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When we added the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible for a limited time earlier this year, it proved enormously popular with Bible Gateway Plus members. If you missed it earlier this year, now’s your chance to see for yourself what this study Bible can bring to your Bible reading and understanding. With the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, you can:
Read verse-by-verse study notes that reveal important background and context for even the most familiar Bible passages
Discover how specific Hebrew and Greek words add depth and nuance to the Bible’s narrative
Learn what the Bible teaches about hundreds of important topics and themes
The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible joins over a dozen other popular study Bibles in the Bible Gateway Plus library, including the NIV Study Bible and MacArthur Study Bible. This new titles adds a fresh focus on the historical and cultural context of Scripture that nicely complements the other study Bibles.
We’re excited to bring the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible back to Bible Gateway Plus, and hope you’ll take time to explore it during August!
How to Access the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible if You’re a Bible Gateway Plus Member
Studying the Bible lies at the heart of the Christian faith. One approach is the exploration of the central topics of Scripture—such as the Trinity, humanity, sin, and salvation—that unfold the unity and richness of the Bible.
Why should this book be used by readers of the Bible?
Martin H. Manser:The Complete Topical Guide to the Bible will enlarge readers’ depth of understanding of the Bible. It’s a reliable encyclopedic guide, making information on the Bible very accessible in a quick and easy format. It lists over 120,000 Bible references.
How does it differ from a concordance?
Martin H. Manser: A concordance is word-based, so if you’re leading a Bible study on, for example, assurance, a word-based tool would not be very helpful: it would be limited to identifying biblical passages in which words such as assure or assurance appear.
A topical approach, however, goes beyond this and explores all the basic elements of the topic. It identifies its basic ideas, its presuppositions, and its consequences, in order that the topic in all its fullness can be unfolded. Thus the material that deals with assurance covers the grounds of assurance (for example, the knowledge of God, the certainty of his word, the work of the Holy Spirit), the nature of assurance (of a relationship with God, of salvation, of eternal life, and a future hope), and the relationship between assurance and the life of faith. Examples of Bible references include:
Assurance in the hope of the resurrection—John 6:40
The Holy Spirit assures believers by giving inward conviction—Romans 8:16
How did the book come about?
Martin H. Manser:The Complete Topical Guide to the Bible is a spin-off from the NIV Thematic Reference Bible published by Zondervan and Hodder and Stoughton. When that went out of print, I regularly received emails asking about when the material would be available in print as hard copy, so I was delighted when Baker approached me a couple of years ago to reprint this book in paperback.
How many topics and subtopics are covered in the book?
Martin H. Manser: Over 2,000 topics are covered, each one having many subtopics. There are doctrinal and cultural topics, and ones relating to practical Christian living. It’s actually encyclopedic in scope. Here are some of the topics that begin with the letter C: church; circumcision; cistern; citadel; cities of refuge; cities of the plain; citizenship; city; civil authorities; claims … comfort; commander; Commandments, Ten; commands; commemoration; commendation; commitment; communication; Communion, Holy; communion; community; compassion.
Many have subtopics. For example, at “church” we have the following subtopics: church and Holy Spirit; and Jesus Christ; fellowship of; foundations of; leadership of; life of; mission of; nature and foundations of; OT anticipations of; purpose and mission of; unity and fellowship of.
An extensive system of cross-referencing allows the dynamic relationship of the many biblical topics to be understood and explored.
How is all the information in the book organized and structured?
Martin H. Manser: Each topic has a four-digit number. The first digit stands for one of nine main groups of topics. These were devised by Alister McGrath: 1000 God; 2000 Jesus Christ; 3000 Holy Spirit; 4000 Creation; 5000 Humanity; 6000 Sin and salvation; 7000 God’s people; 8000 The life of the believer; 9000 Last things.
Within each of the major groups of topics, topics have been arranged in subcategories. For example, under Jesus Christ 2000 come: 2003 Jesus Christ, qualities of; 2200 Jesus Christ, titles and descriptions of; 2300 Jesus Christ, ministry and work of; 2400 Jesus Christ, gospel of. Then there are further subcategories. There’s also an alphabetical index at the front of the book.
