What Were Roman Jails Like in Paul’s Time?

Posted by on 05/21/2018 in:

Roman Jails in Paul's Time

In the New Testament, we hear a lot about Christians being imprisoned—especially Paul. In fact, he wrote his letter to the Philippians while in jail! We’ve gathered some information from the ESV Archaeology Study Bible here for you to learn more about Roman jails were like.


In the Roman world, imprisonment was rarely a long-term punishment. Most prisoners were awaiting either trial or execution. Debtors could be imprisoned until their friends or family paid o‘ the debt (Matt. 18:30). The length of imprisonment depended on the swiftness of a trial, which could be drawn out for years, especially in political cases. Conditions of imprisonment were closely linked to the status of the prisoner. Non-Roman citizens, even of high status, were often harshly treated. In contrast, house arrest was typically more comfortable for the prisoner, who was usually physically chained to a guard but could still host visitors.


Paul experienced a wide variety of prison conditions. He was chained in a common holding cell in Philippi (Acts 16:23– 30), imprisoned in probably better conditions in the praetorium at Caesarea (Acts 23:35), and held in relative comfort while in house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:16). In Rome, Paul was responsible for maintaining himself during his imprisonment, including his meals and clothes (Acts 28:30). Paul’s Roman citizenship meant he was eligible for a daily food allowance, but Paul depended on his friends and fellow believers to supply this food. While under house arrest in Rome, Paul was guarded around the clock by soldiers of the elite Praetorian Guard.


Finally, when he was later rearrested and executed (likely a few years after this letter), Paul was probably placed in an underground cell somewhere in Rome. It is possible that he was then imprisoned in the Mamertine Prison in the Roman Forum. This was where major convicted enemies of the state were strangled or kept before being thrown off the Tarpeian Rock on the Capitoline Hill. However, if Paul was executed by a sword outside the city, as later tradition claimed, he probably would not have been imprisoned at Mamertine.

Roman Prison



Paul is the stated author of Philippians, and while Timothy is listed in 1:1 as a coauthor, the main voice is clearly Paul’s. Timothy may have been Paul’s amanuensis, or secretary. The letter was written to the Christians in the Roman colony of Philippi. Some scholars have suggested that the current epistle combines two authentic letters of Paul, with the first letter concluding at 3:1 (“Finally, my brothers . . .”). However, Paul elsewhere uses “finally” in the middle of an epistle (1 Thess. 4:1; 2 Thess. 3:1; cf. 1 Pet. 3:8).


Paul wrote this letter while in prison, and the date of the composition of Philippians depends on where Paul was imprisoned. His statements to the Philippians concerning his possibly imminent death (e.g., Phil. 1:20) indicate the letter was most likely written from Rome, perhaps in AD 62. This also fits most naturally with the mention of the praetorium and “Caesar’s household”.


The church at Philippi had a special significance for Paul, as it was the first church he founded in Europe (see Acts 16:6–40). The first convert was Lydia, a seller of purple cloth, and women continued to have a prominent role in the Philippian church (e.g., Phil. 4:2). His brief incarceration in Philippi (Acts 16:23–40) would make Paul’s later imprisonment mentioned in this letter all the more poignant for the Philippians, especially for the converted Philippian jailer. Paul visited Philippi a few times after his initial departure, and the church maintained active support for his ministry (Phil. 4:15–16). Imprisonment carried with it a social stigma, and it would have been easy for the Philippians to turn their back on Paul at this point; instead, however, they remained faithful to him. Paul thus writes of his gratitude for the Philippian church and for their loyalty to the gospel.


This blog is adapted from notes inside the ESV Archaeology Study Bible. This resource roots the biblical text in its historical and cultural context, offering readers a framework for better understanding the people, places, and events recorded in Scripture. With this knowledge, Christians will be better equipped to read, study, understand, and apply the Bible in their daily lives.

Learn more about the ESV Archeology Study Bible here.

Continue Reading

Yet I Will Rejoice

Posted by on 05/15/2018 in:

Yet I Will Rejoice: Habbakuk

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. –Habakkuk 3:17-18


Habakkuk saw the sin of his day, its impact on the people of Judah and the collective corrosion of the nation. Seeking to frame what he saw with a lens of faith, he waited on God, calling out for divine help. But Habakkuk struggled when God told him his plan to punish evilness with more evilness. Would God actually use the wicked nation of Babylon to punish the (relatively less wicked) nation of Judah (Hab 1:6)?


Habakkuk waited for God to answer his questions (1:2-32:1). He listened as God explained that the righteous would live by faith (2:4) and marveled as God promised that, in time, the earth would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (2:3, 14).


As Habakkuk reflected on all that was happening in Judah and the devastation to come, he turned to God in prayer. He poured out his praise, his questions his longing and confusion. Habakkuk recalled Israel’s past, the era when God’s glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth (3:3). Then he reveled in the memory of how God had chastened Israel’s enemies and delivered Israel from those who sought to devour them (3:13-15).


Habakkuk acted in faith during this dark and difficult time. He thought about the future and imagined fig trees no longer budding, vines without grapes, olive crops failing, fields with no food, pens with no sheep and stalls with no cattle (3:17).

On earth, Jesus was a real person, experiencing life as we all do, yet without sin. In his humanity, like the prophet Habakkuk, he experienced a troubled heart. He knew he could ask to be saved from that dark hour to come. But he also knew that the brutal path of crucifixion was the reason he had come to the world (Jn 12:27). So in this intense house he prayed, Father, glorify your name!” (Jn 12:28). In that moment Jesus, the Son of God, lived by faith and perfectly modeled for us complete reliance on God.

