Category: Educational

Be Noble: Studying Scripture Like the Bereans

Posted by on 03/02/2018 in: ,

“As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.” — Acts 17:10-12, NIV

It can be very difficult to know what is true and what isn’t. I often feel overwhelmed and exhausted by all the fact checking that is required of us in 2018. We are CONSTANTLY receiving new information: articles shared on Facebook, opinions on Twitter, advertisements on Instagram, books, movies, app notifications… the list goes on and on.

The Bereans weren’t unaware of the pressure to have correct information. With the news Paul and Silas were spreading about Jesus, everyone was on edge. The Gospel challenged the current thought trends on religion, politics, socioeconomics, and more. So, choosing sides was a lot more threatening than picking Democrat or Republican. This decision was Religious Rulers versus Jesus, Rome versus Jesus, Cultural Values versus Jesus… and behinds the scenes, Satan versus. Jesus.

But in Acts 17:10-12, we see Luke write something attention-grabbing. He lifts the Berean Jews up as an example. This is rare! Why did he choose to say this, out of all the people they met on their journey? A characteristic stood out to him—a very important one.

NOBILITY

According to Strong’s, the use of “noble” here is the Greek word εὐγενής. It means, “well born, i.e. (literally) high in rank, or (figuratively) generous.

In 2018, I picture Luke saying something like, “The Berean Jews knew how to stay classy.” When they were met with a difficult message, they kept their character in check and remained honorable. When everything they were taught was challenged by the Gospel, they didn’t run away plugging their ears or start shouting over Paul and Silas. With eagerness and a willing mind they began the process of fact checking, seeing if the Old Testament really did prophecy Jesus to be the Messiah.

In the end, they discovered the Gospel to be true and became followers of Jesus.

NOBILITY TODAY

Maybe this Sunday you will find yourself questioning if what is being preached is true. Perhaps you’re in a Seminary course and your textbook is making some interesting claims. Or, maybe you’re simply scrolling through Facebook and a headline makes your stomach churn with anger, fear, and questions.

How can we be like the Bereans in these moments? Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t lose your temper
  • Having a willing mind
  • Listen to what others are saying
  • Evaluate the claims others make
  • Compare what we hear with Scripture
  • Ask some friends to join you in your research
  • Rinse and repeat

One of the trickiest situations we encounter is when someone claims the Bible to mean something we aren’t sure to be true. The problem is that the Bible is a translation and not all of us are Greek and Hebrew scholars. How do we evaluate these claims then?

Like I did toward the beginning of this post, you can use a Bible study tool that has Strong’s. With a tool like this, you look up nearly any word with a tap or two and read it’s original definition.

If you do have experience with Greek and Hebrew, you might find it helpful to have a resource that provides you with parsings. If this feature is listed on a product page, it will show you something like this when you use it:

Do you have any advice on how to eagerly examine Scripture to see if what you hear is true? Comment below!

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God Can Show Up Where You Don’t Expect or Deserve

Posted by on 02/26/2018 in: ,

The following is an excerpt from the For Everyone Commentary Series by John Goldingay and N.T. Wright.

WE DON’T ALWAYS GET WHAT WE DESERVE

I’ve remembered why I had that visit from the man I mentioned in connection with Lamentations 5. I’d talked in class about a pastor who ignored a call from God to go and serve him abroad as a missionary. His subsequent ministry in England had been greatly blessed, even though he was not in the place where God had wanted him. One failure in obedience to God doesn’t have to ruin your whole life.

The man who came to see me had been told that persisting with his new relationship and divorcing his wife so he could marry this other woman would mean God would never bless his new marriage. I told him you could never make such predictions because God is always having to decide afresh whether to be merciful or disciplinary. Our calling is to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not because we might forfeit God’s blessing.

LEARNING FROM EZEKIEL 1:1-28

Ezekiel’s community is people who were transported to Babylon in 597; five years have now passed. Anyone with religious sensitivity or principle knew that they’d deserved this fate (even if there were individuals like Ezekiel who didn’t deserve it) and would wonder whether they could ever expect Yahweh to reach out to them in Babylon. Their feelings might be similar to those expressed in Lamentations after the further fall of Jerusalem in 587. They’ve forfeited any right to expect God’s blessing.

(We don’t know what “the thirtieth year” refers to. Maybe Ezekiel was thirty years old, the age when he might have taken up his ministry as a priest if he hadn’t been transported to Babylon.)

GOD SHOWS UP

Out of the blue, in a literal sense, Yahweh appears in Babylon. Maybe Ezekiel sees a literal storm approaching, with wind, cloud, and lightning. If so, Yahweh turns the literal storm into an appearance of his own cloud carriage. Yahweh is coming to his people in Babylon—Babylon of all places!

Not that he’s coming with a message of comfort; rather the opposite. It does mean he hasn’t simply washed his hands of them. Perhaps the vision’s significance is to show that Yahweh has already been present with his people in Babylon; he now enables this prophet to see behind the veil constituted by the heavens themselves, to see that Yahweh is present, and to report that fact to the people.