The material under each topic is well structured. First there’s a crisp opening definition of the topic followed by headings with a key Bible reference in bold and then further Bible references. For example, at topic number 3215 Holy Spirit, and peace, we have the opening definition “The Holy Spirit brings a sense of well-being, contentment, and wholeness to believers whatever their outward circumstances. Peace is therefore an indication of the Holy Spirit’s presence.” Then comes the headings “Peace is part of the nature of the Holy Spirit: The Spirit is likened to a dove, the symbol of peace” and Bible references Mt 3:16 with parallels Mk 1:10, Lk 3:22, and Jn 1:32.
How difficult was it to assemble and organize all the information in this more than 600-page book?
Martin H. Manser: It was a mammoth job! I led a team of 100 colleagues (10 colleagues in 10 teams). My work alone took several thousand hours. With so many people working in it, it was essential to have a uniform style to ensure consistency across the board. Material was checked by an outstanding team, with Alister McGrath as general editor and consultant editors J. I. Packer, Donald Wiseman, Gordon McConville, and Stephen H. Travis. It was a great privilege to work with such world-class scholars.
What have you learned about the Bible through this project?
Martin H. Manser: The Bible is so deep! As the 6th-century church father Gregory put it: “Scripture is like a river…shallow enough…for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough…for the elephant to swim.” It’s humbling to be involved in projects that make the riches of the Bible accessible to Bible teachers and students.
What other projects are you working on?
Martin H. Manser: I’ve recently completed a Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs, with definitions and examples of more than 2,500 verbs, such as break down, put out, and set up.
I’m delighted to report that the Burmese Study Bible is due to be published in November 2017. We’re very grateful that funding has come in for the printing and publication of this book.
September 2017 sees the publication of The Christian Basics Bible NLT published by Tyndale for new Christians and those who’ve plateaued in their faith; with over 500 notes and a 133-page section on Basic Truths of the Christian Faith with answers to basic questions about life and faith.
Bio: Martin Manser is a professional reference-book editor. Since 1980 he has compiled or edited nearly 200 reference books. He has also compiled and edited many titles that encourage Bible reading.
He is a language trainer and consultant with national companies and organizations, specializing in leading courses on English grammar and clear writing. In addition, he offers a coaching service to individuals and a copy writing and editing service to companies and organizations.
Martin also has a good working knowledge of German, having studied at the University of Regensburg and he visits Germany regularly. He is a tutor at Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg, Center for Key Qualifications (Zentrum für Schlüsselqualifikationen), Germany.
Martin is also a part-time tutor at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts, London and part-time visiting lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University.
Martin’s wife, Yusandra, complements him in the creative team. Her sculptures have a highly individual and intuitive style.
In some Christian circles, repressing or disavowing authentic emotions is considered a virtue or perhaps even a gift of Spirit. Denying anger, ignoring pain, skipping over depression, running from loneliness, and avoiding doubt are not only considered normal but actually virtuous ways of living out one’s spiritual life.
But this is not the model we find in Jesus, who freely expressed his emotions without shame or embarrassment:
Jesus was anything but an emotionally frozen Messiah.
In Gethsemane, we see a fully human Jesus—anguished, sorrowful, and spiritually overwhelmed. He is pushed to the extremes of his human limits: “and being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
So, we must ask ourselves: Where did we get the idea that acknowledging and expressing authentic emotion is somehow less than spiritual? And why do we believe that we can—or somehow should—grow in spiritual maturity without simultaneously growing in emotional maturity?
And then there’s the example of Job:
After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said:
“May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.
May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more. . . .
If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales!
It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas—no wonder my words have been impetuous.
The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God’s terrors are marshaled against me.” (Job 3:1—5a; 6:1—4)
Job was one of the richest men in the world in his day. In contemporary terms, his assets would have included a fleet of Rolls-Royces, private airplanes, yachts, thriving global companies, and significant real estate holdings. “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3). After a series of natural disasters, however, something unthinkable happens—Job is reduced to poverty and his ten children are killed in a terrible natural disaster. When he attempts to get on his feet, he is infected with “sore boils” from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Physically, it looks like he is about to die at any moment. His wife’s compassionate counsel? “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9).
