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Read the Original Before Watching the Reproduced

If you’re not careful, you might end up believing more in dramatic interpretation than the original Bible script during this year of Hollywood’s capitalizing on the popularity of biblical events. Big-budget biblical programming has found its way to the theater and television because producers have seen skyrocketing success in box office receipts and ad revenue.

According to film critic and Hollywood historian Leonard Maltin, when it comes to finding plot and script material for movies, “there is nothing older or more reliable than the Bible.” It’s important to remember that, as well acted and written as these productions may be, we need to ground ourselves in the original Bible stories and events from which these entertainment creations spring.

We encourage you to read the original text—on which these movies and mini-series are based—right here on Bible Gateway. Following is a brief list of popular entertainment offerings and their corresponding Bible text:

The Bible Really Is God’s Word

[Editor’s Note: Dr. Stephen J. NicholsThis guest blogpost is by Stephen J. Nichols, President of Reformation Bible College and Chief Academic Officer of Ligonier Ministries, Sanford, Florida.

Reformation Trust, the publishing ministry of Ligonier, has thoroughly revised the Reformation Study Bible (2015) with more than 20,000 study notes and commentary by 75 scholars under the leadership of Dr. R. C. Sproul, who says, “By presenting a modern restatement of biblical, Reformation truth in its comments and theological notes, the Reformation Study Bible (2015) aims to carry on the legacy of the Geneva Bible in shining forth the light of biblical Christianity, which was recovered in the Reformation.”

Bible passage search result page exampleThe Reformation Study Bible (2015) study notes are available on Bible Gateway by tapping the “STUDY THIS” blue box on the Bible passage search result pages.]

A recent op-ed column in The New York Times attempted to make the point that the Bible is rather obsolete; that the Bible reflects the views of an ancient world, and that we now know better.

There is nothing new, really, in this argument. At the beginnings of the 20th century, similar arguments were made based on science in the wake of Darwin and his views on origins. What we had thought about human origins, based on the Bible, needed to be rethought based on the advances in science, based on what we now know.

Click to buy your copy of Reformation Study Bible (2015) in the Bible Gateway StoreWe can even go back further still to find challenges to God’s Word. In fact, if we are looking for the first time God’s Word was challenged we have to go all the way back to the beginning, back to the Garden of Eden and the Serpent’s challenge laid before Eve.

There really is nothing new to challenges to God’s Word.

So here we are, in the 21st century and in the wake of developments in the social sciences, being told that again we now know better than what the Bible has to say.

Paul knew of challenges to God’s Word in his own day. He knew his Old Testament quite well enough to know of the challenges to God’s Word in centuries previous to his own. In order to steel his young churches and their congregants he took to reminding them, in his Epistles, of what they were reading when they were reading God’s Word.

Paul opens his first letter to the church at Thessalonica with rather fond reminiscences of his time there, and of how they turned from the gods of their age to the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9). Paul remembers how he poured his life into theirs, and he remembers the message that he gave them. So Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (ESV):

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

There were plenty “words of men” in Paul’s day. These were the Romans with their Greek heritage. They loved novel ideas, new systems of thought. They debated. They shot down the old ideas. They were always looking to the promise of something new.

But what Paul and his fellow Apostles and authors of the New Testament had to offer was not some novel, cleverly crafted scheme. As Paul says, the message he preached, and the message the Thessalonian believers received, was the Word of God. It really was the Word of God.

Because it is the Word of God it is powerful enough to do two things. It is powerful enough to have opened the eyes of those Thessalonian believers to the truth. And it is powerful enough to be “at work” in them.”

To put the matter differently, the Bible is the only book powerful enough to change lives. And it is powerful enough because it really is the Word of God.

We are living in an age where God’s Word is continuously called into question. Where it is seen as not only unhelpful, but where it is also seen as a source of bigotry, intolerance, and narrow-minded, obsolete thinking.

Can we trust the Bible? That is one question. But we are living in an age where the culture around us is asking, “Can we trust those who read the Bible? Aren’t they dangerous?” That is to say, we will continually feel the pressure from our culture to privatize everything we believe, never speaking out for our beliefs and for our biblical convictions. We will also continually feel the pressure to compromise those beliefs and convictions, if not throw them overboard altogether.

