The John Phillips Commentary Series

Posted by on 10/07/2017 in: ,


Phillips was born in South Wales on February 11, 1927. He didn’t stay put there, however. He served in the British Army in Palestine, then moved to Canada, married the love of his life, and then found himself in the United States. For years he worked at Moody Bible Institute, serving as the Assistant Director of their Evening Extension School. Additionally, he directed the Emmaus Correspondence School, which was, at the time, the largest school of its kind in the world.

With this Doctor of Ministry, Phillips not only taught and organized academic study of God’s Word, but he wrote more than 50 books about the Bible, including complete sets of New Testament Commentaries, the Exploring the Bible Series and his Introducing People of the Bible Series

This man was a dedicated, hard worker who strived to teach others about God and His Word.


Currently, Olive Tree offers Phillips commentary collection that contains 27 volumes: 19 New Testament volumes and 8 Old Testament volumes. You can see the entire list by visiting our website.

Phillips uses the KJV translation of the Bible for all of his work, and speaks from an evangelical framework. He provides many illustrations and quotes, often applying the Bible to everyday life.

But what’s the best part of this resource?

The OUTLINES! Phillips made sure to make extensive outlines before he wrote content for his commentary. Here’s an example:

Not only does he break down large pieces of Scripture into shorter, easier-to-understand sections, but he works out of this structure through the entire commentary set. You’ll find Phillips thoughts and comments recorded in conversational sentences that make you feel as if you’re studying the Bible alongside him.


Wondering how commentaries work in the app, what books of the Bible are included in this set, or just want more information? Visit the the John Phillips Commentary Set’s product page for all that and more.

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Paul and Meditation

Posted by on 10/06/2017 in:

This week, we are focusing on teaching others how to study the Bible. One of our favorite methods is the SOAP study: Scripture, observation, application, and prayer. Here’s our findings from our study on Philippians 4:8-9 while using the Blackaby Study Bible.


Philippians 4:8-9 NKJV

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.


Taken from the Blackaby Study Bible introductory notes on the book of Philippians.

The early church accepted Philippians as an authentic letter written by the apostle Paul (Phil. 1:1), and modern scholars agree. Paul wrote the letter from prison (1:13, 14), almost certainly in Rome (Acts 28:16–31) in A.D. 61–62. His situation confined him, but it did not keep him from communicating with churches and preaching the gospel to his captors (Phil. 1:12–14).

A notable feature is Paul’s sensitivity to the Christian mind. He challenged believers to strive together “with one mind” (Phil. 1:27), to be “like-minded” (2:2), to be “in lowliness of mind” (2:3), and to “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ” (2:5). Other statements include: “as many as are mature, have this mind” (3:15), and the peace of God will “guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (4:7).

Paul asserted that the Philippians’ enemies “set their mind on earthly things” (3:19). He was concerned that Christians have a godly perspective as protection against false and corrupt teachers. This defense was found in knowing Christ personally (3:8–10) and meditating on that which is from God (4:8). In particular, Paul used the life of Christ as the ultimate example of how Christians ought to think and act (2:5–11).


Taken from the Blackaby Study Bible notes on this passage.

The Greek word logizomai, translated “meditate,” has various nuances. It can mean to account, consider, or let one’s mind dwell on something. Paul’s focus was not indifferent examination, but practical consideration that leads to action. We are not merely to reflect on a principle, but we are to live according to all the implications of God’s great salvation. That takes energy, striving to know fully all of what God desires for our life. When we consider what God has promised His children and meditate on the truth revealed in His Word, the Holy Spirit works those truths into our lives.


Set a goal for yourself this week! Pray and meditate on God’s promises for 5 minutes before bed—or any other goal you can think of to help you apply this information to your life.


The Blackaby Study Bible notes give great snippets of information to enrich your Bible study: historical notes, encouragement, and word studies. You can currently get this resource for only $10! Grow in your understanding and application of God’s Word. Learn more on our website!

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How-To Do a Word Study

Posted by on 10/05/2017 in: ,

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

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

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


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


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



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

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

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



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



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


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

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A Tiny Biography on Martin Luther

Posted by on 10/04/2017 in:


Martin Luther


November 10, 1483


February 18, 1546


Eisleben, Germany, 130 miles southwest of Berlin


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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The Five Solas:
Scripture Alone

Posted by on 10/03/2017 in:


When the Reformation began the doctrine of Scripture was central. During this time the Bible was not something for the common man. Through the centuries the Roman Catholic church had elevated the authority of tradition and the papal office’s interpretation over that of scripture itself. The Bible had not authority in the lives of Christians or even its teachers.

In 1516, a year before Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Erasmus of Rotterdam published a Greek New Testament alongside the Latin text of the Vulgate. Through his own reading of the Bible and reading this Greek New Testament, Luther was led away from Roman Catholic traditions that had obscured the gospel. No longer relying on tradition but scripture alone, Luther rediscovered the heart of the gospel. Others like Ulrich Zwingli were also affected and began preaching through the New Testament.


What does “sola scriptura” mean? In a nutshell, it speaks to the authority of the Bible for the church. Because God’s Word is inspired, inerrant, and wholly sufficient, it alone is the final authority for the church and the Christian. This means, Christians are not to place feelings, tradition, or teachings of men above that of the Bible. While some of these may have a authority, they all must submit to and agree with God’s written word.

This quote from Martin Luther sums it up well:

Scripture alone is the true lord and master of all writings and doctrine on earth. If that is not granted, what is Scripture good for? The more we reject it, the more we become satisfied with men’s books and human teachers.


