Skip to content

Most Recent Blog Posts

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

howtostudythebible

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.

wordmeaning

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

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

Support Bible Gateway—Browse the Bible Gateway Store
BibleGatewayStore.com

The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem
albertmohler.com
Bible engagement ideas on Bible Gateway

Fun Runs, Quizzes, Parades to Mark National Bible Week Jan. 25-31 in Philippines
GMA News

Arkansas School District Looks Into Establishing Class on Academic Study of the Bible
KAIT-TV

Bible Lessons in New Zealand Public Classrooms Continue for New School Year
stuff.co.nz

Crusader Bible Comes To Blanton Museum of Art
TWC News Austin

Donated Electronics Meet Key Bible Translation Needs in Togo
Wycliffe

Howard Divinity School Returns Sacred Ethiopian Manuscript to Orthodox Monastery
RNS

Faulkner University Archaeologists Discover Probable Remains of Ai
Faulkner University
See listing for Ai in Smith’s Bible Names Dictionary on Bible Gateway

800-Year-Old Bible Recovered in Western Turkey After Smugglers Try to Sell It
Daily Sabah

Poll: Majority of Britons Under 40 Have No Religion
Premier

See other Bible News Roundup weekly posts

New Sports Devotional: Be Inspired by “Devotions for Die-Hard Fans”

College_football_TT_USNADo you love sports? Are you already making plans for your Super Bowl party next month? We’ve got a brand new two-week devotional experience that’s just for you: Devotions for Die-Hard Fans, our first devotional for sports fans!

Devotions for Die-Hard Fans is a email devotional that draws on inspiring stories from the world of college sports to share Biblical insight. When you sign up, each day for two weeks you’ll receive a short reading that looks at a specific person, game, or other event from sports history. Legendary figures, memorable games, improbable victories… all are true stories, but with a new twist: each story is linked to a Bible verse that illuminates a truth about faith.

Devotions for Die-Hard Fans was created by Extra Point Publishers, who selected the best reflections from their extensive library for this special Bible Gateway edition of this devotional. They’re authored by Ed McMinn, a retired pastor who combined his love of sports and his years of ministry experience to write these devotions for fellow sports enthusiasts.

So if you’re a sports fan, go here to sign up; the devotional begins as soon as you subscribe. (Just check the box next to Devotions for Die-Hard Fans and then provide your email address in the form on the right.) If you’re not the sports fan in your family or social circle, you almost certainly know somebody who is—be sure to point them to our Newsletters page to sign up!

diehardfans

How to Undergo A Faith Detox: An Interview with Laura Harris Smith

Laura Harris SmithInvisible toxins like doubt, disappointment, and discouragement can contaminate even the strongest of faiths, leaving behind symptoms that affect body, mind, and spirit. Using a one-month detox regimen of Scripture, prayers, and faith declarations can be a spiritual and emotional cleansing agent to return to truth and a biblical perspective.

Bible Gateway interviewed Laura Harris Smith (@LauraHSmith) about her book, The 30-Day Faith Detox: Renew Your Mind, Cleanse Your Body, Heal Your Spirit (Chosen Books, 2016).

Click to buy your copy of The 30-Day Faith Detox in the Bible Gateway Store

What do you mean faith can be fickle?

Laura Harris Smith: Well, faith is fickle because it tends to be flighty and changeable. One day you’re ready to leap off mountains and breathe under water and the next day you can’t seem to put one foot in front of the other. We’re to have unwavering faith, which is what The 30-Day Faith Detox tries to help the reader accomplish.

How does faith become toxic?

Laura Harris Smith: Faith becomes toxic through the trials of life and through what one considers to be unanswered prayers during them. Divorce, death, financial troubles, identity crises, and especially with health-related issues, have the capacity to either make or break your faith. The 30-Day Faith Detox nurtures your faith and takes a look at 30 universal trials in life that are common to all and unpacks them one by one for you. These issues may have left chinks in your armor over the course of a lifetime; so long ago that you don’t even know how they got there. But they’re there, and The 30-Day Faith Detox confronts them and brings healing with a body, mind, and spirit approach.