Job finds himself alone, isolated, and living outside the city walls in the garbage dump. As the text indicates, Job is very angry. But there is a lesson for us even in Job’s anger. Here is how author Philip Yancey describes it:
One bold message in the Book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment—he can absorb them all. As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God. They prefer to go away limping, like Jacob, rather than to shut God out. In this respect, the Bible prefigures a tenet of modern psychology: you can’t really deny your feelings or make them disappear, so you might as well express them. God can deal with every human response save one. He cannot abide the response I fall back on instinctively: an attempt to ignore him or treat him as though he does not exist. That response never once occurred to Job.”
In the same way, God invites us to feel our emotions, experiencing them without self-condemnation, and exploring them in his loving presence.
Question to Consider
In what ways do you tend to suppress or deny difficult emotions—anger, sadness, fear—rather than admit them to yourself and God?
Father, the idea of being emotionally transparent with you—especially when my emotions are raw—is very difficult. In fact, it almost seems disrespectful. Thank you, Lord, that you love all of me—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and that your love is without conditions. In Jesus’ name, amen.
In this groundbreaking devotional book, Peter Scazzero reintroduces and expands upon the ancient spiritual discipline of the Daily Office. The basic premise is simple: Christians need to intentionally stop to be with God twice each day to create a continual and easy familiarity with God’s presence for the rest of the day.
In the same powerful rhythm as Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day, each day offers two Daily Offices—Morning/Midday and Midday/Evening—where each devotional time will reflect on emotionally healthy relational themes, such as clarifying expectations, deep listening, and clean fighting. You’ll be ushered into a transformational practice that will deepen your daily walk with Jesus.
Peter Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York City, a large, multiracial church with more than seventy-three countries represented. After serving as senior pastor for twenty-six years, Pete now serves as a teaching pastor/pastor at large. He is the author of two best-selling books—The Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. He is also the author of The EHS Course and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day. Pete and his wife, Geri, are the founders of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, a groundbreaking ministry that equips churches in a deep, beneath-the-surface spiritual formation paradigm that integrates emotional health and contemplative spirituality. They have four lovely daughters. For more information, visit emotionallyhealthy.org, or connect with Pete on Twitter @petescazzero.
You’ve probably seen artistic renderings of Jesus with flowing golden or bronze hair. Maybe you’ve watched a movie or two with an Anglo-Saxon cast as the Son of God—complete with a perfectly posh British accent.
Sorry to break it to you, but this isn’t the Jesus of the Bible. Instead, it’s a Jesus straight out of Norway!
While this might seem obvious on reflection, we often seem to forget that Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t of European descent. Perhaps that’s because many people associate Christianity with Europe and the West. But when we forget that the Jesus of the Bible was a Jew, living in first-century Palestine in what we now call the Middle East, we miss something crucial about the story of God’s Messiah.
As a Jew, Jesus would have worshipped in the synagogue. He would have read and memorized the Torah. And he would have regularly recited the Shema:
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” — Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Understanding Jesus’ ethnicity provides critical context for understanding the Christian faith itself. Because it’s only when we grasp the true nature of the founder of Christianity that we grasp the true nature of God’s love.
To understand the significance of Jesus’ story, you have to see the big picture of God’s story, which begins with the history of God’s people in the Bible’s earliest pages. After our ancient ancestors Adam and Eve vandalized the shalom (peace) of God’s good world with a legacy of ever-increasing wickedness, God responded with a new legacy of His own. He launched a plan to rescue humanity by recruiting a man—Abraham&,dash;and making a remarkable promise to Abraham and his descendents:
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.” — Genesis 12:1-3
By forming a covenant with them—He would be their God, and they His people—God’s ultimate plan was to bless all nations and peoples through Abraham and his offspring. But the road to that blessing would be a long and painful one, because God’s own people continually failed to keep up their end of the covenant. Instead of demonstrating for others how to live as God intended, instead of pointing the way to reconciliation with God, Israel spiraled downward into wickedness. Their moral failure eventually became so great that God judged the nation of Israel with a painful period of exile.
But God wasn’t through with them. His promises of blessing still stood—for them and for the nations of the world. God raised up prophets to remind his people of their covenant with him. And ultimately, God offered a new promise: God would send a Chosen One, a Messiah, to rescue mankind and put the world back together again.
What’s interesting about this Jewish story is how consistently forward-pointing it is. It always looks forward to the day when the Messiah would come to make things right again—not only for Israel, but for the world. This Messiah would be a “new Moses.” He would descend from the famed Israelite king David, but would be infinitely greater than David—David was the king of Israel, but the Messiah would be the King of kings. And this Messiah would suffer abuse and even death, slaughtered as the sacrifical Lamb of God.
