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Recapturing the Jewish Roots of God’s Word: Tree of Life Version of the Bible Now Available on Bible Gateway

treeoflifeWe’ve just added a new Bible to our online library: the Tree of Life Version!

The Tree of Life Version, produced by the Baker Publishing Group and the Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, invites Christians to explore and understand the Jewish worldview. It began as a seemingly simple project with the idea of using the name Yeshua instead of Jesus, but it quickly grew from that humble goal into a major translation effort by a team of 32 scholars.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Tree of Life Version is its use of key Hebrew names and terms throughout the text (italicized to make them easier to recognize). But beyond that are many other translation decisions made to emphasize the Jewish roots of Christianity, including a re-ordered Old Testament book list (in accordance with Jewish tradition) and the reworking of many sentences to reflect Hebrew (rather than Greek) sentence structure.

Here’s an excerpt (describing one of Jesus’ many miracles) to give you a sense of the Tree of Life Version’s approach:

Ben-David Heals the Blind

Then they came to Jericho. Now as Yeshua was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Yeshua of Natzeret, he began to cry out, “Ben-David, Yeshua! Have mercy on me!” Many were warning him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, “Ben-David, have mercy on me!”

Yeshua stopped and said, “Call him over.”

So they call the blind man, saying, “Take heart! Get up, He’s calling you!” Throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and came to Yeshua.

And answering him, Yeshua said, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

The blind man said, “Rabboni, I want to see again!”

Yeshua said to him, “Go! Your faith has made you well.” Instantly he regained his sight and began following Yeshua down the road. — Mark 10:46-52 (TLV)

We think you’ll find that the Tree of Life Version brings something fresh and interesting to the experience of reading God’s Word, and that it will give you glimpses of Christianity’s Jewish roots that aren’t always evident in other Bible translations. The Tree of Life Version is available in the Bible selection drop-down at the top of most pages at, including the main page. Click here to start reading it now, starting in Genesis 1!

How to Study the Bible: Developing Our Biblical Vocabulary


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

Last time we looked at the importance of the meaning of specific words in the Bible. Individual words are building blocks, but we do not discover the rich meaning and truth of God’s word just by looking at individual words. We find the meaning in the statements and ideas that the biblical authors gave us in complete expressions (sentences or groups of sentences). And even those ideas can be grasped only by viewing them in the wider context of the biblical book they are embedded in.

Nevertheless, we have to be able to study words in order to get at the whole meaning. Or at least we need to understand how the translators decided what words in the receptor language (English, for instance) best represent the original meaning (in Hebrew or Greek).

None of us need to pretend we are linguists and lexicographers. That work has been done for us by people who have worked hard for many years in those disciplines. I learned Greek and Hebrew in graduate school, but that does not make me a linguist or lexicographer (and I’m glad!).

Here is the point: the ordinary Bible student does not need to judge the subtleties of translation alternatives when studying the words of a specific biblical passage. Yes, we can note the various translations, or even the details of the semantic range of a given word, but unless you have spent many years immersed in studying Hebrew or Greek, it is not your responsibility to judge the translation options.

It is important for us to have confidence in our Bible translations. We all will decide what version we prefer to use. Some prefer word-for-word (sometimes referred to as “literal”) translations. These translations let the reader know the specific word choice and phraseology of the biblical author, but sometimes are more difficult to read because they may not have the flow of the way we use language today. Other people gravitate toward what may be called thought-for-thought translations. And then there are paraphrases or free translations which take whole sentences and render them in the colloquial use of language.

So if you are studying a passage and there are some words that are pivotal for the meaning of the text, how do you drill down on the meaning of those words, using tools that expert linguists and lexicographers have put in our hands?

1. Look at how three or four different Bible translations have the word rendered in the passage you are studying (you can look at many translations at Perhaps the same English word or phrase is used uniformly. If not, you will learn something by noting how different translators rendered it.

2. Use a concordance (or an online tool like where you can use “keyword search”) to glance through a list of verses using the word you are curious about. Just remember that the word in English may be the translation of several different Hebrew or Greek words. (There are concordance functions that allow you to focus on only one specific Hebrew or Greek word.)

3. Look up the word in a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia. If “baptize” is in your passage, you’ll learn a lot from the article in the tool. There are not many uses of the word in the New Testament, so you can go and look them up yourself as well. Just make sure you do not assume that the entire semantic range of meaning of the word is included in the intended thought of a biblical author in any one passage. Note that some dictionaries specialize in theological words.

