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Joseph: The Father of Jesus

Gerrit van Honthorst, Childhood of ChristFather’s Day is an annual occasion to help us take stock of what it means to be a father (or, in its broader context, a man in some kind of leadership role with another). We have several previous blogposts we encourage you to read:

What Makes a Good Dad?

Fathers & Faith: New Poll on Struggles with Dads and God

Laban and True Love: Parenting Lessons From a Bad Dad

Click to buy your copy of the NIV Men's Devotional Bible in the Bible Gateway StoreThis year we’re presenting to you the following “interview” with Joseph, the father of Jesus, taken from the NIV Men’s Devotional Bible (Zondervan, 2012).

[Sign up for the free NIV Men’s Devotional newsletter to receive an inspirational email just for men in your inbox once a week.]

[Click to browse gift ideas for dads in the Bible Gateway Store that are appropriate all year long.]

Read Joseph’s story: Matthew 1:16-2:23 and Luke 1:26-2:52.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:20-21)

What was the most difficult part about being Jesus’ earthly father?

There were times when I felt very common and not at all up to the task. Occasionally the weight and seriousness of the responsibility would fall on me, and I felt completely inadequate. I was inadequate. Who is worthy to raise the Son of God? I asked God daily for strength and wisdom.

After Jesus was born and you had to flee to Egypt, were you afraid?

Initially, yes, I was very afraid. After the alarming vision, there was this urgency in me. I felt as though Herod’s guards were on their way, and if I didn’t move quickly, then … well, you know. But on our way to Egypt, I realized that God was directing the events here, not Herod or I. I said to myself, ‘Wait a second. God knows the future. If something bad were going to happen, he would help us.’ I thought about the Israelites on their way out of Egypt, and if ever things started closing in around us to that degree, I knew we could be confident of a miracle.

How was your faith changed by that whole string of events surrounding the birth of Jesus?

It wasn’t just my faith. This child upended my whole life. I was talking about this with Zechariah one time, about how we had our whole lives planned until God showed up. Everything about our lives changed. But what a joy!

You mentioned joy. Explain what you mean.

Most people, when they think of Jesus, think about his strong teachings or his miracles or maybe even his death. But when I think of him, my mind goes back to this time, right after he was born. He had just awakened, I was holding him and he was looking around. Very alert. And he looked up at me and with his little fingers grabbed my finger. They say babies that young don’t smile, but he smiled, as if to say, “I’m glad to be here.” You know, Mary witnessed his death, and Peter felt his forgiveness on the beach after the denial. Thomas touched the scars in his hands, and John even saw a vision of him coming back as King. But I held that baby before all that. And that’s something I’ll never forget.

Back to the Future

  • The course of Joseph’s life was entirely redirected by God, and yet he reacted with grace and obedience. How difficult would it be for you to make massive life changes like Joseph? Why?
  • God entrusted the care of his Son Jesus to a man without much in the way of monetary resources. What does this show about God’s view of wealth? Of parenting?
  • Joseph was a man of faith. What have you learned from Joseph’s life that has strengthened your own faith?

Biblica and Zondervan Announce Renewed Commercial License Agreement for NIrV Translation

Read the New International Reader's Version (NIrV) on Bible GatewayBiblica and Zondervan have come together to make the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) of the Bible available to all English-reading children and those who read at a lower level. For centuries, God’s Word has been translated and shared so that all who read it can understand it and experience the good news of the gospel. Biblica and Zondervan are united in the mission to bring the Word of God to people of all ages, including children.

[Browse the variety of NIrV Bibles in print format in the Bible Gateway Store.]

Biblica is pleased to announce its renewed license with Zondervan for the newly updated NIrV translation. The license grants Zondervan the exclusive commercial and non-exclusive non-commercial rights to publish the Anglicized edition of the NIrV, in addition to the Americanized edition. With this contract, Zondervan becomes the exclusive commercial publisher of the NIrV in both American and British editions for North America, the United Kingdom (UK), the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

First published in 1995, the NIrV is an English Bible translation based on the widely used New International Version (NIV). More people read the NIV than any other modern language English Bible.

[See our blogpost: Zondervan to Release NIV Zondervan Study Bible]

The NIrV was developed for those who read at a lower lever and is very clear and easy to understand. The NIrV has been updated recently to ensure its simpler words and shorter sentences still reflect the accuracy and clarity of the NIV. Targeting a third-grade reading level, the NIrV is the ideal translation for the emerging reader.

“Zondervan upholds the mission to inspire young lives, awaken hearts, and touch souls with Bibles specially designed for children and those who are learning to read,” said Annette Bourland, Senior Vice President of Publishing. “Our partnership with Biblica on the NIrV translation helps us fulfill our mission by bringing the inspired Word of God to children in a way that they can read for themselves and understand.”

Scott Bolinder, Executive Vice President at Biblica, added, “Zondervan has been an effective publishing partner on behalf of the NIrV in North America for over 20 years. We are delighted to now extend their influence, including the Anglicized edition of the NIrV, to the UK, EU and EFTA territories.”

The licensing partnership between Zondervan and Biblica will offer new benefits to retailers throughout Europe and the UK. This agreement helps Zondervan fill a publishing gap in the international market by making Anglicized NIrV product available to retailers, to meet the demand of their consumers. In addition, Zondervan will work closely with Biblica to offer low-cost NIrV ministry products, perfect for evangelistic use. Zondervan also publishes NIrV Bibles for ESL (English as a Second Language) readers and anyone who reads at a lower level.

