It would lose it’s meaning! So, thought-for-thought translations aim to express the main concept and emotion of the text in a way modern speakers can understand.

Like I said, these range on a spectrum! You can research more about a specific translation you are considering using. But here is a short list from us:


If you are only using a Bible to study right now, I really want to encourage you to get a study Bible. When we have sales, we can often discount study Bibles to as low as $8. For only $8 you can read reliable commentary on the Bible, learning from scholars and dedicated Christians. Some study Bibles even come with maps, charts & illustrations, and concordances. Spending less than $10 to invest in your study of God’s Word is definitely worth it.

Here are a few study Bibles that we really recommend:


So, now you’ve got a Bible, and some helpful notes. What’s next? A dictionary.

I won’t go too in-depth here about the benefit of dictionaries, because you can read our other blog, “3 Ways Bible Dictionaries Improve Your Bible Study.”

In short, Bible dictionaries help you understand not the definition of the English word, but the definition of the word in its original language. You might not know Greek or Hebrew. You also might not have extensive cultural knowledge of the Bible’s people groups. With a dictionary, you can have extensive knowledge summarized for you and presented when you need it.

Here are a couple great dictionaries you could start with:

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words

Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words

The Essential Bible Dictionary


If you have these first three resources, you are definitely ready to start studying the Bible deeply! However, there are also lots of other really fun, helpful resources that can make your Bible study more applicable and come to life.


Get visual! Follow Paul’s missionary journey, see pictures of historic landmarks, and learn more about middle eastern geography. Maps and atlases will help you grow in your understand of the Bible as a real, historical document—not just stories that happened to other people way back when.


The Bible gives the best interpretation of itself. From Genesis to Revelation, we see one, cohesive narrative provided by God—and we can use other passages to help us understand the section we are reading.

But, unless you have the entire Bible memorized, you might not know where to look. So, cross references are a fantastic tool that shows you other related passages with just a tap.


Bible handbooks give you condensed information, quickly providing you with an overview of the Bible and its books. You’ll find it easy to learn the basics!


Head on over to to start building!

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Even Better Than Forgiveness

Posted by on 04/07/2018 in:

Justification: Even Better Than Forgiveness

Here’s an excerpt on Romans and justification straight from the brand-new NKJV Vines Expository Bible!

Dr. Jerry Vines is the former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president and pastor of 28,000-member First Baptist Church of Jacksonville.


Romans 3:24 says, “being justified freely by His grace.” The word justified means “to declare righteous.” In other words, here is a person who is guilty and yet declared not guilty. The word is taken right out of the legal world. We stand before God absolutely guilty and helpless to do anything about our guilt. Yet in one great legal act, God acquits us of our sin and makes us acceptable in God’s presence.

Justification is better than forgiveness.

Forgiveness is wonderful, but justification goes even deeper. You may have done something you shouldn’t have done, and you can be forgiven for it. But justification removes the guilt. You are acquitted of your guilt as a sinner and made acceptable to God through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s justification.


Also, we are justified “freely.” The word freely here means “without cause.” When Jesus was betrayed, Jesus said, “They hated Me without a cause” (John 15:25)—same word. Jesus had nothing in Him to cause people to hate Him. Yet, they did. When the Bible says we are justified freely, it means without a cause. We had nothing in us to cause God to declare us righteous; yet, God has done it by His grace without a cause, freely. That’s good news today. We don’t have to pay for it.


I heard about a poor woman who had a desperately ill daughter. Nearby was a vineyard of the king. The king had wonderful grapes, and the mother thought some of those grapes might help her daughter get well. So, she came to the entrance of the vineyard where sat the princes of the king. She said: “I would like to buy some of the king’s grapes to feed to my sick daughter.”

The princes replied, “We’re sorry, but you can’t buy them. The king is too rich to sell. You are too poor to buy. The grapes are not for sale. You can’t buy them, but you can have them free of charge.”


That’s the way salvation is. We are too poor to buy. He’s too rich to sell. But the King has said we can have it freely by His grace. That’s the way we get it—by grace.
Grace is such a great word! “Justified freely by His grace.” Grace is God’s unmerited favor. Grace is receiving something we do not deserve but desperately need. Not because of any good in us but because of grace in Him can we be declared righteous in His presence just as if we had never sinned.

COMMENT BELOW: How does your understanding of being freely justified change the way you view yourself and others?


