“Knowing Him” Easter Devotional Begins This Sunday

Knowing Him Easter devotional

Our Lent devotionals have been underway for several weeks now (perhaps you’ve signed up for one of them!), and we hope they’re helping you keep focused on Jesus as Easter approaches.

If you didn’t catch those devotionals when they launched at the beginning of Lent, we’ve got good news: there’s one remaining Lent devotional set to launch this Sunday, March 30: Knowing Him, written by Mel Lawrenz. Sign up here.

You may recognize Mel as the pastor and author who writes the Everything New devotional, and whose work appears regularly here on the Bible Gateway blog. Knowing Him is a daily email devotional centered on the premise of Philippians 3:10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.” Here’s how Mel describes it:

The readings will get into the story of Jesus’ last week, including the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. We will also explore the meaning of forgiveness, atonement, redemption, and other things Jesus accomplished for us.

Mel’s also encouraging people to re-use and share the Knowing Him devotionals (with appropriate attribution) at your blog, church, study group, etc. (See here for details.)

So if you’re looking for a thoughtful, reflective devotional to walk you up to Easter Sunday (or if you missed out on the earlier Easter devotionals), this is a great option. Visit our Lent devotions page to sign up.

Posted by Andy

Did the Early Church Invent Jesus’ Divinity After the Fact? Michael Bird Discusses Bart Ehrman’s New Book (And An Unusual Rebuttal)

Bart Ehrman’s newest book, ‘How Jesus Became God.’

Did Jesus’ disciples believe that Jesus was God? Was Jesus’ divinity something that was attributed to him after the fact—perhaps even centuries later—by the early church? That’s the argument of Bart Ehrman’s latest book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, released this week.

Ehrman, of course, is no stranger to controversy; his books have challenged many orthodox Christian beliefs about God, Jesus, the early church, and the Bible. So what’s noteworthy about the latest Ehrman book? What’s interesting is that it’s being released alongside a counterargument: a book called How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman, by a team of five Bible scholars. (And not only are the two books being released side-by-side, but they’re being published by two arms of the same publishing company: HarperOne and Zondervan, both subsidiaries of HarperCollins.*)

One of the contributers to How God Became Jesus is theology professor Michael Bird (who you may recognize from our blog roundtable last year about the doctrine of biblical inerrancy). When Bird read the manuscript of Ehrman’s book, he was inspired to write a rebuttal of what he considered Ehrman’s unconvincing argument.

It’s a fascinating situation, both because the topic (the divinity of Jesus) is an important one, and because it’s rare to see an argument/counterargument presented so straightfowardly in print. When we at Bible Gateway heard that Michael Bird had sat down with Emily Varner of Academic Publishing Services to talk about the reasons behind this unusual rebuttal, we were intrigued—and we’re thrilled to present to you the entirety of that discussion. Here is that discussion, in which Bird discusses the reasons behind this rebuttal, some of the weak points in Erhman’s arguments, and how we should critically consider claims like those in How Jesus Became God.

A Conversation with Michael Bird

Emily Varner: Tell us about deciding to put this book together.

‘How God Became Jesus,’ a rebuttal of Ehrman’s newest book.

Michael Bird: Well, I was walking around the book stalls at SBL, and saw the poster for Bart Ehrman’s new book, How Jesus Became God. From the blurb, I reckon I had a pretty good idea as to what he was gonna say, and believed that a timely and thoughtful response should be made. And—to be honest—while I have a great respect for some of Ehrman’s works on textual criticism and early Christian history, I’m rather fed-up with the often extravagant and inflated claims that either he or his publicity team makes in his popular level books about Jesus, the Bible, and the early church. I’m weary of getting emails from some distraught undergrad who heard the latest overstated or unguarded remark that Ehrman or one of his acolytes are saying on the TV, web, or in print. So I wanted to put forward an alternative view to take him on and show that he’s not holding all the aces. So I approached a few friends whom I know to be eminent scholars but would share my interest (Simon Gathercole, Chris Tilling, Craig Evans, and Chuck Hill), and suggested we write a short response to Ehrman. My editor at Zondervan, Katya Covrett, who always has a mixture of curiosity and concern when I share new ideas with her, thought this crazy idea could work. HarperOne was gracious enough to give us a pre-pub copy of the book, which we read and reflected on immediately, we then wrote up our responses over Christmas, and the whole thing came together remarkably well.

