Category: Educational

A Camel Through… What?

Posted by on 11/21/2017 in: ,

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'” —Matthew 19:23


If you’ve read this passage before, you have probably pictured something like this:

But the Archaeological Study Bible notes have information on this passage that you have probably NEVER heard. At least, I hadn’t!


“Since the Middle Ages commentators have considered the possibility that Jesus’ statement concerning the ‘eye of a needle’ (Mt 19:24) may have been a reference to certain doors or gates that actually existed in his day. Some homes did in fact have large doors that would allow a fully loaded camel to enter into the courtyard. Since such doors were cumbersome and required great effort to open, there were often smaller doors cut within them, permitting easy passage of people and smaller animals into the house.

Some interpreters have argued that this smaller door was the ‘needle’s eye gate,’ while others have suggested that the needle’s eye referred to smaller doors within larger city gates, such as those at Jaffa and Hebron. Passage through the smaller gate, it was said, would have forced a camel to its knees. Thus, the point of Jesus’ teaching in verse 24 is supposedly that a rich man can enter the kingdom of heaven only if he falls down to his knees.” — Archaeological Study Bible notes


“As illustrative as these theories are, they in fact diminish the force of Jesus’ words. The point is not that salvation is difficult without God but that it is impossible without him.

Jesus’ contrast of the largest animal known in Palestine with the smallest of holes created a vivid and memorable illustration. The fact that modern-day gates have been so named can most likely be attributed to the influence of this and similar statements within the Talmud and the Koran. In other words, the term “needle’s eye gate” most likely did not precede the teaching; rather, the popularity of the term evidently came about because of the teaching.

But in Jesus’ original setting, it is very likely that a needle’s eye was simply a needle’s eye and not a gate at all.” — Archaeological Study Bible notes


Lastly, the Archaeological Study Bible warns Bible readers to beware of legendary, pseudo-archaeological interpretations. Why? Because they can be misleading and undermine the true meaning of a Biblical text.

We should always be careful about what we believe! Refer to reliable resources (like this one!), ask lots of questions, and seek input.


Interested in more of what the Archaeological Study Bible has to offer? Great! Here are two ways to learn more:

  1. Visit our blog post What’s in the Archaeological Study Bible – simple enough!
  2. Visit our website to read the product description and watch a video on how study Bibles work in the app.

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Unpacking a Verse: Matthew 1:1

Posted by on 11/13/2017 in:

“The book of the story of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” — Matthew 1:1

Within the first verse of Matthew, there are 5 hints to Jesus being the Messiah.

Leon Morris wrote the Pillar New Testament Commentary‘s Matthew Volume, and he did a great job unpacking this verse. Here’s what I discovered from his writing!


Some scholars have wondered if this word refers to the Gospel as a whole or simply to the nativity stories.

In this case, Morris looks Walter Bauer’s, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature for clarification. It appears that in later writings, this word was especially used for a “sacred, venerable book.”

Evidence leans toward the belief that this one-sentence header for the entire book of Matthew.


The translation of Matthew 1:1 found above was written by Morris himself. Why did he use the word “story” when so many other translations use “history” or genealogy”?

The original term is used of birth or origin or existence… but none of these concepts are easy to see in the passage. But, there’s evidence that the word was already used as the title of the first book of the Old Testament in LXX (the Septuagint, or Greek rendering of the Hebrew Old Testament).

Matthew was beginning to tell a new creation story: the new creation in Jesus Christ.


Matthew doesn’t use the full name Jesus Christ very often. In fact, this is the only location of the term in his book that isn’t disputed.

Typically, Matthew uses the personal name Jesus (̓Ιησοῦς, Yahweh is salvation). In fact, he uses this name 150 times!

Why is there such a contrast? The title Jesus Christ was not popular during Jesus’ lifetime, but grew as people came to know him as their Messiah.


This tagline quickly reveals Jesus’ royal lineage and prophetic fulfillment. The expression “son of David” is probably a messianic title. Together, we can further confirm that Matthew’s book is about the one who fulfilled all that is meant in being the descendant of Israel’s greatest king.


All Israelites took pride in being descendants of the great patriarch, and the Christians were especially fond of him as the classic example of one who believed. In combining David and Abraham, Matthew is drawing attention to two strands in Jesus’ Hebrew ancestry.

