Skip to content

Most Recent Blog Posts

God of the Big Bang: An Interview with Leslie Wickman, Rocket Scientist

Leslie Wickman PhDLeslie Wickman PhD, former Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space corporate astronaut, rocket scientist, and engineer on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station programs, is chair of the Engineering and Computer Science department and director of the Center for Research in Science at Azusa Pacific University. Stanford University-educated, she also works as a research scientist with government think tanks on technical and political aspects of national aerospace and defense issues.

Bible Gateway interviewed Dr. Wickman (@LeslieWickman) about her book, God of the Big Bang: How Modern Science Affirms the Creator (Worthy Publishing, 2015).

Click to buy your copy of God of the Big Bang in the Bible Gateway Store

Why is it important to understand that “God is the author of two books: the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature”?

Dr. Wickman: Since God reveals himself in both Scripture and nature, the two cannot logically contradict each other. So the key to a fuller understanding of who God is lies in seeing how the message of scripture and the evidence from nature fit together and inform each other.

You wrote an op/ed for CNN that stressed science and faith are not in competition. What do you mean when you say there’s an illusion of conflict between science and religion?

Dr. Wickman: I think the illusion of a conflict between science and religion can come from incomplete knowledge, flawed interpretation of Scripture or the facts of nature, or just a general lack of understanding of how the two areas fit together. The illusion of conflict between science and religion seems to be perpetuated primarily by fundamentalists at the polar extremes of this dialog. These two extreme positions give rise to a perceived conflict between science and religion, but the real conflict is between “Scientism” (a combination of natural science and a secular worldview), and “Creationism” (a combination of Christian worldview plus a strict, 21st century western biblical literalism, especially with regard to a 6-day creation). But the illusion of conflict is really just a confusion of concepts that don’t necessarily go together. In other words, science can be successfully practiced without a secular worldview, just as Christianity can be faithfully practiced without a 6-day interpretation of creation.

How is the “Big Bang” theory more “God-friendly” than other scientific models?

Dr. Wickman: The Big Bang model of the universe is much more God-friendly than the model that was popular before it (the Steady State Model). The Big Bang model states that there was a beginning to the universe, and by cause and effect logic, a beginning necessitates a cause, or a Beginner. Other models, such as the Steady State model, say that the universe always existed, so there was no need to explain a beginning. Also, contrary to popular opinion, the Big Bang was not a chaotic explosion, but rather a very highly ordered, finely tuned event.

How do you incorporate 1 Corinthians 13:12 into your thinking?

Dr. Wickman: The more we learn, the more we realize how little we really know about the big picture of physical and spiritual reality, so “now we see through a glass, darkly.” Our current knowledge, understanding, and interpretation of both Scripture and nature are limited and incomplete, so of course there are going to be areas where we don’t see how things fit together very well. But the more we learn, the more the picture comes into sharper focus. We have a lot to learn, but that’s one thing that makes the future exciting!

How do discoveries with the Hubble Telescope corroborate Scripture?

Dr. Wickman: The primary things we’re discovering through science in general that relate to Scripture have to do with two main themes: first, the universe had a beginning, therefore there had to be a cause; and second, the universe displays a long and growing list of characteristics that have to be just exactly as they are in order to support complex life, strongly suggesting that there is some creative intelligence behind all of it.

What do you say to people who say the Bible is scientifically unsound?

Dr. Wickman: The Bible was never meant to be a science book; its message is theological. The writers used the accepted ancient near eastern science of their day when describing nature (otherwise their message would have been dismissed as incomprehensible to their original audience).

Briefly, what are a few of Earth’s astounding and finely tuned characteristics you write about in the book?