What does the Bible say about bodily health? About spiritual health?

Laura Harris Smith: Plenty! 1 Corinthians 16:9 says, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” Through this we see that we must take care of our bodies because, plain and simply, they are where God lives. What an honor! What a responsibility! And corporately, with all of us caring for our temple bodies, we make up the Body of Christ.

Our spiritual health is also top priority in Scripture, and not just in chapter and verse, but because Jesus described himself as things like bread and water. He told us to eat of him and drink of him, even referring to the wine as his blood. Of course, these were parabolic examples representing spiritual nourishment.

And beyond bodily and spiritual health, the Bible also addresses mental or emotional health. 3 John 2 says, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” Soul is the Greek word psyche which, among other many things, means the “mind, will, and emotions.” So, through 3 John 2 we see that health is about more than the body, and that emotional health and bodily health are equally needed for a person to be prosperous.

This body, mind and spirit approach is the foundation for The 30-Day Faith Detox. It’ll nurture your whole being, not just one-third of it or two-thirds of it, but all three parts of it. That’s wholeness. “…May your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.” (1 Thess. 5:23)

Why do people need faith?

Laura Harris Smith: For two important reasons: God’s pleasure and your possibilities. Hebrews 11:6 (HCSB) says, “Now without faith it is impossible to please God.” And Mark 9:23 (CEB) says, “All things are possible to the one who has faith.” So we see that a life of faith brings God pleasure and brings you endless possibilities!

A life dominated by doubt is simply not worth living. Doubt is like splinters in the fingers of your faith and will prevent you from fully grasping the impossible for your life. Faith pushes the ordinary toward the extraordinary, and the natural toward the supernatural. The 30-Day Faith Detox—despite all the media excitement over the physical detoxes which result in a total body detox by the end of the 30 days—is primarily a book about faith.

You characterize healthy faith as forceful faith. Explain that.

Laura Harris Smith: Well, I say that faith is force, period. A stubborn force. It will not let you let it die. If you don’t have faith you’re not even a Christian, since it took faith to receive Christ to begin with. But when this force begins to lose its forcefulness, it’s probably the result of something that’s happened to you between the time of your salvation and now; either bodily (a delayed healing), emotionally (heart struggles you can’t get past), or spiritually (a lack of trust in God or a pastoral wounding or dissapointment). For that reason, we must take a body, mind, and spirit approach to “reset” your faith, and that’s why we’re calling The 30-Day Faith Detox “a reset button for your body, mind, and spirit.” Then you’ll have a healthy, forceful faith again and the impossible can be accomplished in your life.

What are the major faith toxins you’ve identified?

Laura Harris Smith: In my years in ministry, whenever people come to the altar to receive prayer from me or my husband, their need falls into one of five categories: Health-related issues, Financial issues, Relationship issues, Identity and Purpose issues, or Social Influence issues. We spend six days in the faith detox on each of those five areas, digging deeply into them and restoring faith and vision in all of those arenas in your life.

Walk through a day on The 30-Day Faith Detox.

Laura Harris Smith: I love this question! The 30-Day Faith Detox begins each morning with a delicious smoothie chocked full of organ-specific fruits and vegetables (smoothie base from either bananas or yogurt).

You’ll have a devotional to read at some point during the day and contemplate the condition of your faith in that specific area of your life, followed by prayers to pray that erase any emotional residues these trials may have brought with them (grief, bitterness, fear, etc.).

Then there’s a healthy lunch which can be anything from soup to salad to stir-fry, using the organ-specific foods for whatever body system we’re detoxing that week. You can snack liberally from that week’s section veggies or fruits, or replace those with a snack shake from the book’s recipe section.