We can have our Bible, but we can’t take it seriously.

Of course, that posture simply won’t work. It could work if we adhered to an ideology or some humanly constructed system of thought. In the 1700s, I could have gotten away with bloodletting as a cure. But that’s not what we are talking about here. Systems of thought, ideologies, views—they all come and go. Some are even useful and helpful. But when we open our Bibles we are engaging something different. We are not listening to the words of men. We are reading the very words of God.

And since the Bible is the Word of God we must take it seriously. We must listen to it and follow it. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ from the previous centuries faced persecution for their biblical convictions. Many of our brothers and sisters from points around the globe today face persecution for their biblical convictions. The time may very likely come for us in the American church to face persecution, as well.

May the words that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians serve to steel us as we face these challenges. May we remember that the Bible really is God’s Word. And may we receive it for what it really is.

BIO: Stephen J. Nichols (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is President of Reformation Bible College and Chief Academic Officer of Ligonier Ministries in Sanford, Florida. He is an associate editor of the Reformation Study Bible (2015) and the author of many books, including Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God’s Word and The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World.

A Book About Soul-Satisfying Peace

A new paraphrase of Paul’s letter to the Galatians and James’ letter to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” is planning to be soon published, including color photos of modern locations in Turkey and Greece that follow Paul’s missionary journeys—if its Kickstarter project is successful (click for details).

Dr. Ray SammonsThe author of Dead But Living: And How to Do It, Dr. Ray Sammons, holds a Bachelor of Theology degree from Multnomah University, Portland, Oregon, and an MS and PhD in Agricultural Economics from Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana. He’s been a Jesus follower since 1940 and combines his theological and economic training into practical Christian living.

He says, “The Bible is the best source of information about being at peace with God so I have rephrased the letters of Galatians and James to serve two purposes: for those that have never heard, it’s a road map explaining how to be accepted by and at peace with God; and for those that have heard, it’s a road map for devotion and living the highest possible quality of life.”

The rephrasing of Galatians details how people can accept Jesus’ death in exchange for their own and in doing so become dead to God’s demanding law; they died with Jesus. Those that accept Jesus’ death are dead to the law, yet they’re living before God because of Jesus’ resurrection.

Here’s an example of Dr. Sammons’ paraphrasing from Galatians 2:

Let me make a personal example. When Christ was crucified, I (and every believer) was crucified through him before the Law. So now as I live, the Law sees me dead with Christ; now I live in complete trust and reliance in the Son of God who loved me so much that he died in my place. Therefore we must not treat God’s gift as something of minor importance. We should do absolutely nothing that would set aside, invalidate, or frustrate our gift from God.

For those that are living before God the rephrasing of James details how to live the highest possible life and how to demonstrate trust in God by the things we do.

From James 1:

Would you like your spiritual life to be perfect, complete, and not wanting anything? Then rethink your reaction to your occasional difficult events. Instead of complaining about them, greet them with joy because these events give you steadfastness, so stay with it, stay on course. If rejoicing about difficulties seems like a mystery then ask God for some wisdom on how to put it into practice—he’ll give you some ideas to follow and he won’t be upset that you ask. When the ideas come, act on them—they are God’s answer to your prayer.

See the Kickstarter project.

How Should We Read the Epistles of the New Testament?

howtounderstandthebible

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.


I was just eight years old at the time, but I still remember the day an irritated elderly lady came storming out of her house to yell at me. I was walking home from our three-room rural elementary school, goofing off with a couple of friends, when I opened the street-side mailbox at a random house and pretended to rifle through my mail—except it wasn’t my mail. It was the elderly lady’s mail. And she did not think my antics were one bit amusing.

Has it ever occurred to you while reading one of the epistles (letters) in the New Testament that you’re reading someone else’s mail? In a way we are, and in a way we aren’t. For two millennia Christians have read the 20 New Testament epistles as Holy Scripture, as the word of God for us. At the same time, the epistles were personal writings produced for specific people or groups of people, often responding to their particular needs. So we cannot understand the epistles unless we take the effort to discover what lies behind the words.