Dr. Wickman: Earth’s temperature is not too hot, not too cold, but rather just right so that water (the perfect solvent) can exist in all three physical phases, allowing for the life-giving water cycle. Earth’s mass is not too big, not too small, giving us just the right gravity to be strong enough to hold onto life-giving water vapor (weighing 18 grams per mole), but not strong enough to hold onto large amounts of the slightly lighter poisonous gases, methane (at 16 grams per mole) and ammonia (at 17 grams per mole). Since we’re on the topic of water, it has the unusual characteristic of becoming less dense when it freezes (unlike pretty much every other substance), so water ice floats on top of liquid water, providing an insulating blanket over the top of the water below. Without this unusual property, water would sink when it freezes, leaving the surface exposed to cold winter temperatures, and allowing more and more of the water to freeze and sink. Eventually many of the earth’s large bodies of water would freeze solid, and only the upper layers would melt during the warmer seasons. Severe ice ages would be virtually impossible for the planet to recover from.

You list nine environmental themes woven throughout the Bible. What are a few of them?

Dr. Wickman: Various Scripture verses speak of the value God puts on creation. There are two specific Bible passages that have had the greatest impact on my personal view of creation: Genesis 1:31 and John 3:16. God deeply loves and values everything he made. One theme is human stewardship, in which God gives humans responsibility for creation (Gen. 1:28, Deut. 22:6-7, and Heb. 2:8). Others include provision by God for humankind through creation (Gen. 1:29, Ruth 1:6, and Matt. 5:45), praise, wherein all of creation praises their Creator (Ps. 69:34 and Rev. 5:13), and the witness of nature to God’s authority and provision (Ex. 9:28-29 and Acts 14:17).

What do you hope to achieve with your book?

Dr. Wickman: My hope is that readers will experience an “AHA” moment in reading my book, when they realize for themselves—either for the first time, or in a deeper way—that there is no real conflict between science and faith, and that they don’t have to choose between the two. Furthermore, I hope they’ll be able to share this experience with others.

I also hope this book ignites conversations about life’s big questions, because these are the most important things we can ponder and help each other work through.

Who Was Paul, and How Should We Understand His Epistles?

howtounderstandthebible

This is part of Mel Lawrenz’ “How to Understand the Bible” series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.


Besides Jesus, no single figure was more influential in the beginnings of Christianity than the apostle Paul. Of the 27 books of the New Testament, 13 are attributed to Paul. Take a look at a Bible map showing the missionary journeys of Paul, and you will be astonished to see the territory he covered—not just geographically, but culturally as well.

He was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin, and he became an impassioned member of the Pharisees (Rom. 11:1; Phil. 3:4-5; Acts 23:6). He came from the city of Tarsus, grew up in the midst of Greco-Roman culture, and was a Roman citizen. This remarkable background meant he was able to speak the gospel into urban settings. He was comfortable in Jerusalem, but also capable of moving into places like Crete, Greece, and Rome. His adaptability was amazing. He spoke with magistrates and philosophers and tradespeople.

PaulTrial-1024x604

His strong views about faith in Christ were most certainly tempered by his dramatic conversion. In the New Testament there is no more radical story of personal change than the story of the young man who was drafted by his fellow Pharisees to actively investigate and prosecute the early followers of Jesus. He stood by as the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death. But while traveling to Damascus in Syria to find and arrest more of Jesus’ followers, he had a supernatural encounter with Jesus and would soon undergo the utter change of mind and heart, which in his epistles he describes as conversion or repentance.

It wasn’t easy for the other apostles to accept this persecutor in their midst, much less endorse him as a teacher. But with the passing of years, Paul eventually set out on his first great journey with a few close companions in tow.

There is quite some variation in the epistles of Paul. Four are called his “prison epistles” because he wrote them from prison (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon). The stress of being in prison comes through at points. For instance, while writing the epistle to his dear friends at Philippi, he believes he may be close to execution.

Of these four, one is written to one person about a runaway slave (Philemon), whereas another, Ephesians, seems to have been written for a whole region of churches.

Three of the epistles, written very late, are usually called “the pastoral epistles” because they contain instructions to Paul’s companions Timothy and Titus on how to protect order, harmony, and correct teaching in their churches. Not surprisingly, these are epistles that church leaders look to in shaping ministry roles in congregations. The qualifications for elders and deacons (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1), for instance, describe essential leadership character and are easily applied in our own churches today.