Then, at night, you eat a yummy entree with vegetables, optional meat, and brown rice or quinoa, with preparation-easy techniques offered in the recipe section. Both lunch and dinner allow you to choose which vegetable or fruit you wish to eat from your section’s list, and so in a sense you’re helping create the recipes each day. This gives you both flexibility and variety, while maintaining the peace of mind that whichever combos you choose, they’ll all cleanse that week’s body system.

Before bedtime there’s a detox tea to drink, followed by at least 8 hours of sleep. Before bed, you can contemplate that day’s devotional and prayers, asking God to cleanse your faith wherever necessary. You truly will go to bed feeling differently—body, mind, and spirit—and wake up feeling newer and newer each day. I’ve worked very hard to see to it that The 30-Day Faith Detox is a total temple cleansing.

What results can people expect after completing the detox?

Laura Harris Smith: The results are already coming in, just one week after the book’s release! Weight loss, more energy, healed emotions and a stronger faith. A total body detox is accomplished by the end of the 30 days, spending two days on each body system to gently cleanse and nourish it. Just about every trial you can imagine facing—from abuse to rejection to losing a loved one—will be addressed and worked through, spiritually. Emotionally, the mental cob webs that clouded your perspectives after these trials will be cleared away, bringing peace to your heart and new thought-patterns to your mind. As a result of this body, mind and spirit approach, doubt will no longer have any place left to hide in your life. The 30-Day Faith Detox truly is a restart button for your body, mind and spirit.

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

Laura Harris Smith: If I had a nickel for every time I used Bible Gateway I would be rich! In fact, I DO feel rich because of this great resource that makes all translations of Scripture so readily available at our fingertips. Also, I love the New King James Version and to my knowledge, Bible Gateway is the only site of its kind that carries that (or one of very few). I’m a loyal user!

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Laura Harris Smith: While there are plenty of great detox books on the market right now, I’ve worked hard to jam-pack extra daily online help into mine because you need more than paper and ink to help you with a life transformation! So, to give you an extra winning advantage, I’ve included a link on the final page of the book that directs you to the free 30-Day Faith Detox CHALLENGE which provides you with:

  • 30 daily videos shot right from my own kitchen where I make one of the daily recipes for you and prepare you for that day’s devotional from the book.
  • a place to sign up for free encouraging emails from me during your 30-day detox
  • access to free detox recipe cards from my personal website
  • prayer for you while on your faith detox journey. I want to invest in you… body, mind and spirit.

What other detox book out there helps you—body, mind, and spirit—for a whole transformation, while also providing you daily help and inspiration right from the author’s kitchen?

Listen, when you buy my book, you know who I am, but when you sign up for the 30-Day Faith Detox CHALLENGE, I will know who YOU are! As a certified nutritional counselor, author, and minister, I can help you; body, mind, and spirit. It’s what I do. Are you ready to invest 30 days into your spiritual, emotional, and physical health? Let’s get going! The 30-Day Faith Detox is a reset button for your body, mind, and spirit!

Bio: Laura Harris Smith founded Eastgate Creative Christian Fellowship with her husband, Chris, and is the director of the Eastgate Creative Arts Conservatory. There, among other things, she mentors young writers all over the world in her online creative writing classes. An actress, playwright, poet, and media dynamo, she was a TV host on the Shop at Home Network and is the author of multiple books. Laura and Chris have six children and reside near Nashville, Tennessee.

Biblical Context for the Top Ten Biblical Archaeological Discoveries of 2015

Christianity Today recently published a list of the top ten Biblical archaeology discoveries of 2015. It’s a fascinating list, and it’s encouraging to be reminded that even after centuries of archaeological work in the Middle East, we continue to learn new things about the lands and people of the Bible.

Some of the items on the list relate broadly to the history of ancient Israel and its neighbors, but a few of them have more specific connections to the Bible. I thought I would walk through the latter discoveries and share a few Bible passages to read that provide some extra context. So open up that Christianity Today article and let’s take a look at some relevant Bible passages!