How do you focus on and praise God in times of disappointment or difficulty?


This blog is adapted from The Jesus Bible. Learn more about this resource on our website.

Continue Reading

What Does It Mean to Fear the Lord?

Posted by on 05/14/2018 in:

What Does It Mean to Fear the Lord?

“These are the commands, the decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.” — Deuteronomy 6:1-2 

A frequent command given to God’s people in the OT is to “fear God” or “fear the Lord.” It is important that we understand what this command means for Christ’s followers today. Only as we truly fear the Lord will we be freed from all destructive and satanic fears. By fearing God, we can avoid being trapped by the natural pull toward going our own way, defying God and giving in to the inviting ways of immoral behavior.

What does it MEAN to FEAR God? The broad command to “fear the Lord” involves understanding several things about a believer’s relationship with God.


First of all, we must recognize that God is loving, merciful and forgiving; but he also is holy, just and righteous. Knowing God and understanding his character (cf. Pr 2:5) means accepting the fact that his justice and holiness (i.e., purity, perfection, completeness of character and separation from evil) cause him to judge sin.


Fearing the Lord means to be in awe of his holiness, to give him complete reverence and to honor him as the God of great glory, majesty, purity and power. For example, when God revealed himself to the Israelites at Mount Sinai through “thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast,” they all “trembled” in fear (Ex 19:16) because of his great power. They even begged Moses to deliver God’s message to them so they would not have to encounter God himself (Ex 20:18-19; Dt 5:22-27). Also, when the psalm writer reflects on God as Creator, he says: “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps 33:8-9).


True fear of the Lord causes believers to place their faith and trust in him alone for salvation. For example, after the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea on dry ground and saw how God destroyed the Egyptian army who came after them, they “feared the Lord and put their trust in him” (see Ex 14:31, note). The psalm writer encourages all who fear the Lord to “trust in the Lord–he is their help and shield” (Ps 115:11). In other words, fearing God produces confidence, hope and trust in him, which are necessary when we are looking to God for mercy, forgiveness (Lk 1:50; cf. Ps 103:11; 130:4) and spiritual salvation (Ps 85:9).


Finally, to fear God involves recognizing that he is angry about sin and has the power to punish those who stand arrogantly against him and break his laws (cf. Ps 76:7-8). When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they were afraid and tried to hide from God’s presence (Ge 3:8-10). Moses experienced this aspect of the fear of God when he spent forty days and nights praying for the sinful Israelites: “I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you” (Dt 9:19). In the NT, the author of the letter to the Hebrews acknowledges God’s coming vengeance and judgment, and then writes: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).


The reasons for fearing God are found in the meaning of the “fear of the Lord,” as described above.

  • We should fear him because of his matchless power as the Creator of all things and all people (Ps 33:6-9; 96:4-5; Jnh 1:9).
  • In addition, the amazing power that he continues to exercise over his creation–including humankind–is cause for fearing God (Ex 20:18-20; Ecc 3:14; Jnh 1:11-16; Mk 4:39-41).
  • When we truly realize God’s holiness (i.e., his purity, perfection and separation from evil), the normal response of the human spirit is to fear him (Rev 15:4).
  • Anyone who sees or experiences a manifestation (i.e., a visible or physical sign or demonstration) of God’s glory cannot help but become afraid (Mt 17:1-8).
  • The continual blessings we receive from God, especially the forgiveness of our sins (Ps 130:4), should lead us to fear and love him (1Sa 12:24; Ps 34:9; 67:7).
  • Above all, the fact that the Lord is a God of justice who will judge the entire human race should be reason enough to produce a godly fear (Dt 17:12-13; Isa 59:18-19; Mal 3:5; Heb 10:26-31). It is a sobering and absolute truth that God is constantly aware of our actions and motives, both good and bad, and that we will be held accountable for those actions, both now and on the day of our personal judgment.

How will fearing God affect our lives? The fear of the Lord is far more than a Biblical teaching, principle or idea. It is relevant to our daily lives in many ways. Here are 6 to get started:


First, if we truly fear the Lord, we will obey his commands, live according to his Word and say “No” to sin. One reason why God inspired fear in the Israelites at Mount Sinai was so that they might learn to avoid and reject sin and to obey his law (Ex 20:20). In his final address to the Israelites, Moses repeatedly connected fearing God to serving and obeying him (e.g., Dt 5:29; 6:2, 24; 8:6; 10:12; 13:4; 17:19; 31:12).

According to the psalm writer, fearing God is equal to delighting in his commands (Ps 112:1) and following the principles of his law (Ps 119:63).

Solomon taught that “through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil” (Pr 16:6; cf. 8:13). In Ecclesiastes, the whole duty of the human race is summarized by two simple requirements: “Fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecc 12:13). On the contrary, anyone who is content to live wickedly or defy God does so because “there is no fear of God before his eyes” (Ps 36:1-4).


Not only should the fear of the Lord affect individual lives, but it should also affect families. God instructs his followers to teach their children to fear him by training them to hate sin and to love God’s commands (Dt 4:10; 6:1-2, 6-9). The Bible often states that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10; Pr 9:10; cf. Job 28:28; Pr 1:7). A Christian’s basic goal for his or her children should be that they learn to live by God’s principles of wisdom (Pr 1:1-6). Teaching them to fear the Lord is a critical first step.


The fear of the Lord has a sanctifying (i.e., purifying, separating from sin, spiritually maturing) effect on God’s people, just as applying the truth of God’s Word does (Jn 17:17). It compels us to hate sin and avoid evil (Pr 3:7; 8:13; 16:6). It causes us to be careful in what we say (Pr 10:19; Ecc 5:2, 6-7). It protects us from weakening our consciences and our moral sensitivity toward what is right. The fear of the Lord has a spiritually cleansing, purifying and restoring effect that can last forever (Ps 19:9).