Romans is a powerful, comprehensive description of the whole of the gospel. It covers creation, sin, redemption, and eventual restoration. The special issue of righteousness and grace is emphasized in Romans, as it also is in the epistle of Galatians. First and 2 Corinthians offer great insight into an apostle trying his best to respond to tensions in a troubled church, to challenge bad values, and to call people to action. There is a special poignancy in 2 Corinthians as Paul describes his own hurt through the efforts of those trying to discredit him, and his anxiety about his relationship with the Corinthian church. Here we see the humility of Paul, even as he describes himself as unimpressive in physical appearance and unremarkable as a public speaker. Now that is astonishing to read! The apostle Paul, a so-so preacher.

What should we bear in mind as we read and try to comprehend the epistles of Paul?

In order to understand the epistles of the New Testament, we must begin with context. Every epistle was written to a specific audience and for a specific purpose. If we dig around, we can figure out what false teaching the book of Colossians is countering, what slavery looked like, what family life was like, what the features of the culture were at the time. Then we can ask: “What universal and timeless truths is the author drawing on, truths that apply to us today?”

We may not “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16) today, but Christian grace and civility still apply. First Peter 3:3 recommends not wearing gold jewelry because in that culture it was ostentatious to do so. Today, avoiding ostentatiousness still applies, though having a gold ring or a gold cross does not rise to that same level. Having elders oversee the ministry of churches today still applies, although having one man appoint them (as Paul instructed Timothy to do) isn’t typically the method of selection that is used.

The epistles extend the richness of Holy Scripture, and they remind us once again that the word of God is truth in relationship.


Get the whole book version of How to Understand the Bible here. Not yet signed up to receive “How to Understand the Bible” via email? You can follow along here at the blog, but we recommend signing up for email updates here. “How to Understand the Bible” is available as a print book at WordWay.org.

Mel Lawrenz is Director of The Brook Network and creator of The Influence Project. He’s the author of thirteen books, most recently Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership.

50-Year Anniversary Celebration Continues with the NIV Bible: ‘Made to Study’

To continue celebrating 50 years since work began on the New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible, Biblica (@BiblicaMinistry) and Zondervan (@Zondervan) are releasing the next campaign theme: Made to Study.

[Browse the Bible Gateway Store to see the many editions of New International Version Bibles.]

Since its release in 1978, the NIV has become the world’s most read and most trusted modern-English Bible translation with over 450 million copies distributed worldwide.

[See our Live-Blog: Doug Moo’s Special Message on Bible Translation (Live Presentation from ETS 2014).]

The “Made to Study” theme focuses on the historical milestones that accompanied the translation process. Fifty years ago, an international committee of cross-denominational evangelical scholars committed to spend countless hours discussing and debating detailed translation and language nuances. Their goal? To create a Bible translation that could be understood and adopted by pastors, academics, and laypeople alike.

In 1978, the committee, known as The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), released the full version of the NIV; readers were ecstatic that they could finally understand the Word of God in contemporary language. But the CBT’s work was far from complete. A smaller group of committee scholars assembled study notes, maps, charts, and diagrams to provide additional content and context, resulting in the NIV Study Bible. This Bible released in 1985 and provided unprecedented clarity with over 20,000 study notes and hundreds of study tools available to readers. The NIV Study Bible was designed for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the Bible. To date, this Study Bible has sold more than 10 million copies, making it the best-selling single study Bible available over the past 30 years.

“This #NIV50 anniversary campaign has been exciting thus far and we have only just begun to share the history of the NIV in this year-long campaign,” said John Kramp, SVP and Bible publisher for HarperCollins Christian Publishing (of which Zondervan is a part). “The Made to Study campaign will continue to bring historical context to the NIV’s establishment within the Christian movement throughout the world. In addition to the translation itself, another key milestone of the CBT’s hard work was the publication of the NIV Study Bible. This Bible has been so impactful in helping Bible readers to grow deeper in their faith and understanding of God’s Word. Hundreds of thousands of people have come to better know Jesus because of this Bible’s commitment to making the deep study of God’s Word achievable.”

