Getting Started: Bible Handbooks

Posted by on 04/24/2018 in:

Getting Started Bible Handbooks

A Bible handbook gives a clearly written overview of the Bible. So, it is a perfect companion to Bible reading. It’s arranged in the order of the books of the Bible. Also, it provides background before you read through a Bible book, commentary and illustrations as you read, and topical and historical notes to expand your understanding.

The first Bible handbook ever published was Halley’s Bible Handbook. It was a revolutionary concept that came out of Dr. Halley’s desire to get people to read the Bible with more understanding. Notably, it remains a perennial bestseller to this day. We recently released Halley’s Bible Handbook Deluxe Edition! It is the 25th edition of this classic and trustworthy study tool.


A Bible handbook is arranged in the order of the books of the Bible, and typically contains maps, charts, indexes, essays on special topics, outlines of Bible books, brief commentary on the Bible text, and cross-references to other parts of the Handbook.


  • Is it more devotional or informational? Which am I looking for?
  • How much more content does it have than my study Bible? Is it too basicfor my needs?
  • Do I plan to use it permanently or temporarily? (If you will be using it permanently, get the best you can afford.)
  • Is it well indexed?
  • Are the illustrations and charts helpful and easy to use?
  • Is it readable and usable?


Specifically, we recommend a Bible handbook as a primary reference book (after the study Bible) because it is comprehensive and easy to use. To use a handbook, you simply open it to the book of the Bible you’re reading. All of the relevant information is right there. So, you don’t need any advanced knowledge to use it.

Therefore, a handbook is an ideal basic companion to Bible reading, especially for people who are less familiar with the Bible.


Thankfully, God has graciously provided the Bible to his people. His truth was written down and preserved for us over the centuries. What a joy to receive this gift from God. As we begin to study the Bible and desire to know how best to “go deep,” the Bible itself provides guidance and direction.

First, it counsels, “Be humble.”

Why? Because God gives wisdom and grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34, 11:2). Be open to have your opinions and assumptions changed. Be alert to issues you need to face and sins that you need to repent of and be forgiven for. Lastly, be humble and ready to see the Lord’s new way of righteousness and peace.

Second, it reminds us, “Cry out for supernatural help.”

Ask God to give you his “Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1:17) and to open your eyes so you may see wonderful things in his law (Psalm 119:18). God is happy to give us his Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13) as we seek to understand the Scriptures.

And third, it directs, “Be ready to obey.”

Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). We want to be like the good soil that receives the Word of God and produces a crop that multiplies thirty, sixty, and a hundred times the seed that was sown. Surely, we want to do what the Word says and be blessed (Mark 4:1-20).


Wondering where to begin? Halley’s Bible Handbook was the first Bible handbook ever published—over 90 years ago! So, if you’re looking for a trusted resource, this is it. Head on over to our website to to learn more about this handbook’s features and how it works in our app. Then, buy it! Soon, you’ll be studying the Bible, learning more about God’s Word than you have before.

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Six Major Theses of Richard Longenecker’s Romans Commentary

Posted by on 04/23/2018 in:

6 Major Theses of Richard Longenecker's Romans Commentary

The Epistle to the Romans (NIGTC) by Richard Longenecker is truly the work of a lifetime. This volume has been in the works for several decades; the introductory material alone was enough to fill a 500-page book (Introducing Romans, 2011). Now the commentary itself is finally here, and it’s sure to be a standard reference work for decades to come.

Richard N. Longenecker

The following are six major theses for the volume identified by Longenecker himself, who presented them at a book launch at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, where he is professor emeritus of New Testament.

* * *


Believers in Jesus at Rome in Paul’s Day Looked to the Mother Church at Jerusalem for their Christian theology, piety, and ethics.

While Jewish believers in Jesus were undoubtedly in the majority when the Christian gospel was first accepted at Rome (with some Gentiles being won to Christ through their witness), after the restrictions on the Jews imposed by Emperor Claudius in A.D. 41 and Claudius’ Edict of A.D. 49 that expelled “all” (or at least a great number) of Jews from Rome, Gentile Christians became more prominent in the Christian meetings of the capital city of the Roman Empire. So Paul considered the believers in Jesus at Rome as being within his Gentile ministry.