There are limits to what God dares let Ezekiel see. Too direct an appearance of God would simply blind a mere human being. Most of what God lets Ezekiel see is his carriage pulled by four creatures—not mere horses but combinations of human being, animal, and bird (so they can fly and transport God through the heavens). They’re subsequently called cherubs. Their combined features give them great maneuverability, as do the crisscross wheels on the carriage that can go this way or that at will. But they’re driven by one will.

HE LETS US SEE & EXPERIENCE HIS GREATNESS

The creatures support a platform on which there stands a throne; on the throne is a human-like figure. Ezekiel is looking from below, so he sees little of the figure. His experience parallels that of Isaiah, who sees only the hem of God’s robe. While God can be pictured as lion-like or rock-like, more often God is described as human-like—it links with the fact that human beings are made in God’s image to represent God in the world. Ezekiel’s account also safeguards God’s transcendence (it won’t let us think of God in too human terms) by using the name Shadday. The traditional translation “Almighty” is a guess. The only other Hebrew word with which the Old Testament links the name is a verb meaning “destroy,” so people might take “Shadday” to suggest “destroyer”; this understanding would suit Ezekiel.

It’s also a solemn fact that the storm comes from the north, the direction where people often located God’s abode, but also the direction from which invaders came. But then it declares that there was something of a rainbow’s appearance about this God, one who put his bow away and let it hang in the sky without string and without arrows (see Genesis 9).

God’s appearing to Ezekiel is both good news and solemn news. For Ezekiel’s audience and for people reading his messages in written form, it also indicates that we’d better take his words seriously.

THE FOR EVERYONE COMMENTARY SERIES

Did you enjoy how this commentary takes a passage of the Old Testament and relates it to daily life?

The For Everyone Commentary Series has 35 volumes, including books from both the Old and New Testament. Each volume includes the editors’ translations of the entire text. Then, each short passage is followed by background information, useful explanations and suggestions, and thoughts as to how the text can be relevant to our lives today.

This resource works with the Resource Guide, showing you relevant articles as you read the Bible. Also, verses and footnotes are linked for quick reading.

Visit our website to learn more about this well-loved commentary series.

COMMENT BELOW: Where have you seen God show up where you didn’t expect or deserve?

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The Noahic Covenant

Posted by on 02/09/2018 in:

“I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud: and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh: the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
—Genesis 9:13–16

AFTER THE STORM

The faint rainbow that appears after a summer thunderstorm symbolizes God’s mercy, His compassion on all. Moreover, it is a sign of God’s covenant, His binding agreement with all humanity to never destroy the earth with a flood.

God initiated this covenant under the worst circumstances: “The earth was filled with violence” (6:11, 13). Even though humanity’s decline into evil greatly troubled God, He favored one man, Noah. He determined to save Noah and his family from His coming judgment and establish His covenant with them.

NOAH’S STORY

Although Noah was surrounded by violence and all kinds of evil, Noah walked with God (6:9) by seeking to obey Him. Noah’s simple obedience is recorded five times in this story (6:22; 7:5, 9, 16; 8:17–18). God called this obedient man to build an ark. With this large boat, God saved Noah from the cleansing waters of the Flood. With the past evils and sins washed away from the earth, Noah and his family could start anew (see 1 Pet. 3:21 for Peter’s analogy comparing baptism with the Flood).

GOD’S PROMISE

God not only gave them a fresh start; He also gave them an unconditional promise or covenant. He promised not to destroy the earth with a flood no matter how evil Noah’s descendants got. Indeed, He promised that until the end of the earth, there would be the seasons of planting and harvest and day and night. God unilaterally promised to uphold the rhythms of the earth in order to sustain human life—even though humans had rebelled against Him, their Creator.

Today all of us—Noah’s children—should remember God’s mercy to us when we see the beauty of the rainbow.

What are God’s promises telling you today?

Excerpted from the NKJV Study Bible in Full Color. Learn more about this title that we recently added to our store by visiting our website.

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Sealing the Tomb of Jesus

Posted by on 02/07/2018 in:

Ever wondered about Jesus’ tomb? Let archaeology experts teach you! This blog post is an excerpt from the Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology.

TOMB NEAR MEGIDDO

ARE ALL TOMBS THE SAME?

According to Jewish practice the body of the deceased was initially laid to rest in the inner chamber of a tomb. First-century tombs characteristically had a small forecourt that led to the interior features of the tomb, including an inner chamber with benches situated along the walls, often with arcosolia, arched recesses in the wall, a lower elevation pit (for standing inside the tomb), and tunnel-like niches called loculi (Latin) or kokhim (Hebrew).

No two tombs are exactly alike, and though they share these common features, as Jerusalem archaeologist Shimon Gibson has noted, “individualism was pronounced.” This means we have not found, and should not expect to find, a first-century tomb precisely matching the tomb of Jesus as described in the Gospel accounts.

THE ROLLING STONES

The body of the deceased was laid out on a stone bench and a heavy stone was set into the small entrance door and sealed to thwart the unwanted entrance of animals and grave robbers. Matthew reports that a “big” (Greek megan) stone was rolled against (Greek proskulisas) the door of Jesus’ tomb. Later, Matthew recounts how an angel “rolled back” (Greek apekulisen) this sealing stone from the door (Matt 28:2; cf. Mark 16:3–4; Luke 24:2).