The holy and reverent fear of the Lord motivates God’s people to worship him with their whole being. People who truly fear God will praise and honor him as Lord of all (Ps 22:23). David said that a worshiping congregation is the same as “those who fear” God (Ps 22:25). At the end of history, when the angel who proclaims the eternal gospel–the “good news” about Jesus Christ–calls everyone on earth to fear God, he immediately adds, “and give him glory … Worship him who made the heavens, and earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Rev 14:6-7).


God has promised to reward all those who fear him. “Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life” (Pr 22:4). Other promised rewards include security and protection from death (Pr 14:26-27), provisions for daily needs (Ps 34:9; 111:5) and a long life (Pr 10:27). Those who live in reverent awe of God know that “it will go better with God-fearing men,” regardless of what happens in the world around them (Ecc 8:12-13).


Finally, fearing God brings a humble confidence and overwhelming spiritual comfort. The NT directly links the fear of the Lord with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit (Ac 9:31). Those who do not fear God will have little or no sense of his presence and protection (see Dt 1:26, note). However, those who fear God and obey his Word will experience a deep sense of spiritual security and the anointing (i.e., empowering) of the Holy Spirit. They can be sure that God ultimately will “deliver them from death” (Ps 33:18-19).


This blog is adapted from the Fire Bible Study Notes. Learn more about this resource and watch how it works in the Olive Tree Bible App by visiting our website.

Continue Reading

Misguided Convictions about Daniel

Posted by on 05/09/2018 in:

Misguided Convictions About Daniel

John E. Goldingay included his thoughts on some misguided convictions about Daniel in the Word Biblical Commentary. Read the excerpt below!


What assumptions should we bring to [Daniel] regarding the nature of the stories and the origin of the visions? Critical scholarship has sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly approached the visions with the a priori conviction that they cannot be actual prophecies of events to take place long after the seer’s day, because prophecy of that kind is impossible. Conversely, conservative scholarship has sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly approached these visions with the a priori conviction that they must be actual prophecies because quasi-prophecies issued pseudonymously could not have been inspired by God; it has also approached the stories with the a priori conviction that they must be pure history, because fiction or a mixture of fact and fiction could not have been inspired by God.

All these convictions seem to me mistaken.

I believe that the God of Israel who is also the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is capable of knowing future events and thus of revealing them, and is capable of inspiring people to write both history and fiction, both actual prophecy and quasi-prophecy, in their own name, anonymously, or—in certain circumstances—pseudonymously.

It was excusable for Pusey…to think that pseudonymity makes the author a liar and must be incompatible with being divinely inspired. It is less excusable now we know that in the ancient world, and in the Hellenistic age in particular, pseudonymity was a common practice used for a variety of reasons—some unethical, some unobjectionable—for poetry, letters, testaments, philosophy, and oracles, and by no means confined to apocalypses… That pseudonymity is a rarer literary device in our culture, especially in religious contexts, should not allow us to infer that God could not use it in another culture. Whether he has actually chosen to do so is to be determined not a priori but from actual study of the text of Scripture. I shall consider these questions in the Form sections of the commentary.

– John E. Goldingay


The Word Biblical Commentary (WBC) delivers the best in biblical scholarship from the leading scholars of our day. These scholars share a commitment to Scripture as divine revelation. This series emphasizes a thorough analysis of textual, linguistic, structural, and theological evidence. The result? This commentary series contains judicious and balanced insight into the meanings of the text in the framework of biblical theology.

These widely acclaimed commentaries serve as exceptional resources for the professional theologian and instructor, the seminary or university student, the working minister, and everyone concerned with building theological understanding from a solid base of biblical scholarship.

Want to learn more? Here are 5 benefits to using the WBC in the Olive Tree Bible App.

You can also visit our website to learn more about the volumes inside this commentary.

Continue Reading

The Avalanche of Sin in Genesis

Posted by on 05/08/2018 in:

The Avalanche Of Sin in Genesis

There is an avalanche of sin in Genesis. It includes pride, murder, sexual immorality to name a few. But what is the significance of these stories? Read this excerpt by Gordon J. Wenham. We found it in the Word Biblical Commentary.


The ancient [Near Eastern] background to Gen 1—11 shows it to be concerned with rather different issues from those that tend to preoccupy modern readers. It is affirming the unity of God in the face of polytheism, his justice rather than his caprice, his power as opposed to his impotence, his concern for mankind rather than his exploitation. And whereas Mesopotamia clung to the wisdom of primeval man, Genesis records his sinful disobedience.

Because as Christians we tend to assume these points in our theology, we often fail to recognize the striking originality of the message of Gen 1—11 and concentrate on subsidiary points that may well be of less moment. But an examination of the wider context of Gen 1—11 within the book itself, and the structure of these chapters, does, I believe, emphasize the centrality of these [following] themes in the opening chapters…


The opening chapters of Genesis describe an avalanche of sin that gradually engulfs mankind, leading first to his near-annihilation in the flood, and second, to man’s dispersal over the face of the earth in despair of achieving international cooperation. Gen 3 describes how man’s first sin led to alienation between husband and wife and expulsion from the presence of God in Eden.

Chap. 4 tells how Cain murdered his brother Abel and how Cain’s descendants further degraded mankind by their barbaric behavior.

