Skip to content

Most Recent Blog Posts

Take Our New Bible Quiz: How Well Do You Know the Holy Land?

How well do you know the places of the Holy Land, and how they connect to the Bible? Test your knowledge of the Bible and Holy Land geography in our new quiz!

Many of the photos used in this quiz are taken from Lysa TerKeurst’s online Bible study Uninvited. Uninvited is an in-depth Bible study about rejection taught by Lysa from the Holy Land. If you enjoyed this quiz and want to dive deeper into the ways that the people and places of the Bible connect with your own story, we encourage you to join Lysa for this free Bible study.

8 Questions To Ask When Reading the Bible: An Interview with Matthew S. Harmon

Matthew S. HarmonWhat are the questions you should ask every time you read the Bible so that you can understand what you’re reading and apply the Scripture passage’s lessons to your everyday life?

Bible Gateway interviewed Matthew S. Harmon (@DocHarmon) about his book, Asking the Right Questions: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible (Crossway, 2017).

Buy your copy of Asking the Right Questions in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every day

Download this free Bible study summary page of four questions for understanding the Bible and four questions for applying Bible lessons to your life. Then print and stick it in your Bible for easy reference. Also download and print this free bookmark to put in your Bible.

Why is reading the Bible—something so important to the Christian life—so hard sometimes?

Matthew S. Harmon: I think there are several reasons that reading the Bible can be so challenging. The first is that the Bible is a big book that talks about so many different things. So we can be unsure what kinds of things we should focus on. A second challenge is that the Bible has several kinds of literature (narrative, law, proverbs, poetry, prophecy, letters, etc.) that we’re not always sure how to understand. On top of that is a third challenge: the Bible is set in a very different world from today. So how do we take what the Bible says and apply it to our lives today?

How is the Bible both a divine and a human book?

Matthew S. Harmon: Every word of the Bible “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). It can be hard for us to wrap our minds around how every book in the Bible was not only written by the human author, but also by God himself. Peter describes this reality when he writes that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). God spoke through the unique personalities of each human author to move them to write down what God wanted to communicate in the exact words God wanted the human author to use.

Why is it important to know that the Bible is comprised of stories and how they fit together?

Matthew S. Harmon: As Christians it’s essential that we know the main storyline of the Bible that stretches from Genesis to Revelation. Every story in the Bible fits somehow into that larger story.

I find the analogy of a TV series helpful. The main story of the Bible is like the overall plot of the TV series, and each individual story in the Bible is like an individual episode in that TV series. Sure, you can make sense of an individual episode if you haven’t seen the whole TV series. But you’ll likely miss out on the larger significance of events, characters, and themes. The same is true of the Bible.

What do you mean the Bible is not written to us but for us?

Matthew S. Harmon: None of us are ancient Israelites wandering in the wilderness under Moses’s leadership. None of us are sixth-century (BC) Jews living in exile in Babylon. None of us are first-century (AD) Romans, Ephesians, or Philippians. So in that sense the Bible is not written to us as modern day believers. But, the Bible is absolutely written for us as God’s people today. Romans 15:4 states, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” The words that God inspired the biblical authors to write to others were written for us to instruct us and to produce encouragement, perseverance, and hope. Recognizing this distinction can help prevent us from making serious mistakes when applying the Bible to our lives.

What’s the basic pattern of Christian living that the Bible lays out?

Matthew S. Harmon: At the center of the Christian life is a basic pattern of repentance from sin and faith in Christ and his promises. They’re not only the entry point into the Christian life, but the ongoing pattern of our experience as believers. Although repentance is something God calls people to do (Isa. 55:6–7; Joel 2:12–13), it’s also mysteriously a gift from God (Acts 5:31; 2 Tim. 2:24–26). The same is true of faith. We’re responsible to believe in Christ and his promises (Ps. 37:3–5; Prov. 3:5–6), yet faith is also described as a gift from God (Phil. 1:29; 2 Pet. 1:1). The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin (John 16:7–11), which enables us to turn away from it and instead turn towards greater faith in Christ and his promises.

Explain the four foundational questions a person should ask when reading the Bible.

Matthew S. Harmon: The four foundational questions flow out of what Jesus identified as the two greatest commandments: love God with our whole being, and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37–40). In light of these two commandments, here are four questions to ask when reading any passage of the Bible:

  1. What do we learn about God?
  2. What do we learn about people?
  3. What do we learn about relating to God?
  4. What do we learn about relating to others?

What’s the danger of taking a verse out of its context and applying it to modern life? And how should a Bible reader avoid doing that?