That means, with this one, very short sentence, Matthew has bluntly stated Jesus’ qualifications for being the Messiah.


While looking through Morris’ commentary, I was really impressed with the information he shared in the introduction. He gives careful consideration to all the arguments, breaks down concepts into easy-to-understand sections, and gives great references.

This is the level of scholarship in the entire Pillar New Testament Commentary Set, edited by D. A. Carson. If you want to learn more about this series, visit our website.

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The Famous Preacher: H.A. Ironside

Posted by on 11/08/2017 in: ,


Henry Allen “Harry” Ironside was a Canadian-American Bible teacher, preacher, theologian, pastor, and author who pastored Moody Church in Chicago from 1929 to 1948. He also belong to the Plymouth Brethren,

But Ironside didn’t wait until he was a pastor to preach. When he was 11 years old, he started his own Sunday school, averaging 60 listeners per week. Then, after finishing the eighth grade, Ironside began preaching with the Salvation Army. He went on to preach all over the world, sharing the gospel with more than 1.25 million people.

Additionally, Ironside preached under Moody Bible Institute, was offered a position at Dallas Theological Seminary, and was awarded two honorary doctorates from Wheaton College and Bob Jones University. For only having completed the eighth grade, Ironside was an accomplished and well-respected man.

Lastly, Ironside’s teaching left a long-lasting mark on evangelicalism. Along with others such as Cyrus Scofield, he was influential in popularizing dispensationalism among Protestants.


In his lifetime, Ironside wrote fifty-one expositions on books of the Bible. Here at Olive Tree, we offer a bundled set of Ironside’s commentaries, including 11 volumes.

In his commentaries, Ironside provides some historical observations, giving commentary on the text at hand. Then he moves into application. Hear what he has to say on Psalms 9-12:

Listen to David, for David is the author of these Psalms, and he knew what it was to suffer. With Saul on the throne, he knew what it was to be driven out into the wilderness, persecuted, hated, forsaken, and yet to love in return. Instead of grumbling and complaining, his heart goes out in thanksgiving, “I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart” (9:1) – not with half a heart.

And think of the people of God in that coming day in the midst of the greatest tribulation ever known, taking up these words on their lips, “I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will show forth all thy marvellous works. I will be glad and rejoice in thee” (vv. 1-2). We may not be able to rejoice in circumstances, but we can always rejoice in Him, for God is above all circumstances. It is a bad thing when believers get under them.

A brother said to another whom he knew had not been well, “How are you, brother?”

“I am pretty well under the circumstances,” he answered.

And the other said, “I am sorry to know that you are under the circumstances. I wish you could be above them. The Lord is able to lift you above them.”

“Oh, yes,” said the other, “I was not thinking of that.”

[…]No matter what conditions are like in the world around – the nations may rage, wars and rumors of war may cause the stoutest heart to tremble – faith looks beyond it all and recognizes God as sitting on the throne, and knows that eventually He will bring out everything for His glory.


Interested in growing in your understanding of God’s Word and applying it to your life? Read the Bible alongside this famous, influential preacher.

Learn more about Ironside and the volumes included in this bundle by visiting our website.

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The First Martyr

Posted by on 11/06/2017 in:

Jesus tells us that we will be hated as he was hated—but not all of us will actually experience severe persecution. Instead, many of us are blessed to worship God where, when, and how we want. The first Christians did not have this luxury, and they clung to Jesus’ promises as they stood up for the Gospel. In extreme moments, Christians even gave up their lives to promote the Gospel.

You’ve probably heard about martyrs before, but let’s make sure we don’t become desensitized to these acts of self-sacrifice. Instead, let’s take some time to reflect on one of the first Christian martyrs recorded, Stephen from Acts 7.

Below is an excerpt from Barnes’ New Testament Notes:


This chapter contains the defense of Stephen before the sanhedrim, or great council of the Jews. There has been great diversity of opinion about the object which Stephen had in view in this defense, and about the reason why he introduced at such length the history of the Jewish people. But a few remarks may perhaps show his design, He was accused of blasphemy in speaking against the institutions of Moses and the temple, that is, against everything held sacred among the Jews.