Zondervan features the NIrV translation in many Bibles for children, including trusted brands like the Adventure Bible and The Beginner’s Bible, known for making the Word of God accessible to children for a quarter of a century. Together, Zondervan and Biblica hope to make Bible reading and deeply understanding God’s message an active part of the spiritual life of children. For more information visit Biblica at For more information on Zondervan NIrV products, visit

About Biblica: Biblica provides God’s Word in multiple languages so people can enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ and grow in him. We work in Africa, East Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, Middle East/North Africa, North America, and South Asia. We translate and publish the Bible in the top 100 major spoken languages in the world and are the translation sponsor and worldwide publisher of the New International Version® (NIV®) Bible, the most widely used contemporary English translation in the world and the New International Reader’s Version® (NIrV®).

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

How Can We Know If Someone is Giving False Teaching?


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.


“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matt.7:15-16).

When I was young in the faith, I had a deep hunger to find the truth of God because I had tasted it, it was deeply satisfying, and I sensed that my soul was just waiting to be revived from some kind of hibernation. So I sought out different Christian teachers and preachers, read some best-selling books, and sampled Christian radio teaching. But I was unsettled by the feeling I sometimes had that the Bible teaching I was hearing seemed only loosely linked with the biblical text, and it was peculiar, out of sync, and did not have the “ring of truth” I experienced when reading Scripture itself.

Some years later, I came to the conclusion that the “smell test” needs to be taken seriously. If we are exposed to teaching that just doesn’t “smell” right, then we ought to proceed carefully. Maybe the teaching is sound and we just need to get in sync with it, or it may be that our “noses” are all right and we’re hearing that most dangerous thing—false teaching.

The Bible itself speaks of “false teaching.” There is a difference between truth and falsehood, and when it comes to Bible interpretation, there is a lot of teaching that is garbage—and it smells that way.

So how can we know if someone is giving false teaching from the Bible?

First, we need to watch out for opportunists. Teachers who gain illicitly from their teaching need to be avoided. It is amazing, really, how many masses of people will follow someone who is manipulative, grossly greedy, and dishonest. They promise prosperity if others make them prosperous, and they laugh all the way to the bank. The short epistle of Jude offers a stark analysis of this kind of false teaching:

These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. … These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. (Jude 12-13, 16)

This is a stunning description of the destructive effects of “shepherds who feed only themselves.” The passage indicates that we must watch out for the selfishness, fruitlessness, chaos, and arrogance of certain people. They gain influence via their sheer conceit. Ironically, we give them credence on the basis of their pride, the character flaw that most disqualifies them. When we realize we have been sucked in by this kind of false teacher, we need to do some soul-searching to figure out why.

Another kind of false teaching is ill-founded speculation. Some people make a career out of spouting details of topics like spiritual life or prophesy or cosmology, which go way beyond what Scripture actually teaches. There are no controls on such speculation. Sometimes the motive is manipulation—esoteric knowledge can be a power tactic. The last sentence of 1 Timothy is this plea:

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. (1 Tim. 6:20-21 ESV)

Second Timothy contains a similar warning:

Charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. (2 Tim. 2:14-17 ESV)

A third kind of false teaching is legalism. Jesus confronted this distortion of the truth of God when he exposed the corrupt side of sectarianism: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42). First Timothy 4:3 warns about teachers who “forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.”

These and other forms of false teaching all have causes, and sometimes we will avoid spiritual collisions if we see them ahead of time. False teaching can come from naiveté, arrogance, or selfish gain. The problem we face today is that it isn’t hard to grab a microphone, create a webpage, or even self-publish a book. We must make careful choices about whom we listen to, and have the strength to turn away when a suspicious teacher is tickling our ears and offering false comfort.

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

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.

Zondervan to Release NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Click to browse the many available editions of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible in the Bible Gateway StoreThis August, Zondervan will add a vital member to its study Bible family. The New International Version of the Bible, the world’s most read and most trusted modern-English Bible translation, is now complemented by study notes and resources designed and edited by general editor and The Gospel Coalition co-founder, D.A. Carson. The new NIV Zondervan Study Bible presents the best of evangelical biblical scholarship, appealing to a broad spectrum of Bible readers.

[See our blogpost: Read More Than One Bible Version Side-By-Side on Bible Gateway.]

The all-new study tools provided in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible support the project’s unique goal of “unpacking God’s story:”

  • first book-by-book
  • then as collections of biblical literature
  • and finally tracing the Bible’s complete witness to the gospel.

Bible students from every walk of life will grow deeper in their understanding of Scripture as God’s story is unpacked by

  • nearly 20,000 new, comprehensive verse-by-verse study notes
  • a 4-color interior with over 60 informative charts
  • more than 90 maps
  • and hundreds of photos.

In addition, the NIV Zondervan Study Bible houses a library of 28 articles by award-winning scholars covering topics such as covenant, the Bible and theology, and love and grace, among others.

Releasing within the year-long NIV 50th anniversary celebration, the NIV Zondervan Study Bible reflects the vision that drove the commissioning of the original translation committee in 1965. Dr. Douglas Moo, assistant editor of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible and also the chair of the current Committee on Bible Translation—the governing body that oversees the NIV translation—agreed to commit the additional time to this project because, he says, “I am convinced a study Bible that focuses on putting the whole story of the Bible together is a vital resource for the people of God.”