Thus as Raymond Brown has argued: rather than trying to determine the theological character of the apostle’s addressees at Rome on the basis of ethnic origin, “the crucial issue is the theological outlook of this mixed Jewish/Gentile Christianity” (Antioch and Rome).

And as Brown (along with others) has concluded:

(1) for both Jews and Christians at Rome, “the Jerusalem-Rome axis was strong,”

(2) “Roman Christianity came from Jerusalem, and indeed represented the Jewish/Gentile Christianity of such Jerusalem figures as Peter and James,”

(3) both in the earliest days of the Roman church and at the time when Paul wrote them, believers at Rome could be characterized as “Christians who kept up some Jewish observances and remained faithful to part of the heritage of the Jewish law and cult, without insisting on circumcision.”

Or as Joseph Fitzmyer has described the character and concerns of Paul’s addressees: “Roman Christians seem to have been in continual contact with the Christians of Jerusalem” — further, their form of the Christian faith “seems to have been influenced especially by those associated with Peter and James at Jerusalem, in other words, by Christians who retained some Jewish observances and remained faithful to the Jewish legal and cultic heritage without insisting on circumcision for Gentile converts” (Romans).


Paul had at least five purposes in writing to the believers in Jesus at Rome:

A First Major Purpose:

To give to the believers in Jesus at Rome what he calls in 1:11 his “spiritual gift,” which he considered was something uniquely his to give them (cf. his reference to “my gospel” in 16:25; see also 2:16) and which he felt they needed to understand if he and they were to “mutually encourage” one another (cf. 1:11-12) — and which he evidently wanted them to know in order that they might understand more accurately and more appreciatively what he was proclaiming in his Christian mission to pagan Gentiles.

A Second Major Purpose:

To seek the assistance of the Christians at Rome for the extension of his Gentile mission to Spain (cf. 1:13; 15:24), which desired assistance should probably be understood as including both their financial support and their willingness to be used as a base for his outreach to the western regions of the Roman empire — just as the believers in Jesus at Antioch of Syria had assisted him and served as the base for his outreach to pagan Gentiles in various eastern regions of the Roman empire.

A Prominent Auxiliary Purpose:

To defend himself against certain criticisms of his person and various misrepresentations of his message that the Christians at Rome seem to have heard from others (and possibly somewhat believed), with the intent that the believers in Jesus at Rome would properly understand his person, his ministry, and his message, and so would assist him in his outreach to pagan Gentiles.

A Further Important Purpose:

To counsel regarding a certain dispute that had arisen among the Christians at Rome, who evidently, on one side of the dispute, called themselves “the Strong,” while on the other side of this dispute there were other Christians who were being called “the Weak” (evidently by the so-called “Strong”), either within or between various house churches at Rome — as Paul does in 14:1–15:13 (and seems to recall in the further admonitions given in 16:17-30a).

Another Significant Purpose:

To counsel regarding certain attitudes of the Christians at Rome with respect to the city’s governmental authorities and the responsibilities of believers in Jesus to pay their city’s taxes and revenues — as he does in 13:1-17.


Paul writes to the Christians at Rome in a manner that rather closely corresponds to a “Logos Protreptikos” form of ancient philosophical letter writing (that is, a “Word [or, ‘Speech’] of Exhortation”) — as proposed and developed principally by Klaus Berger, Stanley Stowers, David Aune, Anthony Guerra, and Christopher Bryan.

As David Aune has aptly identified the contents of ancient “Speeches of Exhortation”: “They characteristically consist of three features:

(1) a negative section centering on the critique of rival sources of knowledge, ways of living, or schools of thought that reject philosophy;

(2) a positive section in which the truth claims of philosophical knowledge, schools of thought, and ways of living are presented, praised, and defended, and

(3) an optional section consisting of a personal appeal to the hearer, inviting the immediate accepting of the exhortation” (Westminster Dictionary).