That Chosen One was Jesus, born in the line of the great patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the descendent of David, the son of Joseph and Mary—a thoroughly Jewish genealogy.
The Jewishness of Jesus and the Story of Christianity
Shortly after Jesus was born, his parents, Joseph and Mary, did what any good Jewish parent would have done in first-century Palestine(and still do to this day): they circumcised him. The young Jesus was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem to be consecrated to the Lord—a traditional ceremony for every firstborn Jewish boy. His parents also took him to Jerusalem for the Festival of Passover, a Jewish holiday that commemorated the Lord’s rescue of His people from the land of Egypt (a hugely important event in Jewish and biblical history known as the Exodus). In short, Jesus was raised faithfully in accordance with Jewish tradition.
Early in Jesus’ ministry, an interesting episode took place that highlighted his Jewish identity. When he went to worship in the local synagogue on the Sabbath, he was handed a scroll for the day’s reading. Locating a particular passage, this is what he read:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the synagogue attendant, sat down, and said: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
The passage he read was a classic Messianic passage, one that vividly expressed Jewish hopes and expectations for their promised Chosen One. And Jesus claimed that he was that One—the long-awaited Messiah who had come to finally rescue his people, all people, and set things right again in the world! This was the new Exodus that Israel had been waiting for!
Why the Jewishness of Jesus is Important
Reclaiming the Jewishness of Jesus is crucial. Because understanding his social and cultural context is crucial to understanding the love of God.
From the beginning, God’s mission to rescue and restore humanity, driven by a passionate love for the world. He chose Abraham and his Jewish decedents—the nation of Israel—to serve as vessels of his blessing to the nations of the world. The Israelites also served as carriers of the “seed”—the “offspring” of the woman, the long-awaited Messiah that God promised would defeat the Serpent who first tempted mankind into sin and tainted God’s good creation.
And yet God also promised the Serpent would strike the heel of that offspring—a symbolic foreshadowing of the suffering that would be experienced by Jesus, “who bore our suffering” and was “punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.”
Jesus Christ, the Messiah, was the fulfillment of God’s original plan to rescue and restore the world through the Jewish people. He was the fulfillment of all Israel’s hopes and expectations for peace and salvation. And through his sacrifice, God “has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14)…. for both Jews and non-Jews alike.
This former IBM executive is the first person in 250 years to walk the entire 1,600-mile El Camino Real Mission Trail from Loreto, Mexico to Sonoma, California. And that’s not the most interesting thing about her. Ten years ago she was given three months to live after a Stage 4 gallbladder cancer diagnosis. Against all odds, she survived 79 rounds of chemotherapy and radical liver and lung surgeries, losing 60% of her liver, and her right lung.
After enduring 79 rounds, 1 million milligrams of chemotherapy, the removal of a lung, and defeating a three-months-to-live prognosis, you decided to walk the 1,600-mile El Camino Real Mission Trail from Loreto, Mexico to Sonoma, California. You became the first person in history to do so. How did your extraordinary expedition help in your physical healing and spiritual faith journey?
Edie Littlefield Sundby: My 1,600-mile walk was a pilgrimage—a spiritual, emotional, and physical cleansing.
Prior to the walk, I had fought stage 4 cancer for over five years. When I finally emerged—after radical liver and lung surgeries, hundreds of thousands of milligrams of chemo, and multiple radiation treatments—my exhausted body yearned to heal, and my overwhelmed emotions needed to empty.
Five months after losing my right lung, in February 2013, I began the mission walk, starting in San Diego, near where I live. After walking 55 days and 800 miles (averaging 14.5 miles a day), I arrived in Sonoma California, the end of the old El Camino Real de las Californias mission trail.
Eight hundred miles was only half the distance, and I had a deep yearning to walk the entire old mission trail, and start in Loreto Mexico, where it began, and walk to the California border.
Two years later, a CT scan revealed cancer was back; this time a tumor in my healthy left lung. I knew then it was time to finish the walk.
In the fall of 2015, starting in Loreto Mexico, and, assisted by 20 vaqueros, I walked another 800 miles, following the old Spanish missionary trail to the California border, through the spine of the sierras and the Sonoran desert.