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

For more information on the NIV’s anniversary celebration, visit (@NIVBible). Join the social media conversation with these hashtags: #NIV, #NIVBible, and #NIV50.

Under the guidance of Carson, the NIV Zondervan Study Bible also represents the work of associate editors Richard S. Hess, T.D. Alexander, Douglas J. Moo, and assistant editor Andrew David Naselli, as well as 60 additional contributors. Says Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, “This NIV Zondervan Study Bible is a tremendous tool for informed Bible reading and study. The notes are written by the best assembly I’ve seen of faithful, international scholars.” More information is available at

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

The NIV Zondervan Study Bible, featuring Dr. D.A. Carson as general editor, is built on the truth of Scripture and centered on the gospel message. It’s a comprehensive undertaking of crafted study notes and tools to present a biblical theology of God’s special revelation in the Scripture.

Bringing Heaven to Earth: An Interview with Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment

Josh Ross

Much has been written about heaven as a future eternal home. But what if Jesus is more interested in bringing heaven to earth rather than the other way around? Two pastors believe if you know where to look, you can see that the coming of a new heaven and a new earth already has begun. That life on earth is renewed every time you live out Jesus’s prayer that God’s ways will be followed on earth. And that what you believe about God’s plan for humanity and for his creation determines how you will invest your life.Jonathan Storment

Bible Gateway interviewed Josh Ross (@joshualouisross) and Jonathan Storment (@Stormented) about their book, Bringing Heaven to Earth: You Don’t Have to Wait for Eternity to Live the Good News (WaterBrook Press, 2015).

To begin with, thank you for telling readers in your introduction to visit! You write that the Bible doesn’t talk all that much about heaven or hell? How much does it talk about them?

Josh and Jonathan: First off, let us thank for how you draw people into God’s Word and into his heart. It’s an honor to dialogue with you about the Kingdom of God.Click to buy your copy of Bringing Heaven to Earth in the Bible Gateway Store

In our book Bringing Heaven to Earth, we spend considerable time presenting two ideas about heaven, hell, and earth.

Before answering the question, let it be noted that we believe in heaven, hell, and an afterlife. We also believe that God has not given up on the earth he created. In fact, in the end, God is not going to let Satan and his friends win anything. Every injustice will bow down at the name of Jesus. The clock is ticking on injustice and evil, and we think this is good news.

One idea we hope to convey about heaven is that we believe that the primary goal of the Bible, specifically the New Testament, is not that we get to go to heaven when we die, but it’s that we get to thrive in a living covenant with Jesus that transcends death. Therefore, the gospel is bigger than trusting in Jesus, so you can get your sins forgiven, so that you can go to heaven after you die. The gospel is trusting in Jesus, entering into an eternal covenant which begins now, and then living in the fullness of God in order to change the world. The call of Christians is not to cross your fingers and hang on tight until the end, but to roll up your sleeves, partner with God, and join in the adventure.

Two, the primary way the Bible talks about heaven isn’t that it’s a place we go to, but it’s a reality that will be established here on earth. We spend considerable time working through Isaiah 65, Matthew 6, and Revelation 21. It’s important for us to understand that we don’t build the Kingdom of God. God does that. But we do get to build for the Kingdom, and that’s happening right now.

What are the qualities of heaven we need to remember?

Josh and Jonathan: Great question, and there are a number of ways to answer it. Here’s one to consider: Revelation 21:1-8 describes heaven as God setting all things right. Evil and all of evil’s friends are dealt a final blow. In our hearts, we ache for this redemption. The day is on its way when the power of the resurrection of Jesus will crush Satan under our feet (Romans 16:20).

Is it dangerous to view heaven as a distant spiritual realm?

Josh and Jonathan: We think it is. Because if we’re not careful, we can slip into Deism, which says that God basically set up the world, then he retreated to another place until the end of times. The early Christians didn’t believe this. In fact, if you read Ephesians 4:9-10, the ascension of Jesus wasn’t a way for him to escape from the earth, but to position himself “so that He might fill all things.”

You say that the world we live in matters and what we think about tomorrow impacts how we live today. Unpack that for us.

Josh and Jonathan: Ultimately, what we hope for is what we live for. If we believe that the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 is a prayer that we’re supposed to live into (which early Christians did), then we believe that deposits of God’s future are breaking into today. And one thing we know about God from Genesis 2 throughout Revelation is that he delights in working through human beings to accomplish His purposes.

Our two churches and our two cities (Sycamore View in Memphis, TN, & Highland in Abilene, TX) deserve a lot of credit for this book, because they give us continual glimpses of how God’s future is pressing into our present day.

How do you believe Christians have misrepresented the gospel?

Josh and Jonathan: One concern we have (especially when it comes to Christianity in the western world) is that we’ve put too much emphasis on conversion moments. Hear us carefully, because we both believe in the beauty and power of conversion moments and we believe in the necessity of making decisions for Christ; yet the thrust of what it means to be a follower of Jesus is not that we’re converted into a moment, but into a movement. We don’t need the emphasis placed on status change, but rather on what it means to be a passionate, well-rounded follower of Jesus.

What are heaven and earth collisions and why should people pray for them?

