Are Bible Translators Traitors?

A famous Italian proverb declares “traduttore, traditore,” which means, “translator, traitor.” Those who assume this is true are unaware [of] how difficult it is to produce a translation. Every translator at some point invariably discards the meaning of the original text. [Read more…]

Signed, Sealed, and Delivered—to Satan?

Throughout the New Testament, “family language” is used to describe the relationship of believers to God and Jesus. The Lord’s prayer instructs us to address God as “our Father” (Matt 6:9). Hebrews 2:11–12 reveals that Jesus considers believers his own siblings. Paul says Christians comprise “the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). How is it, then, that Paul tells Christians living in Corinth that believers unrepentantly living in sin should not only be put out of the Church (1 Cor 5:9–13) but also “delivered to Satan” (1 Cor 5:5)? [Read more…]

Did Jesus Have Female Apostles?

Paul’s final greetings to the Roman Church seem typical. We might just skim over the list of names without a second thought. But one name within that list has become the focus of controversy and heated debate:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (Rom 16:7) [Read more…]

The Gospel, Spain, and the Ends of the Earth

“I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain” says Paul, while imprisoned. His ambitions are repeated a few verses later: “When therefore I have completed this … I will leave for Spain by way of you” (Rom 15:28). It’s certainly ambitious for him to be making travel plans. But Paul wasn’t making casual conversation or planning a vacation. He believed that his life and ministry would not end until he reached Spain. We aren’t sure if Paul made it, but he was passionate about getting there. Why? He saw himself in the prophecy of Isaiah 66. [Read more…]

Should Missing Apostolic Letters Cause Us Concern?

Unless you’ve been on an extended vacation from popular culture, you know there’s been discussion about how we got the New Testament. Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code based its conspiratorial plot in part on the notion that other gospels had been eradicated by spiteful church authorities and an emperor openly partial to orthodoxy. The success of the novel prompted many churchgoers to ask whether or not all the books that should be included in the New Testament actually were. [Read more…]

Behind the Magic: Peter, Simon, and an Episode in Samaria

The book of Acts is a favorite of preachers, so you are likely familiar with the showdown in Acts 8:9–24 between Peter and Simon the Magician. Luke tells us that Simon had practiced his magic in a city in Samaria where he had been hailed as “God’s Great Power.” Simon heard the gospel preached by Philip and believed, but later, after Peter’s arrival, he tried to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit from Peter. [Read more…]

Born Again . . . and Again . . . and Again

Was Jesus open to the idea of reincarnation? The question may seem odd, but it’s one that many people, even biblical scholars, contend has a positive answer. The idea comes from a passage you’ve likely read dozens of times:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but in order that the works of God might be made manifest in him (he was born blind). We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:1–4) [Read more…]

What Walking on Water Really Means

Tales of tempests battering ships inspire respect for the sea. En route to Capernaum, Jesus’ disciples watched these stories become reality as the roaring wind transformed the waters around them. As they fought against the waves and wind, they witnessed a miracle: “They saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat” (John 6:19).

Appearing in three of the four Gospels, this event inspires Sunday school lessons and has become ingrained in our portrait of Jesus’ life. As spectacular and unforgettable as the event is to us, however, a Jewish audience would have seen in it a profound theological meaning against the backdrop of the Old Testament.

An Old Testament Symbol

In the Old Testament, the unpredictable sea is a common symbol of cosmic disorder—conditions contrary to God’s design for an ordered world. This symbol for cosmic anarchy is also personified as a sea monster, known as Leviathan or Rahab. The image of chaos as an untamed monster in a churning, erratic sea was common throughout the ancient world. People accustomed to land would naturally view the vast, raging ocean as uncontrollable and potentially deadly, filled with terrifying unknown creatures.

Religions across the ancient Mediterranean often depicted their important deities destroying or subduing the sea dragon, thereby calming the sea and restoring order. In the Old Testament, it is Yahweh, the God of Israel, who conquers the forces of chaos and imposes order in the cosmos (Job 26:12–13; Psa 89:5–14). This imagery is applied even to the exodus from Egypt (Psa 74:12–17), where God split the sea to deliver his people, thereby conquering the forces of evil that sought their demise.

Final Victory

God’s ultimate victory at the end of the age is also depicted as God dominating the forces of the sea: “In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the twisting serpent, Leviathan the crooked serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea” (Isa 27:1). This is why the description of the final paradise of the new heaven and new earth contains the phrase, “the sea was no more” (Rev 21:1).

The prophet Daniel’s vision of the end of days and the kingdom of God includes four beasts that emerge out of a storm-tossed sea (Dan 7:1–8). These beasts are not aquatic creatures by nature. They come from the sea because they represent chaos. God’s heavenly court sentences the beasts to death (Dan 7:9–12), after which the “son of man” arrives immediately to receive the kingdom of God (Dan 7:13–14). All of this imagery informs John’s account of Jesus walking on the sea during the storm.

Jesus Christ, Lord over the Sea

John identifies Jesus as the Son of Man to whom the Father has given the authority to execute judgment (John 5:27; compare Matt 26:57–68). John also asserts repeatedly that Jesus is God incarnate. In John’s Gospel, Jesus invokes the divine name (“I AM”) seven times in reference to himself (e.g., John 6:35; 15:1). He declares oneness with the Father (John 10:30), and he proclaims that the Father is in him and he is in the Father (John 10:37–38).

For John, a Jew familiar with the Old Testament, the image of Jesus walking on the sea was a dramatic portrayal that Jesus is Yahweh—the one who subdues the forces of chaos and imposes his will on the waters and everything the waters represent. The kingdom of the Son of Man had begun, and all forces opposing God’s ordained order would now be defeated. Like Jesus’ disciples, we can find comfort in knowing that the one who treads upon the volatile sea can subdue whatever chaos threatens to overwhelm us.

QUICKBIT: The three accounts of Jesus walking on water are found in John 6:16–21, Matthew 14:22–33 and Mark 6:45–52—the Gospels authored by Jewish writers. Luke doesn’t include this detail, likely because he was a gentile writing to a gentile friend, Theophilus (Luke 1:1–4).

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What Walking on Water Really MeansDr. Michael S. Heiser is a scholar-in-residence for Faithlife, the makers of Logos Bible Software. He is the author of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible and has taught many Mobile Ed courses, including Problems in Biblical Interpretation: Difficult Passages I.

This article is excerpted from Dr. Heiser’s book I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible.

Discover more fascinating aspects of the Bible with Dr. Heiser

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Who Took John 5:4 out of My Bible?

Most of us have read John 5:1–9—the story of the blind, paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda—many times. But I’ll bet there’s something that escaped your attention.

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” (John 5:1–9 NIV) [Read more…]

Why Would Jesus Compare Himself to a Snake?

Many people can recite John 3:16, but how many know what John 3:14–15 says? Jesus’ words in these two verses have generated confusion and controversy: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

John 3:15 presents no problem; it declares the gospel—that Jesus, the Son of Man in this passage, is the true object of faith for all who would have eternal life. The difficulty lies in verse 14, where Jesus compares His destiny on the cross to a serpent “lifted up” in the wilderness. [Read more…]