Why this obsession to walk an old mission trail; to become a pilgrim?
Edie Littlefield Sundby: I believe there’s within each of us a yearning to connect with grace; to light up our lives—as Thoreau put it, “with a great awakening light,”—and to connect wholly and completely with God.
A pilgrimage is a walk of faith.
I would walk one step at a time—one day at a time—and God would decide how long and how far.
Like countless souls through the ages, I find that long distance walks ignite that holy spirit that lies within, and make me feel genuinely, completely alive.
A long distance walk tidy’s up the mind; with each step the body purges the emotional mind of its overflowings.
Long walks are tonics for the spirit, not exercise for the body. The heart becomes engaged and assists the mind in deciding what to keep and what to discard. Once the emotional mind is emptied, the heart returns to its natural, joyous state. Therein lies grace.
Each step is a soulful connection to grace. The mind empties and loses consciousness of self. A heightened sense of wellbeing floods that senses. God’s creation is overwhelmingly beautiful and peaceful. That peace becomes our peace.
The 1,600-mile walk was a slow remembering of how profound and wonderful life is. Life became transcendent and intensely vivid. God was everywhere, and in every thing. Even the most ordinary was infused with wonder and awe. It was a walk of joy, of gratitude, of thanksgiving.
God is mystery. Life is mystery. And even with all our scientific knowledge, cancer is still 99 percent mystery. Mystery is everywhere; we’re just too blind to see it. The whisper of grace—that cries out to the holy within each of us—is mystery. My long, 1,600-mile pilgrimage was necessary to reconnect with that mystery; with Grace.
I became a walking prayer; each in-breath became “grace in,” and each out-breath became “cancer-out.” A thousand steps became a thousand prayers.
Why do you like the slowness of walking?
Edie Littlefield Sundby: What I experienced on the mission trail was what travelers experienced two centuries ago. Life as it once was. There was silence, and slowness in walking. Sometimes, even walking, I was moving too fast.
The essence of life is undiluted experience. It’s hearing the whisper of wind in the trees, seeing wild flowers close their beauty for the night and open to the morning sun.
Walking is an escape from a frenzied 140-character Twitter and text world, and the artificial, contrived life of social media. The modern world seems to become less genuine, and more impersonal with each new technology breakthrough. The more we connect through technology, the more we risk disconnecting from self.
Life is God’s gift. When we disconnect from nature we disconnect from life, and from God.
Nature is physical; God is spirit. He made us in his image. Man is physical and spirit. God gave us words. Words are vibrations emanating from spirit. He gave us joy. Joy is vibration emanating from spirit. He filled our soul with light. Light is vibration emanating from spirit.
When I walk I vibrate.
I feel like a child of God, imperfect and flawed and ignorant, seeking and yearning for wholeness. Walking connects me with God and makes me whole.
How should someone pray for those with cancer?
Edie Littlefield Sundby: I believe there’s no right way or wrong way to pray for anything or anyone. When we open our hearts to God and ask him to speak to us and let us listen, he’ll guide us on what to say, what to do, and how to pray.
I believe God speaks to each heart through the Bible and prayer. When my cancer came back for the third time, in the depths of fear and despair I cried out to God to help me, and I opened my Bible at random. It opened to Job 40:11. I understood instantly, and profoundly, what God was telling me: To pour out my overflowings, so that I could fill with his healing grace.
This verse changed my life that day, and every day since. Every day there are overflowings: some days, grief; some days, anger; some days, fear; some days, despair; some days, discouragement; some days, self-doubt. Whatever it is, pour it out! And, make room for grace; for joy; for love; for peace—for God.
And it’s healthy, too! Intense emotion needs to be released. It can overwhelm and damage the immune system and deplete the spirit.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Edie Littlefield Sundby: I love Bible Gateway. I have many favorite Bible verses—I collect them. I keep a list of “Favorite Bible Verses” in a notebook. When I’m searching for a comforting, appropriate Bible verse to help guide me through a difficult time, or to share with others, I search my “Favorite Bible Verses” list. Invariably, I turn to Bible Gateway to find just the right translation that opens my heart to its meaning and mystery.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Edie Littlefield Sundby: One last thing, related to pouring out our overflowings: Gospel music is emotional, yet paradoxically it helps us escape from emotion. Listening to gospel allows us to pour out overflowings of emotion and escape their harmful effects. The emptied space is filled with electrifying spiritual energy, as every cell in the body opens to grace. Gospel music is a big reason I’m alive today!