Visit www.thenivbible.com to read several stories related to the Made to Study theme under the “50th Anniversary” tab. Also available on the site are a 365-day reading plan and tools for finding the NIV Bible that’s right for you.

[Sign up to receive the free NIV (and other versions) Bible Verse-of-the-Day in your email inbox from Bible Gateway.]

[Download the free Bible Gateway App, on which is available the NIV and many other Bible versions.]

About Zondervan
Zondervan is a world-leading Bible publisher and provider of Christian communications. Zondervan, part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., delivers transformational Christian experiences through its bestselling Bibles, books, curriculum, academic resources and digital products. The Company’s products are sold worldwide and translated into nearly 200 languages. Zondervan’s offices are located in Grand Rapids, MI. For additional information, visit www.zondervan.com.

About Biblica
For over 200 years, Biblica has provided God’s Word so people can enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ and be formed by him. The Colorado Springs-based non-profit organization works in Africa, East Asia, the Pacific, Europe, Latin America, Middle East/North Africa, North America, and South Asia. Biblica translates and publishes the complete Bible into the world’s 100 most widely spoken languages and is the translation sponsor and worldwide publisher of the New International Version® (NIV®) Bible, the most widely used contemporary English translation in the world. For additional information, visit www.biblica.com.

Read the Original Before Watching the Reproduced

If you’re not careful, you might end up believing more in dramatic interpretation than the original Bible script during this year of Hollywood’s capitalizing on the popularity of biblical events. Big-budget biblical programming has found its way to the theater and television because producers have seen skyrocketing success in box office receipts and ad revenue.

According to film critic and Hollywood historian Leonard Maltin, when it comes to finding plot and script material for movies, “there is nothing older or more reliable than the Bible.” It’s important to remember that, as well acted and written as these productions may be, we need to ground ourselves in the original Bible stories and events from which these entertainment creations spring.

We encourage you to read the original text—on which these movies and mini-series are based—right here on Bible Gateway. Following is a brief list of popular entertainment offerings and their corresponding Bible text:

The Bible Really Is God’s Word

[Editor’s Note: Dr. Stephen J. NicholsThis guest blogpost is by Stephen J. Nichols, President of Reformation Bible College and Chief Academic Officer of Ligonier Ministries, Sanford, Florida.

Reformation Trust, the publishing ministry of Ligonier, has thoroughly revised the Reformation Study Bible (2015) with more than 20,000 study notes and commentary by 75 scholars under the leadership of Dr. R. C. Sproul, who says, “By presenting a modern restatement of biblical, Reformation truth in its comments and theological notes, the Reformation Study Bible (2015) aims to carry on the legacy of the Geneva Bible in shining forth the light of biblical Christianity, which was recovered in the Reformation.”

Bible passage search result page exampleThe Reformation Study Bible (2015) study notes are available on Bible Gateway by tapping the “STUDY THIS” blue box on the Bible passage search result pages.]

A recent op-ed column in The New York Times attempted to make the point that the Bible is rather obsolete; that the Bible reflects the views of an ancient world, and that we now know better.

There is nothing new, really, in this argument. At the beginnings of the 20th century, similar arguments were made based on science in the wake of Darwin and his views on origins. What we had thought about human origins, based on the Bible, needed to be rethought based on the advances in science, based on what we now know.

Click to buy your copy of Reformation Study Bible (2015) in the Bible Gateway StoreWe can even go back further still to find challenges to God’s Word. In fact, if we are looking for the first time God’s Word was challenged we have to go all the way back to the beginning, back to the Garden of Eden and the Serpent’s challenge laid before Eve.

There really is nothing new to challenges to God’s Word.

So here we are, in the 21st century and in the wake of developments in the social sciences, being told that again we now know better than what the Bible has to say.

Paul knew of challenges to God’s Word in his own day. He knew his Old Testament quite well enough to know of the challenges to God’s Word in centuries previous to his own. In order to steel his young churches and their congregants he took to reminding them, in his Epistles, of what they were reading when they were reading God’s Word.