Paul in Romans sets out for his readers

(1) three major “Body Middle” Sections (i.e., 2:16–4:25; 5:1–8:39; 9:1–11:36), each of which sets out the Gospel for three somewhat different types of people (Jews, pagan Gentiles, and a body of Jewish and Gentile believers) all of which is followed by

(2) a fourth major “Body Middle” Section (i.e., 12:1–15:33) consisting of general Christian ethical exhortations that the apostle had evidently proclaimed in his earlier Christian mission to pagan Gentiles — together with a further section of exhortations having to do with how believers in Jesus should live together in their respective Christian congregations.


In the four sections of the apostle’s “Word/Speech of Exhortation” in the “Body Middle” of Romans 1:16-4:25, 5:1-8:39, 9:1-11:36, and 12:1-15:33 Paul uses material that he had previously preached

(1) to Jews (in 1:16–4:25),

(2) to Gentiles without any Jewish contacts or instruction (in 5:1–8:39), and

(3) to mixed congregations of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds at Syrian Antioch (in 9:1–11:36) — as well as in the fourth ethical section of the letter (I.e., 12:1–15:33) he contextualizes the Christian Gospel both generally and then quite specifically.


In these contextualizations of the apostle’s letter to first century Christians at Rome, Paul is both

(1) encouraging believers in Jesus today to do likewise in their Christian thinking, lives, and ministries, and

(2) setting out paradigms for our doing similar in our own philosophical and cultural situations today.


The New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) is available inside the Olive Tree Bible App. Head on over to our website to learn more about this resource!

Have thoughts on this blog? Share in the comments below!

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Running the Wrong Way

Posted by on 04/23/2018 in:

Running Away from God

A German proverb says, “What is the use of running when we are not on the right road?” No matter how much effort we expend in travel, our efforts are wasted if we’re not heading in the right direction.


This proverb illustrates a profound Biblical truth—working strenuously to be righteous and religious is wasted effort if we’re not moving in the right direction. In Isaiah 58, for example, God notes that the people are praying and fasting, but they are headed in the wrong direction. Their religious fervor is not about God, even though it looks like it is. Their religion is all about themselves, because they are merely “eager for God to come near them” (v. 2).

If they were really interested in getting to know God, their focus would be on the people God called them to love: the poor and the needy.


Instead, we find them indicted for exploiting workers, quarreling and violence (vv. 3–4). They are not, in short, loving their neighbors. How can they love God whom they have not seen when they are failing to love the neighbor right in front of them (see 1Jn 4:20)? It’s clear that they are running in the wrong spiritual direction. Running away from God, even though their piety makes it look like they are running toward God. As the proverb says, that’s just wasted effort.


How do you think this looks for us today? In what ways is it easy to appear that we are running toward God while running the wrong way? Share with us in the comments!

This blog is adapted from the NIV Understand the Faith Study Bible. You can learn more about it, see how it works in the app, and purchase it on our website.

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The Personal Cost of Extraordinary Religious Experiences

Posted by on 04/16/2018 in:

The Personal Cost of Extraordinary Religious Experiences

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (NIV) — 2 Corinthians 12:6-10

Extraordinary religious experiences often come at personal cost.

When Jacob wrestled with God, he hobbled away lame. When Paul entered paradise, he came away with a thorn in his flesh. Few remarks in Scripture have generated as much scholarly discussion as this one. Whatever the thorn was, the net effect for Paul was torment (v. 7). The present tense suggests frequent bouts. Paul’s stake was not an isolated episode. It repeatedly came back to plague him—like the school bully who waits each day for his victim to round the corner.


The request Paul makes is for the thorn to be taken away (v. 8). Paul wanted nothing more to do with it. He does not make his request for selfish reasons. Verses 9-10 make it clear that whatever this painful disability was, it hampered Paul’s ministry and, to his way of thinking, the spread of the gospel. The reply Paul received was undoubtedly not the one he was hoping for: He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you” (v. 9).

The tense is perfect, denoting finality (eirēken). What God said to Paul was not subject to change or revision. The first thing to observe is that Paul’s request was not granted. The stake was not taken away. Instead he was provided the grace to bear it. This grace, Paul is told, is sufficient for him. The promise is that whenever the messenger of Satan afflicts him, he will be given sufficient strength to bear up.