The Beit Shemesh Idol Head

NMMI_IMG_8966The first item on Christianity Today‘s list is a small statue head depicting a fertility goddess, of a type commonly worshipped in ancient Judah. While the identity of this statue isn’t clear, it likely represents Asherah or a related fertility goddess.

Fertility goddesses were commonly worshiped throughout the ancient Middle East, and the Bible makes it clear that God’s people were constantly tempted to worship them; the Bible books of Kings and Chronicles depict regular national relapses to fertility goddess worship in Israel and Judah, puncutated by occasional reforms. As a quick search for Asherah in the Bible shows, it was a constant temptation for Israelites to worship Asherah (sometimes under different names or titles, like the Queen of Heaven) in an attempt to ensure a bountiful harvest and healthy children. A common type of shrine to Asherah was a sacred tree or pole, which is why you also find many references to “Asherah poles” in the Old Testament; the Bible often describes a king’s creation or destruction of Asherah poles as a way to succinctly measure his righteousness or corruption. You can find more Bible references about Asherah in Smith’s Bible Names Dictionary and Easton’s Bible Dictionary, both online at Bible Gateway.

An Iron Age expert notes of this statue head discovery that “Figurines of this kind, depicting naked women which symbolize fertility, were common in the homes of residents of the Kingdom of Judah from the eighth century BCE until the destruction of the Kingdom by the Babylonians in the days of Zedekiah (586 BCE).” That certainly fits with the picture we see in the Old Testament of fertility goddess worship as a widespread, difficult-to-eradicate practice.

The Site of Herod’s Palace

herodspalaceThe infamous king Herod’s massive palace in Jerusalem was a dominating architectural feature in the city during the life of Jesus and the early years of the Christian church. Although its location is known, little of it remains today. It’s not described in any detail in the New Testament, but it’s not unreasonable to guess that major political events such as the trial of Jesus might have taken place there. The apostle Paul was detained in Herod’s palace under guard in Acts 23. The ancient historian Josephus provides us with a good description of Herod’s palace as it originally appeared in his work The Wars of the Jews (the relevant section is chapter 4, paragraph 4 on that page).

The Iron Age Gate at Gath

Archeaologists have unearthed an impressive city gate at Gath, a city controlled in Old Testament times by Israel’s long-time enemies the Philistines. As a fairly important city, Gath is mentioned many times in the Old Testament. However, its most famous resident was the giant Goliath, who was defeated by a sling-wielding David in the well-known story. Gath was also the scene of one of the stranger incidents of David’s life: David fled to Gath to escape persecution by King Saul, but once there, he pretended to be a madman in order to avoid being recognized and killed by the locals.

Hezekiah Seal Impression

hezekiahThis seal—discovered several years ago but only recently identified—references the Old Testament king Hezekiah, a sadly rare “good king” who led his people through a terrible siege. You can read a good overview of Hezekiah’s life and character here, and a blog post about the seal of Hezekiah discovery here.

Not every archaeological discovery concerning the ancient Middle East has a related Bible verse—most of them add to our historical understanding of the time period but don’t connect directly to the Bible. But whenever you read of a new discovery or an interesting excavation (particularly when you read of a Bible-era city being excavated), it’s always a good excuse to open up your Bible and see if there’s any biblical context to be uncovered!

Image credits: statue of Asherah by Deror avi, model of Herod’s palace photographed by Berthold Werner, 17th-century painting of Hezekiah by an unknown artist.

How to Study the Bible: Studying a Particular Bible Passage

howtostudythebible

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.


In the last two lessons we looked at approaching a whole book of the Bible, which we do in order to understand overall context. After that we considered the importance of understanding the flow of meaning of a biblical book through some form of outlining.

As a practical matter, our study of the Bible typically comes down to peering intently into a particular passage. So, bearing in mind the importance of the whole-book context and meaning, how then do we plunge into a passage to understand and apply?

