Category: Educational

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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A Tiny Biography of Thomas Cranmer

Posted by on 10/21/2017 in:


Thomas Cranmer


July 2, 1489


March 21, 1556, age 66


Aslockton, Nottinghamshire, England, 131 miles northwest of London


University Fellow, Ambassador, Archbishop of Canterbury


Wife Joan, died in childbirth, second wife Margarete, 2 children Margaret and Thomas


Thomas Cranmer was born to parents of modest wealth and was sent to Jesus College, Cambridge several years after the death of his father. Cranmer received his bachelor and master’s degrees from Cambridge in logic, classical literature and philosophy. He began to study theology, was ordained by 1520 and had a Doctor of Divinity degree by 1526.

Around this same time, the King of England, Henry VIII, wanted to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who had failed to produce a male heir for the throne. Henry sent ambassadors to the Pope regarding the annulment, but the Pope failed to grant it. Soon after, Henry broke away from the Catholic Church and declared himself the head of the Church of England. Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, who had read the works of many Reformers, led to the appointment of Thomas Cranmer as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer was consecrated as the archbishop on March 30, 1533.

Henry’s motivations for separating from the Catholic Church were political, but Cranmer’s were more theological. Cranmer had met Reformers on the Continent and corresponded with them. As Cranmer became more convinced of Reformed theology, he organized work on a statement of faith that became the Thirty-Nine Articles, a document edited over 30 years that defined the theology of the Church of England in the 16th century. Cranmer also edited the Book of Common Prayer, which contained words for liturgical worship services (such as for baptisms, Communion, morning prayer, etc.), prayers for pastoral care, daily Bible readings, and later, the Thirty-Nine Articles. The Book of Common Prayer has had a tremendous influence on the English language and on liturgical worship for over 400 years.

When Henry VIII died, Edward VI became king in 1547 when he was just nine years old. Edward was raised Protestant, so the Church of England under Cranmer’s leadership flourished. When Edward died at age 15 in 1553, Henry VIII’s oldest child, Mary, became Queen, and she aggressively reinstated Roman Catholicism until her death in 1558. Under Mary’s regime, Cranmer and other English Protestants were tried for treason, found guilty, and were sentenced to death.

Cranmer was held for almost two years while awaiting the verdict from Rome, since the trial was under the Pope’s jurisdiction. When the Pope stripped Cranmer of his archbishopric and approved the death sentence, Cranmer recanted his Protestant beliefs for a time before his execution, but renounced Catholicism permanently before he was burned at the stake. He died in Oxford on March 21, 1556 and is considered a Reformation martyr by the Anglican church.


While writing this biography, we used a couple resources that are available in our store! Our favorite is Reformation Heroes—a short book filled with biographies of the major players of the Reformation. In our store, we also have an Emblem of Faith Untouched: A Short Life of Thomas Cranmer, if you’d like to learn more!

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Singing from God’s Songbook

Posted by on 10/20/2017 in:

The book of Psalms has a special place in the hearts of many of God’s people—not as though it were more holy or more inspired than other books; it’s not. But for many believers, the Psalms express their emotions to God in a profound, God-honoring way. That’s why we’ve decided to give away a Psalter. If you don’t know what a Psalter is, don’t worry: we explain below.

Our love for the Psalms is surely no accident, and if you’ve found that the Psalms bring a comfort to you in hardship, and at other times a way of expressing the joy of your salvation—this has been the case for the people of God since they were written, 3,000 years ago. God has used his songbook to comfort and aid believers throughout all ages, and as we interact with the Psalms, we’re sharing an experience with believers from all over the world and all of redemptive history. This includes, but is not limited to Jesus Himself, who at various times sang or referenced the Psalms (Matthew 26:30; 27:46) and who indeed sings with us as we sing corporately (Hebrews 2:12). For this reason (among others), they were an important part of the reformation and are still an important part of the reformed tradition today.

John Calvin wrote in his introduction to the book of Psalms:

I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.

The Psalms resonate so deeply with us because they were written by the same Spirit who dwelt in Christ, who Himself was intimately acquainted with our sufferings and infirmities (Hebrews 2:17–18; 4:15), though without sin. In the Psalms, we are given a way to understand our own emotions and sufferings, as well as words to pray back to God in whatever situation we may find ourselves. This is truly a gracious gift.


For many of us, the only thing that comes even remotely close to comforting us like the Psalms is music. But God certainly understood the power that music has to soothe the soul (1 Samuel 16:23), and for this reason He did not intend only for the Psalms to be read, prayed, and studied. He also intended for the Psalms to be sung. They were sung by the people of God in the Old Testament and Paul commands us in the New Testament to sing them as well (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). God intentionally combined the infallible content of the songs with the beautiful medium of music to teach, comfort, encourage, and admonish His people throughout all ages.

But of course, if you just open any old English Bible to the book of Psalms, play a karaoke version of your favorite song, and start belting out the words on the page—the result will be, well, clunky to say the least. Songs in English need to have rhythm and rhyme; that’s how we recognize a song as musical. Thankfully, the reformers and Puritans were aware of this. They wanted to be able to sing the songs God wrote for His people, so they retranslated them into a more singable format, but taking great pains to not bend the meaning of the words for the sake of a rhyme (no matter how clever the potential rhyme).

Many people and churches created singable translations of the Psalms, but one translation that is widely regarded as a sort of gold standard for singable English Psalms is the 1650 Scottish Metrical Psalter, which we’ve just brought to Olive Tree. The translation was commended by theologians in its day as being better than the King James Version, which was pretty high praise.


With this Psalter you’ll notice that the songs have a number at the beginning of them, like 8,6,8,6. This refers to the number of syllables per line in a verse. It’s there to help you know what kind of tunes you can sing the Psalm to. You’ll notice that the vast majority of the Psalms are written in 8,6,8,6—which is called Common Metre. Any of these Psalms can be sung to the tune of Amazing Grace, O for a Thousand Tongues, or O God Our Help In Ages Past (among many others). You could download this resource, open to a favorite Psalm, and start singing immediately if you know any of those songs. Further tunes and resources are available at (not affiliated with Olive Tree).

So what are you waiting for? Go download the 1650 Metrical Psalter for free, and start singing the songs God wrote for us!

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10 Literary Features of the Bible

Posted by on 10/17/2017 in: ,

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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Learn to Preach Christ-Centered Sermons

Posted by on 10/16/2017 in: ,

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

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


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

There’s two issues with this for pastors:

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


With this resource, you’ll be able to

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

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

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A Tiny Biography on John Calvin

Posted by on 10/11/2017 in:


John Calvin


July 10, 1509


May 27, 1564


Noyon, France, 67 miles northeast of Paris


Scholar, Theologian, Preacher


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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