In certain circles within evangelicalism today, there is a belief that it is God’s will that everyone should be healthy and happy and that if healing does not occur in answer to prayer it is because a person lacks faith. This thinking clearly runs contrary to Paul’s experience. Without a doubt Paul had great faith, but his request for the removal of the stake was not answered. This is not to say that he didn’t receive an answer. He most assuredly did—My grace is sufficient for you. But it is not the answer the mindset focused on self and what God can do for me wants to hear. Yet hear we must, lest our witness to the world lack credibility and theological soundness.

God’s grace is sufficient because his power is made perfect in weakness (v. 9).

This aphoristic phrase is commonly taken as the theme of this letter—and not without cause. The fact that suffering is the typical lot of the gospel minister is a point that Paul tries repeatedly to drive home to the Corinthians (see the introduction). Those who preach the gospel “carry around . . . the [dying] of Jesus” and are “always being given over to death” (2 Corinthians 4:10-11).


Paul’s statement is a rather startling one: God’s power neither displaces weakness nor overcomes it. On the contrary, it comes to its full strength in it (en + astheneia). At issue is how God manifests his power. Paul’s opponents claimed that it is best seen in visions, ecstasies and the working of signs and wonders (2 Corinthians 12:1, 2 Corinthians 12:12). Paul, on the other hand, maintained that God’s power is most effectively made known in and through weakness. Indeed, God’s power is made perfect in weakness (teleitai = “to find consummation” or “be accomplished”; v. 9). As one commentator notes,

“There is a certain finishing and perfecting power in weakness” (Carpus 1876:178).

Not that we are to cherish our infirmities. Weakness of itself will perfect nothing. But when the human vessel is weak, the divine power is especially evident, and the weakness proves to be a fine discipline (B. Hanson 1981:44).

So far from hindering the gospel, Paul’s stake actually served to advance it. This is why he aims to boast only in his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 11:30; 2 Corinthians 12:5)—and he does it all the more gladly (v. 9). Paul not only has accepted his weaknesses and learned to live with them, but he also takes pleasure in them. Why? Because these very weaknesses afford the opportunity for the power of Christ to rest on him (v. 9). This is why Paul can go on to say, “I am content with my weaknesses”.


Paul concludes with for when I am weak, then I am strong (v. 10). His statement has the character of a settled conviction rather than a rote repetition of God’s answer. But what does it mean? How can one be weak and strong at the same time? The paradox is noted by all. But the point throughout has been that Christ’s power is perfected in, not in spite of, weakness.

How so?

We often think that without human strength we are destined to fail and without personal courage we are bound to falter. Yet good as these are, such qualities tend to push us to self-sufficiency and away from God-dependency. Samson was superlatively endowed with strength, but in the end this very strength brought about his destruction. Human strength is like the flower of the field that has its day in the sun but then shrivels up and dies. Enduring strength lies in God alone.


This blog was adapted from the 2 Corinthians volume of the IVP New Testament Commentary, written by Linda L. Belleville. Want to learn more about the IVP New Testament Commentary? You can read about it and purchase it on our website.

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Does the Old Testament Law Still Apply?

Posted by on 04/16/2018 in:

Does the Old Testament Law Apply Today?

It’s a question we all ask ourselves at some point: does the Old Testament law still apply? Read the passage below along with the notes taken from the Chronological Life Application Study Bible to help you explore this question.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”MATTHEW 5:17-20


If Jesus did not come to abolish the law, does that mean all the Old Testament laws still apply to us today? In the Old Testament, the law can be understood to have three dimensions: ceremonial, civil, and moral.


The ceremonial law related specifically to Israel’s worship (see Lev 1:2-3, for example). Its primary purpose was to point forward to Jesus Christ; these laws, therefore, were no longer necessary after Jesus’ death and resurrection. While we are no longer bound by ceremonial law, the principles behind them—to worship and love a holy God—still apply. Jesus was often accused by the Pharisees of violating ceremonial law.


The civil law applied to daily living in Israel (see Deut 24:10-11, for example). Because modern society and culture are so radically different from that time and setting, all of these guidelines cannot be followed specifically. But the principles behind the commands are timeless and should guide our conduct. Jesus demonstrated these principles by example.