To meet this charge, he gives a statement, at length, of his belief in the Mosaic religion, in the great points of their history, and in the fact that God had interposed in a remarkable manner in defending them from dangers. By this historical statement he avows his full belief in the Divine origin of the Jewish religion, and thus indirectly repels the charge of blasphemy.

It is further to be remembered, that this was the best way of securing the attention of the council. Had he entered on an abstract defense, he might expect to be stopped by their cavils or their clamor. But the history of their own nation was a favorite topic among the Jews. They were always ready to listen to an account of their ancestors; and to secure their attention, nothing more was necessary than to refer to their illustrious lives and deeds.


In this way Stephen secured their attention, and practically repelled the charge of speaking reproachfully of Moses and the temple. He showed them that he had as firm a belief as they in the great historical facts of their nation. It is to be remembered, also, that this speech was broken off in the midst, (Ac 7:53,54) and it is therefore difficult to tell what the design of Stephen was.

It seems clear, however, that he intended to convict them of guilt, by showing that they sustained the same character as their fathers had manifested, (Ac 7:51,52) and there is some probability that he intended to show that the acceptable worship of God was not to be confined to any place particularly, from the fact that the worship of Abraham, and the patriarchs, and Moses, was acceptable before the temple was reared, (Ac 7:2, etc.,) and from the declaration in Ac 7:48, that God dwells not in temples made with hands.


All that can be said here is, that Stephen

1. Showed his full belief in the Divine appointment of Moses, and the historical facts of their religion.

2. That he laid the foundation of an argument to show that those things were not perpetually binding, and that acceptable worship might be offered in other places and in another manner than at the temple.


It has been asked in what way Luke became acquainted with this speech so as to repeat it. The Scripture has not informed us. But we may remark:

1. That Stephen was the first martyr. His death, and the incidents connected with it, could not but be a matter of interest to the first Christians; and the substance of his defense, at least, would be familiar to them. There is no improbability in supposing that imperfect copies might be preserved by writing, and circulated among them.

2. Luke was the companion of Paul. Paul was present when this defense was delivered, and was a man who would be likely to remember what was said on such an occasion. From him Luke might have derived the account of this defense. In regard to this discourse, it may be further remarked, that it is not necessary to suppose that Stephen was inspired. Even if there should be found inaccuracies, as some critics have pretended, in the address, it would not militate against its genuineness.

It is the defense of a man on trial under a serious charge; not a man of whom there is evidence that he was inspired, but a pious, devoted, heavenly-minded man. All that the sacred narrative is responsible for is the correctness of the report. Luke alleges only that such a speech was in fact delivered, without affirming that every particular in it is correct.


Here are a few ideas of how you can apply what you’ve learned:

  • Pray and thank God for martyrs, the strength He gave them in times of trouble, and for the way He also gives you strength to stand up for what is right
  • Learn more about other martyrs, continuing to reflect on the importance of the Gospel
  • Pray for missionaries that are currently serving in dangerous countries


The content of this blog was taken from Barnes’ New Testament Notes (11 Vols.), a verse-by-verse commentary set composed by American theologian, Albert Barnes.

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8 Questions and Answers: Book of Revelation

Posted by on 11/04/2017 in:

This article contains answers from
Brian Simmons, lead Translator of The Passion Translation

1. Why so many differing viewpoints on the book of Revelation?

Most people will be surprised to learn that there are numerous interpretations on the book of Revelation, but the book is known as apocalyptic literature, which lends itself to more than one interpretation. Throughout church history until today there is not one recognized interpretation of Revelation that is standard or accepted by all. Perhaps God wants us keep reading it and learning from it.

2. Are there some more common ways to interpret it that you can share with us?

There are four common interpretive models by which one can understand or interpret the book. The four models are known as: 1) the futurist, 2) the historicist, 3) the preterist, and 4) the idealist.

3. Can you summarize them for us?

The futurist model basically states that the majority of the book of Revelation will be fulfilled in the future, when the “Antichrist” arises with his false prophet and requires everyone to receive the mark of the beast. This makes Revelation a pre-viewing of what is to come. The futurist model believes in a “rapture” or snatching away of the church and a 1,000-year literal reign of Christ and His followers known as the “Millenium.” There are many variations to this view, especially as it relates to the timing of the rapture, but the above describes the basic viewpoint of the futurist model.