EV: What bad outcomes of Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God are you hoping to counter with How God Became Jesus?

MB: There are a number of elements we want to contest or qualify. First, early views on Jesus as a “divine” figure were not just cut and pasted onto him from the polytheistic world of Clash of the Titans with Greek gods who become human or Emperors who become a god at death. Second, there is Jesus’ selfunderstanding. While Jesus saw himself as a prophet, he seems to have also thought of himself as more than a prophet. He spoke with a divine authority, identified himself with God’s own activity in the world, believed that in his own person he was embodying the return of the LORD to Jerusalem, and he would be enthroned right beside God in the future. Third, regarding whether Jesus was buried and his body just thrown in some ditch as carrion for scavengers, we show that the burial traditions in the Gospels have a lot more going for them than Ehrman alleges. Fourth, we strive to show that, against Ehrman, Paul did not think of Jesus as an angel who became human, but as a pre-existing being, who was part of the very identity of God. Fifth, and finally, the various challenges the early church faced in developing a grammar and framework for thinking about Jesus as fully God and fully human also need to get the proper nuance and commentary, which is not always given to them.

EV: What strengths do the contributors to this book bring to the table?

MB: Well, I have worked in fields as diverse as historical Jesus, the life and theology of the Apostle Paul, and Jewish messianism. Craig Evans has special expertise in the background of the New Testament and especially in working on the Gospels. Simon Gathercole is well known for his work on Paul’s theology, the pre-existence of Jesus in the Gospels, and studies in non-canonical Gospels. Chris Tilling is an expert in Paul’s christology in its ancient context. Charles Hill has worked largely on the Gospel, Letters, and Revelation of John as it was used and interpreted in the early church. So that’s quite a suite of skills and research experiences that we bring to the task.

EV: One of Ehrman’s claims about How Jesus Became God is that it took him eight years to research and write the book. Yet your book was put together in short order. How are you confident that the contributors have sufficiently dealt with the challenges Ehrman has leveled against the “early Christology club”?

MB: Yes, we did write the book quickly, very quickly, however, all of the contributors have been working in the field of Christian origins for decades. For example, no one would doubt Craig Evans’s ability to discuss archaeological evidence for crucifixion and Jewish burial practices, he’s intimately familiar with the area. Similarly, Chris Tilling, though he was a newly minted PhD, has just written a PhD thesis on Paul’s Christology. He is probably more conversant than anyone around at the moment with the interpretive issues pertaining to Paul’s understanding of Jesus and the vast secondary literature—in English and German—that discusses it.

EV: You applaud Ehrman for raising historical questions about Jesus for the twenty-first century, but reject his conclusions. What historical discoveries make it possible to do new studies now?

MB: Well we have a much better understanding of the nature of monotheism for one thing. The ancient world was not all Clash of the Titans and we can nuance a bit better what we mean by “monotheism” and how we understand monotheism in relation to intermediary figures like Angels, God’s Word, and Wisdom, etc. We also have more archaeological evidence from places like Meggido, where we can see the various ways in which Christians were venerating Jesus as “God.”

EV: One refrain that seems to echo throughout the book is a criticism of Ehrman for not accounting for how deeply rooted Early Christianity was in Judaism. Can you explain this?

MB: One claim that gets repeatedly made in How God Became Jesus is that the New Testament depictions of Jesus, especially in Paul’s letters, appear to be what many scholars call a “Christological monotheism,” which where Jewish monotheism has been redefined in light of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is regarded as part of the divine identity, which is why he is a fitting object of worship, he’s not a second god, not a lesser god, but part of God’s own being and activity, while remaining a distinct person in himself.

EV: Is How God Became Jesus just a catchy play on the Ehrman book, or does it have a deeper theological or historical meaning?