The moral law (such as the Ten Commandments) is the direct command of God, and it requires strict obedience (see Exod 20:13, for example). The moral law reveals the nature and will of God, and it still applies today. Jesus obeyed the moral law completely.


God’s laws were given to help people love God with all their hearts and minds. Throughout Israel’s history, however, these laws had often been misquoted and misapplied. By Jesus’ time, religious leaders had turned the laws into a confusing mass of rules. When Jesus talked about a new way to understand God’s law, he was actually trying to bring people back to its original purpose. Jesus did not speak against the law itself but against the abuses and excesses to which it had been subjected (see John 1:17).


Some of those in the crowd were experts at telling others what to do, but they themselves missed the central point of God’s laws. Jesus made it clear that obeying God’s laws is more important than explaining them. It’s much easier to study God’s laws and tell others to obey them than to put them into practice. How are you doing at obeying God yourself?


The Pharisees were exacting and scrupulous in their attempts to follow their laws. So how could Jesus reasonably call us to greater righteousness than theirs? The Pharisees’ weakness was that they were content to obey the laws outwardly without allowing God to change their hearts (or attitudes). They looked pious, but they were far from the Kingdom of Heaven. God judges our hearts as well as our deeds, for it is in the heart that our real allegiance lies.

Jesus was saying that his listeners needed a different kind of righteousness altogether (out of love for God), not just a more intense version of the Pharisees’ obedience (which was mere legal compliance). Our righteousness must

(1) come from what God does in us, not what we can do by ourselves,

(2) be God-centered, not self-centered,

(3) be based on reverence for God, not approval from people, and

(4) go beyond keeping the law to living by the principles behind the law. We should be just as concerned about our attitudes that people don’t see as about our actions that they do see.


This content came directly from the Chronological Life Application Study Bible! Get this resource today to read through the Bible in chronological order, giving you a fresh take on your Bible study. Plus, you’ll receive thousands of notes just like these to enhance your understanding of God’s Word.

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Mix & Match Study Bibles

Posted by on 04/11/2018 in:

Mix & Match Study Bibles

When you buy a paper study Bible, you have the Bible text and study notes. Because there is just one Bible text, that means you are limited to that translation if you want to refer to those study notes. Here are some problems that may arise:

You want to use a different translation. 

Paper solution? Open another Bible. Now you have two books open: twice the flipping, twice the confusion, and twice the time.

You want to look at two sets of study Bible notes.

Paper solution? Same as above. Now you have THREE books open! And that’s just the beginning.

There is another way.

With digital study Bibles at Olive Tree, we give you two resources: the Bible text and the study notes. This way you can mix and match translations and study notes as often as you’d like. The options are ENDLESS.

Study Bible Example 1

Also, if you take advantage of the Parallel tab, you can have two resources open in the Study Center. That means double the study notes or even creating your own parallel Bible.

You’ll never need to spread out a bunch of books on a table ever again… unless you get a thrill from that kind of thing. Then I suppose we wouldn’t stop you!


Ready to start mixing and matching your favorite Bible translations and study Bible notes? Head on over to

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How to Build Your Ultimate Study Bible

Posted by on 04/09/2018 in:

How To Build Your Ultimate Study Bible

Paper copies don’t allow you to build your own study Bible—at least, not without a lot of glue, precision, and paper cuts. With digital resources, you can have the exact study Bible you want in just four, easy steps. Here’s how to build your ultimate study Bible with Olive Tree.


In fact, pick two or three. Using multiple translations in your Bible study is much more helpful than you may realize.


Translations can be categorized across a spectrum. On one side, there are word-for-word translations. These sometimes sound awkward and can be a bit confusing, but are meant to be a more literal interpretation or the original language. The further you get to this end of the spectrum, the better than translation is for word studies and academic research.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are thought-for-thought translations. When we hire translators to interpret a presentation or book, they often use this method. Language does not always translate well word-for-word. It would lose it’s meaning! So, thought-for-thought translations aim to express the main concept and emotion of the text in a way modern speakers can understand.