The historicist approach sees John’s Revelation as identifying the major movements of church history, and then reads them back into the symbols and prophecies of the book. Some also consider how current events fulfill New Testament apocalyptic symbolism. A prime example is identifying the Beast with various dictators through history, like Napoleon or Hitler or Saddam Hussein. The seals, trumpets, bowls, and plagues are identified as being a series of successive events, with the hope of Christ’s return being very near.

The preterist interpretation of the book view most of the “end times” prophecies of the Bible as either partially or already been fulfilled. Preterism is divided into two camps: full (or consistent) preterism and partial preterism. The full preterist viewpoint takes a viewpoint that all prophecy in the Bible has been fulfilled in one way or another. Partial preterists claim the book of Revelation was written before AD 70 and believe that the prophecies in Daniel, Matthew 24, and Revelation (with the exception of the last two or three chapters) have already been fulfilled and were fulfilled no later than the first century AD.

According to partial preterism, there is no rapture, and passages describing the tribulation and the Antichrist refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 67–70 and the Roman emperor Titus. Partial preterists believe in the return of Christ to earth and a future resurrection and judgment, but they do not teach a millennial kingdom or that Israel as a nation has a place in God’s future plan. According to partial preterists, the Bible’s references to “the last days” are speaking of the last days of the old Jewish covenant, rather than the last days of the earth itself.

And the idealist interpretive model views the book through the lens of a great conflict between good and evil, throughout the church age, rather than a predictive of what is to come or a reviewing of what has taken place. Generally speaking, the idealist viewpoint sees the book of Revelation as an allegory or story of Christ winning every battle. In more recent days this viewpoint has made room for wide ranging contemporary issues such as environmentalism.

Of course there are differing flavors of each of the above, but this is general summary of the four major models of interpreting the book of Revelation.

4. Which of the four is the best and which one do you adopt in your translation and footnotes?

There is validity and truth in all four. I have sought to translate the text of Revelation “straight up,” that is, without inserting any bias on my part or leaning toward any one of the four. However, I do see the most neglected and rejected of the four is the idealist model. I think there is value in seeing the symbols consistently throughout the Bible, and especially in Revelation pointing us to Christ and understanding more of His parabolic and metaphoric teachings (parables, stories, etc., per Matthew 13:34). Most people bounce back and forth from literal to symbolic, but I would think it is more consistent to make the entire book of Revelation one or the other, literal or symbolic.

We have chosen to take a very symbolic viewpoint of the book, for indeed the title says it all. In Greek it is best translated: The Unveiling of Jesus Christ. That is, Christ is unveiled in our hearts as the hope of glory, the triumphant King, the ever Faithful and True beloved of the church. Many of the judgments found in the book are actually the work of Christ “judging” the issues of our lives that must be overcome and yield to the triumph of the cross—the unveiling of Christ within His people.

5. Is there a key verse or a key truth that will help believers understand this book?

Absolutely. I’m convinced it is found in chapter 1 verse 3: “A joyous  blessing  rests upon the one who reads this message and upon those who hear and embrace the words of this prophecy, for the appointed time is in your hands.”

To read this book and not be blessed means you have missed its message. There is embedded in Revelation a divine blessing to those who embrace and “eat” the book (10:19). I can’t imagine a book that is pure judgment being a blessing to the hungry lovers of God. No, Revelation must be unfolded within us, a little at a time, until the “unveiling” of Christ is realized. We look for Christ, not insights into coming events. It is not the Middle East, but the middle of you that is the most important as you read through the book.

6. What do you recommend to a serious student of the book of Revelation? How should one read the book and find that blessing you mention?

I suggest reading it a chapter at a time until you really know what it contains. Even if it takes a year reading chapter 1 every day, it’s worth it to break open the scroll and look inside and understand what it says. I compare reading the book of Revelation to learning a new language. You don’t learn Chinese in a day, a week, a month, not even a year, no matter how intensely you study it. Learning a language takes time, immersion, and patience. So read the book of Revelation many times until you are immersed in it, and be patient. Over time it will yield its beauty and glory to you.