Bio: Edie Littlefield Sundby was diagnosed with stage four gallbladder cancer and given three months to live. Despite 0.9% odds, and after almost one million milligrams of chemo, radiation, liver, lung, colon, and throat surgeries, she is gratefully alive, and the only person to have walked the historic and largely unmapped 1,600-mile El Camino Real Mission Trail that spans from Loreto, Mexico, to Sonoma, California. She and her husband live in San Diego. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Thousands already have! Try your 30-Day free trial today! Remove banner ads and expand your Bible reading experience using our valuable library of more than 40 top resources by becoming a member of Bible Gateway Plus. Get biblically wise and spiritually fit. Try it free for 30 days!
Is an orthodox understanding of the Bible threatening or harmful to women? How should difficult Bible passages regarding women be properly interpreted? How does God view justice and equal rights for women?
What’s the attitude among some people that the title of your book is reflecting?
Wendy Alsup: There’s growing distrust of the Bible around women’s issues in western cultures affected by the 2nd and 3rd waves of feminism. As cultural Christianity fades (which is not necessarily a bad thing), women in particular are examining the Bible more for themselves (a very good thing), and with that examination comes an awareness of stark stories that aren’t normally the subjects of Sunday sermons in Christian churches.
Without careful study, a first reading of the stories of Hagar or Dinah, for instance, can cause women examining the Bible for themselves to believe that it’s not good for women. But by understanding Luke 24 in which Jesus sets himself as the point of the Old Testament, we have tools for understanding the long, hard story of the Old Testament, including harsh stories of women in light of redemption through Jesus and his coming restoration of all things.
What do you mean, “the Bible is the best commentary on itself”?
Wendy Alsup: The Bible explains the Bible to us. It’s a big, complicated book about a very long story of God’s relationship with his people from creation to the end of time as we know it on earth. Often, well-meaning preachers and teachers draw a lesson from short passages from Scripture without noting their place in God’s longer story.
We understand the Old Testament law much better when we cross reference it to Jesus’s and Paul’s teaching on it in the New Testament. We understand the point of Rahab‘s story in Joshua when we see her name show up in the lineage of Christ in the new. We better understand the woman caught in adultery in John 8 when we read the laws she violated in Deuteronomy 22.
This tool of allowing the Bible to explain the Bible to us is key for understanding hard passages on women that on their own, without context in the larger story of Scripture, have no resolution or hope.
You write that the story of the Bible has womanhood as a major theme and driving force in the narrative. Please explain.
Wendy Alsup: God created man and woman in his image. Then woman ate the apple, followed by the man, and everything changed. To some, it seems woman was marginalized from that moment on; a bit side-player in the story of Scripture. But God’s words to Satan immediately after the fall give a different perspective altogether. God blames Satan, “Since you have done this…,” and then tells Satan that he will have enmity (or warfare) with the woman.
Though the fall of man was ushered in through the woman, the savior from that fall would come through a woman as well. Instead of appearing as an angel, Jesus was born of a woman which makes her role in the long story of Scripture as crucial as anything else.
In the Old Testament, we see many women that God used to protect his people and move forward the story of the coming Savior. Deborah, Esther, Hannah, Rahab, and Ruth stand out to me in the Old. Then Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary of Bethany, Priscilla, Phoebe, Lydia, and others stand out to me in the New. They pointed to Jesus’ coming from the Old and took the good news of his salvation forward in the New. They’re all integral to the progression of the good news of Jesus.
How does God view justice and equal rights for women?
Wendy Alsup: Because woman, as the man, was created in the image of God, she’s fully deserving of all human rights and justice. God’s justice extends to men and women of all backgrounds, ages, and races. Though women have often experienced the harshest consequences after the fall, God bestows on them equal dignity with the man and put into law protections against their sexual exploitation in particular that other cultures apart from him did not recognize at all.
How did Jesus approach the Old Testament and how does that help us read difficult passages today?
