Waging War on Legalism

Posted by on 02/05/2018 in:


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

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

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

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

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

Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary

photo from resource, originally taken from holylandphotos.org


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

Why? Because it was the Sabbath.

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Here are Chuck Swindoll’s three application points:

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

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

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


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

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Marriage at the Resurrection: Life Application Bible Commentary

Posted by on 02/02/2018 in:



In this blog, we are going to walk through the commentary provided by the Life Application Bible Commentary for Matthew 22:24-32. This series does a great job including all the historical details to help explain the Old Testament references. It goes verse-by-verse, guiding you through the passage. Then, this commentary also helps you see how you can apply the passage to your life.

Let’s learn about the the Sadducees, their desire to bring God down to their level, and Jesus’ amazing response to conflict.

Matthew 22:24 — “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him.”

The Sadducees probably asked this question frequently, because they liked to argue and stir up controversy.

The question refers to “levirate” marriage, which was meant to protect a poor widow during the time of Moses. The Life Application Bible Commentary explains this succinctly:

In the Law, Moses had written that when a man died ­without a son, his unmarried brother (or nearest male relative) was to marry the widow and produce ­children. The first son of this marriage was considered the heir of the dead man (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). The main purpose of the instruction was to produce an heir and guarantee that the family would not lose their land. The book of Ruth gives an example of this law in operation.

Matthew 22:25-28 — “Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The ­second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had ­married her.”

The law of levirate marriage would cause a lot of issues for the woman in this scenario. The Sadducees believed that because she was married seven times in the law, there could not be a resurrection. Because, if they were resurrected, whose wife would she be?

The Sadducees erroneously assumed that if people were resurrected, they would assume physical bodies capable of procreation. They did not understand that God could both raise the dead and make new lives for his people, lives that would be different than what they had known on earth. The Sadducees had brought God down to their level.

Matthew 22:29-30 — Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”

Here’s where Jesus digs right in. He knows just how to handle confrontation:

Jesus wasted no time dealing with their hypothetical situation but went directly to their underlying assumption that resurrection of the dead was impossible. Jesus clearly stated that these Sadducees were wrong about the resurrection for two reasons:

(1) They didn’t know the Scriptures (if they did, they would believe in the ­resurrection because it is taught in Scripture), and

(2) They didn’t know the power of God (if they did, they would believe in the resurrection because God’s power makes it possible).

Ignorance on these two counts was inexcusable for these religious leaders.


Jesus was not intending to give the final word on marriage in heaven. Instead, this response was Jesus’ refusal to answer the Sadducees’ riddle and fall into their trap. The Sadducees did not believe in angels either (Acts 23:8), so Jesus’ point was not to extend the argument into another realm.

Instead, he was showing that because there will be no levirate marriage in the resurrection or new marriage contracts, the Sadducees’ question was completely irrelevant. But their assumption about the resurrection needed a definitive answer, and Jesus was just the one to give it.

Matthew 33:31-32 – “But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

The Sadducees’ underlying comment regarded their view of the absurdity of resurrection. Their ­question to Jesus was intended to show him to be foolish.

So Jesus cut right to the point: But about the resurrection of the dead.

Because the Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch as God’s inspired Word, Jesus answered them from the book of Exodus (3:6). God would not have said, “I am the God of ­Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” if he had thought of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as dead (he would have said, “I was their God”).

Thus, from God’s perspective, they are alive.

This evidence would have been acceptable in any ­rabbinic debate because it applied a grammatical argument: God’s use of the present tense in speaking of his relationship to the great patriarchs who had been long dead by the time God spoke these words to Moses. God had a continuing relationship with these men because of the truth of the resurrection.

God had spoken of dead men as though they were still alive; thus, Jesus reasoned, the men were not dead but living. God would not have a relationship with dead beings. Although men and women have died on earth, God continues his relationship with them because they are resurrected to life with him in heaven.

Some might argue that this shows only the immortality of the soul, not necessarily the resurrection of the body. But Jesus’ answer affirmed both. The Jews understood that soul and body had inseparable unity; thus, the immortality of the soul necessarily


The best part of the Life Application Bible Commentary is that it is constantly providing you with tidbits of application. After reading the commentary outlined above, it offers this for readers to think on:

The Sadducees tried to trick Jesus with a clever question. Clever arguments against the Bible and against faith in Christ are easy to find. If you are faced with such cleverness and hope to make a meaningful reply…

Don’t address all the problems. Instead, cut to the heart of the issue, which includes motives and unstated agendas.

Don’t try to embarrass the questioner with your superior logic; instead, address the heart issue with compassion. Your goal is not to win a contest, but to win a person to faith in Christ.