7. What surprised you the most as you translated Revelation?

The biggest surprise to me was what I didn’t find. Some common words and terms that we associate with Revelation are not even found in the book. For example, here are some words not contained in its twenty-two chapters: “Antichrist,” “rapture,” “millenium,” and “second coming.”

8. Is there any last think you’d want to mention about studying the book of Revelation?

Yes, keep your heart open to the truth it contains. Look for Christ, not a map of coming events. Prepare to have your world rocked as the truths of Revelation settle into your heart. Jesus is Lord, Savior, and our soon coming King!

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About the Passion Translation

Posted by on 11/02/2017 in: ,

This article is provided by BroadStreet Publishing Group, the publishing house for The Passion Translation.

The Passion Translation is a groundbreaking attempt to re-introduce the passion and fire of the Bible to English readers. The Passion Translation is a new, heart-level translation that expresses God’s fiery heart of love to this generation using Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic manuscripts, merging the emotion and life-changing truth of God’s Word.

Dr. Brian Simmons—linguist, minister, Bible teacher, and former missionary—serves as lead translator for The Passion Translation. As a missionary, he and his wife, Candice, pioneered church plants in Central America. As a linguist, Brian co-translated the Paya-Kuna New Testament for the Paya-Kuna people of Panama. He and his wife have started numerous ministries, including a dynamic church in West Haven, Connecticut. He is also a gifted teacher of the Bible who has authored several books and serves churches worldwide through his teaching ministry.

Brian began his biblical studies with The New Tribes Bible Institute and continued on to earn his doctorate with Wagner Leadership Institute, with a specialization on prayer.

While Brian serves as the lead translator for The Passion Translation, the translated text and the numerous footnotes are evaluated by respected scholars and editors to ensure The Passion Translation is faithful to the original text and heart of God.

So why another translation?

Many wonderful versions of our Bible now grace our bookshelves, bookstores, software programs, even apps on our phones. So why add one more? The reason is simple: God longs to have his Word expressed in every language in a way that unlocks the passion of his heart. The goal of this work is to trigger inside every reader an overwhelming response to the truth of the Bible, revealing the deep mysteries of the Scriptures in the love language of God, the language of the heart.

God refuses to meet us only in an intellectual way. God also wants to meet us heart level, so we must let the words go heart deep—bringing words that go through the human soul, past the defenses of the mind, and into the spirit. There is a language of the heart that must express the passion of this love-theology. That’s why The Passion Translation is an important addition to peoples’ devotional and spiritual life with Christ.

Bible translations are both a gift and a problem. They give us the words God spoke through his servants, but words can become very poor containers for revelation—they leak! Over time the words change from one generation to the next. Meaning is influenced by culture, background, and many other details. You can imagine how differently the Hebrew authors of the Old Testament saw the world from three thousand years ago!

There is no such thing as a truly literal translation of the Bible, for there is not an equivalent language that perfectly conveys the meaning of the biblical text except as it is understood in its original cultural and linguistic setting. Therefore, a translation can be a problem. The problem, however, is solved when we seek to transfer meaning, and not merely words, from the original text to the receptor language.

That’s the governing philosophy behind The Passion Translation:

to transfer the meaning of God’s original message found in the biblical languages to modern-day English. We believe that the meaning of a passage should take priority over the form of the original words, so that every English speaker can clearly, naturally encounter the heart of God through his message of truth and love.

To transfer the meaning of the biblical narrative from one language to another requires interpretation. Undoubtedly, the process of Bible translation cannot be considered a perfect science, but more of an artistic, Spirit-led production. Dr. Simmons has sought to faithfully carry over the meaning of the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic into modern English along with the nuances of the Scripture’s poetry and prose to make it come alive to the reader.

If you’re hungry for God and want to know him on a deeper level, The Passion Translation will help you encounter God’s heart and discover what he has for your life.


Now, the Passion Translation New Testament contains not only the ENTIRE New Testament, but also Psalms, Proverbs, and Song of Songs! If you purchase this Bible through Olive Tree, you will also receive the I Hear His Whisper devotional reading plan by Brian Simmons.

Already own a volume of The Passion Translation?

If you have already purchased a volume of The Passion Translation, you can upgrade at no additional cost on our website! Learn more here.