MB: Well partly, “yes,” but on another level the titles reflect the two positions. For Ehrman—and others—plotting the beliefs about Jesus in the early church is really plotting the evolution of belief in Jesus as the one who proclaimed God, to the later point when he was proclaimed as God. We don’t deny that it took time for the earliest churches to sort out in their own minds who Jesus was, to determine what Scriptures best expressed his purpose and identity, to find the best grammar and terminology to talk about him. It was a messy process with many steps forwards and few backwards. That said, we think the evidence points to the fact that early on, certainly within 20 years of his death, Jesus was identified and worshipped in such a way as to make it clear that he was regarded as being intrinsic to the God of Israel’s own identity. It wasn’t that Jesus was a man who became God, rather, it seems, as far as our sources tell us, it was God who became man, the man Jesus of Nazareth.

EV: How would you respond if someone said, “Doesn’t this discussion just boil down to faith (‘just trust the church teaching’) or respect for the Bible (‘the Bible says it, that settles it’)”?

MB: Well, yes, in one sense, you either believe the church’s testimony or you don’t. The important question is, however, what does the church’s testimony about Jesus found in Scripture actually say? Ehrman and friends think that it does not give a clear or consistent presentation of his divine nature, but ebbs and flows over different ways of identifying him as divine in vague or incomplete senses, and the NT language about Jesus has been largely misread or misunderstood. Okay, maybe some good points are scored by Ehrman here and there, but for the most part, we are not convinced by the evidence or the reasons that Ehrman provides for thinking that Jesus was “divine” in the senses that Ehrman maps onto the various books of the New Testament.

* Full disclosure: Bible Gateway is a part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, although Bible Gateway was not involved with either of the books discussed in this blog post.

Posted by Andy

What’s the Place of the Bible in American Christianity? Surprising Results from a New Survey

There have been quite a few surveys in recent years looking to better understand the ways that American Christians do and don’t put their personal faith into practice. Every time I hear of a new survey, I never know if I’m going to be pleasantly surprised or just depressed by what it reveals about the American church. Well, a new survey this month provides some food for thought, and some good cause to hope that a lot of Americans do make the Bible a central part of their religious life.

The survey in question was undertaken by the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture and contributes a hefty batch of new data to fuel the ongoing discussion about Christianity in America. The Bible in American Life Report contains a lot of fascinating detail, particularly about how American Christians interact with the Bible.

The complete 44-page report is worth reading in full, but they’ve nicely summarized some of the most interesting findings. What jumps out at you from this list of findings (quoted from the survey report)?

  • There is a 50/50 split among Americans who read any form of scripture in the past year and those who did not. Among those who did, women outnumber men, older people outnumber younger people, and Southerners exceed those from other regions of the country.
  • Among those who read any form of scripture in the past year, 95% named the Bible as the scripture they read. All told, this means that 48% of Americans read the Bible at some point in the past year. Most of those people read at least monthly, and a substantial number—9% of all Americans—read the Bible daily.
  • Despite the proliferation of Bible translations, the King James Version is the top choice—and by a wide margin—of Bible readers.
  • The strongest correlation with Bible reading is race, with African Americans reading the Bible at considerably higher rates than others.
  • Half of those who read the Bible in the past year also committed scripture to memory. About two-thirds of congregations in America hold events for children to memorize verses from the Bible.
  • Among Bible readers, about half had a favorite book, verse, or story. Psalm 23, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd…” was cited most often, followed by John 3:16.
  • Bible readers consult scripture for personal prayer and devotion three times more than to learn about culture war issues such as abortion, homosexuality, war, or poverty.
  • There are clear differences among Bible readers consulting scripture for specific reasons. Age, income, and education are key factors.
  • Those reading the Bible frequently consult it on culture war issues more than two times the rate as those who read it less frequently.
  • Less than half of those who read the Bible in the past year sought help in understanding it. Among those who did, clergy were their top source; the Internet was the least cited source.
  • Among Bible readers, 31% read it on the Internet and 22% use e-devices.
  • Bible reading differences among religious traditions followed predictably the historic divides between Protestants and Catholics, and between white conservative and white moderate/liberal Protestants. However, reading practices defy some stereotypes about certain groups.