Josh and Jonathan: Heaven presses into earth any time the truth of heaven is announced and lived out on the earth. One thing we love so much about God is that he doesn’t hoard his goodness and his gifts. He’s eager to dispense. Any time we pray, “God, let your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we’re asking God to declare the truths of heaven into this world.

How is the gospel more about this world than the next?

Josh and Jonathan: The good news of God is about the “not yet” and the “here and now.” The way the church lived in the book of Acts is that they believed there was a message that had to be shared, and every injustice needed to be set right. This is why for 2,000 years Christians have been at the forefront of building hospitals, caring for orphans, dismantling oppressors, and dispensing mercy unashamedly. The good news of Jesus isn’t something we wait for, but something we live into.

How should Christians engage the world as if right now matters for eternity?

Josh and Jonathan: When the early church faced threats and persecution in Acts 4, the prayers they prayed weren’t for safety, but for boldness. And consider this: if you were to think of the most immoral cities in the first century, we now call them the names of the books of the New Testament, because God didn’t give up on cities like Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome. Christians are not at their best when they escape from the world, but when they engage the world as people clothed in righteousness. We’re at our best when we march into the world for the sake of the cause.

How did Jesus use the idea of a party to communicate the idea of heaven?

Josh and Jonathan: We advocate that at the heart of God is the beauty of restoration. There’s nothing God doesn’t want to bring back to life. And restoration is at its best when it’s celebrated well. We spend a lot of time in Luke 14 & 15, where Jesus talks about tables, banquets, and parties. This was nothing new for the people of God. Throughout the Old Testament, nearly every feast had a celebratory component to it, because when outsiders asked, “Why do you celebrate with such intensity?” the answer was, “God has done great things for us. How can we help but celebrate?” The church needs to reclaim the beauty and power of celebration.

How do you hope readers of your book will be affected by it?

Josh and Jonathan: We hope and pray this book gives people hope, because hope is so much better than despair. We hope this book encourages people to eagerly pray for God’s restoration to fall in hearts and in our communities. We hope this is a word of encouragement to the local church that our God is still on the move.

Bio: Josh Ross is the lead minister for Sycamore View Church in Memphis, TN. Upon graduation from Abilene Christian University, Ross answered God’s call to serve people in areas known for racial tension and a wide gap between rich and poor. In a city known for violence and hatred, Ross and his congregation work to restore an underserved part of Memphis to a place of justice, opportunity, and health. Ross is the author of Scarred Faith. He speaks regularly at churches, Christian conferences, and Christian colleges and universities. Ross and his wife Kayci have two boys.

Jonathan Storment is the preaching minister at the Highland Church in Abilene, Texas. Highland engages in the meaningful and often messy work of restoration in their city; their vision is to end systemic homelessness in Abilene. Storment is married to Leslie, and they have four children. He is the author of How to Start a Riot and a regular contributor to Scot McKnight’s blog Jesus Creed.

Bible News Roundup – Week of June 14, 2015

Read this week’s Bible Gateway Weekly Brief newsletter
Bible Gateway Weekly Brief
Newsletter signup

New NIV Zondervan Study Bible to be Released
Bible Gateway Blog
Read the New International Version on Bible Gateway

Biblica and Zondervan Announce Renewed Agreement for NIrV Bible Translation
Bible Gateway Blog
Read the New International Reader’s Version on Bible Gateway

Australian Tribunal Forces Christian Asylum Seeker to Undergo ‘Unusually Difficult’ Bible Quiz
The Telegraph

Signed Buzz Aldrin Bible Goes Up for Auction
Inspire Magazine
Good News Translation on Bible Gateway
First Liquid Poured on the Moon and the First Food Eaten There Were Communion Elements

Americans’ Confidence in Religion Hits a New Low
Religion News Service

Canadians Have Personal Faith as Organized Religion Declines: Poll
National Post

Oklahoma Attorney General Weighs in on Marine’s Court-martial Over Bible Verse
Stars and Stripes

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch Uses Frederick Douglass’s Bible for Swearing-in Ceremony
The Washington Post Blog
Frederick Douglass’s Bible; Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
ABC News: Politicians Turn To Historic Bibles As They Take Oath Of Office

Local Politician in Spain Booed After Asking for Bible to be Removed from His Swearing-in Ceremony
The Local

Queen of Sheba? 2,000-year-old Remains Found in Biblical City
1 Kings 10 on Bible Gateway

Israeli Archaeologists Find Inscription of Esh-baal Name from Bible
Yanhoo! News
Live Science
1 Chronicles 8:33 & 9:39 on Bible Gateway

Hobby Lobby’s Steve Green’s Bible curriculum is a hit in Israeli schools
Religion News Service

Read the Bible to Build Strong Values, Advises Zambia Vice President
Zambia Daily Mail

Ontario Area Churches Launch Marathon Bible Reading
The Daily Observer

See other Bible News Roundup weekly posts

The Apostle Paul’s Backstory: An Interview with Jerry B. Jenkins

Jerry B. JenkinsThe Apostle Paul is a biblical giant who wrote almost one-third of the New Testament, yet most details of his life remain a mystery. How could a devout Pharisee become the most influential Christian theologian of all time? Into that void steps master storyteller Jerry B. Jenkins (@JerryBJenkins), weaving a gripping narrative that illumines Paul’s stunning transformation from bloodthirsty murderer of Christians to devoted bondservant of Christ.