Like I said, these range on a spectrum! You can research more about a specific translation you are considering using. But here is a short list from us:


If you are only using a Bible to study right now, I really want to encourage you to get a study Bible. When we have sales, we can often discount study Bibles to as low as $8. For only $8 you can read reliable commentary on the Bible, learning from scholars and dedicated Christians. Some study Bibles even come with maps, charts & illustrations, and concordances. Spending less than $10 to invest in your study of God’s Word is definitely worth it.

Here are a few study Bibles that we really recommend:


So, now you’ve got a Bible, and some helpful notes. What’s next? A dictionary.

I won’t go too in-depth here about the benefit of dictionaries, because you can read our other blog, “3 Ways Bible Dictionaries Improve Your Bible Study.”

In short, Bible dictionaries help you understand not the definition of the English word, but the definition of the word in its original language. You might not know Greek or Hebrew. You also might not have extensive cultural knowledge of the Bible’s people groups. With a dictionary, you can have extensive knowledge summarized for you and presented when you need it.

Here are a couple great dictionaries you could start with:

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words

Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words

The Essential Bible Dictionary


If you have these first three resources, you are definitely ready to start studying the Bible deeply! However, there are also lots of other really fun, helpful resources that can make your Bible study more applicable and come to life.


Get visual! Follow Paul’s missionary journey, see pictures of historic landmarks, and learn more about middle eastern geography. Maps and atlases will help you grow in your understand of the Bible as a real, historical document—not just stories that happened to other people way back when.


The Bible gives the best interpretation of itself. From Genesis to Revelation, we see one, cohesive narrative provided by God—and we can use other passages to help us understand the section we are reading.

But, unless you have the entire Bible memorized, you might not know where to look. So, cross references are a fantastic tool that shows you other related passages with just a tap.


Bible handbooks give you condensed information, quickly providing you with an overview of the Bible and its books. You’ll find it easy to learn the basics!


Head on over to to start building!

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Interlinear Bibles in the App

Posted by on 04/07/2018 in:

Interlinear Bibles in the App

Learning Greek can be a difficult task. It takes years of study and countless hours of practice before you reach the point of reading the Greek New Testament without the help of additional resources. Unless your aim is to be a New Testament scholar, most will not achieve that level of comfort with the Greek text. But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from using the Greek New Testament in your studies. Whether you’re someone who can read Greek proficiently or have only ever used a Strong’s Bible, Olive Tree’s Interlinear Bibles are here to meet your needs.

Here’s a look at some of the top features of interlinear Bibles in the Olive Tree Bible App.

Not only can our app display the text in an Interlinear format, we’ve tagged the Greek word with the Greek Parsing and Strong’s Definition: Simply tap a word to get more details on that Greek word.

We’ve also tagged the English Word:

And the Strong’s Number:

Searching for this Greek word in the text? No problem. Tap “search” and the app will bring you a list of results for that Greek Word:

You can also tap “lookup” to find dictionaries already downloaded to your device. This list contains dictionaries that have more information on the selected Greek word:

You can also search the Greek word itself:


Go here to see the available Interlinear Bibles based on top English translations!

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Even Better Than Forgiveness

Posted by on 04/07/2018 in:

Justification: Even Better Than Forgiveness

Here’s an excerpt on Romans and justification straight from the brand-new NKJV Vines Expository Bible!

Dr. Jerry Vines is the former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president and pastor of 28,000-member First Baptist Church of Jacksonville.


Romans 3:24 says, “being justified freely by His grace.” The word justified means “to declare righteous.” In other words, here is a person who is guilty and yet declared not guilty. The word is taken right out of the legal world. We stand before God absolutely guilty and helpless to do anything about our guilt. Yet in one great legal act, God acquits us of our sin and makes us acceptable in God’s presence.

Justification is better than forgiveness.

Forgiveness is wonderful, but justification goes even deeper. You may have done something you shouldn’t have done, and you can be forgiven for it. But justification removes the guilt. You are acquitted of your guilt as a sinner and made acceptable to God through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s justification.