Matthew S. Harmon: The meaning of words and sentences depends on their context. Yet often when people read the Bible they take an individual verse out its context and as a result they either misunderstand what it means or how it applies to daily life. That’s why it’s so valuable to read larger passages of Scripture at a time. So instead of reading an individual verse, read an entire chapter, or several chapters for that matter. That way when a particular verse catches your attention, you can easily look at the surrounding context to make sure you’ve understood it correctly.

What’s a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Matthew S. Harmon: It’s so hard to pick one! Galatians 2:20 has always been dear to me: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” I simply can’t get over the fact that Christ loved me enough to die for me and rise from the dead for me. And as if that weren’t enough, he now lives inside of me to empower me to live for his glory!

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

Matthew S. Harmon: I love how Bible Gateway allows me to access so many different translations of the Bible. There are so many helpful resources to help people read, understand, study, and apply the Bible. I regularly recommend it to my students!

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Matthew S. Harmon: There’s no other book like the Bible. My prayer is that God will fill our churches and our communities with people who find his Word more desirable than the finest gold and sweeter than the sweetest honey (Ps 19:10). As we see Christ more clearly in the Bible, we’ll be transformed so that we more closely reflect his beauty and his glory (2 Cor. 3:18).

Bio: Matthew S. Harmon (PhD, Wheaton College) is professor of New Testament studies at Grace College and Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He was previously on staff with Cru for eight years and is the author of several books, including Jeremiah: A 12-Week Study, and Making All Things New: Inaugurated Eschatology for the Life of the Church. Matthew and his wife, Kate, live in Warsaw, Indiana, and have two sons.

Leading your family in Bible study? Bible Gateway Plus equips you to explore & teach the Bible better. Get biblically wise and spiritually fit!

New American Standard Bible and Amplified Bible Publisher Robert Lambeth Dies

Robert LambethRobert “Bob” Lambeth, president for 38 years of the Lockman Foundation, died July 11. He was 81.

The Lockman Foundation is a nonprofit, interdenominational ministry dedicated to the translation, publication, and distribution of the New American Standard Bible (NASB), Amplified Bible (AMP), Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC), and other Bible resources. Mr. Lambeth served as the foundation’s president from 1979 until his death, having been connected with the ministry since the 1950s through his relationship with founders Dewey and Minna Lockman.

Read Mr. Lambeth’s memorial at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Originally produced in 1971 and updated in 1995, the NASB is considered a literal English translation of the Bible. The Amplified Bible, first published in 1958 and updated in 2015, is a literal equivalent translation that, by using synonyms and definitions, both explains and expands the meaning of words in the text by placing amplification in parentheses, brackets, and after key words. This unique system of translation allows the reader to more completely and clearly grasp the meaning as it was understood in the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, The Amplified Bible Translation: Available for the First Time as a Full-Featured Study Edition]

See the variety of NASB and Amplified Bible print editions in the Bible Gateway Store.

Understanding the Bible doesn’t need to be hard. Find out how Bible Gateway Plus makes it easier!

Bible News Roundup – Week of August 6, 2017

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

Support Bible Gateway—Browse the Bible Gateway Store

The Most Famous Bible Verse That’s Not Actually in the Bible

New American Standard Bible and Amplified Bible Publisher Robert Lambeth Dies
Bible Gateway Blog
Read the New American Standard Bible (NASB) on Bible Gateway
Read the Amplified Bible (AMP) on Bible Gateway
Read the Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC) on Bible Gateway

Is This Unearthed Fishing Village the Birthplace of Three of Jesus’ Disciples?
Read John 1:44 and 12:21 on Bible Gateway
Read about Bethsaida from Smith’s Bible Names Dictionary on Bible Gateway
See the Biblical Archaeology section in the Bible Gateway Store

Home from America: Family Reunited with 151-Year-Old Bible
The Church of Scotland

See other Bible News Roundup weekly posts

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!

August Only: The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is Available in Bible Gateway Plus

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study BibleThe NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is back by popular demand! During August, this highly accessible study Bible is available again in the Bible Gateway Plus library.

If you’re a Bible Gateway Plus member, you now have full access to this book as you read Scripture. (Click here for a step-by-step guide to accessing this and other Bible Gateway Plus titles.) If you’re not a Plus member, you can start a free 30-day trial, during which you’ll have full access to the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible while it’s available during August.

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

If you’d like to learn more about it, we’ve written extensively about the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible here on the blog. This interview with the editors will give you a good sense of this study Bible’s perspective. We’ve also published infographics from this study Bible that explore the parable of the Good Samaritan, the story of the Tower of Babel, and the account of the Last Supper.