Wendy Alsup:Luke 24 is key. There, Jesus teaches us that the primary message of the Old Testament was his coming rescue of humanity. He didn’t give great detail in that chapter, but he prompts us to ask questions when we read the Old Testament: “How does this show our need for Jesus?” “What does this teach us about his coming sacrifice?”
Judges in particular is a good example of descriptive stories that show us our need for the Savior. Unwilling and unable to keep God’s law, Israel does what’s right in their own eyes, and the results are often horrifying. They needed God’s standard of righteousness exhibited in King Jesus. When we read the Old Testament in light of Jesus’ coming in the New, we have the lens through which we can correctly interpret hard passages that make no sense apart from the coming Messiah.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Wendy Alsup: I’ve used Bible Gateway for years and appreciate the ease of Bible research through it. The Bible is the best commentary on itself, but it takes knowing the cross-references to make use of that truth. Bible Gateway makes it easy to cross reference Scripture. What a great privilege we have as modern believers to study the Bible with such technology!
But it’s also a bit too easy to simply tell somebody (or make a personal decision) to go read the Bible… because understanding the Bible is a different thing than just reading it. You don’t have to have a seminary degree to understand the Bible, of course, but there’s a reason so many would-be Bible readers get tripped up: parts of the Bible are hard to understand. That shouldn’t surprise us, given that the Bible was written thousands of years ago by different authors, in different cultural contexts, for different audiences, in different literary genres (many of which are unfamiliar to modern readers).
So where can you turn when you’re struggling to understand what you’re reading in the Bible?
One time-honored way that Christians (and Jews before them) have made Scripture more easily understood is through Bible commentaries and references. These are exactly what they sound like: published collections of references, notes, and comments that seek to explain and clarify difficult, interesting, or particularly important Bible passages.
The term “commentary” (like its closely related cousins, “study Bible” and “Bible reference”) has a slightly stuffy connotation, calling to mind endless rows of intimidatingly thick, dust-covered volumes on a pastor’s bookshelves. But the truth is, there are a great many commentaries and references available today that are easily readable, highly insightful, and incredibly useful to everyday Bible readers.
And did we mention that many of these commentaries and reference works are freely available on Bible Gateway, right alongside your Bible reading?
Bible commentaries and reference works are among Bible Gateway’s hidden gems; when you start using them, you’ll find that a whole new world of Bible study opens up to you.
This is a comprehensive guide to getting more out of your Bible reading by adding commentaries and other resources to your Bible experience. Without further ado, here’s how to access these Bible study resources while you’re reading the Bible on Bible Gateway!
Step 1: Start reading a Bible passage.
Look up any passage in the Bible on Bible Gateway. For example, you might try John 3. (It’s not terribly important which Bible version you use—sometimes commentaries will discuss the specific wording of a verse using wording that may slightly differ from the translation you’re reading, but it’s usually easy to figure out.)
See the blue Study This panel to the right of the Bible passage? If it isn’t already open, click or tap this button:
Opening the Study This drawer (or bookshelf, if you prefer to think of it that way) shows all of the Bible reference books available to you which have content related to the Bible text you’re reading. The number to the right of each reference book title shows you how many individual relevant entries it contains.
You’ll notice that this big list of reference books is organized into five categories: Study Bibles, Encyclopedias, Commentaries, Dictionaries, and Sermons. Here’s a quick overview of what each type of resource brings to your Bible reading:
Study Bibles contain short notes, usually keyed to individual Bible verses, that provide background and explanations for what you’re reading. They’re ideal for personal devotions and Bible study groups. They’re highly useful for Bible readers of all knowledge levels, from beginner to advanced.
Encyclopedias provide in-depth information organized by name or concept.
Commentaries feature Bible scholarship that goes into significant depth about Bible passages, and are meant for serious and focused Bible study, as well as for sermon preparation and research.
Dictionaries define unfamiliar or significant names and terms that you’ll encounter as you read Scripture.
Sermons collect the text of published sermons based on the passage you’re reading.
Resources marked with a icon are—you guessed it—free to use. Anything not marked “free” requires a Bible Gateway Plus membership to access (more about that in a moment). While we think there’s great value in expanding your study library with a Plus membership, we’ve made sure there are sufficient free resources in the Study This panel to carry out a full-fledged Bible study.