Chap. 6, the sexual union of women with the sons of God, is the last straw; the ultimate boundary between deity and the human family is breached, and the first creation returns to the watery chaos that characterized the earth before the separation of land and sea.


Noah, in many respects a second Adam, head of the new humanity and recipient of the renewed commission to fill the earth and subdue it, makes a more promising start… Yet he succumbs to wine, and his son Ham acts most dishonorably toward his father Noah, attracting to himself and his descendants a curse that was to be reflected in their future history. For from Ham descended Israel’s arch-foes, such as Egypt, Assyria, and the Canaanites (9:24-27; 10:6-20).

Finally, the tower of Babel demonstrates the folly of the most illustrious civilization and religious system of the day. Their attempt to reach up to heaven is the acme of folly and prompts mankind’s dispersal over the face of the globe. Without the blessing of God the situation of humanity is without hope: that seems to be the chief thrust of the opening chapters of Genesis.


But the promises first made to Abraham in 12:1-3 begin to repair that hopeless situation…

– Gordon J. Wenham


The Word Biblical Commentary (WBC) delivers the best in biblical scholarship from the leading scholars of our day. These scholars share a commitment to Scripture as divine revelation. This series emphasizes a thorough analysis of textual, linguistic, structural, and theological evidence. The result? This commentary series contains judicious and balanced insight into the meanings of the text in the framework of biblical theology.

These widely acclaimed commentaries serve as exceptional resources for the professional theologian and instructor, the seminary or university student, the working minister, and everyone concerned with building theological understanding from a solid base of biblical scholarship.

Want to learn more? Here are 5 benefits to using the WBC in the Olive Tree Bible App.

You can also visit our website to learn more about the volumes inside this commentary.

Continue Reading

Do Christian Missionaries Impose Their Culture?

Posted by on 05/07/2018 in:

Do Christian Missionaries Impose Their Culture?

Christian missions can be done well… and not well. But does this mean that we should abandon missions? Is it really that bad? Read this adapted article from the CSB Apologetics Study Bible to think deeper on the question, “Do Christian missionaries impose their culture?”


Many people believe Christian missionaries impose their culture on others. Missionaries allegedly soften up native peoples by weakening their cultural resistance, leaving the field open for colonists and Western capitalism. Mission has been described as enslavement or even as genocide, and the gospel has been called the “everlasting story of the West against the Indians.”


Such extreme accusations signal that we are entering a world of stereotype and caricature. We first find them in the nineteenth century but stereotypes of missionaries became widespread in the mid-twentieth century, with the recognition that some cultures can oppress others. This insight was applied to “Christian” cultures of the West, especially as supposedly spread by missionaries.

Most caricatures have a basis in fact, however flimsy, and some missionaries have fit aspects of the stereotype. The early church faced similar issues (Ac 15; Gl 2) when the apostles rejected the imposition of traditions upon new converts. The fact that Scripture records such disagreements is strong witness to its historical reliability. It’s also a warning to churches to be vigilant against imposing local customs on other people groups. The stereotypes assert that missionaries have consistently ignored this warning. Have they?


Missionaries cannot avoid taking their own culture with them, but they can avoid imposing it on others. As Henry Venn remarked in 1868, long before the twentieth-century secular discovery of pluralism, that the “marked national characteristics” of the church will be its “perfection and glory.” Indeed, at a time when the study of native cultures was almost racist in its focus on the evolution of culture from primitive to sophisticated, some missionary scholars—such as James Legge, Robert Morrison, and John Farquhar—insisted on the value of native cultures.

Examples abound of missionaries recognizing cultural diversity and pioneering its study and preservation. This isn’t surprising, as missionaries often lived alongside native people and learned their language in order to translate the Bible. From José de Acosta in Latin America to William Carey in India, from Jacob Grigg in Africa to John Smith in Jamaica, missionaries have helped preserve cultures and native languages. Linguist Mary Haas has estimated that ninety percent of the material available on Native American languages is missionary in origin. Some missionaries courageously identified with native peoples. For example, Samuel Worcester went to prison for his defense of Cherokee rights.

Stereotypes of missionaries aren’t only factually inaccurate; they can also be unjust toward African, Hispanic, and Asian peoples. The stereotype of Christianity as white and Western misrepresents the church’s origin and has long been out of date. The period of Western dominance came full circle many years ago when the church’s centers of gravity moved to Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Moreover, we do no favors to native cultures in saying a few missionaries easily overpowered them. This presumes native cultures fell easily to Western influence and obscures the violent oppression of native people.


Stereotypes that treat Christianity as Western, and native cultures as weak, are culturally biased at best and unintentionally racist at worst.
All cultures, developed and developing, fall short of biblical standards and need the gospel. We shouldn’t fear or ignore all criticism of missionary methods. But to be helpful, such criticism should be informed and fair. Stereotypes of missionaries are neither.


This blog post is adapted from the CSB Apologetics Study Bible.

Want help to better understand, defend, and proclaim your beliefs in an age of increasing relativism? Then you should check out this revised and updated edition. It includes new articles and extensive apologetics study material. Additionally, everything written comes from today’s leading apologists! You will gain a deeper understanding of the relevant apologetics issues and questions being discussed today.

Continue Reading

Paul’s “Cutting” Remarks

Posted by on 05/07/2018 in:

Paul's "Cutting" Remarks

Richard N. Longenecker walks through Galatians and Paul’s “cutting” remarks. You’ll find that Galatians is more applicable than you know. Check out this excerpt from the Word Biblical Commentary below.


5:7 “you were running well. Who cut in on you to be keeping you from obeying the truth?”