ManReadingBible-1024x684

What we typically mean by a “passage” is a segment of a biblical book that holds together in some meaningful way. That may be just two or three verses, or a chapter or two. The chapter and verse numbers in the Bible we are all familiar with were not developed for the biblical text until the 13th through the 16th centuries. They are helpful, but we should not consider them definitive divisions of meaning.

Paragraph divisions are typical for most Bible editions, which are an attempt to show blocks of thought. Most Bible editions also include section headings which the translators have created in order to flag blocks of meaning. These are helpful, we should remember that they were not in the original text of the Bible.

The practicality of looking at one biblical “passage” at a time is sometimes a function of teaching or preaching. A pastor can offer a sermon that summarizes the whole book of Jeremiah, for instance, but it is much more helpful to select a segment of meaning that runs a few verses or maybe a chapter. A sermon or a teaching could be based on Jeremiah 31, but it may be more helpful to focus on Jeremiah 31, verses 31-35, the “passage” that describes “the new covenant.” These five verses are like the Rosetta Stone, a key that unlocks the meaning of the old and the new covenant. There are many details in those few verses, each of enormous importance, each requiring study to get the meaning of the words and phrases. “I will make a new covenant.” “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” “No longer will they teach their neighbor… because they will all know me.” “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

So, let’s say you have identified a passage to focus on. Or let’s say the Bible study group you attend has planned next week to focus on Hebrews 11. You want to put in some personal study before the group meets.

In the case of Hebrews 11 the chapter designation is quite helpful. It begins with the magnificent statement: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” You read the chapter once, slowly and naturally, and then you go back and read it again. And a third time. The first time you just read. By the third time you are underlining or highlighting (if that is how you best learn), or you make brief notes. You may choose to read it aloud. It is amazing how much we “see” in a passage when we read it out loud. (People in the ancient world typically always read out loud. They wouldn’t think to read silently.)

The text of this discreet passage is getting stuck in your head. It is a long enough passage to have context, but short enough so that you can go over it again and again.

By simple reading you observe the structure of the passage. The introductory truth about faith in verse 1, followed by a string of notable Old Testament figures who demonstrated deep faith. You see that there is an intense conclusion (verses 32-38) of this roll call of heroes of faith, a vivid description of the cost of faith in torture and martyrdom. And then, in verse 39, a broad truth: these people were commended for their faith, “yet none of them received what had been promised.” This is faith. Believing, not just possessing. Now that is a truth that can be applied in powerful ways to our lives (we’ll get to application later).

That is, in fact, the next step in Hebrews. Chapter 12 gives a profound real-life application. Let us, therefore throw off what hinders us, and sin which entangles us. Let us run with perseverance, following the pioneer and protector of our faith, Jesus.

Studying and applying or teaching a passage like Hebrews 11 is incredibly powerful when we take the time to study the details. Next time we’ll look at smaller units of meaning: phrases and words.

And this is why focusing on just one verse of Scripture at a time is inadequate and even dangerous. The meaning of single sentences can only come out of the wider context in which they are found. It is not wrong to feature a single verse as the highlight of a passage, a portion that is easy to memorize, as long as we remember that the biblical authors themselves intended us to understand the whole of what they were saying.


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.

What Makes Jesus’ Parables Stand Out?

Although Jesus is certainly one of the most-quoted religious speakers in all of history, his recorded public addresses are strikingly different than the sermons and speeches we’re accustomed to hearing from religious leaders and teachers today. Jesus made heavy use of the parable as a teaching method. His parables are provocative, memorable, and occasionally mystifying. They have a timelessness that wouldn’t come across if their message was delivered as a straight sermon or speech.

While browsing through the archives of professor Mark Goodacre’s NT Blog, I came across an interesting short video in which two scholars discuss the significance and distinctiveness of Jesus’ parables:

It’s a nice introduction to Jesus’ teaching style, and contains a few insights I had not considered before. (I like the explanation of why a parable is more like a political cartoon than a dogmatic speech.)

If you aren’t familiar with Jesus’ parables, you might start with some of these famous ones: