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Our “Letters to the Church” Series is Complete. What’s Next?

A mosaic of the apostle PaulWith last week’s look at the New Testament book of Philemon, our Letters to the Church series has come to an end! If you’ve been following along since the beginning, you’ve explored each of the “Pauline epistles”—the letters written by the apostle Paul to the early Christian communities.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading through Paul’s letters to the church! By reading through these letters, you’ve gotten a very thorough look at the state of the early Christian church, and a comprehensive tour of the spiritual priorities that should dominate a Christian’s everyday life. If you missed this series, or if you want to revisit any of the entries, here’s a list of what we covered:

If you’re ready for a new Bible reading experience, where should you turn next? Here are a few recommendations:

Read Paul’s backstory in the book of Acts.

paulpreachingPaul’s letters provide us many tantalizing glimpses into his life—he traveled all across the ancient Roman world, was threatened and imprisoned regularly… and did we mention that he started his career as an avowed enemy of Jesus Christ and a zealous persecutor of the Christian church? Now that you’ve read Paul’s letters, read his remarkable backstory—it is told (along with other accounts of the early Christian church and its leaders) in the book of Acts. You can start reading Acts by clicking here.

Read the rest of the New Testament epistles.

Paul didn’t write every letter that has been preserved as a New Testament book—there are numerous other epistles (often called the “general epistles”). In order, they are the books of James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude. The book of Hebrews in particular is foundational to the Christian faith; we didn’t include it in our tour of the Pauline epistles, but some people believe it may have been written by the apostle. As with Paul’s letters, these are generally short and accessible, and now that you’re an experienced epistle-reader, you should find them rewarding to read.

Try a change of pace by reading a different type of Bible book.

The Bible is comprised of individual books from many different genres, of which the epistles are only one example. A natural next step after reading Paul’s epistles is to return to the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and read them through. They’re not written in the same format as Paul’s letters, and were written with different purposes in mind than Paul had. They’re foundational to understanding Jesus Christ. While they’re individually longer than any of Paul’s epistles, they’re extremely readable and are filled with many famous stories and scenes.

If you’re interested in exploring part of the Old Testament, we covered the different types of literature that comprise the Old Testament in our Tour of the Bible blog series. That would make a good place to start an exploration of a particular Old Testament genre.

Start following a Bible reading plan.

While you can certainly read any parts of the Bible in whatever order you like, many Bible readers find it extremely helpful to follow a reading plan to pace them through God’s Word. Reading plans range from the relatively short (there are reading plans that walk you through the Gospels, for example) to the much more ambitious (read the entire Bible in a year!). The plan that works best for you will depend on what your personal Bible-reading goals are, as well as what you can work into your daily schedule. You can find a wide variety of reading plans on Bible Gateway; you can subscribe to one of our reading plans to have daily email reminders sent to you, customize a start date, and pause or restart a plan that you’ve already begun. You can browse our available reading plans by clicking here.

Wherever your Bible reading journey takes you next, we pray that God will bless your exploration of His Word.

Zondervan to Release NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible

Buy your copy of NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible in the Bible Gateway Store

Decades of historical and cultural research on the ancient world will soon be accessible in the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Zondervan, August 2016). Notes and resources hand-picked by Bible scholars John H. Walton (Old Testament) and Craig Keener (New Testament) complement the New International Version of the Bible, the world’s most read and most trusted modern-English Bible translation. Newcomers to Bible study and veteran students of the Bible alike will find surprising insights into ancient culture on the pages of the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible.

The robust study tools and features provided in the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible focus on the cultural context of each passage. Notes, book introductions, and articles totaling approximately 15 volumes of content ground an additional 375 vivid full-color photos, illustrations, and maps, giving relevance to the ancient world in which Scripture was first written.

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible includes a concordance, cross-references, endnotes, glossary, index to articles, and the words of Christ in red. The exhaustive project includes nearly 400,000 more words of study tools than Zondervan’s groundbreaking 2005 NIV Archaeological Study Bible and dozens more maps, charts, illustrations and graphics.

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible delivers rich, historical details of life from the time in which a text was first heard and understood, including valuable archaeological insight and illustrations. The notes of the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible are taken from the best resources on Bible backgrounds, including the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. This acclaimed scholarship provides added dimension to Bible study by explaining subtle nuances, idiosyncrasies, wordplays, and cultural references that’s often missed but that the original audience would have understood instinctively.

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is designed to help readers see richer meanings to familiar biblical stories and passages.

“Every line and every word in the Bible comes from a context—historical, social, cultural, theological — and speaks into those contexts—sometimes against that culture, sometimes with that culture, and sometimes to expand that culture. In so doing the Bible models how we can speak from our culture and into our culture in very fresh and missional ways. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible not only acknowledges this but engages ordinary readers in seeing what it looks like. I cannot recommend a study Bible any more than this one.”
Scot McKnight, Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, Illinois

About Zondervan
Zondervan is a world-leading Bible publisher and provider of Christian communications. Zondervan, as 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 offices are located in Grand Rapids, MI. For additional information, please visit www.zondervan.com.

History of the American Bible Society: An Interview with John Fea

John FeaEndorsed in its time by Francis Scott Key, John Jay, and Theodore Roosevelt, the American Bible Society (ABS) was founded in 1816 with the goal of distributing free copies of the Bible in local languages throughout the world. Today, the ABS is a Christian ministry based in Philadelphia with a $300 million endowment and a mission to engage 100 million Americans with the Bible by 2025.

[See the Scripture Engagement section on Bible Gateway]

[Browse the Bible section in the Bible Gateway Store]

Bible Gateway interviewed John Fea (@JohnFea1) about his book, The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Buy your copy of The Bible Cause in the Bible Gateway Store

The American Bible Society was founded in 1816, 33 years after the end of the American Revolutionary War. What were the events that led to its creation?

John Fea: Elias Boudinot, the President of the New Jersey Bible Society, saw the need for a national Bible society to serve as an umbrella organization for several state and local Bible societies that were formed in the first few decades of the 19th century. Boudinot believed that a national society would be more effective in distributing the Bible across the nation, especially to the non-settled areas on the American frontiers. On May 11, 1816, the ABS was created by representatives of Bible societies across the country.

Explain the “cause” in your book’s title.

John Fea: The American Bible Society often described their work as promoting “The Bible Cause.” The “cause” was the distribution of the Bible, “without note or comment,” to as many people as the possible. The founders believed that the message of the Bible could transform lives and set the nation on a proper moral course.

What are some examples of innovation that you attribute to the ABS through the years?

John Fea: The American Bible Society was always on the cutting edge of American innovation. It was the first publisher in the United States to use steam-powered presses. It was among the earliest to publish books in Braille. It quickly embraced talking Bibles, direct marketing, postage seals, music videos, and digital Scripture products. The two Bible translations that it has produced—Today’s English Version and the Contemporary English Version—were the first to apply the translation theory of “dynamic equivalence.”

How was the work of the ABS affected by the growth of immigration in the US?

John Fea: When Irish and German Catholics began pouring into the country in the early 19th century, the ABS solidified its position as a distinctly Protestant benevolent society. Relations with Catholics would improve in the 20th century, but in the years before the Civil War it embraced the largely anti-Catholic spirit of the age. In the late 19th century, as immigrant populations began populating American cities, the ABS sought to meet these urban needs for Bibles through distribution and foreign-language translations.

Who were colporteurs?

John Fea: In the ABS context, these were itinerant booksellers who traveled around the United States and the world selling (and in some cases giving away) Bibles.

What is your chapter on “A Bible House Divided” about?

John Fea: This chapter focuses on the American Bible Society’s attempt to be a “national” Bible society in the midst of the divisive Civil War. It also focuses on the ABS policy on distribution to the slave population of the South.

The ABS uses the word “American” in its name. When did it become a global enterprise and why did it expand?

John Fea: When the American Bible Society was founded in 1816, it was focused on distributing the Bible to people in the United States. But in the 1830s the ABS Board of Managers decided that the Bible Cause might advance more effectively if they sent some of their own agents abroad. The ABS’s first overseas agency was opened in the Levant, a swath of territory that included Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey. By the end of the 19th century, the ABS was distributing Bibles in most of the world.

What has been the work of he ABS during wartime?

John Fea: The ABS prides itself on having delivered Bibles and New Testaments to soldiers at every American war since the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).

What has been the role of the ABS in the work of Bible translation?

John Fea: Since its founding, the ABS has been involved in translating Bibles into as many languages as possible and empowering translators in the field. Prior to the 1960s, the ABS funded translations of the King James Version (and eventually the Revised Standard Version) of the Bible in languages around the world. In 1966, the ABS published its first English translation of the Bible—Today’s English Version. The New Testament of the Today’s English Version was the wildly popular paperback Good News for Modern Man. In 1976 the entire Bible (Old and New Testaments) appeared as The Good News Bible. In the 1990s, the ABS released a second English translation—the Contemporary English Version. Both of these English translations embraced an approach to translation known as “dynamic equivalence.” Made popular by ABS translator Eugene Nida, “dynamic equivalence” focused on a “thought for thought” rather than “word for word” approach to translation. The goal was to make the Bible more readable and accessible.

Talk about the popularity of Annie Vallotton’s simple line illustrations in the Good News Bible.
Illustration by Annie Vallotton of the Parable of the Sower from Matthew 13 (GNT)

Illustration by Annie Vallotton of Jesus teaching about the faith of a child from Matthew 18:2-4 (GNT)

John Fea: Valloton, a 50-year-old Swiss artist, was responsible for the 378 artistic line drawings in Good News for Modern Man. The ABS was quick to point out that that these drawings transcended nationality, language, and race. By omitting facial details, skin color, and other cultural indicators on her figures, Valloton hoped that every reader would see their own Jesus; one that was particularly right for him or her.

Why did the ABS move out of New York City?

John Fea: According to the ABS leadership, the move was driven by financial concerns. The 1865 Broadway Bible House, located near Columbus Circle, needed 25 to 50 million dollars’ worth of repairs in order the meet the New York City building code. The ABS owned both the 12-story building and the 37 additional stories of New York City airspace. The leadership of the ABS saw the selling of this building and move to another location as a matter of Christian stewardship. The sale of the building allows the ABS to solve their financial woes and strengthen their ministry of Scripture of engagement.

Is the ABS a ministry or business?

John Fea: Over the 200 years of its existence the ABS has been both a ministry and a business. Until recently, the ABS was in the business of selling Bibles and often measured its success based upon the numbers of Bibles sold and distributed. I think it’s fair to say that the ABS has always been a ministry. It is a non-profit organization with a mission to transform people’s lives and the nation with the message of the Bible, but it was only until the 1980s and 1990s that the ABS began to self-consciously define itself as a “ministry.” Today the focus is less about distribution and more about providing the tools people need to apply the message of the Bible.

As an historian and observer, what do you see ahead for the ABS?

John Fea: Good question. Historians don’t predict the future, but I think it is fair to say that the ABS will continue to be at the cutting edge of innovation, especially in the digital age.

Bio: John Fea (PhD, Stony Brook University) is Professor of American History, Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, Penn., and author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Revised Edition: A Historical Introduction and Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.

Bible News Roundup – Week of May 22, 2016

[Return daily during the coming week for updates]

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BibleGatewayStore.com

Share of US Women Attending Worship Services Weekly has Declined in Recent Decades
Pew Research Center

Almost Half of the Population of England & Wales Identifies Itself as Having No Religion
Premier
The Telegraph: British Churches Lose 11 Members for Every New Worshipper

First Edition Incomplete 1611 King James Version Bible Up For Auction
The Recorder
Read the King James Version of the Bible (KJV) on Bible Gateway
Browse KJV Bibles in the Bible Gateway Store

Bible Translation Part of Wisconsin Community’s Bond with Liberia
Beaver Dam Daily Citizen
Blog post—Bible Translation Organizations

Church Leader Helps Publish Bible into Cherokee
The Southern Illinoisan
Read the Bible in Cherokee on Bible Gateway

Cancer Patient’s Special Bible Found After Missing for Months
KHOU 11 News

May 24, 1891, William F. Albright, The Founder of the Biblical Archeology Movement, Was Born in Coquimbo, Chile
The Jerusalem Post
See the Archaeology section in the Bible Gateway Store

Restoration of Jesus’ Tomb Begins
Premier
Read about Jesus’ tomb in Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19 on Bible Gateway

Passion for the Word Ignites at Louisiana Bible Drill
The Baptist Message

From Genesis to Revelation: Artist Unveils Mural of the Bible
CBN

See other Bible News Roundup weekly posts

Your Job Is a Ministry: Daily Workplace Inspiration by Os Hillman

The_Value_of_WordsDo you take joy in your job or career? Do you feel called to the work that you do? Or is it just something you have to do for a paycheck? Do you consciously or unconsciously check your Christian faith at the door when you clock in at your job?

Christian speaker and businessman Os Hillman believes that Christians are called to do much more with their careers than collect a paycheck and dutifully progress up the corporate ladder. He’s written a daily devotional called TGIF—Today God is First—to explore the ways that faith brings purpose to a Christian’s work, as well as the ways that faith challenges cultural assumptions about how and why we work in the first place.

hillmanportraitWorking with Os, we’ve selected 14 of the best devotionals from TGIF and have made them available as a free daily email devotional experience here at Bible Gateway. When you sign up, you’ll receive a short daily reflection from Os exploring topics like effective leadership, integrity in the workplace, and healthy relationships with your colleagues. Click here to sign up.

Os’ devotions are especially relevant for Christians in the business and corporate worlds, but will resonate with anyone who wants to find more meaning behind the work they do each day, whether that work is as a church leader, a stay-at-home parent, or anything else. We think this two-week devotional experience will help you understand your work not as a necessary evil, but as a calling and a ministry. Sign up today!

Avoiding Mistakes in the Application of Scripture

howtostudythebible

This lesson is part of Mel Lawrenz’ “How to Study 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 always feel a little insulted when I read instructions on something like a tube of antiseptic ointment and they tell me: APPLY TOPICALLY. NOT TO BE INGESTED. I figure that much is obvious. There is a real problem, of course, if someone somewhere swallows a medicine that is supposed to be applied to the skin.

Application is the last step in the so-called inductive method of Bible study. The first step is to observe (examining the words, the structure, the details), the second is to interpret (figuring out what the author meant), and then application. We know that if our observation is incomplete or our interpretation is askew, we will miss the truth and power of Scripture. But it is also true that misapplication of the meaning of biblical texts is invalid and even dangerous.

Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid when applying Scripture:

1. Imagining a spiritual meaning in a narrative text that is not embedded in the text itself.

Narrative texts—whether they are the stories of the Old Testament historical books, or the four Gospels, or the book of Acts—mostly tell us the unfolding of real-life stories. We gain lessons about life from the stories, but usually there is not a simple “moral to the story” unless indicated by the text itself. The way God guided the Israelites through the wilderness is not the way he guides you or me to a job opportunity. The military tactics of Joshua are best understood as a description of what happened, not as a strategy for successful living. The transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain was a unique historic event. Its significance is about the identity of Jesus, and does not really have a parallel in my life. Narrative texts have meaning in the context of the whole sweeping story of the people of God. But their details may be applied only when clearly indicated or there is a transcendent principle like Joshua telling the people “choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

2. Taking historical narratives as prescriptive rather than descriptive.

Narratives tell us what happened, they don’t necessary tell us what should have happened then, or what should happen today in our lives. For example, we glean from the book of Acts how the first generation of Christians lived, but that does not mean these prescribe how we should live. Acts 2:46 says the first believers met every day in the temple courts. That does not mean that believers today are obligated to gather every day in one specific place. They sold their property and gave the proceeds away, an example of generous, open hearts, but not a command that believers should be socialistic in their lifestyle. We know that in the first century churches were led by elders, sometimes supervised by an apostle or apostle’s representative (like Timothy). Later in the New Testament the role of deacons was developed. But this does not mean it is wrong today for a church to have a senior pastor, or for there to be pastors of children and evangelism and worship or small group leaders.