(Be sure to read the complete report for the full context behind these highlights.)

I’m struck by the popularity of the King James Bible (it’s popular with Bible Gateway visitors, but not quite to the extent that this report found in broader American culture); and by the (pleasantly higher than I would’ve expected) percentage of Americans who regularly read and even memorize Scripture. That the Internet is the least popular source for finding help in understanding the Bible is a surprise, although it’s reassuring to hear that Christians are turning to trusted clergy with their Bible questions.

What else stands out to you, either from these highlights or from the rest of the report?

Posted by Andy

The “Can We Still Believe the Bible?” Blog Tour

Can We Still Believe the Bible?
The Can We Still Believe the Bible? blog tour is underway through March 27 among 11 scholarly bloggers to discuss the book of the same title by Craig L. Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary.

In the book, Blomberg argues that a careful analysis of the evidence shows there is reason to be more confident in the Bible in the 21st century than ever before.

Throughout the world, people accept or reject the inerrancy of Scripture, remaining unaware of ancient standards of trustworthiness while thinking that inerrancy must mean that the Bible conforms to modern standards of precision in reporting. Few wrestle with what inerrancy means for literary genres besides history or biography, but many insist that all narrative genres must report nonfictional events.

[My book's] main claim is that the Bible very much can be trusted, even in light of the kinds of skepticism sketched out here.

Read the Introduction.

The tour bloggers are:

  • Daniel B. Wallace (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary)
  • Ken Schenck (PhD, University of Durham)
  • Joel L. Watts (MA, United Theological Seminary)
  • Lee Martin McDonald (PhD, University of Edinburgh)
  • Phillip J. Long (PhD, Andrews University)
  • Darrell L. Bock (PhD, University of Aberdeen)
  • Michael Bird (PhD, University of Queensland)
  • Nijay K. Gupta (PhD, University of Durham)
  • Matthew Montonini (MA, Ashland Theological Seminary)
  • David B. Capes (PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)
  • Craig S. Keener (PhD, Duke University)

Follow the tour postings, then buy the book at BibleGatewayStore.com.

Posted by Jonathan

Should Digital Bibles be Used in Inaugural Ceremonies? Bible Gateway Visitors Weigh In

Nearly six out of every ten people (57%) say a digital Bible on a mobile device has no place whatsoever in political and judicial swearing-in ceremonies and that only a print Bible is acceptable. That’s according to Bible Gateway’s latest online poll, in which more than 5,000 people voted.

We posed the question after Nassau County, NY, Executive Edward Mangano was sworn in for his second term earlier this year using an iPad and Bible app when officials were unable to locate a physical copy of the Bible.

Our poll asked Does a digital Bible on a mobile device have the same significance as a print Bible in political and judicial swearing-in ceremonies? Out of a total of 5,057 votes cast in the survey, the majority (57%, 2,882 votes) said, “No, only a print Bible is acceptable.” Less than one-quarter (22%, 1,097 votes), said, “Yes, either digital or print is acceptable.”

A further minority (9%, 437 votes) were agreeable to a digital Bible but with the stipulation that “the Bible text must be showing on the screen or it doesn’t count.”

Only 4% (220 votes) believed that “a digital Bible should be the preferred method” over a print Bible.

And 8% (411 votes) voted that neither a digital nor print Bible should be used. They said, “A Bible is not necessary for such ceremonies.”

For those believing in the appropriateness of a digital Bible, we encourage you to download Bible Gateway’s critically-acclaimed and award-winning free Bible app for iPhone, iPad, Android, and Kindle Fire at http://m.BibleGateway.com/app. It offers multiple text and audio Bible versions in a variety of languages, Bible reference books, reading plans, reminders, and more.

Our next Bible Gateway poll asks “Should Hollywood be making Bible-based movies?” Cast your vote below:

Should Hollywood be making Bible-based movies?