However, the image of a rolling-stone tomb as the tomb of Jesus, while the common conception, has been questioned on the basis of archaeological study of Jerusalem necropoli. In the vicinity of Jerusalem there are 1,000 or more rock-cut tombs. Israeli archaeologist Amos Kloner, who has examined more than 900 such tombs, found only four tombs dating from the late Second Temple period (the time of Jesus) that were closed by a rolling stone:

  1. the tomb of the Queen Helena of Adiabene
  2. the family tomb of King Herod of Jerusalem
  3. one nearby Herod’s Family Tomb
  4. another located in the upper Kidron Valley

These had a carved out slotted groove to one side of the entrance of the tomb made to receive a disk-shaped stone. The family could roll the stone forward in the track to cover the entryway of the tomb or roll it back to open it, allowing for new burials. These rolling stones weighed tons and could not have been moved by a single person.

DID JOSEPH ROLL THE STONE HIMSELF?

Gibson supposes that the stone covering Jesus’ tomb must not have been so heavy, since he observes both Matthew (27:60) and Mark (15:46) state that Joseph of Arimethea rolled the stone by himself. However, it should not be assumed that these statements mean that Joseph acted alone in the rolling of the stone any more than in transporting Jesus’ body to the tomb and wrapping it in a linen shroud (all of which the text says he did). The natural understanding of this is that Joseph took responsibility for and oversaw these tasks; he did not do them personally but had them done.

The women on the third day after the burial who came to anoint Jesus’ body said to one another, “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3). These three women, even working together, understood that they were unable to move the stone.

Gibson also overlooks the clear statement in the next verse (Mark 16:4) that “the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away” (Greek megas sphodra). Even a passage in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter states that Pilate sent Petronius the Centurion with soldiers and they rolled there a great stone and laid it against the entrance to the sepulcher (8:31–33).

CORK-SHAPED STONE USED TO PLUG ENTRANCE TO COMMON TOMBS

ROUND OR SQUARE?

The rolling-stone tombs, being very rare, were obviously reserved for royal families or the very wealthy and, therefore, not the type utilized by average Jewish families. Amos Kloner calculates that approximately 98 percent of stones used to close the entrances to tombs in Jesus’ day were square block stones. These were simple slabs shaped something like a bolt with one end designed to provide a close fit for the small opening forming the doorway of the tomb. The larger remainder of the stone had a flange so it would rest against the outside surface of the tomb. These stone “plugs” had the special name golal in Hebrew. Often a filling of pebbles or mortar would be added around these to prevent the entrance of small vermin and insects.

Therefore, since these are the more common form of sealing tombs and the disk-shaped blocking stones are rare, it would have been exceptional for Jesus’ tomb to be so sealed. This led archaeologist Amos Kloner, according to Megan Souter, to argue that the Gospel references to “rolling away” a stone from the entrance to a tomb was a misunderstanding of the normal method of sealing a tomb since square stones do not “roll.” This may be true of the average person in Judea and Jerusalem, but Joseph of Arimathea appears to be a wealthy and influential person in the New Testament.

ROLLING-STONE TOMB IN NAZARETH

However, Urban C. von Wahlde, in seeking to answer this question, analyzed the use of the Greek verb kuliō (“to roll”) in the Synpotic Gospels and concluded that the compounds of kuliō all have the idea of movement “toward” or “away from.” Therefore, in his opinion, the grammar does not fit the idea of moving a square-shaped stone, which would have properly been described as “moved” or “dislodged,” although Gibson contends the golal could also be “rolled” after a fashion.

However, von Wahlde also notes that while the Synoptic Gospels describe the sealing of the tomb in this manner, the Gospel of John uses a different Greek verb from the root hairo, with the meaning that the stone had been “removed” or “taken up” (Greek ērmenon) from the tomb (John 20:1). He argues that this description reflects “the Jewish burial practice much more accurately than any of the other gospels. He [John] has given us a detail none of the other gospels have.” He further argues that because Jesus’ tomb was a borrowed tomb for an ordinary Jewish family, the evidence is in favor of closure by a square stone.

He therefore concludes:

“It is not that these accounts are necessarily wrong. But they do give the wrong impression. It may very well be that people rolled the ‘cork-shaped’ stones away from the tomb. Once you see the size of a ‘stopper’ stone, it is easy to see that, however one gets the stone out of the doorway, chances are you are going to roll it the rest of the way.”

BUT, WAS JOSEPH WEALTHY?

Must we conclude that the information in the Gospels gives the “wrong impression?” The grammar of “rolling” (Greek kuliō + pros “up to” or apo “away from”) is unambiguous in the Synoptics, and it is an assumption that Joseph of Arimathea was an ordinary man with an ordinary family tomb. The Gospels portray him as a “rich man” (Matt 27:57), a “prominent member” of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43), and a man with significant status to be granted a private audience with Pontius Pilate and then given special permission to bury the body of a condemned criminal (not a relation) whose high-profile case had been controversial (John 19:38). This may imply a privileged position, which is reflected in the statement in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter (2:3) that Pilate was Joseph’s “friend.” This description of an elite in Jerusalem society argues for someone whose family tomb could have fit the category of a rolling-stone tomb.