2. Using an application that is not connected with the actual meaning of the text.

Jesus’ statement: “I am the bread of life” is not about physical nutrition. Hebrews 12:1‘s “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” is not about competing with your co-workers or neighbors. It is about perseverance, as is directly stated in the text.

3. Reading your own theology into the text.

If someone has strong convictions about baptism, that’s fine, but it is a mistake to see baptism wherever there is water splashing about in the Bible. Grace is amazing, it really is. And it appears throughout Scripture, including in words like mercy, love, benevolence. But grace is balanced by truth. Likewise, someone who loves to proclaim truth must not leave grace behind. It is hard for us to see what our theological presuppositions are, but if we do not, we will frequently apply Scripture in unbalanced ways, and we are less likely to have the joy of discovery of truths we had not seen before.

Applying Scripture is the reward of study well done. We just need to make sure we’re applying the truth exactly where it belongs.


Mel Lawrenz trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a Ph.D. in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, the latest, How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.

Guidance from the Words of Christ: An Interview with Steven Scott

Steven K. ScottWhen Jesus walked the Earth, he gave his followers more than 100 life-changing promises. He also gave more than 100 teachings for living in line with God’s priorities—commands that lift up rather than weigh down. What if you had been there to hear him speak?

Bible Gateway interviewed Steven K. Scott about his book, Jesus Speaks: 365 Days of Guidance and Encouragement, Straight from the Words of Christ (Waterbrook Press, 2016).

Buy your copy of Jesus Speaks in the Bible Gateway Store

Why do you believe Christians need to immerse themselves in the words of Christ?

Steven K. Scott: Jesus made at least 21 miraculous promises about his words, that he didn’t make about the rest of Scripture. And he made those promises exclusively to his followers who will “abide” in his words by hearing and “doing” them! In Matthew 7:24-25, Jesus tells us that if we will hear his sayings and do them, we will be like a house built on the rock that will withstand the storms of life. He then says in verses 26-27, that those who hear his words and don’t do them will be like the man who built his house on the sand.

In John 14:21-24, Jesus tells all of us that we love him and the Father the way they want to be loved when we obey Jesus’ commands. He also says, those who don’t love him don’t obey his commands. Jesus tells us that his words are “Spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). Unlike other words that merely inform, his words actually infuse his Spirit and his life into our spirit and life. Jesus’ words provide the path to experience continuous intimacy with him and the Father. In John 15, Jesus tells us that his words are the key to having our prayers answered, bearing fruit, glorifying God, remaining in his love, having his joy in us, and having our joy overflow. Finally, he tells us that we are to “make disciples” by “teaching them to obey everything I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). In all, the Gospels record nearly 2,000 life-giving statements of Christ.

What does Jesus say will happen if we abide in his words and obey them?

Steven K. Scott: In John 8:31-32, Jesus tells brand new believers, “If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The fact that he said this to believers who were only “minutes old” in their belief in Christ, means it’s a universal truth. It applies to any believer, regardless of age or gender. Whether they’ve been a believer for 20 minutes or 20 years, they can become Jesus’ disciple by “abiding” in his words.

Describe your book, its format, and how it helps people abide in Christ’s words.

Steven K. Scott: Jesus Speaks provides 365 teachings on the teachings of Christ. Each day starts with a red-lettered statement. The entry then springboards off of that statement and reflects or paraphrases Christ’s other statements on that day’s topic. The entry then ends with a second red-lettered statement that reinforces that day’s message. So there’s over 700 red-lettered statements in the book. Each entry is about a 3-minute read and provides a very easy gateway into the practice of abiding in Jesus’ words.

What do you say to people who may think casting your devotional content in the first person of Jesus to be presumptuous?

Steven K. Scott: I understand their concern. Jesus said, “What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear!” (Matthew 10:27 NLT). Each night as I wrote the entries, I would start with a red-lettered statement. Then the Holy Spirit would perform the ministry Jesus said he would when he said that the Holy Spirit will “bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26 NLT). He would flood my mind with Jesus’ words, and then a little “sermonette” based entirely on the words of Christ would quickly come into my mind, and that’s what I would type. At the bottom of each page I give a reference to that day’s topic in The Greatest Words Ever Spoken, so readers could then see everything Jesus said on that topic. When they do, they’ll realize my paraphrasing did not misrepresent the teachings of Christ on that days’ topic. In fact, they’ll be amazed at how much Jesus said about the subject that was touched upon in the devotional.