Paul opens his first letter to the church at Thessalonica with rather fond reminiscences of his time there, and of how they turned from the gods of their age to the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9). Paul remembers how he poured his life into theirs, and he remembers the message that he gave them. So Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (ESV):

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

There were plenty “words of men” in Paul’s day. These were the Romans with their Greek heritage. They loved novel ideas, new systems of thought. They debated. They shot down the old ideas. They were always looking to the promise of something new.

But what Paul and his fellow Apostles and authors of the New Testament had to offer was not some novel, cleverly crafted scheme. As Paul says, the message he preached, and the message the Thessalonian believers received, was the Word of God. It really was the Word of God.

Because it is the Word of God it is powerful enough to do two things. It is powerful enough to have opened the eyes of those Thessalonian believers to the truth. And it is powerful enough to be “at work” in them.”

To put the matter differently, the Bible is the only book powerful enough to change lives. And it is powerful enough because it really is the Word of God.

We are living in an age where God’s Word is continuously called into question. Where it is seen as not only unhelpful, but where it is also seen as a source of bigotry, intolerance, and narrow-minded, obsolete thinking.

Can we trust the Bible? That is one question. But we are living in an age where the culture around us is asking, “Can we trust those who read the Bible? Aren’t they dangerous?” That is to say, we will continually feel the pressure from our culture to privatize everything we believe, never speaking out for our beliefs and for our biblical convictions. We will also continually feel the pressure to compromise those beliefs and convictions, if not throw them overboard altogether.

We can have our Bible, but we can’t take it seriously.

Of course, that posture simply won’t work. It could work if we adhered to an ideology or some humanly constructed system of thought. In the 1700s, I could have gotten away with bloodletting as a cure. But that’s not what we are talking about here. Systems of thought, ideologies, views—they all come and go. Some are even useful and helpful. But when we open our Bibles we are engaging something different. We are not listening to the words of men. We are reading the very words of God.

And since the Bible is the Word of God we must take it seriously. We must listen to it and follow it. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ from the previous centuries faced persecution for their biblical convictions. Many of our brothers and sisters from points around the globe today face persecution for their biblical convictions. The time may very likely come for us in the American church to face persecution, as well.

May the words that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians serve to steel us as we face these challenges. May we remember that the Bible really is God’s Word. And may we receive it for what it really is.

BIO: Stephen J. Nichols (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is President of Reformation Bible College and Chief Academic Officer of Ligonier Ministries in Sanford, Florida. He is an associate editor of the Reformation Study Bible (2015) and the author of many books, including Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God’s Word and The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World.

A Book About Soul-Satisfying Peace

A new paraphrase of Paul’s letter to the Galatians and James’ letter to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” is planning to be soon published, including color photos of modern locations in Turkey and Greece that follow Paul’s missionary journeys—if its Kickstarter project is successful (click for details).

Dr. Ray SammonsThe author of Dead But Living: And How to Do It, Dr. Ray Sammons, holds a Bachelor of Theology degree from Multnomah University, Portland, Oregon, and an MS and PhD in Agricultural Economics from Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana. He’s been a Jesus follower since 1940 and combines his theological and economic training into practical Christian living.

He says, “The Bible is the best source of information about being at peace with God so I have rephrased the letters of Galatians and James to serve two purposes: for those that have never heard, it’s a road map explaining how to be accepted by and at peace with God; and for those that have heard, it’s a road map for devotion and living the highest possible quality of life.”

The rephrasing of Galatians details how people can accept Jesus’ death in exchange for their own and in doing so become dead to God’s demanding law; they died with Jesus. Those that accept Jesus’ death are dead to the law, yet they’re living before God because of Jesus’ resurrection.

Here’s an example of Dr. Sammons’ paraphrasing from Galatians 2:

Let me make a personal example. When Christ was crucified, I (and every believer) was crucified through him before the Law. So now as I live, the Law sees me dead with Christ; now I live in complete trust and reliance in the Son of God who loved me so much that he died in my place. Therefore we must not treat God’s gift as something of minor importance. We should do absolutely nothing that would set aside, invalidate, or frustrate our gift from God.