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Some letters read like highly crafted treatises, like the magisterial epistle to the Romans. Others, like 1 and 2 Corinthians, are intricately connected with the needs of a particular group, the believers in the church in Corinth. They had evidently written the apostle Paul and asked specific questions, because he says in 1 Corinthians 7:1, “Now for the matters you wrote about… ” and then goes on at some length, responding point by point. Earlier in that same letter, Paul was responding to certain oral reports he’d gotten about what was going on in that complicated and troubled church.

A wide range of circumstances prompted the writing of the epistles. Disorder in a church, the threat of false teaching, trepidation about the end of the world, confusion about death, controversy over religious practices, ambiguity about ethics, weakness in leadership. Some epistles were meant as a word of encouragement or just a way of reconnecting. The books of Hebrews and Romans offer an expansive theological perspective. Some letters focus on a particular theological point: grace in the case of Galatians, Christ in the case of Colossians, the church in the case of Ephesians. Taken as a whole, these 20 letters add to the Canon of Holy Scripture a multifaceted, real-life description of both faith and behavior.

If you’re going to linger in a particular epistle, you will benefit from reading the article about that particular New Testament book in a good Bible dictionary or in the introduction of a commentary. You will get the essential features: who wrote it, to whom it was written, the occasion of its writing, the date, etc. If you are reading an epistle more quickly, the notes in a good study Bible will give you the important facts in brief.

It’s best to mediate on some parts of the epistles. For instance, the amazing songs and creeds and prayers embedded in some of them. Other parts of the epistles have complicated details that require the help of Bible linguists, historians, archaeologists, and the like, which we will find in Bible commentaries. If we get the help to understand what “food sacrificed to idols” means in 1 Corinthians 8, we’ll be able to learn the lesson there about Christian conscience and freedom. And we cannot understand the epistle of Philemon unless we learn something about slavery in the first century.

Epistles are one genre of Scripture that are best read in long form. Ignore the chapter and verse numbers, which were added to the biblical text in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. Reading an epistle straight through is an entirely different experience from reading a few verses at a time. Think of it this way: If you went to your mailbox today and received a multiple-page letter from a beloved relative, you’d read it straight through. You wouldn’t read one paragraph today, another tomorrow, and so on. When someone asks you, “Did you get my email yesterday?” try saying, “Yes, and I’m savoring it by reading one sentence a day,” and see what response you get. No, we read letters well when we read them naturally.

Reading Scripture in context is a sign of respect for God as much as reading a letter from your mother straight through is a sign of love. The reason, of course, is comprehension. Details at the conclusion of the epistle of Hebrews make the most sense if the start of the epistle is still rattling around in your mind.

The epistles of the New Testament may not have been addressed to us, but they are for us. And we will cherish them as much as—and more than—any letter of love or encouragement a friend ever sent to us.


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 WordWay.org.

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.

Christ is Risen Today!

Christ is risen! Today is Easter, the day of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the grave. Three days after his execution, he returned from death to offer us freedom from sin and a restored relationship with God.

Here are the four Biblical accounts of Easter morning.

Matthew 28: 1-10

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.” He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ I’ve given the message to you.”

With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.” — Matthew 28: 1-10 (CEB)

John 20:1-18

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again to their own homes.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. — John 20:1-18 (NASB)

Mark 16:1-8

Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.

When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened. — Mark 16:1-8

Luke 24:1-12

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. — Luke 24:1-12 (NIV)

What is Maundy Thursday?

Today is Maundy Thursday—the Thursday before Easter. Christians around the world and across many denominations take time on this day to remember the Last Supper, when Jesus and his disciples dined together for the last time before his death. What is the significance of Maundy Thursday for us today? Below, Pastor Mel Lawrenz shares some insight into the meaning of this holiday.

Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:31-35)

On this day around the world Christians remember that tense, sensitive time Jesus spent with his disciples in the upper room and the last supper he shared with them. Many refer to this day as “Maundy Thursday.”