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Our Amazing Bible!

Posted by on 10/31/2017 in:

This article is written by
Brian Simmons, lead Translator of The Passion Translation

It would be impossible to calculate how many lives have been changed forever by the power of the Bible, the living Word of God! My life was transformed forever because I believed the message contained in the Scriptures about Jesus, the Savior.

To hold the Bible dear to your heart is the sacred obsession of every true follower of Jesus. Yet to understand the Bible gives us light and truth to live by. Did you catch the word “understand”? People everywhere say the same thing—”I want to understand God’s Word, not just read it.”

Thankfully, as English speakers, we have a plethora of Bible translations, commentaries, study guides, devotionals, churches, and Bible teachers who all assist us. Our hearts crave to know God, not just know about Him, but to know Him as intimately as we possibly can in this life. This is what makes Bible translations so valuable, because each one will hopefully lead us into new discoveries of truth. I believe God is committed to giving us truth in a package we can understand and act upon, so I thank God for every translation God’s Word that we have.

We often hear the statement, “I just want a word-for-word translation that is literal and doesn’t insert a bias.” That’s a noble argument. But let me add, a word-for-word translation is next to impossible. It is simply impossible to translate one Hebrew word for one English word. Hebrew is built from triliteral consonant roots. Bible Hebrew had no vowels or punctuation. And koine Greek, although wonderfully articulate, cannot always be conveyed in a word-for-word translation. For example, a literal word-for-word translation of the Greek in Matthew 1:18 would be something like:

“Of the but Jesus Christ the birth thus was. Being betrothed the mother of him, Mary, to Joseph, before or to come together them she was found in belly having from Spirit Holy.”

Even the King James Version, which many believe is a very literal translation renders this verse:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”

This comparison makes the KJV look like a paraphrase next to a strictly literal translation. To some degree, every Bible translator is forced to move words around in a sentence and convey with meaning the thought of the verse. It is so important that God’s Word is living in our hearts, ringing in our ears, and burning in our souls. Transferring God’s revelation from Hebrew and Greek into English is an art, not merely a linguistic science. Thus, we need all the accurate translations we can find. Is it really possible to have a highly accurate and highly readable Bible in English? Yes!

If a verse or passage in one translation seems to be confusing, it is good to do a side-by-side comparison with another version. It is difficult to say which translation is the best. “Best” is often in the eyes of the reader and is determined by a combination of differing factors to different people. However, “best” in my thinking is the translation that makes the Word of God clear, no matter how many words it takes to express it.

God’s Word does not change, but languages definitely change over time, thus the need for updated and revised translations of the Bible. For example, many contemporary Bible readers would be quite surprised to find unicorns mentioned three times in the King James Version. Here’s one of instances in Isaiah 34:7,

“And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.”

One could describe The Passion Translation (TPT) as a humble attempt at bringing God’s eternal truth into a heart-level expression that causes truth and love to jump out of the text and lodge inside our hearts. A desire to remain accurate to the original text, and a desire to communicate God’s heart of passion for His people are the two driving forces behind TPT. So for those new to Bible reading, we hope The Passion Translation will excite and illuminate. For scholars and Bible students, we hope The Passion Translation will bring the joys of new discoveries from the text and prompt deeper consideration of what God has spoken to His people. Pick up a copy and see for yourself. We all have so much more to learn and discover about God in His holy Word!


Now, the Passion Translation New Testament contains not only the ENTIRE New Testament, but also Psalms, Proverbs, and Song of Songs! If you purchase this Bible through Olive Tree, you will also receive the I Hear His Whisper devotional reading plan by Brian Simmons.

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How the Protestant
Reformation Began

Posted by on 10/30/2017 in:

Why This Post?

Today is October 30—the day before the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Many Protestants are celebrating this day, all around the world! 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 shared posts about the reformers and the solas, free resources, and we even made a quiz! This 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 Tiny Biography of Menno Simmons

Posted by on 10/26/2017 in:


Menno Simmons


1496, date unknown


January 31, 1561


Witmarsum, Friesland, modern-day Netherlands


Catholic priest, Anabaptist pastor and author


Wife Gertrude, two daughters and one son


Menno Simons was born in a small village in Friesland, which is a northern province in the Netherlands. Very little is known about his childhood or his family. Simons became a Catholic priest in 1524, at the age of 28, and it’s possible he received at least part of his training at a monastery. Early in his priesthood, Simons began to doubt the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation in which Catholics believe that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are changed into the literal body and blood of Christ.