Stay with clear teachings of Scripture that you understand. If you get over your head in theology, you’ll be frustrated and ill tempered. At the same time, keep learning, keep searching, keep growing yourself.


With the Olive Tree Bible App, the Life Application Bible Commentary New Testament Set doesn’t have to be a separate book that you flip through, just to find a passage you want to study. Instead, it fits nicely right alongside your Bible in the split window. Also, the Resource Guide does all the hard work of letting you know when a passage your reading is discussed in any of the commentaries you own.

Here’s how it looks:

Interested in learning more? Visit our website to read more about the Life Application Bible Commentary New Testament Set (17 Vols.).

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Deuteronomy: A Theological Manifesto Like the Gospel of John

Posted by on 01/31/2018 in:

This content is adapted from the blog over at Zondervan Academic and is written by Jeremy Bouma (ThM).

Maybe it’s because I’m a green preacher and haven’t taught on the Old Testament often, but applying Deuteronomy to 21st century living is a head scratcher. Yet Daniel Block’s commentary on Deuteronomy (NIVAC) manages to do just that, apply it to everyday life in a way that stays true to the book’s original purpose.

And the way he does that is by insisting that the book of Deuteronomy is a theological manifesto on par with the gospel of John.

A theological manifesto? And in comparison with John’s gospel? An interesting comparison, I know, but one that’s helped me better understand the purpose and scope of Deuteronomy. And one that will surely help me preach it far better than I have in the past.

Here is how Block explains his comparison:

Just as John wrote his gospel after several decades of reflection on the death and resurrection of Jesus, so Moses preached the sermons in Deuteronomy after almost four decades of reflection on the significance of the Exodus and God’s covenant with Israel. Thus, like the gospel of John, the book of Deuteronomy functions as a theological manifesto, calling on Israel to respond to God’s grace with unreserved loyalty and love. (25)

And Block weaves this interpretive cipher throughout his masterful commentary in order to equip you to write and teach this important book, beginning with the introduction.

Block believes the name itself—Deuteronomy, which is a Greek derivative meaning “second law”— “overlooks the true nature of the book: It presents itself as a series of sermons that review events described in the narrative of earlier books and challenges the people to faithful living in the future. Where laws are dealt with, the presentation is often in the form of exposition rather than a recital of the laws themselves.” (25-26) In other words, through these sermons of Moses, the people were called to live in such a way that God required them as His people.

Furthermore, Block argues the laws themselves are presented “as a gift of grace to the redeemed to guide them in the way of righteousness and lead to life,” something Luther completely missed in his reading of the book “through the lenses of Paul’s rhetorical seemingly antinomian statements.” (27) Later in the introduction, Block explains “The function of the book of Deuteronomy is to call every generation of Israel to faithful covenant love for Yahweh in response to his gracious salvation and his revelation of himself and in acceptance of the missional role to which he has called them.” (38) Theological manifesto, indeed!

This hermeneutical conviction that Deuteronomy functions as a theological manifesto infuses every ounce of Block’s exegesis, context bridging, and application. One of the primary examples is in his examination of Israel’s theological cornerstone: the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Block explains that this important theological motif headlines an important section where Moses launches into a theological exposition of his first address:

the first major part of the second address (6:4–11:32) is to impress on the people the privilege and sheer grace of the special relationship they enjoy with Yahweh. However, this grace may not be received casually; it must be embraced with grateful and unreserved devotion to their Redeemer and covenant Lord. (181)

The root of the Children of Israel’s theological conviction was not merely that there was only one unique God, but the unequivocaldeclaration “Our God is Yahweh, Yahweh alone!” (182) Moreover, this theological conviction and declaration wasn’t merely communal lip-service. Because Moses’ concern is not only whether they would remain exclusively devoted to Yahweh amidst a sea of false gods, but that that devotion would manifest itself in every level of one’s being.

I love how Block describes this theological and confessional movement:

The progression of concentricity in Moses’ vocabulary now becomes apparent. Calling all Israel to love God without reservation or qualification, Moses begins with the inner being, then moves to the whole person, and ends with all that one claims as one’s own. This is the ‘yoke of the kingdom’—covenant commitment rooted in the heart, but extending to every level one’s being. (184)

Block insists that this cornerstone to Moses’s robust theological manifesto not only has bearing on the spirituality of ancient Israel, but it continues to have bearing on the Church’s, too:

Moses taught his people and he teaches us and Christians everywhere that true spirituality arises from the heart and extends to all of life…This passage suggests that that the very decorations of our homes should bear testimony to our faith, declaring to all guests and passers-by the fundamental theological outlook of those who live within… (189)

At the end of his introduction, Block insists that Deuteronomy offers a “healthy antidote” for modern readers “plagued by a negative view of the Old Testament.” (41) I would add that Block’s commentary is a healthy antidote for modern readers who are plagued by a negative view of Deuteronomy, too. For in it Block illumines this ancient theological pronouncement of the manifold gift of God’s grace and life, and it’s bearing on our life in and through Christ—just like the gospel of John.