Bible Gateway interviewed Mr. Jenkins about his novel, Empire’s End (Worthy Publishing, 2015).

What inspired you to write a novel about the apostle Paul?

Click to buy your copy of Empire's End in the Bible Gateway StoreJerry Jenkins: After having written The Jesus Chronicles (Matthew’s Story, Mark’s Story, Luke’s Story, and John’s Story), novels based on the Gospels, it seemed Paul was the next logical step. My first novel for Worthy Publishing was I, Saul, so Empire’s End is really the follow-up to that.

Why is the book titled Empire’s End?

Jerry Jenkins: When Emperor Nero imprisoned Paul and sentenced him to death, he believed he had severed the head of the snake of the Christian sect that so threatened the Roman empire. But rather than snuffing it out, he merely fueled the fire that would eventually bring the empire itself to an end.

Describe your research of the Bible in preparing to write Empire’s End.

Jerry Jenkins: To me the idea of using a real life biblical person as the lead character in a novel does not offer unlimited literary license. I feel its important to use Scripture as the timeline and geographical and historical framework (I used Bible Gateway extensively while writing this novel and many before it). So while I have a definite fictional construct—inventing the idea that someone has discovered the personal diary of the Apostle Paul to flesh out and fill in what we know from New Testament—I don’t send him on wild, fanciful escapades that would violate the realities of the historical record. Rather, I suggest details of what biblical episodes might have looked like, had we been given the entire picture. So all the principals have names and their relationships are played out. And Paul’s thoughts—as I imagine them—are recorded in his journal.

Naturally, to accomplish this, I had to become immersed in the biblical record—which proved a rich devotional experience. I urge writing students to never allow the Bible to become merely a textbook, and it certainly never did to me. To write about a writer whose prose has stood the test of two millennia was a convicting experience, while the majesty of it nearly lifted me from my chair every day.

How did the Old Testament factor into the writing of this New Testament character?

Jerry Jenkins: The Old Testament as we know it was the Bible of Paul’s day, and as a Pharisee from birth and a rabbinical student he was memorizing vast passages from the time he learned to read until he studied at the feet of Gamaliel. A major plot point turns on counsel he receives from an old rabbi about a significant passage in Isaiah. Being neither theologian nor scholar, I found myself a layman painstakingly slogging through passages a word at a time, commentaries and online helps constantly at the ready.

From what point of view is the novel written and why did you choose it?

Jerry Jenkins: Writing first person from Paul’s viewpoint seemed the only logical choice, given the premise that we have found his personal journal. It lent an immediacy and gave us insight into his heart and soul and mind—hopefully bringing him down from the sainted artist renderings and revealing his human side. Here was the most passionate, devout, zealous missionary in history, not only saying but also proving daily that “to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

What did you learn about Paul that surprised you the most?

Jerry Jenkins: I came to believe that he was anything but an evil malingerer when he persecuted and even killed believers before his conversion. He later referred to himself as the chiefest of sinners, dead in his trespasses and sins. Yet he clearly believed he was doing the will of God and sincerely saw the people of The Way as a threat to the one true God.

I also believe that God had prepared him from birth to be the great missionary he became. Being a Roman citizen with Hellenistic roots, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, a brilliant scholar, physically fit, indefatigable, a Pharisee, he substituted the personal walk with God his heroes of the faith evidenced in the ancient Scriptures with laws, rules, and regulations. I think he really longed for a personal relationship with God like David and other patriarchs enjoyed, and short of that he became the most devout biblical scholar he could.

Also, his conversion was unlike most that have followed it. People talk about having had a Damascus Road-like conversion, but then they describe having come to the end of themselves and repenting of a life of deep sin and turning to Christ. Paul had no such experience until Christ confronted him. He had no regrets, no second thoughts, not even any hesitation about what he was doing. He was on his way to do more of it! Jesus himself had to appear to him and tell him who he was. Only then did Paul suffer three days of deep repentance and then redirect his passionate devotion to preaching Christ and Him crucified—rather than what he had been espousing: that the Nazarenes were worshipping a dead martyr who had been cursed by having been hung on a tree.

What did you learn about the early church that surprised you the most?

Jerry Jenkins: That wherever you have people, you have factions and disagreements and personality conflicts. We sometimes idealize the early church and want our churches to go back to the simple, old ways. We need to carefully read the history. Harmony takes work.

Explain the challenges of novelizing all the available information by and about Paul in the Bible?

Jerry Jenkins: The challenge is the sheer volume and that so many stories are hinted at that could be fleshed out. What might be just two or three verses in Scripture can become two or three chapters to the novelist. Like where the Bible says Paul’s sister’s son overhears a plot to kill Paul, tells Paul, and the plot is thwarted. So many questions immediately arise:

  • Where would Paul’s nephew have heard this?
  • Might he have been part of it?
  • Why would he care?
  • Wouldn’t Paul have been estranged from his family after having gone over to the “other side”?

That prompted me to want to give Paul’s sister and her son names, to personalize them, give them histories with Paul and play out their relationships. I believe readers allow me this literary license because they know I’m only suggesting how these scenarios might have evolved.

Describe the story’s arc (without giving away major spoilers).

Jerry Jenkins: In I, Saul, I fictionalized an account of much of Paul’s childhood and rabbinical training, so in Empire’s End I concentrate on his conversion, the escape from Damascus, his three-year exile in the wilderness, his introduction to the disciples in Jerusalem, and his return to Tarsus.