How can we learn about God the Father through the words of Jesus?

Steven K. Scott: Jesus said, “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). So if a believer doesn’t know what Jesus said about the Father, any concept he has about the Father will be incomplete. Jesus made over 100 statements about the Father and over 100 assertions about his relationship with the Father. Most believers I’ve met know very little about what Jesus said about the Father and his relationship with the Father. In Jesus Speaks, believers will not only discover the heart and mind of Christ, they’ll come to see the Father from Jesus’ point of view. In his review of the book, Charles Stanley wrote, “I’m certain that readers will grow in their intimate relationships with the Father as they focus on Jesus’ words daily…” That’s one of my greatest hopes for the reader: to begin to know the Father through Jesus’ words.

How did meditating on the words of Jesus affect the late Gary Smalley?

Steven K. Scott: I gave Gary the manuscript last May, and the first week he texted me and then called me and said, “This book is changing my life!!!” He would not only read the three-minute devotional each day, but would then spend up to an hour-and-a-half reading everything Jesus said on that day’s topic in The Greatest Words Ever Spoken. He said he was coming to know the Father and Jesus more intimately than he had ever known them. He said it changed everything!

What do you hope will happen with people who read this devotional?

Steven K. Scott: My hope for all of the readers is that they will experience what Gary Smalley and I have experienced:

  • they will come to know the Father and Jesus more intimately, and that they will discover the joy of knowing the heart, mind, and will of the Lord Jesus Christ
  • they will begin to live according to his teachings, and experience the joyful and miraculous life that he has called them to live
  • they will store up treasures in heaven and influence countless others to know and follow Christ.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Steven K. Scott: I am SO grateful for Bible Gateway. I use it daily as an instant “go to” for every Scripture that I look up. I use it for every book I write! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Bio: Steven K. Scott is The New York Times bestselling author of numerous books including Jesus Speaks: 365 Days of Guidance and Encouragement, Straight from the Words of Christ, The Greatest Words Ever Spoken: Everything Jesus Said About You and Everything Else, The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: King Solomon’s Secrets to Success, Wealth, and Happiness, The Jesus Mission: Christ Completed 27 Missions While on Earth; Take Up the Four He Assigned to You, and Unfinished: The Four Callings from Jesus That Empower and Complete Your Purpose on Earth. Using the laws of success he learned from the book of Proverbs, Scott and his partners have built more than a dozen highly successful US and international companies. He’s active in the executive leadership of Knowing Him International, a non-profit ministry. Connect with him at JesusWords.com.

Reordering the Trinity: An Interview with Rodrick Durst

Trinity Sunday was May 22, 2016.
Browse resources about the Trinity in the Bible Gateway Store.

Rodrick K. DurstThe New Testament writers present the Trinity in a variety of orders; not only “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Is the order intentional? Should it impact our understanding of God and the mission of the church? Does the order of the three names correspond to a particular purpose of God?

Bible Gateway interviewed Rodrick K. Durst (@DocDurst) about his book, Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament (Kregel Academic, 2015).

[See our Blog post, Trinity Sunday: Considering One of Christianity’s Greatest Mysteries]

Buy your copy of Reordering the Trinity in the Bible Gateway Store

What first led you to take notice of the way God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are ordered differently in various Bible verses?

Rodrick Durst: While reading the Bible in 2005, I noted the unexpected triune order in the apostle Paul’s benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The order of this triune reference was Son-Father-Spirit. And I asked myself, why did Paul reorder the Trinity in this verse? This set me off on a quest to discover just how many instances of identifying the three persons by name in the triune God could be found in the New Testament no matter the order of those three.

How many Scripture verses include a triadic order of divine reference?

Rodrick Durst: In my search through the New Testament, I quickly found 75 instances in which God is named in one of six different triune orders. We know that any three entities can be ordered in six different ways and the New Testament repeatedly makes use of all six possible orders of Father, Son, and Spirit.