  • Yes, but ONLY if the exact content of the Bible is strictly adhered to (73%, 713 Votes)
  • Yes, the stories of the Bible are great content for the big screen and can withstand artistic license (37%, 359 Votes)
  • No, the Bible should never be used by Hollywood as entertainment (0%, 132 Votes)

Total Voters: 981

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Posted by Jonathan

New Rick Warren and Max Lucado Email Devotions Join Our Easter Library

How is your Lent journey coming along? If you made a Lent commitment of some sort, have you been able to stick to it, or has it been a struggle?

If you haven’t noticed, we’ve made two new additions to our Lent email devotional library in the last week. Each is based on the writing of a prominent Christian writer you just might have heard of. They are:

  • On the Road to Calvary: Easter Reflections by Max Lucado: Where is your life taking you? Are you on a brief journey from painful encounters? Take a seven-day Lent devotional journey with Max Lucado. This devotional begins the day you sign up for it, and is a good choice for anyone looking for a short but encouraging Lent devotional to read.
  • The Daniel Plan: Are you making lifestyle choices that honor God’s will for your life and health? Every Wednesday, The Daniel Plan newsletter will encourage you with one brief healthy tip from the national bestselling book of the same title by Rick Warren, Daniel Amen, and Mark Hyman, along with a corresponding Bible verse.

Sign up for either or both of these devotionals here.

Don’t forget also that Mel Lawrenz’ Knowing Him Lent devotional will begin on March 30 and run through the final weeks to Easter. Between these and the other items on our Lent devotions page, there are plenty of options for you to choose from. So whether you’re looking for an intense daily Scripture reading or a reflective, once-a-week devotional, we’ve got you covered.

Posted by Andy

Do the Biblical Accounts of Easter Contradict Each Other?

Is the Bible full of contradictions? At some point every Bible reader, whether they’re a skeptic or a believer, must come to terms with perceived differences and contradictions in the Bible text. And these questions naturally assume a particular urgency around Easter.

Why is that? Because the events of Easter—Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, as well as the events leading up to them—are among the most precisely detailed stories in the Bible. But more than that, the events of Easter are described by four different biblical authors. And four different perspectives make for four slightly different accounts. What should we make of these differences? Are these accounts truly contradictory? Do they weaken the trustworthiness of the Bible?

If you’re troubled by, or simply curious about, alleged Bible contradictions in the Easter accounts or other Bibles stories, here are some reflections to help you think through the issue:

Posted by Andy

New York Times Bestseller ‘The Daniel Plan’ Now a Weekly Newsletter

The Daniel PlanHow are you progressing on your New Year’s resolution to slim down and get in shape? Don’t lose heart if you’ve already abandoned it.

Reignite your fervor by signing up to receive the free newsletter The Daniel Plan every Wednesday in your email inbox.

Every week a very brief message will give you a Bible verse and one healthy tip from the national bestselling book The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life by Rick Warren, Daniel Amen, and Mark Hyman. The newsletter will quickly and regularly encourage you in your commitment to achieve a well-balanced, healthier life.

The book The Daniel Plan teaches simple ways to incorporate healthy choices into a person’s current lifestyle. It helps readers understand the kind of foods God created to keep them fit and strong. The book is categorized around five key concepts for optimal health that promote success: faith, food, fitness, focus, and friends. These concepts encourage readers to deepen their relationship with God and offer inspiration as they make positive choices each and every day.

Go to our subscription page and sign up today for The Daniel Plan newsletter. While there, be sure to sign up for any other of our more than 60 free Bible reading plans and devotional newsletters.

Posted by Jonathan

The Gift of Unanswered Questions (Guest Post by Jennifer Dukes Lee)

My oldest daughter asks her hardest questions at bedtime, when we flop open the pages of Scripture atop her flowered quilt.

We flip through pages of her Bible, rustling like onion skins between our fingers. We land on the story of David and Goliath, and I read aloud the story of a heroic boy who felled a giant with one smooth stone.

In the bluish light of her bedside lamp, I can see on her face what’s coming next. She wears the hard questions in her knitted brow and tilted head.

“Mom?” she asks. “Why would God think it’s OK to kill Goliath? Isn’t all murder wrong?”