In addition, the terminology for the tomb as “cut out of the rock” (Matt 27:60; Luke 22:53) is found in the Septuagint of Isaiah 22:16 with reference to a royal tomb. For the poorer lower class a cave was utilized for burial because a rock-cut tomb was too expensive. Joseph of Arimethea was able to afford the most expensive of tombs, the kind used by the upper class and nobility. Christian scholars through the centuries have seen this as a fulfillment of the prediction in Isaiah 53:9 of the Messiah’s death:

“He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich, in his death,”

noting also that as Jesus was a descendant of King David, he was royalty and therefore entitled to an appropriate burial. As to the exceptional grammar of John, commentators have long noticed this particular wording as indeed a detail added by John to the account but have drawn a different conclusion as to the purpose.

MODEL OF ROLLING STONE FIRST-CENTURY TOMB

A. Front Tomb Wall
B. Rolling Stone

C. Stopping Stone
D. Slanted Track for Rolling Stone
E. Entrance
F. Niche
G. Bench
H. Pit
I. Ossuary
J. Body Placed on Bench for Burial Preparation

ANGELS MOVED THE STONE

One could argue that while the stone had been rolled over the opening, the manner in which it had been rolled away was what was exceptional. The use of the perfect middle/passive participle (“had been moved away”) could suggest that the stone had been “thrown” some distance from the tomb, indicating a divine agency. In all accounts angels are mentioned as having entered the tomb, and therefore, must have been responsible for the removal of the stone. Matthew makes this very point:

“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it” (Matt 28:2).

Therefore, in this case, the stone may have been a rolling stone, but it was not technically “rolled away” as was the usual practice, but forcibly moved aside. This, then, was the detail of supernatural intervention witnessed by the women as one evidence of the resurrection that John wished to convey.

While archaeology can provide examples of specific rolling-stone tombs from the period and argue for the more common closure of tombs with square stones, the deciding factor in the case of Jesus’ tomb must be the interpretation of the biblical text. The kind of tomb and sealing stone implied in the text fit the archaeological data described above.

KEEP LEARNING

The Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology is filled with information present just as you experienced above. You can gain knowledge on the culture and history of Biblical times, inserting yourself even more into the stories of the Bible. Visit our website to learn more.

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Waging War on Legalism

Posted by on 02/05/2018 in:

“IMAGINE IF…

you had a neighbor who had been paralyzed from the neck down by an accident more than thirty years ago.

One Sunday morning, just after six o’clock, the sound of a lawnmower jolts you from a deep, satisfying sleep. Annoyed, you bolt to the front door to see who would be so insensitive as to rattle every window on the block with that infernal noise so early on a day of rest.

Upon seeing your formerly paralyzed friend gleefully mowing his lawn in perfect health, what do you think you would say?

If you’re a normal person, you’d say, “Hank! What happened? How are you not paralyzed?!”

But if you’re a Pharisee, you’d scream, “Hank! It’s Sunday morning! Turn that thing off!””

Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary

photo from resource, originally taken from holylandphotos.org

THE POOL AT BETHESDA

John 5:1-18 tells the story of Jesus healing a sick man at the pool of Bethesda. When the man stands and picks up his mat after 38 years of illness, the religious leaders do not rejoice with him. The Pharisees rebuke him.

Why? Because it was the Sabbath.

This is a classic representation of legalism, which Chuck Swindoll calls a “subtle, silent killer” in his New Testament Commentary. Before diving into the text, Swindoll takes time to describe legalism, how it appears, and why it is wrong. Here are his thoughts:

WHAT IS LEGALISM?

Legalism is the establishment of standards carefully selected by people for the purpose of celebrating human achievement under the guise of pleasing God. Legalism is righteousness as defined by humans, who frequently cite God as the source of the standard. In reality, the standards come from culture, tradition, and most frequently the personal preferences of those who maintain positions of power or influence.

Legalism is based on lists (legalists love their lists!). If you do keep every item on the list of dos and don’ts, you’re deemed spiritually acceptable. But if you don’t follow the prescribed standard, you are judged unworthy of God’s favor and others’ approval. Naturally, legalists always think they know how God judges and they are more than willing to act on His behalf.

HOW DOES LEGALISM APPEAR?

Legalism almost always adorns itself in the regal robes of religious garb, and it brandishes the credentials of religious organizations.

This is not to condemn Christian organizations or the clothes they wear—I am merely pointing out that legalists are drawn to them and have successfully infiltrated churches, missions, parachurch organizations, charities, and schools. When they do, they use religious trappings to convince others that their own agendas have God’s approval.

Eventually, followers begin to fear the disapproval of the leaders, who become more and more visible and controlling as the Lord fades into obscurity.

WHY IS LEGALISM WRONG?

Legalism denies God’s grace and presumes to earn His favor through deeds. It is a man-made righteousness that exalts humanity rather than the Lord. Legalism produces either pride or depression in the people under its spell—pride for those who keep the list to their own satisfaction, depression for those who recognize their utter inability to keep the list perfectly. Criticism is the primary motivation.

The goal of legalism is to give as much criticism as possible and to avoid receiving it at all costs.

Legalism is wrong because it produces in people what the Lord desires least: pride, self-loathing, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness.

Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary 

VERSE-BY-VERSE FACTS

After describing legalism, Swindoll goes verse-by-verse through the passage. It’s jam-packed with great information (and even pictures!) to help you understand Scripture in context. Here are 10 facts that we really enjoyed:

1) When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, He apparently visited the sanitarium that lay in the shadow of the great temple built by Herod. The temple authorities, especially the Pharisees among them, would never have entered the place and probably rebuked any Jew who did. (5:1-2)

2) The name Bethesda is a kind of play on words, meaning “house of grace” or “house of outpouring [water].” A curious blend of Hebrew religion and Greek superstition held that an angel of God periodically stirred the waters and promised healing to the first invalid able to pull himself into the pool. (5:3-4)

3) As Jesus visited weary patients who were vainly trying to heal themselves, He found a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years, which was longer than the average life expectancy for a male in the first-century Roman Empire. He had been sick for literally a lifetime. (5:5-6)

4) The Koiné Greek language often used word order for the sake of emphasis. In this case, the man stressed the word “man”—he did not have a man to help him. He clearly recognized his own helplessness; however, the object of his faith was confused. (5:7-8)

5) Just as the reader might begin to celebrate the man’s healing, John’s aside drops like a wet blanket. He says, in effect, “Oh, by the way, it was the Sabbath.” Anyone who knew anything about Pharisees understood the significance of that simple statement. (5:8-9)

6) The Pharisees strictly applied the words of Jeremiah, “do not carry any load on the sabbath day” (Jer. 17:21), but failed to recognize the context. Jeremiah complained because the seventh day in Jerusalem was business as usual, like any other day. Later, Nehemiah would take the same stand by ordering the doors of Jerusalem to be closed on the last day of the week, “so that no load would enter on the sabbath day” (Neh. 13:19). (5:10)

7) Jewish theology of the day correctly taught that sin deserves punishment; however, the rabbis incorrectly attributed physical illness to God’s wrath. The true and ultimate punishment for sin is eternal torment after death. (5:11-14)

8) The Greek word rendered “went away” is better translated “went after” and usually indicates purpose. It’s a common expression in the Synoptic Gospels for discipleship. One “goes after” a mentor in order to learn from him. The man turned away from following Jesus and affirmed his allegiance to the Jewish leaders. (5:15)

9) This particular healing begged the question, “Who owns the Sabbath?” The religious authorities claimed ownership of the Sabbath by objecting to Jesus “doing these things.” (5:16)

10) Having refuted the faulty theology of the religious leaders, Jesus equated His act of grace with God’s continuing “work.” This was an outright claim to ownership of the Sabbath. (5:17-18)

3 STEPS TO WAGE WAR ON LEGALISM

Here are Chuck Swindoll’s three application points:

“FIRST, we must expose legalism. The truth of the gospel—the good news of God’s grace received through faith—must refute the claims of tradition, custom, or any other standard of righteousness not explicitly taught in Scripture. And where Scripture is clear, it must be applied to call people to celebrate the Spirit of God living within them through joyful obedience.”

“SECOND, we must combat legalism. Legalism is an enemy that cannot be met with violence; however, like in any war, we must fight with courage and conviction, recognizing that combat requires toughness. Without setting aside kindness, we must be willing to confront the legalist with his or her lies.”

“THIRD, we must overcome legalism. We do that by proclaiming grace louder, more often, in more places, and to more people than the false prophets of legalism. People only choose bondage when they fear that freedom is unreachable, impossible, unaffordable, or unreal. Once people experience grace and learn that it can be theirs, legalism doesn’t stand a chance.”

KEEP LEARNING

Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary (7 Vols.) is a fantastic resource that not only delves deep into word studies, ancient history, and cultural study… but it also applies Scripture directly to your life. Visit our website to learn more.

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The Structure of Thanksgiving

Posted by on 01/24/2018 in:

The NIV Application Commentary is a great tool for in-depth study of the Bible while ALSO helping you apply the Bible to your life. Below is an excerpt taken from the commentary on Colossians, by David E. Garland.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PAUL’S PRAYER FOR THE COLOSSIANS

Paul adopted the custom in ancient letter writing of offering a prayer of thanks to the gods and transformed this convention by expanding it and filling it with Christian meaning. His thanksgiving is not some perfunctory nod to various divinities for blessings received and misfortunes averted. It is a prayer to be read aloud in Christian worship and thereby becomes a witness of Christian faith and a means of Christian instruction. Paul never trots out some stock, all-purpose prayer but carefully tailors it to the situation of the church he is addressing. He sensitively weaves together the church’s progress in the faith, their needs, and his hopes for them into a beautiful tapestry of praise and thanks to God.

One should not ignore the thanksgiving proems in Paul’s letters as unimportant devotional meditations unrelated to the key themes of the letter. They lay the groundwork for what follows in the letter, previewing its major themes and setting the tone of the letter.

PAUL’S LITERARY DEVICES: INCLUSIO

The thanksgiving section in Colossians extends from 1:3 through 1:23 and includes the Christological prose hymn in 1:15-20. The key ideas of “faith,” “hope,” and “hearing” in the opening (1:4-6) are repeated in 1:23 to form an inclusioa rhetorical device in which the beginning of a unit is repeated in its ending.