Also, we are justified “freely.” The word freely here means “without cause.” When Jesus was betrayed, Jesus said, “They hated Me without a cause” (John 15:25)—same word. Jesus had nothing in Him to cause people to hate Him. Yet, they did. When the Bible says we are justified freely, it means without a cause. We had nothing in us to cause God to declare us righteous; yet, God has done it by His grace without a cause, freely. That’s good news today. We don’t have to pay for it.


I heard about a poor woman who had a desperately ill daughter. Nearby was a vineyard of the king. The king had wonderful grapes, and the mother thought some of those grapes might help her daughter get well. So, she came to the entrance of the vineyard where sat the princes of the king. She said: “I would like to buy some of the king’s grapes to feed to my sick daughter.”

The princes replied, “We’re sorry, but you can’t buy them. The king is too rich to sell. You are too poor to buy. The grapes are not for sale. You can’t buy them, but you can have them free of charge.”


That’s the way salvation is. We are too poor to buy. He’s too rich to sell. But the King has said we can have it freely by His grace. That’s the way we get it—by grace.
Grace is such a great word! “Justified freely by His grace.” Grace is God’s unmerited favor. Grace is receiving something we do not deserve but desperately need. Not because of any good in us but because of grace in Him can we be declared righteous in His presence just as if we had never sinned.

COMMENT BELOW: How does your understanding of being freely justified change the way you view yourself and others?


This resource is entirely based on lessons and sermons from Jerry’s life and ministry. It will provide you with a unique, passage-by-passage guide through every single book of the Bible, making it applicable to your daily life.

Watch a video and learn more about this resource by visiting our website.

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Reflecting on Philemon

Posted by on 04/06/2018 in:

Reflecting on Philemon

It can be helpful to read a summary of a verse, passage, or book of the Bible that you already know well. Why? It can give you a fresh take on something you think you have completely exhausted! This excerpt from the Know the Word Study Bible Notes helps you to begin reflecting on Philemon, and re-applying it to your own life.


“One of the most remarkable experiences we can have is the realization of how small the world really is. Maybe you’ve been on vacation five hundred miles from home and recognized a friend from high school. Or you met someone on the other side of the world who, through conversation, you realized used to lead your sister’s Bible study. It’s exciting to make a connection where you don’t expect one.

Something similar happened with Paul and a man named Onesimus. Bible students aren’t certain where Paul was, but he was a prisoner somewhere in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) or perhaps in Rome. Paul led Onesimus to saving faith in Jesus Christ. At some point, they realized they both knew the same person: Philemon. Paul had also led Philemon to accept Christ as Savior when Paul was leading the church in Colosse.

But the realization wasn’t all back-slapping fun; Onesimus and Philemon weren’t friends. On the contrary, Philemon was a slave-owner, and Onesimus had been his slave. Complicating things further, Onesimus had run away.”


“Paul knew and loved both men and desired to develop their relationships with Christ and their walks with Him. What was Paul to do? Under Roman law, runaway slaves could be punished with death. Paul himself had written that bondservants (slaves) should “obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God” (Col. 3:22). But he had also taught that Christians should forgive (2 Cor. 2:10) and love (1 Cor. 13).

Paul could have taken many actions. He could have helped Onesimus stay away from officials, but he had taught that governments should be honored (Rom. 13:1–7). He could have kept the secret, but that was not walking in the light of truth (Eph. 5:8). There were many seemingly easy ways out of the situation, for both Paul and Onesimus, but Paul didn’t take the easy way. In fact, he did what might have been the most difficult: he sent Onesimus back to Philemon, carrying a note written by Paul himself (Philem. v. 19). The book of Philemon is that very letter.”


“Only Philemon, as guided by God and in cooperation with Onesimus, could make this situation right. It was time for brotherly love to reign. But that brotherly love appeared to go against culture and law. We can only imagine the prayers and tears that poured out as Paul wrote the letter. We can only imagine how many times Onesimus feared going back. And, we can only imagine what happened once Philemon got the letter, because there is no record of his response.

Through the dangling finale we are forced to confront our own hearts:

Could I forgive?

Would I build a friendship across a cultural divide?

Could I trust God to make this right?

Would I do the right thing?

Could I love one who had wronged me?”

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