While the first half of this section on “Holding Fast to Freedom” is, as Betz notes, a “highly condensed section,” the second half beginning with v 7 “is freer, appearing like a rambling collection of pointed remarks, rhetorical questions, proverbial expressions, threats, irony, and, climaxing it all, a joke of stark sarcasm” (Galatians, 264). In effect, having argued and exhorted at length, Paul now brings his treatment of the Judaizing threat to a close with this loose collection of comments and remarks.

The figurative use of an athlete running in a stadium to represent living one’s life is frequent in Paul (cf. 2:2; also 1 Cor 9:24-27; Phil 3:14; 2 Tim 4:7; Acts 20:24). Such athletic imagery for life was common in the ancient world… The verb [translated as] (“hinder,” “thwart,” “block the way) in the context of a race suggests tripping or otherwise interfering with a runner, which inevitably had to do with one runner cutting in on another as they ran and so impeding the other’s progress… In the foot races of the Greek festivals there were rules against tripping or cutting in on an opponent…just as there are today.

Thus Paul asks his Galatian converts:

“Who cut in on you to be keeping you from obeying the truth?”

The question, of course, is rhetorical and calls for the same answer as the question of 3:1, “Who bewitched you?” In both cases it was the Judaizers…


5:12 “as for those who are troubling you, O that they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves.”

Having concluded his treatment of the Judaizing threat…Paul now adds an additional, sarcastic comment meant to caricature and discredit his opponents…

Greek commentators consistently translated [the key feature of the sentence] as a term for self-mutilation. John Chrysostom, for example, read v 12,

“If they will, let them not only be circumcised, but mutilated,”

… And most modern translations view the verb in this fashion as well…

Latin commentators, however, treated the expression more ambiguously… So many have understood “cut off” in terms of a withdrawal from the churches or self-imposed excommunication rather than emasculation… W. M. Ramsay, in fact, mounted a rather vigorous attack against understanding Paul here as using such “foul language” as castration or mutilation, simply because such a “scornful expression would be a pure insult, as irrational as it is disgusting” (Galatians, 438; see also 437-40).


Yet as insulting and disgusting as it may seem, Paul’s comment should be understood as a sarcastic way of characterizing the Judaizers and his attitude toward them, as most modern commentators recognize (so, e.g., Lightfoot, Burton, Mussner, Betz, Bruce). Indeed, it is the crudest and rudest of all Paul’s extant statements, which his amanuensis did not try to tone down… Underlying the sarcasm and crudity of the comment, however, is Paul’s understanding of circumcision as purely a physical act without religious significance (cf. 5:6; 6:15), which when done for societal or physical reasons is acceptable but when done either to gain acceptance before God or to achieve a more acceptable lifestyle becomes simply bodily mutilation (cf. Phil 3:2)…


Two dangers threatened Christian freedom in Galatia: the first was the acceptance of Jewish nomism as a lifestyle for Gentile Christians, which in effect brought one right back to the basic question of whether righteousness was to be gained by “works of the law” or by a response of faith to “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (cf. 2:16); the second was the corruption of the Christian life by reliance on “the flesh” rather than “the Spirit.” The most immediate danger was that of Jewish nomism, which was brought in from outside the church by the Judaizers. So Paul deals with that first and most extensively in 1:6—5:12…


Most often Galatians is viewed as the great document of justification by faith. What Christians all too often fail to realize is that in reality it is a document that sets out a Christ-centered lifestyle—one that stands in opposition to both nomism and libertinism.

Sadly, though applauding justification by faith, Christians frequently renounce their freedom in Christ by espousing either nomism or libertinism, and sometimes (like the Galatians) both.

So Paul’s letter to the Galatians, though directly relevant to the Galatian situation, speaks also to our situation today.


The Word Biblical Commentary (WBC) delivers the best in biblical scholarship from the leading scholars of our day. These scholars share a commitment to Scripture as divine revelation. This series emphasizes a thorough analysis of textual, linguistic, structural, and theological evidence. The result? This commentary series contains judicious and balanced insight into the meanings of the text in the framework of biblical theology.

These widely acclaimed commentaries serve as exceptional resources for the professional theologian and instructor, the seminary or university student, the working minister, and everyone concerned with building theological understanding from a solid base of biblical scholarship.

Want to learn more? Here are 5 benefits to using the WBC in the Olive Tree Bible App.

You can also visit our website to learn more about the volumes inside this commentary.

Continue Reading

Introducing: Strong’s Tagged Gospel Harmonies

Posted by on 05/04/2018 in: ,

Strong's Tagged Gospel Harmonies

I was excited when we launched Gospel Harmonies a few years ago. The ability to view all four Gospels at the same time made comparing and contrasting the narratives a breeze. Now, I’m even more excited to introduce Strong’s Tagged Harmony of the Gospels.

These new titles display the four Gospels side-by-side like our other harmonies. But, we’ve also added the power of our Strong’s tagging, that appears in a convenient pop-up window. This lets you do original language study of the Greek text of all four Gospel texts at the same time.

Let me show you how it works.


Navigate to a passage in one of the Gospels. For this example, I’m in Matthew 27:2.

As you can see, I’m able to read about Jesus before Pilate in all four gospels. Here’s Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This allows me to see how each Gospel writer recorded this event.


This is how the Strong’s Tagged Gospel Harmony can take your Bible study to the next level.

Tap on any highlighted word and you’ll get a pop-up window.

In that pop-up, you’ll get the Greek word and a definition. But that’s not all! You’ll also get the ability to search for this word through the Gospels.

Just tap “search” and you’ll instantly see the results.

Or, you can tap “lookup” to see more dictionary entries from your library.

And then tap the dictionary of your choice to read an article for this word.