This resource is entirely based on lessons and sermons from Jerry’s life and ministry. It will provide you with a unique, passage-by-passage guide through every single book of the Bible, making it applicable to your daily life.

Watch a video and learn more about this resource by visiting our website.

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Reflecting on Philemon

Posted by on 04/06/2018 in:

Reflecting on Philemon

It can be helpful to read a summary of a verse, passage, or book of the Bible that you already know well. Why? It can give you a fresh take on something you think you have completely exhausted! This excerpt from the Know the Word Study Bible Notes helps you to begin reflecting on Philemon, and re-applying it to your own life.


“One of the most remarkable experiences we can have is the realization of how small the world really is. Maybe you’ve been on vacation five hundred miles from home and recognized a friend from high school. Or you met someone on the other side of the world who, through conversation, you realized used to lead your sister’s Bible study. It’s exciting to make a connection where you don’t expect one.

Something similar happened with Paul and a man named Onesimus. Bible students aren’t certain where Paul was, but he was a prisoner somewhere in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) or perhaps in Rome. Paul led Onesimus to saving faith in Jesus Christ. At some point, they realized they both knew the same person: Philemon. Paul had also led Philemon to accept Christ as Savior when Paul was leading the church in Colosse.

But the realization wasn’t all back-slapping fun; Onesimus and Philemon weren’t friends. On the contrary, Philemon was a slave-owner, and Onesimus had been his slave. Complicating things further, Onesimus had run away.”


“Paul knew and loved both men and desired to develop their relationships with Christ and their walks with Him. What was Paul to do? Under Roman law, runaway slaves could be punished with death. Paul himself had written that bondservants (slaves) should “obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God” (Col. 3:22). But he had also taught that Christians should forgive (2 Cor. 2:10) and love (1 Cor. 13).

Paul could have taken many actions. He could have helped Onesimus stay away from officials, but he had taught that governments should be honored (Rom. 13:1–7). He could have kept the secret, but that was not walking in the light of truth (Eph. 5:8). There were many seemingly easy ways out of the situation, for both Paul and Onesimus, but Paul didn’t take the easy way. In fact, he did what might have been the most difficult: he sent Onesimus back to Philemon, carrying a note written by Paul himself (Philem. v. 19). The book of Philemon is that very letter.”


“Only Philemon, as guided by God and in cooperation with Onesimus, could make this situation right. It was time for brotherly love to reign. But that brotherly love appeared to go against culture and law. We can only imagine the prayers and tears that poured out as Paul wrote the letter. We can only imagine how many times Onesimus feared going back. And, we can only imagine what happened once Philemon got the letter, because there is no record of his response.

Through the dangling finale we are forced to confront our own hearts:

Could I forgive?

Would I build a friendship across a cultural divide?

Could I trust God to make this right?

Would I do the right thing?

Could I love one who had wronged me?”

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Silent Saturday

Posted by on 03/31/2018 in: ,

The day after Jesus’ crucifixion (the Saturday before Easter) is one of those interesting, yet unrecorded days in biblical history. If you look at the Gospels, they each give about one verse to what was going on in the world of the Jews: they were “resting.” Whether it was due to traditional obligation or genuine obedience, the majority of people took this day off because of the Sabbath law.


Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed His last. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split… Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for Him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Matthew 27:50-51;55-56, NIV) 

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath, especially because that Sabbath was a day of great solemnity… After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed His body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where He was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:31; 38-42, NRSV) 

On the Sabbath, they all rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week at early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. (Luke 23:56-24:1, NRSV)

Saturday was one of complete silence.

There seems to be no movement; no advancement; no hope. But what screams out for our full attention are the teachable truths found in the moments before the Sabbath began.

You see, Good Friday – though being the day of Jesus’ death – is also known in Jewish tradition as the “Day of Preparation.” This was important because it was the last day for the Jews to collect their needed supplies before taking the next day off.

Think of the day before a big ice/snow storm. Everyone is running around town, stocking up their pantries, and buying what needs to be bought. Rightly so, people are focused on only one thing: prepping for the next day.

So even though Jesus just died, the Jewish tradition demanded for the world to keep moving.

This is why the Jews wanted to rush the removal of Jesus’ body. They had things to do and people to see…and they definitely did not want His body on display during the Lord’s Day.