The thanksgiving divides into two parts, 1:3-8 and 1:9-23. The first part focuses on the effects of the gospel in Colosse and the whole world, the second on Paul’s intercession for the Colossians and his celebration of the salvation accomplished by Christ.

PAUL’S LITERARY DEVICES: CHIASM

In 1:3-5, Paul tells the Colossians that he always thanks God for them because of their faith in Jesus Christ and their love for all the saints. The focus on the community suddenly shifts in 1:6 to the whole world as he exults over the universal effects of the gospel.

In 1:7-8 he returns to how the gospel took root in Colosse through Epaphras’s ministry. This first section of the thanksgiving forms a chiasm, a literary pattern in which two or more terms, phrases, or ideas are stated and then repeated in reverse order (ab ba):

A v. 4: We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints

  B v. 5: the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel

    C v. 6a: that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing,

  B’ v. 6b: just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.

A’ vv. 7-8: You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

From this structure we see that the heart of the first part of the prayer is verse 6a, in which Paul gives thanks for how the gospel has spread throughout the world.

PAUL’S LITERARY DEVICES: REPITITION

The second section of the thanksgiving consists of Paul’s intercession for the Colossians (1:9-14). Paul restates that he does not cease praying for them (1:9; cf. 1:3), and in 1:9-11 he reiterates in reverse order the key phrases in 1:3-6.

He repeats the phrase “since the day we heard about you” (1:9; 1:6, “since the day you heard it”) and then lists how he intercedes for them. He prays that they will increase in “bearing fruit” and “growing” (1:10; cf. 1:6) and in “the knowledge of [God’s] will” (1:9; cf. 1:10, “of God”; see 1:6, of “God’s grace”).

In 1:11-12 he also prays that they may be “strengthened with all power according to his glorious might” and that they may give thanks joyfully.

ARE VERSES 12-14 PART OF THE PRAYER?

He lists three reasons for giving thanks in 1:12-14. Some question whether 1:12-14 are part of the prayer and treat it as an introit leading in to the anthem to Christ in 1:15-20.

Paul is not working from a precise outline, however, and we should regard 1:12-14 as part of his intercession. It gives the reasons for joyfully giving thanks to God and flows naturally into glorifying Christ. These verses therefore place 1:15-20 in the context of the celebration of redemption rather than abstruse, metaphysical ruminations.

A POETIC CELEBRATION OF CHRIST

The prose hymn to Christ in 1:15-20, which affirms Christ’s absolute and universal supremacy, bursts forth like a supernova, whose resplendence eclipses everything around it. The verses surrounding this poetic celebration, however, also offer up praise for what God has done for us through Christ.

God has made the Colossians fit for a share in an inheritance for which they did not previously qualify as Gentiles (1:12).

God has rescued them from the dominion of darkness (the plight of pagans) and brought them in a new Exodus to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (1:13). God has redeemed them and forgiven their sins (1:14) and has reconciled them through Christ to present them holy, without blemish, and free from accusation (1:22).

THE FINALE

In the final verses of the thanksgiving (1:21-23), Paul recounts how the Colossians accepted this reconciliation (1:21-22). He mentions again (1:23) the hope held out in the gospel (see 1:5), their hearing of it (1:5), and how it has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven (1:6) so that it can bear fruit and grow.

He concludes the thanksgiving with mention of his own role as a servant of this gospel (1:23), a topic he will take up in the next section (1:24 – 2:5). This long, rhapsodic thanksgiving lays the foundation for the exhortation beginning in 2:6.

CONCLUSION

In sum, 1:3-23 is like a mighty river meandering through stunningly beautiful terrain. To appreciate fully the theological landscape, we will need to break up the unity of this segment by discussing it in separate sections in the commentary.

NIV APPLICATION COMMENTARY ON SALE!

Interested in learning more about Colossians and Philemon? This commentary is on sale for only $7.99 right now. Or, if you’re looking for other commentaries like this one, but for the entire Bible, check out the set! It’s currently discounted 66%.

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The Second Joshua

Posted by on 12/22/2017 in:

How does the Old Testament—specifically the book of Joshua—have anything to do with Jesus? Read this content pulled from the Bible Knowledge Commentary to find out.

THE PURPOSE OF THE BOOK OF JOSHUA

The purpose of the Book of Joshua is to give an official account of the historical fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to the patriarchs to give Israel the land of Canaan by holy war. A “holy war” was a conflict with religious overtones rather than one with a political motivation of defense or expansion. This can be seen in both the opening charge (1:2-6) and the concluding summary (21:43).

IT STARTS WITH ABRAHAM

Specifically, the conquest of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership was based on the Abrahamic Covenant. God, having dealt with all nations, made Abraham the center of His purposes and determined to reach the lost world through Abraham’s seed. The Lord made a contract or covenant with Abraham, promising unconditionally to give a land, a posterity, and spiritual blessing to the patriarch and his descendants (Gen. 12:2-3). Soon thereafter God said He was giving the land to Israel forever (cf. Gen. 13:15). The boundaries of the land were then given to Abraham (Gen. 15:18-21).