For those that are living before God the rephrasing of James details how to live the highest possible life and how to demonstrate trust in God by the things we do.

From James 1:

Would you like your spiritual life to be perfect, complete, and not wanting anything? Then rethink your reaction to your occasional difficult events. Instead of complaining about them, greet them with joy because these events give you steadfastness, so stay with it, stay on course. If rejoicing about difficulties seems like a mystery then ask God for some wisdom on how to put it into practice—he’ll give you some ideas to follow and he won’t be upset that you ask. When the ideas come, act on them—they are God’s answer to your prayer.

See the Kickstarter project.

How Should We Read the Epistles of the New Testament?

howtounderstandthebible

This is part of Mel Lawrenz’ “How to Understand the Bible” series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.


I was just eight years old at the time, but I still remember the day an irritated elderly lady came storming out of her house to yell at me. I was walking home from our three-room rural elementary school, goofing off with a couple of friends, when I opened the street-side mailbox at a random house and pretended to rifle through my mail—except it wasn’t my mail. It was the elderly lady’s mail. And she did not think my antics were one bit amusing.

Has it ever occurred to you while reading one of the epistles (letters) in the New Testament that you’re reading someone else’s mail? In a way we are, and in a way we aren’t. For two millennia Christians have read the 20 New Testament epistles as Holy Scripture, as the word of God for us. At the same time, the epistles were personal writings produced for specific people or groups of people, often responding to their particular needs. So we cannot understand the epistles unless we take the effort to discover what lies behind the words.

Paul-the-Apostle-1024x707

Some letters read like highly crafted treatises, like the magisterial epistle to the Romans. Others, like 1 and 2 Corinthians, are intricately connected with the needs of a particular group, the believers in the church in Corinth. They had evidently written the apostle Paul and asked specific questions, because he says in 1 Corinthians 7:1, “Now for the matters you wrote about… ” and then goes on at some length, responding point by point. Earlier in that same letter, Paul was responding to certain oral reports he’d gotten about what was going on in that complicated and troubled church.

A wide range of circumstances prompted the writing of the epistles. Disorder in a church, the threat of false teaching, trepidation about the end of the world, confusion about death, controversy over religious practices, ambiguity about ethics, weakness in leadership. Some epistles were meant as a word of encouragement or just a way of reconnecting. The books of Hebrews and Romans offer an expansive theological perspective. Some letters focus on a particular theological point: grace in the case of Galatians, Christ in the case of Colossians, the church in the case of Ephesians. Taken as a whole, these 20 letters add to the Canon of Holy Scripture a multifaceted, real-life description of both faith and behavior.

If you’re going to linger in a particular epistle, you will benefit from reading the article about that particular New Testament book in a good Bible dictionary or in the introduction of a commentary. You will get the essential features: who wrote it, to whom it was written, the occasion of its writing, the date, etc. If you are reading an epistle more quickly, the notes in a good study Bible will give you the important facts in brief.

It’s best to mediate on some parts of the epistles. For instance, the amazing songs and creeds and prayers embedded in some of them. Other parts of the epistles have complicated details that require the help of Bible linguists, historians, archaeologists, and the like, which we will find in Bible commentaries. If we get the help to understand what “food sacrificed to idols” means in 1 Corinthians 8, we’ll be able to learn the lesson there about Christian conscience and freedom. And we cannot understand the epistle of Philemon unless we learn something about slavery in the first century.

Epistles are one genre of Scripture that are best read in long form. Ignore the chapter and verse numbers, which were added to the biblical text in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. Reading an epistle straight through is an entirely different experience from reading a few verses at a time. Think of it this way: If you went to your mailbox today and received a multiple-page letter from a beloved relative, you’d read it straight through. You wouldn’t read one paragraph today, another tomorrow, and so on. When someone asks you, “Did you get my email yesterday?” try saying, “Yes, and I’m savoring it by reading one sentence a day,” and see what response you get. No, we read letters well when we read them naturally.

Reading Scripture in context is a sign of respect for God as much as reading a letter from your mother straight through is a sign of love. The reason, of course, is comprehension. Details at the conclusion of the epistle of Hebrews make the most sense if the start of the epistle is still rattling around in your mind.