4. If the word is really pivotal, a detailed commentary will explain the meaning of the word (more about commentaries later). The commentator is leaning on the research of linguists and lexicographers, and giving us summary meanings. You are not likely to find word studies in one-volume commentaries, but in commentaries devoted to single biblical books.

The big picture is this: as life-long students of the Bible we are continually growing in our biblical vocabulary. Our understanding of the words of Scripture grows both wider (as we link many passages) and deeper (as we take time to study the words with the tools available to us). We gain a language of revelation, with the light of truth becoming brighter and brighter. We do not do this in order to be arrogant or esoteric, but to know God better and to explain the ways and the will of God better to others. Jesus warned some experts in Scripture that they knew the words, but had missed the meaning. May that never be said of us.

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

Bible News Roundup – Week of January 24, 2016

Read this week’s Bible Gateway Weekly Brief newsletter
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16 Trends in American Churches in 2016
Thom Rainer

Baguio City Observes National Bible Week in Philippines

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Why You Should Embrace Digital Bible Study in 2016

Most of us are comfortable reading Scripture online—far from being the exotic activity it was when Bible Gateway first went online in the early years of the Web, it’s now a routine act for anyone with a computer or mobile device. But it’s fair to say that while reading the Bible digitally is easily accomplished online, studying the Bible is something different. “Bible study” is something long associated with taking notes, cross-referencing hefty commentaries and other tomes, and small group meetings—all predominately offline activities that are traditionally hard to replicate in an online environment.

ctdBut the times are changing, and I think we’ve reached a point where the advantages of studying, not “just” reading, the Bible online far outweigh the drawbacks. I’ve written up my thoughts on the matter in a guest post at Church Tech Todayclick here to read them!

New Barna Report: What Are America’s Most Bible-Minded Cities?

barnaBarna, in partnership with the American Bible Society, has released their annual survey of America’s most “Bible-minded” cities. The report is based on thousands of interviews conducted over the course of many years, and as in the past, the results are interesting and a little provocative.

The survey defines a “Bible-minded” individual as someone who “report[s] reading the Bible in a typical week and who strongly assert[s] the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches.” The American cities containing the most such individuals are predominately located in the South; those with the least are scattered around the country, but a cluster of the latter can be seen in New England. You can read the full results in infographic form here. Do the results surprise you? Is your hometown on the list?

The data is certainly interesting, and will likely provide good material for sermons and editorial articles in the weeks to come. However, I think the most insightful response to the report might be found in reflecting on what “Bible-mindedness” means, and how we might go about measuring it (if in fact it can be meaningfully measured). If you wanted to gauge the level of Bible engagement in a community or country, what criteria would you use to measure it? How well do you match the survey’s definition of “Bible-mindedness,” and do you think it provides an accurate picture of your relationship to Scripture right now?

We’ve written about this topic in the past, if you’re interested in exploring it further. In response to an earlier (2014) “Bible-minded cities” survey, we reflected on what it means to be “Bible-minded.” Several years ago, we also crunched usage data to find out which cities in the United States, Canada, and the UK and Australia did the most online Scripture reading. (Note that our data simply determined which cities accessed the Bible the most, and did not try to gauge readers’ intents or attitudes toward what they were reading—so while it makes for an interesting comparison to Barna’s data, it’s not measuring exactly the same thing.)

Pastor and Author Ed McMinn Explains His Devotionals for Sports Fans

Have you had a chance to check out our new email devotional, Devotions for Die-Hard Fans? It’s a two-week devotional written specifically for sports fans, and you can read more about it here.

Ed McMinn, author of the devotional, was interviewed several years ago on TV. In the short interview, he describes the inspiration for writing a sports-themed devotional and other details. If you’re on the fence about subscribing, this should give you a good idea of what to expect:

If that sounds interesting, you can sign up for the email devotional here and peruse Extra Point Publisher’s many other sports devotionals at their website.

The Meaning of Specific Words in the Bible


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

It is amazing, when you think about it, that you can take a pencil and a piece of paper, write a single word on it, show it to someone else, and produce in that person’s mind the idea of the object, action, or concept in that single word. Whether you write lion, or moon, or wedding, or run, or war—a single written word connects your mind with another person’s mind in an instant. This is the power of words.

But it is not as simple as that. What if you write the word bar? The other person may imagine a long metal rod, or a piece of candy, or a room in a hotel where alcohol is served, or a court of law, or a musical notation. All are meanings of the word bar. And what if the other person comes from another country where the meaning of a word is entirely different, or even offensive?