In as much as the authority of the Bible mattered for Martin Luther and the reformers, it is just as important today. Part of the Reformation included putting the Bible in the hands of everyone, not just those who were given authority to teach it. Instead of taking your pastor or favorite Christian author’s word for what the Bible says, read it yourself. Let the Bible always be your final authority. With the Olive Tree Bible App the final authority is always at your fingertips!

To learn more about the doctrine of scripture alone check out God’s Word Alone by Mathew Barrett and the rest of the Five Solas Series.

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Create Your Own Parallel Bibles

Posted by on 10/02/2017 in:

Parallel Bibles are a useful way to compare two different Bible translations. In print, you can often find parallel Bibles that have English on one side and another language on the other side or a more literal translation next to a dynamic translation or paraphrase. With the Olive Tree Bible App, you can easily set up your own customized parallel Bible and in video below we’ll show you how.


Now that you know how to create a parallel Bible in the Olive Tree Bible App, why would you want to use one? Here are some ideas:

  • Read a more literal translation (KJVESVNASB) alongside a more dynamic one (NLTMessageTLB) to get a better idea of what the text says
  • Have an English translation open alongside the different language text
  • Compare commentaries or dictionaries by having those resources open instead of a Bible


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A SOAP Study on Matthew 12

Posted by on 10/02/2017 in: ,

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


Matthew 12:1-14, NIV

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

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

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

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

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


Taken from the Gospel Transformation Bible Notes

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


Taken from the Gospel Transformation Bible Notes

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


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


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

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How the Protestant
Reformation Began

Posted by on 10/01/2017 in:

Why This Post?

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

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

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

How the Protestant Reformation Began

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

This was Luther’s declaration of independence from Rome.

The truth is, this is historically inaccurate.

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

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

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

The Reformation Began

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

Who was Martin Luther?

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

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

How Luther Became a Monk

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

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

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

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

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

How Indulgences Helped Start the Reformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stage was set for the Reformation.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was Luther really revolting against the Roman Catholic Church?

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

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

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

How Rome Responded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luther’s Response to the Pope

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

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

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

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

Luther Concedes to Rome

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

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

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

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

How Martin Luther Responded to the Roman Catholic Church

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

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

Luther immediately replied with thirteen countertheses.

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

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

Martin Luther’s Final Break from the Roman Catholic Church

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

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

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

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

Luther didn’t recant.

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

The Diet of Worms (April 1521)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Would Luther Do?

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

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

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

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

The young emperor gave Luther twenty-four hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Princes Responded to Luther’s Stand

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luther steadfastly rejected every proposal.

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

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

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

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

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

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A Little Research on the Hermeneia Commentary Series

Posted by on 09/27/2017 in: ,

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

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

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


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

Peter Machinist – Head of the Old Testament Editorial Board

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

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

Helmut Koester – Head of the New Testament Editorial Board

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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God’s Will: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Posted by on 09/25/2017 in: ,

Every time I read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28, I’m deeply encouraged. Here, Paul gives his final instructions to the Church at Thessaloniki, calling them to love, act justly, and do the will of God. Not only that, but he tells them how they can accomplish all this. He says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24).

How will we become the kind of people that Paul depicts in this passage? God will work it out. He is faithful in sanctifying us completely.


As I was looking to learn more about this passage, I was drawn to delve deeper into verses 16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Ever wondered what God’s will is!? It’s this! That we rejoice, that we pray, and that we give thanks—and that we do all of these things all the time. Even though I was just reminded that God will complete this work in me, I felt overwhelmed. I’m certainly not doing those three things continuously! So, I looked to a resource for some help and encouragement.

This is from the New Bible Commentary:

“A series of brief, staccato commands indicates the basis for Christian living. They are quite general and would apply to any group of believers. Christians have grounds for joy in both their experience of salvation and their hope of what God will do in the future, but they need to express that joy; there is a right and proper place for the expression of joyful emotion.

Christians must also pray—here probably in the sense of making requests to God, since the next command is about the need to be thankful. Common to the three commands is the stress on fulfilling them all the time and in all circumstances; this does not mean, for example, that one prays uninterruptedly but that one prays regularly and frequently. Such a life is made possible, Paul adds, because God intends it to be so; he wants his people to be joyful, prayerful and thankful, and he makes it possible for them to be so.”

{Insert sigh of relief here} I think D.A. Carson probably has the right idea. God doesn’t expect us to rejoice, pray, and express gratitude uninterruptedly, but often. I can picture myself living a life where I rejoice often and a life where I’m thankful often. But I wonder, what exactly did a life of frequent prayer look like for Paul?

The New Bible Dictionary (which comes bundled with the New Bible Commentary) has a lot of content around prayer. It explains what prayer looked like in the Old Testament (and it’s different periods: patristic, pre-exile, exile, post exile… ect.), the Gospels, Acts, and the Pauline Epistles. There’s a TON of information on Paul alone, but I took away this one tidbit:

“Prayer was thanksgiving, intercession, the realization of God’s presence (cf. 1 Thes. 1:2f.; Eph. 1:16ff.). He found that the Holy Spirit assisted him in prayer as he sought to know and do God’s will (Rom. 8:14, 26).”

To Paul, prayer was even the realization of God’s presence! Not that this is something I am perfect at, but it seems much more attainable than needing to always sit down and have a very deep conversation with God. Don’t get me wrong—that’s important, too! But prayer in the believer’s life is more than confession, thanksgiving, and intercession. It’s seeing God, recognizing Him in our circumstances, and acknowledging Him. All in all, when we realize God’s presence, it’ll be nearly impossible for us to act outside of God’s will. That should be a comfort.


Did you find this information just as helpful as I did? We offer the New Bible Commentary and New Bible Dictionary as a bundled product, usually for $79.98. But this week, we are able to drop the price to only $29.99. So, if you’re interested in learning more about these great resources, visit our website!

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