I contend that the majestic writing and theology of Paul that has lasted two millennia was imbued in him during that wilderness exile in Arabia, yet most people forget that about his history. But while you might imagine three years in the desert as a boring time of inaction, this resulted in one of the richest sections of Empire’s End. Here the story is replete with action, tension, romance, betrayal, bloodshed, heartbreak, and remorse. What happens at an enclave of Jesus following refugees—some of whom are revealed to be Paul’s own former victims—sets the course for the rest of his life and becomes the catalyst for his thorn in the flesh.

Promotion material for the book says it’s “steeped in bravado and bloodshed, conflict and deep devotion, romance and political maneuvering.” Give some examples.

Jerry Jenkins: As Saul, my hero is the enemy of the church of Christ, the followers of The Way, the Nazarenes. As Paul he becomes the enemy of the Roman Empire itself. He becomes the equivalent of today’s Public Enemy No. 1. The Romans hold nothing back in their attempt to bring him to justice, which puts everyone he cares about at risk—and they pay the price.

I speculate that he unwittingly falls in love with the widow of one of his own former victims.

Paul takes the same obsessive devotion to God that made him the ultimate Pharisee and becomes the ultimate missionary for the kingdom of Christ, facing the threat of arrest, imprisonment, and death every day until he is finally martyred at the hands of Emperor Nero.

How did you come to your conclusion of what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was?

Jerry Jenkins: Scholars and theologians for centuries have debated whether it was a physical ailment or a temptation, but I find a lost love humanizes him most. Even the most devout missionary in history had to have missed that need to love and be loved—and to have come close to marrying the love of his life would have left him pining for what might have been, praying that God would allow him to forget her.

How did you weave into your story actual verses from the Bible?

When Paul is in the wilderness and the Lord speaks to Him, teaching him what he was say when he ministers to both Jew and Gentile, I believe He impressed on Paul the very words he would eventually write in his magnificent letters to the churches and to his own protégés. So as he converses with God in the desert, I paraphrase God speaking to him almost verbatim from the Bible.

How will a person reading this book of fiction be better equipped to read Paul’s real writings in the Bible?

Jerry Jenkins: Robert Frost said, “No tears the writer, no tears in the reader.” Well, believe me, there were a lot of tears in the writer during the writing. Also a lot of thrill. My prayer is that the story will show my reverence for the Scripture and bring the apostle to life in a new way, spurring the reader to long to get back to the biblical accounts of his life and to the letters he wrote.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Jerry Jenkins: I hope readers will get to know Paul in the way I feel I did while working with his words for so long.

Bio: Jerry B. Jenkins is the author of more than 186 books with sales of more than 70 million copies. The phenomenal bestselling Left Behind series has inspired theatrical movies. Twenty of his books have reached The New York Times bestseller list, and The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, and Publishers Weekly lists, and Mr. Jenkins has been featured on the cover of Newsweek. He and his wife, Dianna, live in Colorado.

How Can We Refine Our Understanding of Biblical Theology?


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.

Theology is not limited to the work of professors and clergy. Any serious Christian who has invested time in reading and studying Scripture is doing the work of theology, because theology (from the Greek words theos, meaning “God,” and logia, meaning “utterance, speech, reasoning”) is simply seeking ways to understand and speak about God, and all else in life as God defines it.

This is one of the enormous blessings of being a lifetime reader of Scripture. We are learning God. And learning everything God has said about everything else that really matters in life. What is a person? Why are people violent? What does a good marriage look like? What is our relationship with the animal kingdom? What happens after we die? How can we find peace and prosperity in life? Why does money become a source of tension? Where can we find justice?


What Scripture offers us, in its totality, is a comprehensive knowledge about God and life. This knowledge is not unlimited, for mysteries remain. Believers should not be frustrated by that. The Bible should never be criticized for not being what it never claims to be. It is not a comprehensive textbook of science. It does not address all areas of economics and government. The Bible is not a documentary of all the details of the historical periods it addresses, but rather, the telling of the story of God’s interaction with humanity.

So how do we, in our quest to reason about and speak about God, refine a “biblical theology”? First, we should not rely on the longstanding method of searching for verses, producing a list, and pretending that this produces a coherent and true doctrine or theology. It is easy, of course, to use a concordance or a computer program or an online lookup function to put in front of our eyeballs all of the biblical verses that use the words heaven, sin, Christ, baptism, money, or violence. While this can be a helpful exercise, creating such lists do not render overarching, rational concepts. If we are trying to figure out what the Bible says about violence, we will have to find the passages that offer major insights, and those passages may not even use the word violence at all—for instance, Cain murdering Abel (Gen. 4:8). It is helpful to do word searches, but only as part of a larger strategy of refining your understanding of biblical theology.

Theology is all about synthesis, which is to take many ideas and discover their connections, leading to an overall theory or system. We sometimes talk about our “belief system,” which is what theology leads to, and it is a wonderful thing. Biblically knowledgeable believers are not shocked when people lie, steal, and cheat. When wars break out. When people are used as slaves. We understand these harsh realities because the word of God describes the causes and development of sin—and our understanding is our “theology.” This understanding does not come from looking up the word sin online. Rather, as we read all of Scripture as a lifestyle, we discover and synthesize thousands of places where “sin” is described as transgression, stumbling, iniquity, wandering, crookedness, trespass, impiety, lawlessness, injustice, and more. The Psalms talk about brokenness. Jesus teaches about blindness. Revelation points to evil. Read Scripture as a lifestyle and you lose your naiveté—and that is a good thing.