But all while everyone – even the Lord’s disciples – carried on with their “needed” prep, two very unexpected people were boldly making other preparations.

“Unexpected” in that they were once closet believers. Yet in all four of the gospels (which is a huge deal), the authors make sure to give credit to Joseph and Nicodemus for their care of Jesus’ body.

We know Nicodemus from his secret (and interesting) conversation with Jesus in John 3. But all that we know about Joseph is that he was a timid and fearful follower of Jesus who cared more about remaining safe from the Jew‘s disapproval than being a bold disciple.

But here, both their silence and their fear seem to vanish.

We see Joseph approaching Pilate to boldly ask for Jesus’ body. Being a man of stature and influence, he was able to quickly receive this request. But think about this:

If it wasn’t for Joseph, the Lord’s body would have been treated like that of a murderer – just thrown into a pile of corpses.

But instead, Joseph is seen delicately removing Jesus from His cross, cleaning off His bloody body, prepping it for burial, and carrying Him to a nearby tomb – a tomb that Matthew states is Joseph’s own property.

He takes his day of preparation and boldly focuses it on his Lord. But he is not alone. Nicodemus also decides to make his adoration for Jesus known by bringing expensive spices to aide in the burial process.

And together, they wrap the body in linen clothes, according to Jewish tradition. This is such a beautiful – yet messy – picture. Here are two random men, doing the difficult work that would normally take many skilled hands. But no one else was present to help.

Yet it was because of their preparations – and bold obedience – that the Lord’s body was also ready for the day of rest. The silence of Saturday – though seemingly despairing – was given a ray of hope because of the complete change in heart that these men expressed.

So then, what was it that changed in the lives of these two? What brought them into such boldness? What enabled them to overcome their fears? Their doubts? Their selfish concerns?

Honestly, I think that it is found in what Matthew records:

“Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom…” (27:50-51).

At the exact moment of His death – at the assumed “triumph” of evil – something severe happens: the veil in the temple was torn.

For years, the old covenant reigned.

In this system, a priest would go beyond the veil to make the sacrifice in the presence of the Lord (the ark of the covenant). Before Christ’s death, no one but a priest could do this job.

The separation of God and man was visibly seen when looking at the veil: man as fallen and God as perfect. But in an instance, Christ – being the ultimate priest and sacrifice – died, and the dividing wall was torn.

This means that before Jesus’ resurrection ever took place, there were already hints of His victory. His sacrifice took the separating and isolating power of sin and destroyed it.

Where sin intimidates mankind, shames them in isolation, and binds them with fear, Jesus’ work on the cross began an ultimate reversal. And we see this new freedom already at work in two men who were once known by their fear and isolation.

Jesus’ death gave them courage and boldness – not of themselves – but because sin (and sin’s effects) were torn. Before glory was ever vividly displayed in the resurrection, Jesus was already working gloriously in the unseen.

The Saturday before Easter teaches us that peace was already at work even though “victory” was not yet fully expressed.

It reminds us that even in the silence, God is powerfully at work. And it calls us to live with this same level of boldness and obedience despite our inability to see what victory will soon come.

We all find ourselves in days like Saturday. Where life seems mundane and Jesus seems far. Where failure feels defining and hope appears obsolete. It is in these moments that we must realize that the separating power of sin has been demolished; that Jesus has already given us hints of what will soon become reality. He has already given us a foretaste of glory.

Sunday will come; victory will soon be experienced.


Lord, thank you for Saturday. Thank you for the reminder that regardless of what I feel and what the world around me expresses – You are here. Thank you for already being at work; for giving me glimpses of Your glory. I pray that I can live with boldness today. Give me eyes to see what preparation You are calling me to make. And with courage, I step forward. Amen.

This blog, capturing the importance of the Saturday before Easter, was written by the team at

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Bonhoeffer: Discipleship and the Cross

Posted by on 03/30/2018 in:


Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45) was a German theologian and pastor who spoke out against the Nazi regime during World War II. His resistance against Hitler’s regime culminated with him being hung in a concentration camp at Flossenbürg.

Today, Bonhoeffer’s works are loved by many. His writing, despite time, is still youthful, enlightening, and inspirational.

Additionally, Bonhoeffer is most known for his rich writing on discipleship. In celebration of the Easter season, we thought it would be timely to share his comments on discipleship and the cross. [Plus, we asked if you all wanted to read something from Bonhoeffer on our Instagram account. The answer was a resounding: YES!]