We’re releasing these as they are ready and hope to continue to expand the number of translations available. As an added bonus, if you’ve previously purchased a qualifying item, you can get special upgrade pricing on our website. Check out the full list of all Harmony of the Gospels here. Let us know what you think about this new resource in the comments!

Continue Reading

A Call For God’s Protection

Posted by on 05/02/2018 in:

A Call For God's Protection

Psalm 56, written by David, is a call for God’s protection. Read this Psalm and learn more about the meaning behind the Hebrew words from the CSB Study Bible.

Be gracious to me, God, for a man is trampling me;
he fights and oppresses me all day long.
My adversaries trample me all day,
for many arrogantly fight against me.
— PSALM 56:1-2

Trampling (Hb sh’p) appears twice in these verses. There are two meanings for this Hebrew word: (1) “pant” or “long for” (Is 42:14; Jr 2:24) and (2) “crush” or “trample” (Ps 57:3; Am 8:4). Since the first of these is more common, some translations take that as the meaning here. However, the parallel terms fights and oppresses argue for the second meaning.

When I am afraid,
I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
— PSALM 56:3-4

Mere mortals is literally “flesh” (Hb basar), which represents man’s weakness and mortality (Is 2:22; 31:3; 40:6). This word is often used to contrast man’s weakness with God’s power (2Ch 32:8). Similar words are repeated in Ps 56:10-11.

They twist my words all day long;
all their thoughts against me are evil.
— PSALM 56:5

Twist (Hb ‘atsav) expresses the idea of “shape” or “fashion” (Jb 10:8). It portrays these enemies as shaping the psalmist’s words into whatever they wanted for their own evil purposes.

They stir up strife, they lurk;
they watch my steps
while they wait to take my life.
— PSALM 56:6

Lurk describes the psalmist’s enemies as predatory animals waiting to attack their prey (10:9; 17:12).

Will they escape in spite of such sin?
God, bring down the nations in wrath.
— PSALM 56:7

The answer to the question is understood to be no, they will not escape. Bring down the nations probably means more than simply defeat them, but rather bring them under divine judgment.

You yourself have recorded my wanderings.
Put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will retreat on the day when I call.
This I know: God is for me.
— PSALM 56:8-9

Tears probably refers to prayers or, more specifically, laments that involve crying. The bottle refers to God’s storing of these prayers so he can act on them later. This is similar to the image of incense in Revelation to represent the prayers of the saints (Rv 5:8; 8:3-4). The records are similar to the “books of remembrance” referred to in Dn 7:10 and Mal 3:16. The knowledge that God is for me should bring remarkable peace (see Rm 8:31).

In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mere humans do to me?
— PSALM 56:10-11

What can mere humans do to me? again reminds us of Rm 8:31.

I am obligated by vows to you, God;
I will make my thank offerings to you.
— PSALM 56:12

Vows were commonly made during petitions and fulfilled through thank offerings (see note at 22:25-26).

For you rescued me from death,
even my feet from stumbling,
to walk before God in the light of life.
— PSALM 56:13

Light is used as a synonym for life (Jb 3:20) but also may represent joy (Is 9:2) and salvation (Is 58:8). See notes at Ps 27:1; 36:9.


  • Hebrew Pronunciation: [bah tak]
  • CSB Translation: trust, be confident
  • Use in Psalms: 46
  • Use in Old Testament: 118
  • Focus Passage: Psalm 56:3-4, 11

Batach denotes trust (Jdg 9:26).

  • People are confident (Jdg 20:36) or bold (Pr 28:1). They are (Is 47:10) or feel (Am 6:1) secure.
  • They rely (Ps 21:7), depend (Jb 39:11), and trust (Ps 40:3).
  • Participles imply unsuspecting (Jdg 18:7), overconfident (Is 32:9), or protected (Pr 11:15).
  • Betach (42x) means security (Jr 49:31), confidence (Is 32:17), and safety (Ps 78:53).
  • It appears as securely (Lv 25:18) and unsuspecting (Gn 34:25). Mibtach (15x) means trust (Ps 40:4) or object of trust (Ezk 29:16).
  • It denotes hope (Ps 65:5), security (Jb 18:14), and confidence (Jr 17:7).
  • It appears as safe (Is 32:18). Bitchah is confidence (Is 30:15); battuchot, security (Jb 12:6); and bittachon, hope (Ec 9:4).
  • The latter with batach means what you are relying on or basing confidence on (2Kg 18:19; Is 36:4). Verses say people should trust in God rather than idols, men, or self.


These notes came directly from the CSB Study Bible notes, and you can add them to your Olive Tree library today. Also, if you already own the CSB translation, you qualify for an additional discount. Head on over to our website to learn more.

Continue Reading

A Romans Rivalry: Law vs. Faith

Posted by on 04/30/2018 in:

Romans Rivalry Law Vs. Faith

Law vs. Faith: one of the main conflicts Paul seeks to resolve in his letter to the Romans. Dig deeper into Romans 3:27-31 with Marvin C. Pate and this excerpt from his contribution to the Teach the Text Commentary Series.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. Romans 3:27-31


These verses contain three contrasts between boasting in the law of Moses and justification by faith in Christ alone: boasting in individual legalism versus justification by faith and acceptance before God; boasting in national exclusivism versus justification by faith and monotheism; boasting in the old covenant versus justification by faith and the new covenant.