Studying the Bible inevitably involves studying the meaning of individual words, but we must always remember that the meaning of the biblical author is found in complete thoughts represented in sentences or blocks of sentences. We find the meaning of words in their context. The word white can mean a color or quality, the word house can mean a home or a business establishment, but put them together—white house—and you have a specific idea. Or change it to White House and you know you’re talking about one particular building in Washington, D.C.


So let’s say you are studying John, chapter 1, a passage packed with amazing truths. We find words which we need to understand: beginning, Word, life, light, children of God, born of God, flesh, dwelling, grace, truth, Son. We may assume some of these words have obvious meanings, but we will benefit by learning all that we can even about them.

Most words have a range of possible meanings, what linguists call a “semantic range.” The word flesh, for instance, in a biblical passage may refer to the physical body, or it can mean humanity, or it can point to limited human nature, or it can refer to the sinfulness of human nature. The same is true of word in John 1. The Greek term logos can mean expression or rationality or a single word. Logos was also used at the time by certain philosophical schools for the idea of a universal power that holds the universe together. By calling Jesus “the Word” John may have been saying that in Jesus we find the fulfillment and personification of “the word of the Lord” in the Old Testament, or a better alternative to the cosmic Logos of the philosophers, or both. So much is at stake in the meaning of a word—even the word word!

So how do we study the meaning of the words of Scripture? Here is where we rely on the expertise of linguists whose job it is to take the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words of the Bible and compare their use within the Bible and with outside sources. Linguists produce lexicons or dictionaries—tools that summarize the findings of these extensive comparisons. As we have said before, one of the most useful Bible study tools is a good Bible dictionary or encyclopedia. These tools will summarize the meaning of names, geography, theology, and every other kind of word. From Caesarea to coin, remnant to resurrection, Baal to Bethel, heaven to heart, Judas to justification. Bible dictionaries are immensely valuable (see this list of Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias).

When you look up a word in such a tool, use it as an opportunity to learn about the whole range of meaning of a word throughout the Bible. This you can file away in the back of your mind for future reference. But do not make the mistake of thinking that any one use of a word in any one passage includes the full semantic range of meaning of a word. When someone uses the word bar you do not think he or she is using every possible meaning of the word. The context of the comment tells you specifically what the person means. So it is in Bible study. The word world can mean the earth, or humanity, or the sinfulness of humanity. You can tell from the context. The word judge may be God’s act of justice, or God as judge, or one of the leaders in the book of Judges, or the act of harshly criticizing others. You can tell from the context.

And then there is the issue of synonyms. The English word love in the New Testament is often used in translations for three of the four Greek words for love: agape, philia, and eros.

The other tool that helps us know what a specific word means in a specific context is the commentary. The commentator has looked at the full semantic range of all of the words in a passage, and will focus on the meaning that applies. And if the deeper meaning of a word is important, a good commentator will unpack that. (More about commentaries later.)

We should not be surprised that getting at the meaning of the words of Scripture involves some work. The basic meaning of a biblical text is typically obvious with simple reading. We have to work at times in the same way that we work at any relationship worth having. Words are gifts, and they lead ultimately to God himself.

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

Today’s Christian Living: An Interview with Dan Brownell

Today’s Christian Living websiteWant to read about Christians who have impacted the world for Christ? How about Christian ministries that are making a difference for Jesus? Or compelling testimonies that tell how the Lord works through everyday people, events, and circumstances? Or articles that show the importance of biblical principles and attributes like self-control, generosity, and sacrificial love?Dan Brownell

Bible Gateway interviewed Dan Brownell, editor of Today’s Christian Living (@TCLmagazine) magazine.

Describe Today’s Christian Living magazine.

Dan Brownell: Today’s Christian Living features inspirational stories about the Lord’s work in the lives of both well-known and ordinary Christians. Jesus knew the power of stories to help his listeners grasp his teaching. His parables turned abstract concepts into concrete principles they could readily relate to in their culture. Likewise, people today can read the powerful stories of God’s work and see what it looks like today when the Holy Spirit transforms someone from the inside out.

November 2015 edition of Today's Christian LivingHow is TCL different from other Christian magazines; for example, Christianity Today?

Dan Brownell: The primary mission of many Christian magazines, such as Christianity Today, is to inform readers about news and current events and/or provide teaching and commentary on theological trends. Today’s Christian Living, on the other hand, fills a different niche. We focus on testimonies to show how the Lord has used events in people’s lives to bring them to salvation or into a deeper walk with the Lord.

What do you want each issue of TCL to accomplish in a reader’s life?

November 2015 edition of Today's Christian LivingDan Brownell: The mission of Today’s Christian Living is to encourage, equip, and engage believers.