Maturity is all about synthesis—putting together what you learned years ago, with what you learned months ago, with what you learned today. You see patterns of life. Lessons that are cumulative. So it is with refining a biblical theology. The most important thing we do is read Scripture regularly, widely (not just the parts we like), and for a lifetime. Synthesis happens in our minds automatically. You read along and your mind is picking up bits and pieces of the truth about love, and righteousness, and temptation, and angels, and God, and a thousand other ideas. In the back of your mind, connections are forming. Every time you come back to a certain biblical book, you see things you never did before, but the connections get stronger. You understand Jeremiah’s “new covenant” because you recall the prior covenants with Abraham, Moses, and others, and you remember Jesus and the book of Hebrews’ teaching about the “new covenant.” And so it is with hundreds of other big ideas.

So the main commitment we need to make for the big payoff of gaining a substantial “belief system” is the faithful and thoughtful reading of all of Scripture. The synthesis will happen in our minds. But to ensure that we are reading with understanding and effect, we need to read with concentration. Taking notes is extremely helpful. Just have pen and paper nearby when you read. Note a verse that strikes you, a question that comes to mind, a connection or contrast with another passage, something you want to remember, a thought you want to tell someone else. Do that as a lifestyle and the synthesis will go deeper. Review your notes months later, and you will make connections that are just waiting to happen.

Truth is too good to be viewed as a list. The word of God offers a faithful description of reality. The difference between a flourishing and a failing life frequently hinges on where we have made the effort to discover and live in reality. This is why we want to understand Scripture.

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

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.

Holy Resilience: An Interview with David Carr

Dr. David M. CarrHuman trauma gave birth to the Bible, suggests religious scholar Dr. David M. Carr (@davidcarrbible). He says the Bible’s ability to speak to suffering is a major reason why the sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity have retained their relevance for thousands of years. He’s studied how the Jewish people and Christian community have adapted through the centuries to survive multiple catastrophes and how their holy scriptures both reflected and reinforced each religion’s resilient nature.

Bible Gateway interviewed Dr. Carr about his book, Holy Resilience: The Bible’s Traumatic Origins (Yale University Press, 2014).

Click to buy your copy of Holy Resilience in the Bible Gateway Store

Explain how your personal suffering of chest trauma from a bicycle accident led to the writing of Holy Resilience.

David Carr and Colleen Conway in the CatskillsDr. Carr: Five years ago, on a beautiful Columbus Day weekend in 2010 I nearly died in a bicycle accident in the Catskills while on a tenth-anniversary bicycle ride with my wife, Colleen. Up to that point I had spent decades studying, writing multiple books and teaching about how the Bible was formed over time. This accident, and the months of physical and psychological recovery afterwards, led me to immerse myself in studies of trauma and memory. I came to realize that the Bible reflects the trauma of ancient Israel and early Christianity.

You’ve said empires are temporary, but trauma continues, and that the Bible speaks to this reality. What do you mean?

Dr. Carr: The past millennia have seen the rise of huge empires—Assyria, Babylon, Rome, and many others—each one with illusions about its own immortality. But each of these empires fell. Meanwhile, the people that those empires traumatized—ancient Israelites and early Christians—came to find God amidst their suffering. The scriptures of Assyria, Babylonia, and even Rome were buried in dust or relegated to school books. In contrast, the Bible of Israel and the early church has survived and become the center of believers’ lives, guiding them even now, centuries later, as they deal with life’s traumas.

What role do you see sin having in contributing to humankind’s trauma?

Dr. Carr: Trauma studies have shown that trauma is deepest when it is human-caused. Of course people are traumatized by natural disasters, such as floods or earthquakes, but even there the impact of the trauma is often worse because of human factors. Worst are cases of war trauma, sexual violence, and other events where people are devastated by acts of other people, which are rooted in their sin. These human-caused traumas shatter the fragile trust in others on which our lives are built. They haunt us.

Explain the subtitle of your book, “The Bible’s Traumatic Origins.”

Dr. Carr: For believers the Bible is special because it is God’s holy and inspired word. In addition, it is distinguished from other ancient scriptures by being formed in trauma, not just one trauma, but wave upon wave of trauma: the Assyrian destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and oppression of Judah for nearly a century (2 Kings 15-21), the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and exile of thousands of Judeans to Babylon (2 Kings 24-25), the near destruction of Judaism by the Hellenistic king Antiochus Epiphanes IV (told in the apocryphal books of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees), and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, its temple, and criminalization of Christianity. These traumas shaped the writings of the Bible and help explain why the Bible has spoken so powerfully to centuries of believers experiencing their own traumas.

Briefly recount your book’s exploration of Judaism and Christianity as “facing catastrophic disasters that shattered their identities” requiring them to shape new understandings of themselves.

Dr. Carr: Both Judaism and Christianity took shape amidst trauma inflicted by Rome on Palestine. Rabbinic Judaism was a reaction to Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem’s temple and brutal suppression of Jewish revolts in 66-70 CE and 132-135 CE (CE = AD). Christianity is founded on the trauma of Rome’s execution of Jesus, the traumas suffered by the apostle Paul, and the trauma of criminalization of Christianity by Rome as an illegal form of “atheism” (denial of the divinity of the emperor and other Roman gods).