  • Paul has in mind three nuances with regard to nomos: “principle,” “law of Moses,” and “covenant.”
  • Paul attacks both individual boasting before God based on obedience to the Torah (3:27–28) and national exclusivism based on circumcision, Sabbath keeping, and dietary laws (3:29–31). The basis of Israel’s national boasting that Paul criticizes is not just the three covenant markers but the entire Torah



Romans 3:27–31 is a transitional passage. It points backward to Paul’s argumentation in 1:18–3:26, reiterating that justification before God is conditioned on faith in Christ and not on the works of the law. And it looks forward to Paul’s argumentation in 4:1–23 that Abraham, the founding father of the Jews, was accepted by God on the basis of faith some four hundred years before the advent of the law of Moses.

The theme of Romans 3:27–31 is that boasting in the law is antithetical to justification by faith. Three contrasts drive that message home:

1. Boasting in individual legalism versus justification by faith and acceptance before God (3:27–28)
     a. Law (3:27a)
     b. Faith (3:27b)
     bʹ. Faith (3:28a)
     aʹ. Law (3:28b)
2. Boasting in (Jewish) national exclusivism versus justification by faith and monotheism (3:29–30)
3. Boasting in the old covenant versus justification by faith and the new covenant (3:31)


1. As Simon Gathercole has perceptively demonstrated with regard to Romans 3:27–31, against the New Perspective on Paul, the literature of Second Temple Judaism is filled with individual boasting before God based on observing the whole Torah—boasting, no less, in anticipation of judgment day (e.g., 2 Maccabees, Testament of Job, Sibylline Oracles, Psalms of Solomon, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, Dead Sea Scrolls). In other words, boasting in the Judaism of Paul’s day went well beyond Jewish national pride in the three covenant markers (circumcision, Sabbath, diet). And it is individual boasting in the entirety of the Torah that Paul condemns in Romans 3:27–28.

2. Romans 3:29–30 draws on the fundamental tenet of Judaism: God is one—monotheism. Thus, Jews recited the Shema (Hebrew for “hear,” the first word of Deut. 6:4) every day: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD [Yahweh] our God, the LORD is one . . .” (Deut. 6:4–5).

3. Two covenants are at work in Romans 3:27–31; 4:1–23: the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant. For Paul, these two are in tension, and the former anticipates the gospel, the new covenant.



Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law [nomos]? The law that requires works? No, because of the law [nomos] that requires faith . . . a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law [nomos].

These verses point out that boasting in individual legalism is antithetical to justification by faith. This is seen in the chiasm that these verses form:

A Law (of Moses) (v. 27a)
B Faith (in Jesus Christ) (v. 27b)
Faith (in Jesus Christ) (v. 28a)
Law (of Moses) (v. 28b)

There are two standard opinions on the meaning of nomos (“law” or “principle”) in 3:27–31 (v. 27 [2x], v. 28, v. 31 [2x]). Some think that “law” in verses 27, 28, 31 refers to the law of Moses. Others think that two different nuances of law are intended: “law of Moses” (v. 27 [the first instance], v. 28, v. 31 [both times]) and “principle” (v. 27 [the second occurrence]). I suggest instead that nomos, both times in 3:27, means “principle,” but two different principles: the principle of obeying the works of the Torah (v. 27a) versus the principle of justification by faith (v. 27b). Many commentators who take nomos here either as the law of Moses (v. 27a) and the principle of faith (v. 27b) or as the law of Moses in both cases miss the antithetical parallelism and the double meaning of nomos in 3:27:

Verse 27a: principle (nomos) of works (of the Torah) (cf. v. 28b)
Verse 27b: principle (nomos) of faith (cf. v. 28a)

On this reading, in 3:27–28 Paul is summarizing his argument in 1:18–3:26: no individual can boast before God regarding obedience to the law of Moses because no one can ever follow the law perfectly enough to be accepted by God on judgment day. More than that, the law stirs up disobedience, not obedience, to God in the first place. Verses 27–28 add one more vital detail to Paul’s argument: the law itself stirs up individual pride before God and others. Rather, it is only by faith in Christ that anyone will be justified before God.


Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too?

Here Paul turns his attention to criticizing Jewish national exclusivism. Jews fancied themselves to be better than Gentiles because they worshiped the one true God and possessed his law. In 3:29–30 Paul turns this argument on its head: monotheism means that the one true God is uniting all humankind (Jew [circumcised] and Gentile [uncircumcised]) on the basis of justification by faith in Christ (see Paul’s extensive argument in Rom. 4:1–25). In other words, for Paul, justification by faith is rooted in monotheism. In this scenario there is no longer any room for the law of Moses. It divided humankind, but justification by faith unites humankind. This is because all can have faith in Jesus, whereas only one nation (Israel) can lay claim to the law of Moses.


Do we, then, nullify the law [nomos] by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law [nomos].

This verse has generated three major interpretations, to which I will add a fourth. First, the more traditional perspective on Paul sees a problem with his statement here about faith establishing the law of Moses. Up until now in Romans the apostle has said next to nothing positive regarding the Torah, but now suddenly he seems to assert that faith establishes the law.

How so?

This view answers that Paul is talking not about the law of Moses per se but rather about the intent or commands of the Torah. In light of Romans 2:25–29; 8:4; 13:8–10 (which seem to say something similar: faith in Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit empower the Christian to do even better than the Torah, namely, to fulfill the divine intent behind the Torah in the first place without getting bogged down in its 613 specific laws), this may well be the case.

A second traditional view…

is that Paul is not making a positive comment about the law in 3:31 but rather is saying that the purpose of the Torah is strictly negative: to bring all humanity up short of the righteousness of God and thereby drive all people to the gospel (cf. Rom. 3:19–26; Gal. 3:1–4:7). This, too, is quite possible.