What is the triadic order in the majority of the verses?

Rodrick Durst: I organized all of this biblical data into an Excel spreadsheet so I could analyze it. The traditional order Father-Son-Spirit is used 18 times or 24% of the total Trinitarian references. The Son-Spirit-Father triad is used 15 times or 20% of the whole, with the Son-Father-Spirit order coming in a close third with 14 instances or 19% of the time. All of the remaining orders occurred at least eight times each.

Why is the way the Trinity is ordered in these verses important?

Rodrick Durst: This project took on a much larger significance when I began to wonder if specific Trinitarian orders were used consistently in specific contexts. I studied all of the instances of the traditional Father-Son-Spirit order and discovered that this order normally occurs in a mission will context. This order is God sending. The context of Matthew 28:18-20 is the sending out of the disciples to the nations. This same mission will order is repeated in John 20:21. Whenever the reverse order, Spirit-Son-Father, is used, the context is generally related to the church being united as one. In Ephesians 4, where the whole context is Paul’s doctrine of the church, we read “one Spirit… One Lord… One God and Father” in verses 4-6.

Explain the prayer experiment you gave your class.

Rodrick Durst: I decided to offer the students a prayer experiment based on my research into the Trinity and the New Testament. I gave them the chart of 75 instances of the six orders of the three persons in the Godhead. I pointed out that if the New Testament authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, used all six different orders, why couldn’t we? I asked them if they would be willing to pray to God in one of the orders that made the most sense to them that night. I gave them five minutes to pray and worship and then we debriefed.

The most memorable response was the female student who shared that she had been raised in a home where her relationship with her father was so abusive that she had never been able to call God “Father” until that night. She said she prayed in the order of Jesus the Son, then to God the Spirit, and finally she was able to break through and call God Father. Her testimony made me realize that my research was more significant than I thought.

A chart to help explain the Trinity. Source: Reordering the Trinity

What do you mean by the “mystery of the triadic orders” and “matrix of Trinitarian consciousness”?

Rodrick Durst: We all crave simplicity rather than complexity, but God is a mystery and part of that mystery is not only how three can be one and one can be three but how the three can be in many different orders. Those six different orders make up a matrix of how Jesus taught his disciples to be God conscious. The references to the Trinity are so abundant in the New Testament that I conclude that Trinitarian thinking is the default way of thinking and writing about God used by the disciples and that they learned this from Jesus himself.

How have the triadic orders been used throughout church history?

Rodrick Durst: The doctrine of the triune God is not an easy one. There have been 2000 years of heretical attempts to deface the doctrine through either Unitarianism and rigid Muslim monotheism, which over-emphasizes the oneness and eclipses the three, or to surrender to Watchtower subordinationism, which makes the Son an incarnate archangel and the Spirit an impersonal force. The church has always retained the doctrine of the Trinity through its use at baptisms and in benedictions. Despite not giving due attention to those five other orders, the textual pressure from the New Testament, with its 75 instances of naming the triune God, called the church to retain its orthodox theology and construct the famous Trinitarian formulas like “three Persons in the one Divine substance.”

What is the significance of referencing the order of the Trinity in a particular way in a person’s everyday life?

Rodrick Durst: One of my favorite Trinitarian orders is Spirit-Father-Son. This order occurs nine times in the New Testament for 12% of the total instances. You can find this order in the narrative of the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7:55. There Stephen has finished his long sermon exalting Christ with the result that his audience was enraged. “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”

Whenever we anticipate going out in the community to share Christ and serve others in Christ’s, we can call on God the Spirit, asking him to fill us so that we can see God the Father high and exalted and reigning, and asking the Father to enable us to see the Lord Jesus standing tall for us at the cross, and then we can ask the Lord Jesus to stand stall in us that we might be faithful for him. I have found that worshiping God in this biblical fashion in preparation for living for Christ in our fallen world is enormously effective.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Rodrick Durst: I have the Bible Gateway App on my iPhone and have used Bible Gateway innumerable times to find the most effective English translations for my sermon preparation.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Rodrick K. Durst: I tried to make Reordering the Trinity as helpful as possible to pastors since I know it can often be difficult to preach on the Trinity and to say something new. I built eight sermon starters related to each of the six orders, to the triune God in the Old Testament, and also related to the doctrine of the Trinity in church history. In the appendices, I included directions for the Trinitarian prayer experiment plus a 40 day meditation experience on the Trinity orders. There are also directions on how to talk to children and to teenagers about the doctrine of the Trinity.