What does the Bible teach us about trauma and surviving it?

Dr. Carr: Where the media often preaches happiness and success, the Bible reminds us that trauma is part of life. The Bible’s most central characters are not the rich nor are they mighty kings (even David has flaws and rules a relatively modest kingdom), but landless ancestors who experience their own traumas, figures such as Abraham and Moses. The Christian Bible climaxes with Jesus, who was crucified by Rome. We see in the Bible how God works through these traumatized figures, and the Bible teaches that traumatic suffering can be an opportunity for transformation.

Why do you use the Assyrian destruction of Israel as the impetus leading to victorious biblical ideals, instead of earlier events such as the expulsion from the Garden of Eden or Abel’s murder or Israelite slavery in Egypt?

Dr. Carr: I am focused on when the Bible was actually written down, and many scholars agree that the vast bulk of the Bible was written down long after the Garden of Eden or the exodus from Egypt. The Assyrian onslaught in 722 BCE (BCE = BC) (described in the Bible in 2 Kings 15-19) was the first of several traumas that hit Israel and Judah when they had scribes who produced longer writings, and this Assyrian trauma, along with others that followed, shaped how those scribes framed biblical stories and prophecies.

How does the story of Moses anticipate the trauma and deliverance experienced by Israelites in the book of Exodus?

Dr. Carr: Moses’s life begins with his rescue as an infant from the water of the Nile (Exod. 2:1-10), an event that anticipates Israel’s deliverance from Egypt at the Red Sea (Exod. 14-15). In his early life he flees to the wilderness and meets God there at Mount Horeb (Exod. 2:11-4:18), and his people then follow the same way into the wilderness and to the mountain of God later in the book of Exodus (Exod. 16-24). There is even a parallel between the haunting story of God attacking Moses and Moses being saved by dabs of blood (Exod. 4:24-26) and the later sparing of Israel from the divine attacker (who kills the firstborn of Egypt) thanks to dabs of blood on their doorposts (Exod. 12:21-27). Moses embodies in his person the suffering and deliverance of his people.

Do you see the suffering of Job as a microcosm type of the group or communal trauma and survival described throughout the Bible?

Dr. Carr: Yes. Job is traumatized by the loss of his wealth, health, and children, a loss not explained by any act on his part (Job 1-2). His friends have lots of pat explanations for his suffering, suggesting that Job himself is to blame (Job 4-28, 32-37). But Job refuses their easy answers and eventually sees and hears God’s responses to his protests (Job 38-41). Job and the book about him express the kind of deep wisdom about suffering that only comes from direct experience of trauma.

Your book explores the trauma of Christ’s crucifixion and how early Christianity embraced the symbol of the cross—a tool of torture—as the decisive victory over the ultimate trauma of death. Didn’t that dramatic transformation result from Christ’s resurrection being seen as overpowering the trauma of sin?

Dr. Carr: If we only had the story of Christ’s crucifixion, there would be no further story of Christianity and most of us would be worshipping Mithras or some other deity now. But the Bible centers on the revelation that Jesus’s death was not the end of the story. And this is not just a message about Roman execution, but a message about how God works in life in general, helping God’s children triumph over sin and more specific traumas of tragedy and loss.

How does the Bible’s description of violence against Christians speak to your premise of trauma in Scripture?

Dr. Carr: The story of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection was powerful in its original context because trauma was a reality of life for so many people in the Roman Empire. Early followers of Jesus, like Paul, experienced an extra measure of such trauma as they suffered beatings, imprisonment and even death trying to spread their message. Paul tells the Corinthian church in his second letter to them:

Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters. (2 Cor. 11:24-26 NRSV)

Experiences like these led Paul to suggest to his fellow Christians, also experiencing trauma, that their suffering was a way that they revealed Jesus to the world. He says,

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. (2 Cor. 4:8-11 NRSV)

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Dr. Carr: I thank you for your interest and very much hope my book helps people link their lives with the Bible in a way they may not have considered before.

Bio: David M. Carr, PhD, is Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Over his decades-long academic career, he has become an international authority on the formation of the Bible, ancient scribal culture, and issues of the Bible and sexuality. A father/stepfather of four, Dr. Carr lives, rides his bicycle, and plays funk-blues organ in New York City with his wife and fellow biblical scholar, Colleen Conway.

Bible News Roundup – Week of June 7, 2015

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Idaho GOP Resolution Urges Use of Bible in Public Schools
Idaho Press-Tribune

Wycliffe Bible Translators Affiliate Seed Company Appoints Samuel Chiang as New President and CEO
News Release

8 Pages of the Gutenberg Bible for Sale; Comprise the Book of Esther
Fine Books & Collections

Pamplona Bible Manuscript Dated Back to 12th Century
University of Victoria

Precious Centuries-old Bibles in UK Parish Churches Being Stolen to Order, Police Warn
The Telegraph

Bible Dating from 1270 on Display in Jubilee Library, Brighton, UK, until July
The Argus

Bible Inside 1915 Time Capsule Removed from Cornerstone of Missouri Capitol

New Smyrna, FL, Man Recalls D-Day and the Bible That Saved Him
The Daytona Beach News-Journal

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