So, check out Mark 8:31–38 because it’s the passage Bonhoeffer discusses in the following excerpt. Then… read and be encouraged!


The call to discipleship is connected here with the proclamation of Jesus’ suffering. Jesus Christ has to suffer and be rejected. God’s promise requires this, so that scripture may be fulfilled. Suffering and being rejected are not the same. Even in his suffering Jesus could have been the celebrated Christ. Indeed, the entire compassion and admiration of the world could focus on the suffering. Looked upon as something tragic, the suffering could in itself convey its own value, its own honor and dignity. But Jesus is the Christ who was rejected in his suffering. Rejection removed all dignity and honor from his suffering.

It had to be dishonorable suffering.

Suffering and rejection express in summary form the cross of Jesus. Death on the cross means to suffer and die as one rejected and cast out. It was by divine necessity that Jesus had to suffer and be rejected. Any attempt to hinder what is necessary is satanic. Even, or especially, if such an attempt comes from the circle of disciples, because it intends to prevent Christ from being Christ.

The fact that it is Peter, the rock of the church, who makes himself guilty doing this just after he has confessed Jesus to be the Christ and has been commissioned by Christ, shows that from its very beginning the church has taken offense at the suffering Christ. It does not want that kind of Lord, and as Christ’s church it does not want to be forced to accept the law of suffering from its Lord. Peter’s objection is his aversion to submit himself to suffering. That is a way for Satan to enter the church.

Satan is trying to pull the church away from the cross of its Lord.

So Jesus has to make it clear and unmistakable to his disciples that the need to suffer now applies to them, too. Just as Christ is only Christ as one who suffers and is rejected, so a disciple is a disciple only in suffering and being rejected, thereby participating in crucifixion. Discipleship as allegiance to the person of Jesus Christ places the follower under the law of Christ, that is, under the cross.

When Jesus communicates this inalienable truth to his disciples, he begins remarkably by setting them entirely free once more. “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus says. Following him is not something that is self-evident, even among the disciples. No one can be forced, no one can even be expected to follow him. Rather, “if any” intend to follow him, despite any other offers they may get. Once again everything depends on a decision. While the disciples are already engaged in discipleship, everything is broken off once again, everything is left open, nothing is expected, nothing is forced. What he is going to say next is that decisive. Therefore, once again, before the law of discipleship is proclaimed, even the disciples must accept being set free.

“If any want to follow me, they must deny themselves.”

Just as in denying Christ Peter said, “I do not know the man,” those who follow Christ must say that to themselves. Self-denial can never result in ever so many single acts of self-martyrdom or ascetic exercises. It does not mean suicide, because even suicide could be the expression of the human person’s own will. Self-denial means knowing only Christ, no longer knowing oneself. It means no longer seeing oneself, only him who is going ahead, no longer seeing the way which is too difficult for us. Self-denial says only: he is going ahead; hold fast to him.

“… and take up their cross.”

The grace of Jesus is evident in his preparing his disciples for this word by speaking first of self-denial. Only when we have really forgotten ourselves completely, when we really no longer know ourselves, only then are we ready to take up the cross for his sake. When we know only him, then we also no longer know the pain of our own cross. Then we see only him. If Jesus had not been so gracious in preparing us for this word, then we could not bear it. But this way he has made us capable of hearing this hard word as grace. It meets us in the joy of discipleship, and confirms us in it.

The cross is neither misfortune nor harsh fate. Instead, it is that suffering which comes from our allegiance to Jesus Christ alone. The cross is not random suffering, but necessary suffering. The cross is not suffering that stems from natural existence; it is suffering that comes from being Christian.

The essence of the cross is not suffering alone; it is suffering and being rejected.

Strictly speaking, it is being rejected for the sake of Jesus Christ, not for the sake of any other attitude or confession. A Christianity that no longer took discipleship seriously remade the gospel into only the solace of cheap grace. Moreover, it drew no line between natural and Christian existence. Such a Christianity had to understand the cross as one’s daily misfortune, as the predicament and anxiety of our natural life.