The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for commandment (mandatum), which Jesus talked about when he told his disciples that he was leaving them “a new commandment,” that they “love one another.” There were probably so many things going on in the disciples’ minds in that upper room where they had their last supper together, including fear and bewilderment from Jesus telling them that someone in that very room would betray him.

Jesus handed the betrayer a piece of bread, just as he had been feeding all his disciples all along. Always giving, always gracing. Jesus fed thousands of people with fish and loaves, and every word that came out of his mouth was spiritual food for those who listened and understood. But on this night he fed them differently. Passing the bread, and then the wine, he spoke ominous, comforting words: “this is my body… this is my blood.” This was not an ordinary supper, not even an ordinary Passover. His words connected with what he had said on the shores of far-away Galilee “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty…. whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:35, 54).

Jesus told them to repeat this unique meal in the future, and then it was time to go out into the chilly night. In a quiet garden among olive trees, quiet but for the deep night sounds of dogs barking in the distance, Jesus prayed. In agony he prayed. The specter of shameful execution and of bearing the curse of sin tore into the human consciousness of Jesus. And in the end it was sheer obedience to the divine plan that carried Jesus into the hands of the conspirators waiting for him. Did the disciples remember “the new command”?

Ponder This: What would have been going on in your mind had you been one of the disciples at the last supper or in the garden of Gethsemane?

This is a re-post of an article that originally appeared in 2013. You can learn more about Mel’s ministry and follow his blog at The Brook Network. You can read more on this topic (and share your thoughts) at The Brook Network’s page on Facebook. He also writes the popular How to Understand the Bible weekly series here at Bible Gateway.

What Happened on Thursday of Holy Week?

As we approach Easter Sunday, the events of Holy Week intensify. We’ve already looked at what happened on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Easter week. What about Thursday?

Thursday of Holy Week—also known as Maundy Thursday—witnessed several key events in the Easter story and set in motion the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The events of this day, particularly the Last Supper, continue to be remembered and commemorated in Christian churches around the world today. Let’s take a look at these events as the Bible describes them by looking at the Thursday section of our Holy Week Timeline, which maps interactions between the important people and events of the Easter story:

Preparing the Upper Room

maundythursdayMatthew 26:17-19

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

The Last Supper

Matthew 26:20-35. The following excerpt is from Matthew 26:26-29:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus Prays

Matthew 26:36-46

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

What Happened on Wednesday of Holy Week?

Earlier this week, we looked at what happened during Monday and Tuesday of Holy Week. Today, we’ll look at Holy Wednesday. All our references are drawn from the Holy Week Timeline.

Here’s Wednesday’s portion of the timeline. The horizontal axis is a timeline; the vertical axis represents the proximity between the key individuals and groups of the Easter story:

The major event of Holy Wednesday is Judas’ decision to betray Jesus. Although the betrayal doesn’t take place for another day, our knowledge of the impending betrayal colors our reading of the Last Supper story, which we’ll encounter tomorrow. Here’s the short but critical scene from Wednesday of Holy Week:

Holy Wednesday

Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus: Matthew 26:14-16:

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

How Should We Understand the Acts of the Apostles?

howtounderstandthebible

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.


How shall we describe the amazing narrative we know as The Acts of the Apostles? Fast-paced, expansive, sweeping, intense, surprising, gripping, poignant, compelling, epic? All such descriptions would apply, and more. We have not read Acts rightly if we’ve just noted a string of historical details. Acts is unique in Scripture, yet it is a continuation of what its Gentile author, Luke, started in his Gospel when he set out to write “an orderly account” for someone named Theophilus so that he “may know the certainty of the things [he had] been taught” (Luke 1:3-4). Acts opens with:

“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.” (Acts 1:1-2)

Right away Luke tells us the main characters of this narrative are the apostles (including Paul) and the Holy Spirit. From beginning to end, Acts is the story of the Holy Spirit inspiring, empowering, and guiding the followers of Jesus on a world-changing mission.