GOD KEEPS HIS PROMISES

Later God affirmed that the rightful heirs to the Promised Land were Isaac and his descendants (Gen. 17:19-21). Thus the Book of Joshua records the fulfillment of the patriarchal promise as Israel appropriated the land pledged to her by her faithful God centuries before. That the nation was later dispossessed reflects not on the character of God but on the fickleness of a people who took divine blessings for granted, fell into the worship of their neighbors’ gods, and therefore came under the chastisement God had warned them about (cf. Deut. 28:15-68).

But Israel must possess the land forever according to the promise, something that awaits the return of Messiah and the redemption of Israel. According to the Prophet Isaiah, the Messiah will be a “second Joshua,” who will “restore the land and … reassign its desolate inheritances” (Isa. 49:8).

THE SECOND JOSHUA

Paul taught that the events of the Exodus and Conquest are meaningful for Christians in that those events possess significance as types (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-11). The Greek form of the name “Joshua” (“Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation”) is “Jesus.” As Joshua led Israel to victory over her enemies and into possession of the Promised Land, and as he interceded for the nation after it had sinned and been defeated, so does Jesus.

He brings the people of God into a promised rest (Heb. 4:8-9); intercedes for His own continually (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25); and enables them to defeat their enemies (Rom. 8:37; Heb. 2:14-15).

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The Bible Knowledge Commentary has thorough notes, outlines, and introductions to the books of the Bible. You can learn more about it and see how it works in our app by visiting our website.

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5 Helpful Tips to Deepen Your Bible Study

Posted by on 12/14/2017 in:

5 Tips to Deepen Your Bible Study

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. — 2 Timothy 2:15 KJV

The Bible is not an end in itself, but is a means to the end of knowing God and doing His will. The apostle Paul said, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). God has given us the Bible in order that we might know Him and that we might do His will here on earth.

Therefore, devotional Bible study is the most important kind of Bible study. Devotional Bible study means reading and studying the Word of God in order that we may hear God’s voice and that we may know how to do His will and to live a better Christian life.

For your devotional reading and study of the Bible, here are five important, practical suggestions to deepen your Bible study:

1. BEGIN YOUR BIBLE READING WITH PRAYER

Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. — Psalm 119:18, KJV

 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you. John 16:13-15

2. TAKE BRIEF NOTES ON WHAT YOU READ

Keep a small notebook for your Bible study.

3. READ SLOWLY

Read slowly through one chapter, or perhaps two or three chapters, or perhaps just one paragraph at a time. After reading, ask yourself what this passage means. Then reread it.

4. IT IS OFTEN VERY HELPFUL IN FINDING OUT THE TRUE MEANING

of the chapter or passage to ask yourself the following questions, then write the answers in your notebook:

  1. What is the main subject of this passage?
  2. Who are the persons reveals in this passage? Who is speaking? About whom is he speaking? Who is acting?
  3. What is the key verse of this passage?
  4. What does this passage teach me about the Lord Jesus Christ?
  5. Does this passage portray any sin for me to confess and foresake?
  6. Does this passage contain any command for me to obey?
  7. Is there any promise for me to claim?
  8. Is there any instruction for me to follow?

Not all of these questions may be answered in every passage.

5. KEEP A SPIRITUAL DIARY

Either in your Bible study notebook mentioned above, or in a separate notebook. Write down daily what God says to you through the Bible. Write down the sins that you confess or the commands you should obey.

Additional Note: Do not try to adopt all of these methods at once, but start out slowly, selecting those methods and suggestions which appeal to you. You will find, as millions of others have before you, that the more you read and study the Word of God, the more you’ll want to read it.

Do you have any tips to add to this list? Share them in the comments

DEEPEN YOUR BIBLE STUDY

This content was taken from the KJV Study Bible Notes, Full Color Edition. Learn more about this fantastic resource on our website.

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Reading Proverbs In the Context of the Old and New Testament

Posted by on 12/11/2017 in:

This post is curated from the Zondervan Academic blog.

Reading Proverbs

One of my seminary professors used to cheekily refer to common Christian devotional practices as our “daily bread crumb.” Meaning: we often take a verse or even part of a verse and spin out a comforting crumb of exhortation at the expense of the whole loaf of biblical bread—whether the surrounding pericope or greater.

Perhaps with no other place in Scripture do we do this than with Proverbs. Ryan O’Dowd offers an important reminder in his new commentary on Proverbs (Story of God Bible Commentary) when studying this book:

such casual study of individual proverbs can be shortsighted, both because it is apt to overlook the endless depth of each saying and also because the sayings take on a whole new life in the larger collection of thirty-one chapters….To get wisdom one must wrangle seriously with all of these proverbial sayings as a collection. (17)

Further still, to fully appreciate this collection of wisdom, we need to set it into its proper context by understanding the entire breadbasket, as it were, of wisdom in the Old and New Testament. Below we’ve briefly engaged the five contexts O’Dowd outlines in his sturdy introduction to fully appreciate the wisdom Scripture offers us.