Here it has been forgotten that the cross always also means being rejected, that the cross includes the shame of suffering. Being shunned, despised, and deserted by people, as in the psalmist’s unending lament, is an essential feature of the suffering of the cross, which cannot be comprehended by a Christianity that is unable to differentiate between a citizen’s ordinary existence and Christian existence. The cross is suffering with Christ. Indeed, it is Christ-suffering. Only one who is bound to Christ as this occurs in discipleship stands in seriousness under the cross.

“… let them take up their cross …”

From the beginning, it lies there ready. They need only take it up. But so that no one presumes to seek out some cross or arbitrarily search for some suffering, Jesus says, they each have their own cross ready, assigned by God and measured to fit. They must all bear the suffering and rejection measured out to each of them. Everyone gets a different amount. God honors some with great suffering and grants them the grace of martyrdom, while others are not tempted beyond their strength. But in every case, it is the one cross.


We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Bonhoeffer’s DiscipleshipIf you’re interested in reading more from Bonhoeffer, we have a collection of his books on our store.

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See the Lost Sermons of Spurgeon [PICTURES]

Posted by on 03/22/2018 in: ,

In 1857, Charles Spurgeon promised to release all his earliest sermons. But, due to the incredible amount of other work he was committed to accomplishing, this dream was never fulfilled. Now, 160 years later, the Lost Sermons of Spurgeon have been recovered and his promise kept.


Christian George, the primary editor for the Lost Sermons of Spurgeon collection, discovered 11 of Spurgeon’s handwritten notebooks in London. Inside, he found 400 of Spurgeon’s earliest sermons, dating from 1851-1854.

George found the very first sermons that Spurgeon preached while he was a teenager. Back then, Spurgeon had no idea that he would grow up to become the Prince of Preachers, sharing the good news of Christ all over the world.


The most wonderful part of the Lost Sermons of Spurgeon series is that George didn’t simply make the text available to us. Instead, he and his team carefully compiled the works and included:

full-color facsimiles




editorial annotations

a timeline


and a short biography on Spurgeon


If you love reading Spurgeon’s work, we highly recommend this resource. It is curated by those who deeply admire and Spurgeon, inspiring them to pour all the time, energy, and detail required to make this volume fantastic.

Learn more about the Lost Sermons of Spurgeon here.

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Confidence in God

Posted by on 03/19/2018 in: ,

“Confidence in God” is an article found inside the NLT Study Bible—a fantastic resource for anyone in the earlier stages of Bible study.

God gave Nehemiah favor in the eyes of a mighty Persian king so that the king responded favorably to all of Nehemiah’s requests (1:11; 2:8, 18). Nehemiah then had the confidence to present his bold plan to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and the people of Jerusalem responded positively, believing that God was able to give them success in rebuilding the walls (2:20) and to protect them from their enemies (4:4-5, 9).


…in spite of opposition because they knew that God fights for his people and frustrates the plans of the wicked (4:14-15, 20). When the walls of Jerusalem were finished, Nehemiah recognized that the entire difficult project was completed only because of God’s help (6:16).

The book of Nehemiah vividly demonstrates that God is all-powerful and able to accomplish his will, both in individual lives and in nations. Nehemiah’s prayer in ch. 9 focuses on praising God for his sovereign and powerful acts: God created the heavens and earth (9:6), called Abram from Ur, and gave the land to Israel (9:7-8, 22-25). The miraculous signs in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and the provision of guidance, food, and water in the wilderness all demonstrate God’s power over man and nature to provide for his people (9:9-15).

The Lord had sent the Israelites into exile after generations of persistent sin (9:26-27). Now he was fulfilling part of his promise to restore them (1:8-9).


…to pray and lead because he knew that everything that happened was part of God’s sovereign plan. This same confidence in God’s sovereignty led Abram to leave Ur and by faith go to an unknown land (Gen 12:1-3; Heb 11:8-10), caused Rahab to trust in God (Josh 2:9-14; Heb 11:31), and prompted Hezekiah not to give in to the demands of the Assyrian king Sennacherib (2 Kgs 18–19).

Confidence comes when people believe that God will keep his promises and complete the work he has started in their lives (Phil 1:6).


Where do you lack confidence? Can you think of any promises God makes that you can rely on as a source of confidence? Share some of God’s promises that have given you confidence in the comments below.


Looking for a study Bible that is SO MUCH MORE than footnotes? The NLT Study Bible is jam-packed with articles, word studies, charts, full-color maps, and more. We highly recommend this study Bible! We especially recommend it to anyone looking to start studying the Bible a little bit more in-depth, but with easy-to-understand content.