Third, the New Perspective argues…

that nomos is the law of Moses throughout 3:27–31, and Paul is criticizing not the law but rather the improper usage of it whereby Jewish covenant markers are used to marginalize Gentiles in their relationship with God. This view seems to me off base in that it does not recognize that Paul is using nomos in more than one way in these verses, and that in 3:27–28 he is attacking individual boasting before God, not just national exclusivism.

A fourth view of 3:31…

is reflected in my suggested translation: “Do we then nullify the old covenant [nomos] by faith? May it never be! [Implied: faith did not need to nullify the old covenant because the law of Moses itself already did that by stirring up humans to sin against God.] Rather, we establish the new covenant [nomos] by faith.” Here, nomos means “covenant,” and, as in 3:27, Paul is using nomos in antithetical parallelism and with a double meaning:

Verse 31a: we do not nullify the old covenant (nomos) by faith
(implied: the law of Moses itself did that by stirring up sin)
Verse 31b: rather, we establish the new covenant (nomos) by faith

Several factors lead me to this translation.

(1) The law was the stipulation of the covenant for Israel; the two ideas went hand in hand. Indeed, the New Perspective assumes that Paul is talking about the “covenant” markers in 3:29–30.

(2) My suspicion that Paul is continuing to think about the covenant in 3:31 seems confirmed by his choice of the word “establish” (histēmi), which is used in the LXX for establishing the covenant (Deut. 28:69 [29:1 ET]; 1 Sam. 15:13; 2 Chron. 35:19a), including the new covenant (Jer. 42:14, 16 [35:14, 16 ET]). In other words, for Paul to say in 3:31 that faith establishes the covenant would have reminded his Jewish readers of the Old Testament phrase “the law establishes the covenant.”

(3) Here the antithetical parallelism surfaces in 3:31: the other word that Paul uses of nomos in 3:31 (besides “establish”) is “nullify” (katargeō), which in 2 Corinthians 3:1–4:6 Paul uses four times regarding the demise of the old covenant in light of the arrival of the new covenant in Christ (2 Cor. 3:7, 11, 13, 14). Thus, it appears that Paul signals by the two words “nullify” and “establish” the antithesis between the old and new covenants.

(4) Immediately following 3:31 is Paul’s discussion of the contrast between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants.

(5) Since Paul uses the word nomos in two different ways in 3:27–28 (“principle” [2x in v. 27] and “Torah” [v. 28]), it would not be surprising that he would continue to offer another nuance of the word in 3:31 (“covenant”). This to say that Paul provides a play on the word nomos throughout 3:27–31: “principle” (v. 27), “Torah” (v. 28), and “covenant” (v. 31).

(6) The verb katargeō is also used in Romans 4:14 of the promise to Abraham—the Abrahamic covenant—as being void if that promise/covenant is based on the law of Moses.

(7) This proposed reading would mean that Paul is perfectly consistent with his negative presentation of the law of Moses throughout Romans 1:18–3:31. These seven considerations combine to suggest that 3:31 contains a third contrast between boasting in the law and justification by faith: the former is not appropriate since the old covenant has passed away; only the latter is the avenue to the new covenant.


Even though it is a short passage, Romans 3:27–31 is full of profound theological truths.

First, individual boasting before God because of one’s supposed good works is a dead-end street spiritually. Such arrogance only distances a person from God because trying to match one’s righteousness with God’s is a hopeless endeavor.

Second, boasting in one’s supposed national superiority over others can also lead to a quagmire in relationships. Patriotism is not wrong, but it can go awry and bring about disastrous results. What we can learn from these two theological insights is that humility before God and others is the best way to go through life.

Third, the divine plan for salvation is based on faith, beginning with the Old Testament and continuing to the New Testament. The Abrahamic covenant (compare Rom. 3:29–30 with Rom. 4) revealed that acceptance before God is based on faith; indeed, the true children of Abraham are those who are saved by faith, not by the law of Moses. Why, then, did God give the Torah to Israel? Ultimately, it was to drive both Jew and Gentile to belief in Jesus (compare Rom. 1:18–4:25 with Gal. 3:1–4:7).

Fourth, the overarching argument that Paul makes in Romans 1:18–3:31 is that the stipulation of the new covenant is faith in Jesus Christ, not the law of Moses.


The best way to preach or teach Romans 3:27–31 is to title the message something like “No Boasting before God” and then simply to explain the three contrasts between boasting in the law of Moses and justification by faith.

First, individual legalism constitutes a roadblock to justification by faith…

because most people in this category are religious by nature and therefore assume that their good works—church/synagogue/mosque attendance, helping others, living a morally upstanding life, and so on—will earn them salvation. Indeed, Christian evangelism exposes such a baseless assumption when a person is asked, “If you stood before God today and he asked you why he should let you enter heaven, what would you say?” Most folk in the category of individual legalism will point out the good works in their lives as grounds for their justification on judgment day. The challenge of the Christian evangelist is to wean such persons from trusting in their own merits before a perfect God.

Second, millions of people trust in their national identity to be justified by God.

One thinks especially of Americans who claim that their country is a Christian nation and therefore they have inherited the blessings of that faith, including acceptance before God. But Paul and Jesus vociferously denied that one is born a believer by being born in Israel (compare Rom. 3:29–30 with John 1:11–13), and the same argument can be made for America.

Third, Paul contrasts the old covenant with the new covenant in 3:31.

Since the law and the old covenant failed to justify humans before God, the new covenant received by faith in Christ alone is the only legitimate way to be accepted by God.


This excerpt came directly from the Teach the Text Commentary Series. For the first time ever, we are offering the completed set. Buy yours now!

Continue Reading