Instead of groping for a theologically sound answer to a reasonable question, I look straight into her eyes and give her my usual response: “That is a really good question, Lydia. What do you think?”

Some parents might consider this a cop-out – answering a nine-year-old girl’s question with a question. But the way I figure, the most important part of this bedtime ritual isn’t the answer, but the freedom to ask the questions. I pray, even, that she and I might find joy in the questions.

Under the quilt most nights, my daughter and I trade theories and exchange hypotheses, which produce even more questions. I watch how our detective work lights up her hazel eyes — eyes that look like mine. People say this daughter is my “mini-me,” but here’s the big difference between us. She has the courage to ask the questions that I never dared ask at her age. Questions like:

  • How do we know that Jesus is real?
  • Are people just robots, and is God pushing the buttons, or do we decide how to live?
  • Why did God let Adam and Eve eat that apple?
  • If God loves us, why would he let bad things happen?

Even when I don’t have answers, I can give her the gift of a safe place to wonder. I pull her in closer to me, cradling her in the crook of my arm.

On this night, I tell her again how I found Jesus right in the middle of my questions, when I finally got around to admitting that I had them. I tell her about the five words highlighted in the study notes of my own Bible, right beside the story of the world’s most famous doubter, Thomas. The words are these: “Silent doubts rarely find answers.”

And I tell her how when I quit running from my questions, I found some of the answers in the most unlikely places: the tarnished stories of our faith heroes.

“That’s how we know the stories are real, Lydia,” I said, “These aren’t fairy tales. The characters in the Bible are real and weak and broken. They made mistakes, just like we do.”

I lean across her side of the bed to switch off the lamp. We say our night prayers, and somewhere in the darkness of the room, the unanswered question about Goliath still hangs in the air.

But tonight, neither of us is haunted by the question mark.

Because we both know there’s one thing worse than the question that can’t be answered. It’s the question that was never asked.

Jennifer Dukes LeeBIO: Jennifer Dukes Lee (@dukeslee) is an award-winning storyteller and a grace dweller, blogging about faith at JenniferDukesLee.com. She is author of the book, Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval–and Seeing Yourself Through God’s Eyes (Tyndale House Publishers, 2014). Jennifer and her husband live on the Lee family farm near Inwood, Iowa, with their two daughters.

Posted by Jonathan

Your Light (Guest Post by Annie Downs)

This is the fourth and final post in a series; in part 3, Annie discussed what it means to be a “lamp on a stand.”

When you look in the mirror, what do you say?

No, that’s not a typo. I’m not asking what you see, I’m asking what you SAY. What do you say to yourself when you look at your own reflection? As a young adult, I struggled with self-esteem, with understanding that God had made me on purpose. And when I would look in the mirror, the venom I would spew in my own direction was dark and hateful. Yet, as a Christian teenager, I served and loved God and wanted to impact those around me on His behalf.

I thought I knew how to be a light, the way Jesus mentions in Matthew.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

Jesus was always intentional with His words, and this portion is no different. He starts turning our gaze to the world, then to our own cities and then into our own homes. But He didn’t end the conversation there- He finished with reminding us that each of us, individually, is a light.

If we want to be a light, we have to speak love to ourselves. We have to see ourselves the way God sees us- bright, shiny, clean, worthy. Only then can you be the light He wants you to be. How you speak to yourself, how you use words in your own mind, the lies you choose to fight and the truth you choose to believe, it all is meant to make you shine brighter and brighter in a dark world.

Call it like it is. YOU ARE A LIGHT. God has chosen to shine through you. And then? He wants you to shine in your home, a lamp on a stand. And as you do that, and your family does too, and the families and friends around you join in, y’all become a city on a hill—you light up your community in ways you never knew. And then? Then you become a light to the world. And the dark places aren’t dark anymore—they see Jesus.

Annie Downs is an author who loves helping young people—especially teen girls and young women—overcome the challenges that life puts in the way of their spiritual development. Her most recent book is Speak Love. Follow Annie at her blog, or on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted by Andy