The NIV Application Commentary is a fantastic resource for in-depth study of God’s Word while also being guided in applying it to your life. If you’re interesting in this volume (or any of the other ones) from this set, you can view them on our website.

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3 Common Difficulties in Doing Word Studies

Posted by on 01/29/2018 in:

This week we are highlighting different methods of studying the Bible. Today’s topic is word studies, and we’re using Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods to provide you with this helpful information. At the bottom, we’ve also included a video about our Strong’s Tagged Bibles because they are a fantastic tool in completing word studies.


As an example, the English word servant has seven Greek equivalents, each with a different shade of meaning. Be sure to check your concordance carefully to see if this might be true of the word you are studying. Find out what each different original word meant.


To overcome this difficulty you will have to do a careful study on all the different renderings of that original word. You can do this quite easily through the use of your exhaustive concordance. For example, the Greek word koinonia is translated five different ways in the King James Version: (1) “communication” — once; (2) “communion” — 4 times; (3) “contribution” — once; (4) “distribution” — once; and (5) “fellowship” — 12 times.

Follow this procedure in solving this difficulty:

  • List the different ways the word is translated.
  • List how many times it is translated each way.
  • Give examples of each translation (if possible).
  • Write down how the different meanings might be related.
  • Determine if the writer of the book is using the word you are studying in a single sense or is giving it a multiple meaning.


This difficulty will take a little more work to overcome because concordances do not list word translations by phrases. You will need to compare the recent versions of the Bible you are using to see how the various translators have rendered the word.

For example, Paul declared to the Corinthians, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18 KJV). The phrase “beholding as in a glass” is just one word in the original Greek (katoptrizomenoi), and you will discover some interesting truths when you study the origin of that word.


  1. Choose Your Word
  2. Find Its English Definition
  3. Compare Translations
  4. Take Notes on the Original Word’s Definition
  5. Check the Word’s Occurrences in the Bible
  6. Find the Root Meaning and Origin of the Word
  7. Discover the Word’s Usage in the Bible
  8. Write Out an Application in Your Notes

Here are some good questions to ask yourself:

  • How does the writer use the word in other parts of the book?
  • Does the word have more than one usage? If so, what are its other uses?
  • How does the writer use the word in other books he has written?
  • How is the word used throughout the whole testament?
  • What is the most frequent use of the word?
  • How is it used the first time in the Scriptures?
  • Is there any illustration in the context that clarifies the meaning of the word?
  • Does the context give any clues to the meaning of the word?
  • Is the word compared or contrasted with another word in the context?



We’ve highlighted several methods for Bible study the past few days! Have you see our other blog posts?

Also, we’ve discounted all of our favorite Bible study tools and methods books. You can find them by visiting our website.

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6 Steps for Effectively Using Cross References

Posted by on 01/26/2018 in:

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: the Bible provides the best interpretation of itself. So, when you have a question, doubt, or an inkling of curiosity, the best action you can take is to cross-reference the passage you’re reading.

But how?

In this blog post, we’ll not only describe how to do cross-referencing well, but we will also show you a fun, easy way to keep track of your findings.

Lastly, we’ll talk about applying the Bible to your daily life. In our examples, we will be using the Olive Tree Cross References Expanded Set.


With the new update in our app for iOS, you can use the Study Center to keep your cross-references and notes easily accessible. Here’s how:


Read the section entirely. Then, make headings for each verse you are going to study.


Next, write down as many cross references as you would like under each verse heading. Only list the reference, not the verse itself.

The main purpose of cross references is to help build context to the passage you are reading. However, we must remember that the Bible is written by many different authors over a big chunk of time. So, the cross references that will give us the most context will be those found in the same book as the passage we are studying. Here is a good order to look in for cross references:

  1. Look in the same book of the Bible
  2. Look in other books of the Bible that have the same author
  3. Look in other books of the Bible written around the same time
  4. Look in any other books of the Bible containing a cross reference


After you have recorded the reference, go ahead and read the verse again. This should be really simple to do in the app, since verse references are hyperlinked in notes!

Then, summarize what the cross reference is saying with a brief phrase. You want to write down something short that you will be able to compare quickly with the rest of your notes.