ElGrecoPentecost

To read Acts rightly, we need to keep in mind Luke’s purpose: to tell the story of how the gospel of Jesus the Christ broke out of the limitations of Judea and Galilee and spread across the Mediterranean world, crossing the barrier between Jew and Gentile and becoming a truly universal spiritual movement. Acts is about gospel and mission and Spirit. It is not a biography about the lives of Peter or John or even the apostle Paul. The focus is on the spread of the message about Jesus, and the dramatic ways people either accepted it or rejected it.

Acts has frequently been read in the past as a description of how the Christian church is supposed to operate. This is understandable, as Christian leaders desire to base today’s forms of ministry on a scriptural foundation. Only some of this is possible, however, because Luke clearly did not set out to write a manual on church life or church policy. Yes, it is true that Acts 2 gives a picture of healthy spiritual devotion: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v. 42). But a couple of verses later, it says that the believers were selling their property and possessions in order to give to others, that they met in the temple courts every day, and that they ate together in each other’s homes (vv. 45-46). Churches today do not follow this pattern detail by detail. We don’t sell our cars, there is no temple to meet in every single day, and we don’t ring the doorbells of each other’s houses every night to share supper. Nor does Acts say these practices were then followed in the churches founded in Asia Minor or Greece or Rome.

Acts tells us what happened, which is not the same thing as telling us what should happen today. There were no church buildings in Acts; no pianos, guitars, or drums for worship. We have descriptions of the baptisms of only first-generation believers, and the method of baptism varied: in the name of Jesus; in the name of Father, Son and Spirit; in bodies of water; in a jail in Philippi; and in the desert along the Gaza road. The leadership structure of the early churches evolved over time, and we are not given a definition of how often the Lord’s Supper should take place in our churches today.

Acts is not a list of policies and formulae—it is something more wonderful—an account of the dynamic and oftentimes unpredictable movement of the Spirit of God in the era of the apostles, which puts us in the posture of expecting the unexpected today.

Perhaps there is a lesson in this for us. The vitality of the church will always come from the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit as believers become part of a dynamic movement. This is not to downplay the importance of church structure, but perhaps keep it in perspective.

There are a dizzying number of incidents reported in Acts, each of which is worthy of our contemplation. We ought to put ourselves in Paul’s place as he is chased out of a town, or shipwrecked, or plodding through two years of teaching in Ephesus. We need to imagine what it would have been like for Peter, commanded in a dream to enter the home of Cornelius, a Gentile, and witness the unthinkable: the gospel spreading beyond the Jews. We need the maps at the back of our Bibles to have a sense of the geography of this movement.

The structure of Acts can be summed up this way: ever outward. First, there is Jerusalem and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the empowering of the apostles. The gospel crosses the line into the Gentile world with Cornelius. Peter is front and center in these early chapters. Then comes the conversion of the hostile Pharisee Saul of Tarsus who became Paul the apostle. The story proceeds with three great missionary journeys crossing one barrier after another until it eventually comes to the seat of the Roman Empire.

The Gospels give the gospel, and Acts, the mission of the gospel. And today in the 21st century, we see the cycle of proclamation, persecution, and expansion repeating. It is important for believers to understand that we have been here before and what it all means.


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 WordWay.org.

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.

What Happened on Monday and Tuesday of Holy Week?

What happened on each day of Holy Week? This week, we’ll be looking at the biblical events that took place during the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday.

We’ll base this discussion on our Holy Week Timeline. (Read about the process of creating that timeline at openbible.info.)

So what happened on Holy Monday and Tuesday? Here’s the Monday/Tuesday portion of the timeline. The horizontal axis is a timeline; the vertical axis represents the proximity of specific individuals and groups of people who played an important role in the Easter story:

Below are the scriptural descriptions of these events.

Holy Monday

The Cleansing of the Temple: Matthew 21:12-13

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Holy Tuesday

The Fig Tree: Matthew 21:19-22

Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

The Temple Debates: Matthew 21:23-23:39. Excerpt from 21:23-27:

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24-25. Excerpt from 25:1-13:

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.