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

If you’re a Plus member, this title is already in your library—just log in to your Bible Gateway account, look up any Bible passage, and find the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible in your study library panel. You’ll find it alongside the other dictionaries in your library. (Click here if you need a refresher course on accessing your study library.)

If you want to jump right in, click here to read Genesis 1 with the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible open alongside the Bible text.

How to Access the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible if You’re Not Yet a Bible Gateway Plus Member

If you’re not yet a Bible Gateway Plus member, you can still get full access to this digital study Bible (along with 40+ other digital titles) free for 30 days when you start your free 30-day trial of Bible Gateway Plus. Try it and see for yourself how the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible makes it easier to read and understand the Bible! Click here to start your risk-free trial of Bible Gateway Plus, and find out why we call Bible Gateway Plus the best value in digital Bible study.

The Complete Topical Guide to the Bible: An Interview with Martin H. Manser

Martin H. ManserStudying 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.

[Use the Dictionary of Bible Themes on Bible Gateway]

Bible Gateway interviewed Bible reference editor Martin H. Manser (@mhmanser and @word_come_alive), who, along with Alister McGrath, J. I. Packer, and Donald Wiseman, edited The Complete Topical Guide to the Bible (Baker Books, 2017).

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Bible Reference Books: An Interview with Martin Manser]

Buy your copy of The Complete Topical Guide to the Bible in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every day

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 of God’s unfailing love—Psalm 13:5
  • Assurance of eternal life—John 3:15-16
  • 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.

I’m also continuing to work on my paraphrase (extended translation) of the New Testament Word Come Alive (see and my blog at I’m currently now finally reviewing Mark’s Gospel and have completed John’s Gospel, the Letters of John, Ephesians, and Philippians. I’m pleased that some churches and individuals are using these. I’m now translating Romans.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway?

Martin H. Manser: I regularly use Bible Gateway to check different Bible translations and thank you for this helpful tool.

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.

Bible Gateway Plus is the ultimate Bible learning companion with no expensive software to install. Try it free for 30 days!

What You Should and Should Not Do with Your Negative Emotions

Peter ScazzeroBy Peter Scazzero

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.


Emotionally Healthy Relationships Day by DayAdapted from Emotionally Healthy Relationships Day by Day: A 40-Day Journey to Deeply Change Your Relationships by Peter Scazzero. Click here to learn more about this title.

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, or connect with Pete on Twitter @petescazzero.

Did You Know That the Founder of Christianity Was Jewish?

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!

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Did You Know Jesus’ Ancestors Are Not Who You Think They Are?]

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.

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Did You Know the Saying “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves” Isn’t in the Bible?]

The Story of God and the Jewishness of Jesus

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 is the kind of fascinating Bible insight you’ll gain when you upgrade to Bible Gateway Plus!
You’ll be equipped and empowered to answer your questions about the Bible.
Try it free for 30 days!

Surviving Cancer and Thriving: An Interview with Edie Littlefield Sundby

Edie Littlefield SundbyThis 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.

Bible Gateway interviewed Edie Littlefield Sundby (@ediesundby) about her book, The Mission Walker: I was given three months to live… (W Publishing, 2017).

Buy your copy of The Mission Walker in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every day

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.

What’s a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Edie Littlefield Sundby: Job 40:11 (ESV): Pour out the overflowing….

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.

Get biblically wise and spiritually fit with Bible Gateway Plus. Try it free!

Bible News Roundup – Week of July 30, 2017

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

Support Bible Gateway—Browse the Bible Gateway Store

Canaanite DNA Story Misreported By Science Reporters
Evolution News & Science Today
AskDrBrown: Do New DNA Discoveries Really Disprove the Bible?
Read about Canaanites in Easton’s Bible Dictionary on Bible Gateway
See the Biblical Archaeology section in the Bible Gateway Store

Partnership Helps Sign Language Bible Translation Projects Go Faster and Farther
Mission Network News

Wycliffe Associates Plans to Launch 30 New Scripture Translations in Middle East in 45 days
Sight Magazine

A Digital Revolution: How the Face of Bible Smuggling Has Radically Changed
Open Doors

Reaching a New Generation with the Bible
Download the free Bible Gateway App

The Freedom and Chaos of Sola Scriptura
Read the Bible Gateway Blog, The Authority Of Scripture: An Interview with Matthew Barrett

See other Bible News Roundup weekly posts

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!