Around the time Simons was becoming a priest, there was a group of Catholics called the Sacramentists who were questioning Catholic teachings like transubstantiation. Concurrently, a group known as the Anabaptists was gaining influence in Reformation Europe. Both movements were strong in the Netherlands and Simons picked up on their ideas. In contrast to Calvin and Luther, Anabaptists taught that infant baptism was not valid because baptism should follow a confession of faith and a commitment to discipleship.

As Simons thought about the sacraments, he studied Scripture and believed with the other Reformers that Scripture should be the highest authority rather than church teachings. Simons became convinced that believer baptism was scriptural, which led to his eventual break with the Catholic church in 1536 and his full acceptance of Anabaptist theology. He used his pulpit to preach Anabaptist and Reformed ideas until it became too dangerous to do so. Simons went underground and became a traveling preacher for the rest of his life. He often had to preach and baptize at night to evade capture and death by the various enemies of the Anabaptists. Many of his fellow Anabaptists were martyred.

As Simons moved from town to town through the latter half of his life, he helped consolidate and spur on the Anabaptist movement. He wrote pamphlets to strengthen the theology and faith of converts and sought out those sympathetic to Anabaptist causes. There were many disagreements among Anabaptist leaders over church discipline and governance as the movement gained strength and popularity. Simons, as a mild, peace-loving man, was often a mediator and stuck fast to the Bible’s authority. He died at age 64 on January 31, 1561 in the small German town of Wüstenfelde.

Through Simons’ writings and witness, Anabaptist groups have thrived to this day, and Anabaptist principles like separation of church and state, democratic church government, voluntary church membership, rigorous discipleship, simple living and pacifism have been widely accepted by churches of all theological backgrounds. Mennonites, a Protestant denomination known especially for simple living, take their name from Menno Simons.


While writing this biography, we used Reformation Heroes—a short book filled with biographies of the major players of the Reformation.

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The Message of the Reformers

Posted by on 10/23/2017 in: ,

Did you know that John Calvin made a point to write very little about himself—which is one reason why we don’t know much about his personal life? He isn’t the only one. The reformers didn’t write too many captivating memoirs, despite their brave and dangerous lives.

Why didn’t the reformers write about themselves, and what were they writing instead?

The reason the reformers wrote so little about themselves was that they were not focused on themselves; they were focused on the message. We may best remember Luther for nailing up his theses or Tyndale praying “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.” But I believe the reformers would be deeply saddened if we remembered only their brave actions and not their important message.

So, for those of us who are celebrating the anniversary of the Reformation, we should make it our aim to pick up something the reformers penned.


Of course, it’s slightly impossible to read everything the reformers penned. Even picking up Calvin’s Institutes alone is a daunting task. Plus, without being familiar with their writing styles and historical context, their writings can be difficult to understand.

Thankfully, the second generation of reformers was aware of this issue. They summarized reformation teachings into bite-sized pieces. Their intent was not to replace the works of the reformers, but to give people like us, who may never go to seminary, a place to get started. These summaries are contained in the confessions and catechisms of the reformed churches.


At Olive Tree, our goal is similar to that of the second generation of reformers. We want to make it easier to access the Scriptures and biblical teachings. That’s why we’ve released The Westminster Confession of Faith with the Shorter and Larger Catechisms for free. These resources line-up closely with the teachings of men like John Calvin and John Knox, expressing the most important parts of their message.

Wondering where to start? The authors recommend first reading through and becoming familiar with the Shorter Catechism. Then, read the Larger Catechism, which builds on the shorter. Lastly, study the Westminster Confession of Faith. When combined, these three relatively short documents provide an excellent summary of reformed teaching on faith, life, and worship. We hope that you’ll enjoy these free resources and grow in your understanding of church history.


We’ve released more than a few free resources recently, so we thought it would be a good idea to remind you all. Here are the other releases:

Luther’s 95 Theses
The Psalms of David in Metre
London Baptist Confession of Faith & Catechism

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