Reread the original passage you picked to study. As you go through each verse, look to your notes in the Study Center and reflect on the phrases. Meditate on how they enhance your understanding of the topic.

Do you end up having new questions about the passage? Write them down! Next time you study God’s Word, start by trying to tackle those questions. A great method to use is the Exhaustive Questions method.


Spend some time in prayer, thinking about one step of action you could take based on what you’ve learned from your studies. Write out this goal in your notes!


These steps were taken from Andy Deane’s book, Learn to Study the Bible. This is a fantastic resource for learning new methods of engaging with Scripture. We also used our own Olive Tree Cross References Expanded Set!

We also have a lot of other titles on sale right now to help you learn how to study the Bible better. Click here to visit our website.

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The Structure of Thanksgiving

Posted by on 01/24/2018 in:

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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A Method to Help You Stop Skimming the Bible

Posted by on 01/22/2018 in:

One of the most popular ways of reading the Bible is to open up a familiar passage, read over it quickly, and then move onto something else. When we don’t take time to ponder Scripture and ask questions, we miss out on discovering truth.  By slowing down, we can be convicted, encouraged, and strengthened in new ways.

The Exhaustive Questions Bible study method is a great option for solving this problem. Here’s some instructions we found inside Andy Deane’s Learn to Study the BibleWe’ve also included helpful tips on how to use this method without leaving the app.


This isn’t a race to see how fast you can read the passage! Slow down. Take in each word. Think critically about what you are reading.


This sounds like a lot… because it is. But it’s worth it! Ask questions about everything and anything. You won’t need to answer all of them, so don’t worry about that. Write down as many as you can think of so that you get in a rhythm. It will help you to eventually ask unique questions you might have not thought to ask otherwise.


Now, look over all your questions. Which five stand out to you the most? Are there any words or phrases you don’t understand? What about people and places you’ve never heard of before? These questions might be the best ones to spend your time on.

A Strong’s Tagged Bible gives us a hint!


Do your best to find the answer. Most likely, you’re going to need some tools to help you! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Cross-References: The best way to interpret the Bible is with the Bible. Use this tool to quickly find other passages that discuss what you’re already reading.
  2. Strong’s Tagged Bibles: Perfect for fast word studies, use this resource to tap and discover not only the original meaning of the word you’re questioning, but also where else it is used in the Bible.
  3. Commentaries: In-depth historical, archaeological, and grammatical information provided verse-by verse.
  4. Bible Handbooks: These are like commentaries, but much more concise, providing you with information on archaeology, related historical data, church history, maps, and more.
  5. Peers: Build healthy community by discussing your Bible study time with your friends. Maybe they have insight you haven’t heard before!
  6. Pastor: Find someone you consider to be wise, whether that’s a pastor or even a mentor. Ask them for their input!


After answering five of your questions, choose one to turn into a life application. Sometimes, it is as simple as meditating on a truth about God’s character.


Don’t keep this to yourself! Bring up what you’ve learned with a friend or relative. Start a discussion that will hopefully lead to even more encouragement and spiritual growth.

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We’ve Reached Another Milestone!

Posted by on 01/19/2018 in:

This week is all about looking back on 2017 and celebrating what we’ve accomplished. Not just us at Olive Tree—although we have done a lot of work on improving the app!—but also what you, our users, have done.

With that being said… we’ve reached another jaw-dropping milestone!


It’s hard to be as excited as us if you aren’t sure what “syncables” are.

Syncables are items like:

  • notes
  • highlights
  • tags

Anything that syncs across your devices when you tap “sync” in the app—that’s a syncable item.


It can be hard to measure how engaged everyone is inside our app. Lots of people download Bible apps and then barely use them. We don’t want our app to be just another icon on your home screen. Instead, we want our users to use our app to spend time connecting with God and His Word.

The more syncable items you all create, the more you are interacting with the Bible. This is why we are incredibly excited about reaching the 1 billion mark.


How can you celebrate with us?

Open the app, read the Bible, take some notes, make some highlights, and pray. Reflect on God’s love.

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Is a Study Bible Right for You?

Posted by on 01/17/2018 in:


Sometimes the best way to make sense of a lot of text is to represent it visually.

This is why many study Bibles almost come with photos, charts, timelines and more. That way, if you’re reading a description of a place you’ve never visited in the Middle East, you can see a picture of it. Or, if you’re reading about a long list of historical events, look at an organized charts of all the important dates.

Whether you consider yourself a visual learner or not, these resources will immerse you in your Bible study.



If you’ve ever read Leviticus, you definitely know that the Bible talks about confusing rituals and practices. Since we’re living in the 21st century, and most of us aren’t professional historians, these passages can be daunting. You’re not alone in wishing that you could step inside the Bible times, even for just a second.