First, check out the images below to look inside the study Bible. Then, visit our website! You can learn more about this resource here.

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5 Twisted Scriptures

Posted by on 03/15/2018 in:

Have you ever had a conversation about Christianity with someone, and they use the Bible to support an unbiblical concept? It can be confusing and shocking when they’ve twisted Scriptures!

Apologetics, the study of defending the faith, works to provide not only a correct interpretation of the passage at hand, but an understanding of why it was misconstrued.  The Apologetics Study Bible Notes contain a list of these passages, along with further information for your study.

We picked five twisted Scriptures to share with you:



He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.”

“Daniel’s prophetic 2,300 days have interested many throughout history who have sought to predict the date of the Lord’s return. By interpreting each day as a year, William Miller, a Baptist pastor from New York, calculated that Christ’s second advent would take place between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.

As the date approached, a wave of excitement and expectation swept across America. Thousands of Christians from mainline churches, convinced of the accuracy of Miller’s prognostication, joined with the new adventist movement. Many of these “Millerites” sold their property to wait anxiously for the arrival of God’s kingdom.

When the date passed without any cataclysmic event, Miller set October 22, 1844, as the new date for the parousia, or return of Christ. A second failure, known as the “Great Disappointment,” led Miller to repent of his errors.

Several of his followers, however, said that Miller’s latest date was correct but that his explanation was wrong. According to them, on October 22, 1844, Jesus moved from His seat at God’s right hand into the holy place to begin an “investigative judgment” of all professing believers, many of whom will be blotted out of the book of Life.

This remnant of Millerites eventually founded the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”

JOHN 9:2

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“This verse, when twisted, seems to support reincarnation. The implication is that in a previous life the man sinned and was thus born blind in the next life. The reference, however, is to a Jewish belief that a fetus could commit a sin while in his mother’s womb. The concept of reincarnation was foreign to Hebrew thought.

Jews believed in resurrection, not reincarnation.”


Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?

“Mormons refer to this verse as support for their practice of baptism for the dead. According to Mormon doctrine, no one can be born again apart from baptism at the hands of a Mormon priest. This creates a problem for those living before the advent of Mormonism. The solution is to baptize the dead by proxy.

There are several possible interpretations for this verse. Even if baptism for the dead were a practice in some first-century congregations, it was being administered by heretics (“they”), who according to the passage rejected the resurrection.

Paul was not endorsing the ritual.”


I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.

“Some New Age teachers mention this verse as support for the practice of astral projection, or soul travel. Followers of Eckankar regularly attempt to separate soul and body, which supposedly enables them to traverse the various realms of the universe.

Paul called his experience a vision (12:1) and indicated that it was not self-initiated but rather happened to him unexpectedly. There is no scriptural support for astral projection.”

1 TIMOTHY 6:16

Who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

The basic premise of the soul sleep theory, also known as conditional immortality, is derived from this verse among others (see Gn 2:17; 3:4,19,22; Ps 146:4; Ec 9:5; Ezk 18:20; Rm 6:23).

Groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, The Way International, and a host of “sacred name” sects believe that when humans die, their bodies go into the grave and remain unconscious until resurrection day. The vast majority of Christians, however, believe that human consciousness survives death.

Jesus exhorted, “Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28).

The Apostle Peter talked about laying aside his “tent,” that is, dying (2 Pt 1:14), which seems to indicate that the personality survives death.

Paul made a similar statement in 2 Co 5:1. Paul also wrote of death as “the desire to depart and to be with Christ” (Php 1:23).

The author of Hebrews wrote of “the spirits of righteous people made perfect” (Heb 12:23).

And the martyred tribulation saints cry out, “O Lord . . . how long until You judge and avenge our blood?” (Rv 6:10), showing that they are alive when making this plea.

Most importantly, Jesus spoke on the subject when He assured the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). When referring to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Jesus concluded that “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mt 22:32).


The Apologetics Study Bible is packed full of content from well-known apologists such as the McDowells, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel, and more. You’ll have insights on nearly every verse of the Bible, helping you think through critical concepts. Additionally, there is a HUGE list of extra articles meant to answer some of your biggest questions about other religions, worldviews, and science and their impact on Christianity.

Look inside!

Interested in learning more? Visit our website to read more about The Apologetics Study Bible.

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