Wisdom and Creation

First, the Old Testament expresses a role of wisdom in God’s creation of the world. “‘Wisdom’ here is not merely an inert adjective. Rather it speaks to the pattern by which God creates three realms in days 1–3 and then fills them with their appropriate form of life in days 4–6” (39). Psalm 104:24 expresses this relationship:

“How many are your works, O Yahweh! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Author translation)

The wisdom-creation dynamic isn’t limited to the original creation, but also informs earthly project, like building the tabernacle. “The craftspeople are specifically skilled with ‘wisdom’” (40) in order that the glory of Yahweh might fill it.

Wisdom and Law

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries scholars struggled to relate wisdom literature to Israel’s covenants and redemptive history. Franz Delitzsch was an exception. He argued Proverbs and Deuteronomy echo one another, and many recent scholars have followed suit, O’Doud included:

I argue throughout this commentary that wisdom provides insight into the created and moral order of God’s world, so it makes perfect sense for it to give way to just laws. If Israel had actually obeyed the law, it would have been clear to the nations that this way of ordering society surpassed their own stories and law codes. Indeed, Deuteronomy has a uniquely humanitarian character to it. (41)

Wisdom in Crisis

Then there is the relationship between Proverbs and the similar wisdom works of Job and Ecclesiastes. “The crises in these latter books do not react to the worldview in Proverbs so much as narrow and enhance the more idealistic message of Proverbs.…Job and Ecclesiastes react more strongly to the challenges of life in a fallen world” (40).

So Proverbs strong correlative view of character and consequences is sharpened in Job, drawing us to argue with God in prayer. Where Ecclesiastes is often styled as a reaction to Proverbs’s optimism, in the end it still brings its despair around to Proverbs same foundation of wisdom.

O’Dowd concludes, “whereas Proverbs looks back at the goodness of creation with a hope that is never fully articulated or justified, Job and Ecclesiastes look forward with desperate hope for relief from the heavenly realms” (43).

Wisdom and Prophets

Wisdom within the prophetic literature carries an interesting dynamic, for they are both critical and expectant of it.

On the one hand, “many of the prophets are critical of a class known as ‘the wise’” (43), and criticize Israel for breaking their covenant with Yahweh. On the other, “The prophets also look forward to the coming of a wise messiah,” the One who would “bring together the wisdom, hope, and justice of the law and the wisdom literature” (43-44).

Wisdom and the New Testament

Finally, O’Dowd observes, “We are also prone to overlook wisdom in the New Testament because Christian theology tends to focus more on Jesus’ kingship than his kingdom” (44). And yet wisdom shows itself in four distinct ways in the New Testament:

  • As a child Jesus is depicted as wise in his words and deeds; he is the model son of Proverbs 1:8 and 6:20
  • Jesus’ wisdom is evident in his teachings and works
  • Jesus is revealed through a “wisdom Christology”
  • Wisdom enables Christians to know God’s mysteries in Christ and to live them accordingly

***

“Wisdom is God’s gift to us, not merely to get by in life, but to bring about the flourishing of the whole creation….It could be argued that wisdom has the broadest applicability of the genres in the Bible. It is concerned with everything.”

Engage O’Doud’s commentary on Proverbs inside the Story of God Commentary Series. Learning to navigate Proverbs will help you live and teach others to live flourishing lives. Visit the Olive Tree website to learn more.

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A God Who is Everywhere: Omnipresence

Posted by on 12/06/2017 in:

Our God is not bound by space and time. This characteristic is called “omnipresence.” Although it is described in the Bible, the word “omnipresence” or “omnipresent” won’t be found in there. So, how do you learn what the Bible has to say about this characteristic of God?

WHAT IS OMNIPRESENCE?

Our God is omnipresent. Systematic theologians use this term frequently when discussing God’s incommunicable attributes—the attributes that we, humans, can never participate in. We can be loving like God to an extent. We can be holy like God to an extent. But we cannot become omnipresent.

That means, it can be difficult for us to comprehend God’s omnipresence. We can try our best to describe it… but in the end, it’s a concept that we cannot fully-communicate: hence, incommunicable.

Thankfully, the Bible gives us lots of great examples! I grabbed all the verses from the Olive Tree Bible Threads resource that refer to omnipresence for you to read.

VERSES ABOUT GOD’S OMNIPRESENCE

But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. — 1 Kings 8:27

May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
— Psalm 20:2

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
—Psalm 139:1

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
—Psalm 139:7

This is what the Lord says:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
—Isaiah 66:1

“Am I only a God nearby, ”
declares the Lord,
“and not a God far away?
Who can hide in secret places
so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
“Do not I fill heaven and earth?”declares the Lord.
—Jeremiah 23:23-24

This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name…”
—Matthew 6:9

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ — Acts 17:28

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. — Hebrews 1:3

OLIVE TREE BIBLE THREADS

How did I quickly gather these verses? Olive Tree Bible Threads contains large, searchable lists. Just tap to see all the verses in the Bible that reference the topic you’re interested in.

Also, while reading your Bible, you can open up the Olive Tree Bible Threads in the Resource Guide. That way, you can quickly read verses related to the passage you are in. This is a great tool for learning to read the Bible as one, cohesive book. You will be able to make connections across Scripture and grow in your understanding of God.

LEARN MORE

Do your own study on a topic in the Bible by adding the Olive Tree Bible Threads to your library! Check out our website for more information.

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