3. Select a study resource.
Scroll to the resource type you’d like to read (say, “Study Bibles”). You’ll see this:
Next, select the reference book you want to use. For starters, let’s try the Reformation Study Bible. After you click on the book’s title, you’ll see a list of relevant entries, like this:
That’s a list of all available entries from that work that are related to the Bible passage you’re reading (in our example, John 3). Study Bibles like this typically label each note with the verse(s) or word in the Bible passage they talk about. Click on an individual entry to read it:
You can cycle through relevant entries by clicking on the arrow icon(s) below the text of an entry, in the bottom corner. When you’re done reading the note and ready to go back to a different entry (or a different study resource), use the arrow in the upper left of the entry box to navigate back.
If this is your first time exploring Bible study resources like this, start with the Reformation Study Bible. It’s a free and highly accessible resource that will add greatly to your Bible understanding.
4. Use Bible Gateway’s note-taking and other advanced study features as you study.
Taking personal notes, highlighting noteworthy passages, and recording what you’re learning is a key part of Bible study. Fortunately, that functionality is built into the Bible Gateway experience, so you can read a Bible passage, check a reference work, and take personal notes without leaving Bible Gateway. Follow these links to learn how to use Bible Gateway’s advanced annotation features:
Now that you’ve got a handle on these tools, pause for a moment before you dive in and take some time to think through how you want to approach the section of the Bible you’re studying. Pastor and author Mel Lawrenz has written two series of lessons that will be very helpful to you as you start digging deeper into the Bible: How to Study the Bible and How to Understand the Bible. Both series are worth exploring in full, but you’ll find these lessons most relevant to you at this stage:
6. (Optional) Expand your study library with a Bible Gateway Plus membership.
You have certainly noticed that while many of the resources in the Study This panel are marked “free,” many others are not. Resources that aren’t marked “free” are available only to Bible Gateway Plus members.
Bible Gateway Plus is a subscription service that reduces banner ads on Bible Gateway, greatly expands the number of reference works in the Study This panel, and more. It’s a great way to declutter your online Bible reading and upgrade your Bible study options. You can learn more—or try it out with a free 30-day trial—by visiting the Bible Gateway Plus page and following the appropriate prompts.
Once you’ve become a Bible Gateway Plus member, all you need to do is sign into your Bible Gateway account and you’ll have full access to the complete Bible reference library. You can log in by clicking or tapping this button in the top right of the Bible Gateway website:
That’s it—you now know everything you need to know to enhance your Bible reading with study tools at Bible Gateway. If you’ve never used a commentary before, you’ll be surprised at how much it can help clarify the meaning of what you’re reading. I encourage you to give it a try the next time you’re reading something on Bible Gateway. And if you have further questions, you can find many answers at our support forums.
The Essential Bible Dictionary is now a part of the Bible Gateway Plus study library! It joins four Bible dictionaries and dozens of other Bible study resources as part of the Bible Gateway Plus Bible learning toolkit.
What does The Essential Bible Dictionary bring to your Bible reading and learning? Its key feature is its accessibility: it’s a dictionary of Bible characters, places, and themes, but this isn’t a stuffy academic tome that requires a degree in theology to understand. On the contrary, it’s written to help everyday Bible readers and students of all levels better understand what they’re reading.
Here’s what you’ll find in The Essential Bible Dictionary:
Detailed breakdowns of thousands of Bible names and terms.
Explanations of themes and concepts in the Bible that go beyond simple word definitions.
Extensive cross-references to make it easy to understand how terms are used throughout all of the Bible.
The result is a Bible dictionary ideal for everyday use—personal devotions, Bible study groups, family Scripture reading, etc.—but which is also holds up as a companion for sermon preparation, school research, and other more demanding exercises.
The Essential Bible Dictionary brings the number of Bible dictionaries available in the Bible Gateway Plus library to five. Here are the other four dictionaries:
Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary
Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary
New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology
Don't forget! For the month of August, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is part of the Bible Gateway Plus digital study library! Start your free 30-day trial to explore this acclaimed study Bible along with dozens of other Bible commentaries, dictionaries, and more: fal.cn/t.Fw...
Do you know what the Bible says about the sun, moon, and stars? Test your Bible trivia while you wait for the August 21 eclipse by taking our newest Bible trivia quiz! Click here to take the quiz: fal.cn/t.BD...
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