To Encourage: Christians may feel beaten down by daily problems and by society’s increasing antagonism toward God. We want to bolster our readers’ faith with accounts of the Lord’s power to changes lives. However, we don’t want to present a syrupy, superficial view of Christianity. The Lord doesn’t always deliver us from pain and hardship. Sometimes He changes our circumstances, but other times He leaves us in our difficult circumstances to refine us, strengthen us, and draw us closer to Himself. Our “Persecution Report” column creates a balance by reminding our readers of how much Christians around the world are suffering for Jesus.

September 2015 edition of Today's Christian LivingTo Equip: In addition to our feature articles, which provide testimonies, we provide columns that offer practical advice on health, finances, and relationships from a biblical perspective.

To Engage: We believe that stories are an excellent way to help readers make the connection between biblical principles and real life application. Testimonies make theory come alive and help believers see what Christian maturity and being led by the Holy Spirit looks like in the everyday grind of life. They also form a bridge between us and an increasingly secular culture.

How do you select what categories or topics to cover in TCL articles?

November 2015 edition of Today's Christian LivingDan Brownell: Our featured cover story reveals how a person came to Christ or grew closer to Him through a life-changing event. We like to cover well-known Christians to help our readers get to know them better. Society tends to put celebrities on a pedestal and think they are immune from sin, pain, and struggle. This feature article is a way for our readers to see that they’re just like us. When famous Christians pull back the curtain and reveal that they’re sinners too, it bridges the perceived gap between them and us, and reminds us that God can use us too, in spite of our flaws.

With all our testimony articles, we try to choose stories from as broad a range as possible to connect with people in all walks of life. We include a number of excerpts from newly released Christian books and work closely with major Christian publishers to provide the very best material available.

What role does the Bible have in TCL articles?

Dan Brownell: The Bible plays a central role in TCL articles. Many of our articles cite verses, while others illustrate biblical principles through stories. We take a very high view of Scripture, honoring it as God’s revealed Word. It is the source of all wisdom and, of course, points to Jesus as Savior.

How are Christian magazines in general faring in these days of Internet disruption? How has TCL adjusted to it all?

Dan Brownell: Virtually all print publishing has been facing major challenges for years because of the increasing cost of paper, printing, and mailing, as well as the explosion of free content on the Internet. However, Christians still want to be challenged in their walk so there will continue to be a demand for high-quality curated content, and there will be continued demand for both print and digital content, as each form has pros and cons. Today’s Christian Living also maintains a website, as well as Facebook and (Twitter) accounts, each of which is geared to reach their audience.

How do you think TCL could best be used in a Christian’s life and in a Christian’s church?

Dan Brownell: We provide both individual and church bulk subscriptions. In fact, we have more than 900 churches in our bulk program. Individuals can draw inspiration and encouragement from the magazine at home, while traveling, on break at work, etc. We encourage them to share their copy when they’re finished by passing it along to a friend, coworker, or leaving it for a stranger in a waiting area. The articles make excellent topics for small groups to discuss, as stories can encourage people to lower their carefully constructed masks and open up to others. Churches can use the copies very strategically by giving them to visitors to help make them feel welcome and to create a connection with them. They can also be a great icebreaker to take along on visitation to a home, nursing home, assisted living facility, or hospital.

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

Dan Brownell: Bible Gateway is an excellent Bible reference and study tool. I frequently use it for looking up verses and verse references. It’s much faster than looking up a verse in a paper copy of the Bible, especially if you’re looking for the particular wording of a verse, but you’re not sure of the version. That’s where the key word search comes in handy. Whether you’re looking for a text Bible, audio Bible, Bible reading plan, commentary, dictionary, topical index, app, blog, or devotional, you’ll find almost limitless resources there.

Bio: Dan Brownell, editor of Today’s Christian Living, is a graduate of Liberty University with a bachelor’s degree in English. He taught junior high and high school English at an international Christian school in Uijongbu, South Korea, before entering the publishing field. He has worked as an educational test writer and editor, copywriter, proposal writer, and book and magazine editor. He is married to his sweetheart, Cathy, whom he met in college. They have two children—Elizabeth and Josh—a dog, and, according to Dan, way too many cats.

The Biblical Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLKJToday, America celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Do you think of King’s message of equality as a political statement? If so, you might be surprised by the extent to which the Bible formed the basis for King’s vision. King understood that the fight for equality was a spiritual, not just a cultural or political, struggle. Today, we encourage you to explore the biblical foundation upon which King based his call for justice and equality. Here are some essays that will help you do that:

Bible News Roundup – Week of January 17, 2016

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