The epistles of the New Testament may not have been addressed to us, but they are for us. And we will cherish them as much as—and more than—any letter of love or encouragement a friend ever sent to us.


Get the whole book version of How to Understand the Bible here. Not yet signed up to receive “How to Understand the Bible” via email? You can follow along here at the blog, but we recommend signing up for email updates here. “How to Understand the Bible” is available as a print book at WordWay.org.

Mel Lawrenz is Director of The Brook Network and creator of The Influence Project. He’s the author of thirteen books, most recently Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership.

Christ is Risen Today!

Christ is risen! Today is Easter, the day of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the grave. Three days after his execution, he returned from death to offer us freedom from sin and a restored relationship with God.

Here are the four Biblical accounts of Easter morning.

Matthew 28: 1-10

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.” He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ I’ve given the message to you.”

With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.” — Matthew 28: 1-10 (CEB)

John 20:1-18

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again to their own homes.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. — John 20:1-18 (NASB)

Mark 16:1-8

Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.

When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened. — Mark 16:1-8

Luke 24:1-12

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. — Luke 24:1-12 (NIV)

What is Maundy Thursday?

Today is Maundy Thursday—the Thursday before Easter. Christians around the world and across many denominations take time on this day to remember the Last Supper, when Jesus and his disciples dined together for the last time before his death. What is the significance of Maundy Thursday for us today? Below, Pastor Mel Lawrenz shares some insight into the meaning of this holiday.

Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:31-35)

On this day around the world Christians remember that tense, sensitive time Jesus spent with his disciples in the upper room and the last supper he shared with them. Many refer to this day as “Maundy Thursday.”

The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for commandment (mandatum), which Jesus talked about when he told his disciples that he was leaving them “a new commandment,” that they “love one another.” There were probably so many things going on in the disciples’ minds in that upper room where they had their last supper together, including fear and bewilderment from Jesus telling them that someone in that very room would betray him.

Jesus handed the betrayer a piece of bread, just as he had been feeding all his disciples all along. Always giving, always gracing. Jesus fed thousands of people with fish and loaves, and every word that came out of his mouth was spiritual food for those who listened and understood. But on this night he fed them differently. Passing the bread, and then the wine, he spoke ominous, comforting words: “this is my body… this is my blood.” This was not an ordinary supper, not even an ordinary Passover. His words connected with what he had said on the shores of far-away Galilee “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty…. whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:35, 54).

Jesus told them to repeat this unique meal in the future, and then it was time to go out into the chilly night. In a quiet garden among olive trees, quiet but for the deep night sounds of dogs barking in the distance, Jesus prayed. In agony he prayed. The specter of shameful execution and of bearing the curse of sin tore into the human consciousness of Jesus. And in the end it was sheer obedience to the divine plan that carried Jesus into the hands of the conspirators waiting for him. Did the disciples remember “the new command”?

Ponder This: What would have been going on in your mind had you been one of the disciples at the last supper or in the garden of Gethsemane?

This is a re-post of an article that originally appeared in 2013. You can learn more about Mel’s ministry and follow his blog at The Brook Network. You can read more on this topic (and share your thoughts) at The Brook Network’s page on Facebook. He also writes the popular How to Understand the Bible weekly series here at Bible Gateway.

What Happened on Thursday of Holy Week?

As we approach Easter Sunday, the events of Holy Week intensify. We’ve already looked at what happened on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Easter week. What about Thursday?

Thursday of Holy Week—also known as Maundy Thursday—witnessed several key events in the Easter story and set in motion the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The events of this day, particularly the Last Supper, continue to be remembered and commemorated in Christian churches around the world today. Let’s take a look at these events as the Bible describes them by looking at the Thursday section of our Holy Week Timeline, which maps interactions between the important people and events of the Easter story:

Preparing the Upper Room

maundythursdayMatthew 26:17-19

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

The Last Supper

Matthew 26:20-35. The following excerpt is from Matthew 26:26-29:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus Prays

Matthew 26:36-46

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”