Bio: Rodrick Durst (Rick) is professor of historical theology at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary in Mill Valley, California and is the director of the seminary’s new Bay Area Campus now under construction in Fremont, California. He has served the seminary in a variety of roles from vice president of academic affairs to the founding director of its online education program. Prior to coming to the seminary in 1991, Durst was a pastor in Santa Rosa and Vallejo for 12 years. He and his wife of 38 years have three children and three grandchildren. Durst is also a contributing author to the 2015 B&H publicationMinistry in the New Marriage Culture and is co-author of Church Fails: 100 blunders in Church History & What We Can Learn From Them.

Letters to the Church: Paul’s Letter to Philemon

Did you know that most of the books that comprise the New Testament are actually letters? These letters (also known as “epistles”) contain both general Christian teaching and specific instructions for the congregation to which they were addressed. As part of our Letters to the Church series, we’re taking a brief look at each epistle in the New Testament. This week, we look at Paul’s shortest and most challenging letters.

Paul’s Letter to Philemon

Start reading it here: Philemon 1

When was it written? Around A.D. 60, during one of Paul’s stretches of imprisonment in Rome.

To whom was it written? Philemon and Apphia (possibly husband and wife), members of the Colossian Christian church.

Why was it written? Like many people who lived in the Roman empire, Philemon was a slave owner. One of his slaves, Onesimus, had escaped and converted to Christianity—and Paul wrote an impassioned plea to Philemon to welcome Onesimus back as a brother in Christ, and to release him from slavery.

What does it say? This very short letter (just a few hundred words in length) packs quite a punch, dealing as it does with an incredibly sensitive topic: slavery. Paul had befriended the escaped slave Onesimus, but was now sending him back to his owner… with a strong request that Onesimus be freed.

This letter evokes many different reactions in modern readers and raises difficult questions about how Christians should respond to social evils like slavery. Paul does not challenge Philemon’s legal right to own slaves, or to punish them for escaping—but he also challenges Philemon to rise above his legal rights and treat Onesimus as a free man and fellow Christian. Some readers may be disappointed that Paul does not more directly challenge the injustice of the institution of slavery (which was a widespread practice at the time). Other readers are struck by Paul’s insistence that the gospel of grace takes precedence over human laws and privileges.

We don’t know how Philemon and Apphia responded to this unusual letter, but the tone of Paul’s letter (and his confidence in sending Onesimus back to his master) suggest that Paul expected his request to be granted.

Noteworthy passages:

  • Philemon 1:8: Paul knows he could simply order Philemon to free Onesimus, but instead he chooses to challenge Philemon to do the right thing of his own volition.
  • Philemon 1:15-16: Philemon might have considered Onesimus’ escape to be a great injustice, but Paul offers a different perspective.
  • Philemon 1:17-21: Offering to pay any of Onesimus’ debts, Paul removes any last excuse Philemon might have used to reject Paul’s request.

What can we learn from Philemon? Philemon is a picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ at work in a corrupt and unjust world: the brutal and often inhumane Roman empire. Paul’s letter might not be exactly what we expect, but in the context of Paul’s world, it’s a message of revolutionary grace. In Christ’s kingdom, all stand equal as human beings loved by God. What unjust rights or privileges do we enjoy today, that God calls us to renounce with acts of grace?

Consider these questions as you read Philemon today:

  • Why do you think Paul didn’t simply use his authority as an apostle to order Philemon to do the right thing?
  • Why do you think Paul restricted his request to the case of Onesimus, rather than more generally challenging the morality of slave ownership?
  • How does this letter inform our reaction to legally-endorsed social evils?

Bible News Roundup – Week of May 15, 2016

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