Surely it would give some insight into what the Bible is trying to communicate.

Thankfully, there are Christians who enjoy studying history professionally! With plenty of research and fact-checking, these scholars have published their notes in study Bibles for us to read. Not only that, but they have made them understandable.



So, you may know a thing or two about the Bible’s history… but you aren’t sure how it affects your daily life. This is a really common problem! Without guidance, it can be difficult (and almost dangerous) to make those kinds of analogies.

This is another great reason to have a study Bible. Although it depends on the author and which study Bible you choose, most have sections meant solely to help you apply the Bible to your life. You’ll find explanations, scenarios, insightful questions, and more.



Here’s some truth: everyone has unanswered questions. We can’t know everything—and we especially can’t know everything about God.

But when we doubt, wonder, or question what we read in the Bible, the best places to look are 1) in the Bible itself and 2) in books that teach us what Christians have been preaching for the past 2,000 years.

This is the last and most important reason to own a study Bible: to have input into your unanswered questions. Before jumping to conclusions or making decisions based on a misunderstanding, see if any Biblical scholars have something to say about the passage you’re reading. It could affect the way you live your life.


Here’s a few reasons why using this resource in the app is way more helpful to your study time:

  1. You can tap on images and enlarge them
  2. Tap on verse references to open them (in context!) in a pop-up window
  3. Reading multiple translations? The resource guide will always let you know if your study Bible has any information on what you’re reading
  4. You can make unlimited notes and highlights that sync between your devices



If you’ve decided that a study Bible is right for you, head on over to our study Bibles section. We’ve got what you’re looking for!

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Best Titles of 2017

Posted by on 01/17/2018 in:

2017 was another great year at Olive Tree Bible Software. Along with all of new app updates and functionality we added to our Olive Tree Bible App this past year, we also added almost 1,000 titles to our store—bringing our current catalog up to over 11,800 titles.

It’s been our privilege to help choose what new titles to release, and what titles to highlight over this past year. We are always trying to provide resources that you will find interesting and helpful. That’s why we took a look back at what YOU thought the best titles and new releases were for the year. Here they are!


At the top of charts in Bibles is the Amplified Bible (2015 Edition). This update to the 1987 Bible translation has continued to rise in the rank of favorite translations for our users. It includes more amplification in the Old Testament and refined amplification in the New Testament.

For new Bibles in 2017, we added the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) as well as the Passion Translation: New Testament. Both have become popular choices among our users.

If you haven’t read these Bible translations, all make excellent choices to setup as a parallel Bible in the Olive Tree Bible App.


Not content with only being our top Bible, our best-selling study Bible in 2017 was the Amplified Study Bible. This unique study Bible features verse-by-verse study notes and the text of the newly revised Amplified translation. Features include more than 5,000 concise study notes, 330 practical theological notes, full-color maps and more!

2017 also saw the release of the Complete Jewish Study BibleNKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible Notes, and the Spurgeon Study Bible Note—which round out our top five best-sellers for the year!


A perennial favorite, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary lead the way in top choices for study tools yet again!

NIV Word Study Bible, Mounce’s Complete Expository DictionaryThompson Chain Reference Study Bible and Olive Tree Bible Maps complete the top five choices for the year.

Best-selling new releases included the MacArthur Topical Bible, The Complete Topical Guide to the Bible, and the New Revised Standard Version with Strong’s Numbers. All of these have been enhanced for use within our Olive Tree Bible App and will save you valuable study time.


Can anyone read the list of the best-selling original language tools? Because it’s all Greek to me! Funny, right?

Our top three best-sellers for original language tools include the Analytical Greek New Testament (AGNT) with Morphology, Lexicon, and Apparatus, the NA28 with Apparatus, Mounce Parsings, and Dictionary, and the NASB Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. If you’re looking to take your Greek word studies to the next level, these are excellent choices.


Last, but certainly not least, is our best-selling commentaries for 2017.

Our most popular choice for year was the newly released Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible (POSB) Old and New Testament Commentary Set (44 Vols.). This is an outstanding resource resource for expository or topical teaching.

However, the classic Bible Knowledge Commentary (2 Vols.) BE Series Commentary by Wiersbe (50 Vols.) and Preaching the Word Commentary Series (40 Vols.) held top spots for the year.

Top new releases included Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary (4 Vols.), and Walvoord Prophecy Commentary Set (4 Vols.).


To celebrate our Best of 2017, we’ve discounted all of our best-sellers in our 2017 Rewind Sale. Take a look through the list and you’re sure to find a title that will help you make your Bible study time the very best this year.

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