Even the Bible Needed Upgrading, but Don’t Let That Scare You

bible upgrade

Wait a minute. The Bible needed an upgrade?

Those sound like fighting words to anyone with a high view of Scripture. An upgrade implies that something needed updating, but the Bible is timeless!

That’s true, but in this case I would have to excuse myself from the ring. I wouldn’t want to tangle with those responsible for the improvements: the biblical writers and, well, the Spirit of God.

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What Does It Really Mean to Read the Bible in Context?

bible out of context

Cuneiform tablets changed my life. I’m not kidding. As I look back on my 15 years of graduate school in biblical studies, the turning point in how I view the Bible was my course in Ugaritic, a cuneiform language very similar to biblical Hebrew. This class compelled me to transform “read the Bible in context” from a naïve platitude to an issue of spiritual integrity.

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The Ancient’s Guide to the Galaxy: How the Israelites Viewed God and the Universe

hebrew cosmology

God chose a specific time, place, and culture to inspire people to produce what we read in the Old Testament: the ancient Mediterranean and the ancient Near East of the second and first millennia b.c. Understanding the worldview of this culture can lead to more faithful understandings of Scripture on our part, especially when it comes to understanding how the Israelites viewed God and the universe.

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Why the Ark of the Covenant Will Never Be Found

ark-of-the-covenant

I can still recall the thrill of seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theater. A senior in high school, I had already been infected with the archaeology bug. This movie boosted my interest to a whole new level. As Providence would have it, I followed the path of Indiana Jones—at least academically. I’m still fascinated by the ark, but I no longer believe it is lost and awaiting discovery. I have Jeremiah to blame for that.

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Disagreement about the End Times: Must It Be Verbal Armageddon?

Apocalypse_vasnetsovLet’s be honest. We’ve all likely gone through that period of our Christian lives (or are still there) when we thought about little else, biblically speaking, than what the Bible said about end times. I recall how, shortly after I became a Christian as a high school student, the timetable for the tribulation period and the rapture became an obsession. To date myself, it was right around the time when Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth was made into a movie. While I know some people who came to the Lord because of that film and its end-times trajectory, my path toward becoming a biblical scholar showed me that discerning exact end-times details wasn’t a fruitful use of my time.

Now having taught eschatology at a Bible college many times, I know that not only was Jesus unsure of precisely when he would return (Matt 24:36), but we aren’t going to figure that out any time soon either. No end-times scheme is self-evident (or “biblical” as adherents like to say). There are intentional ambiguities in the biblical text when it comes to prophecy. And by intentional I mean that prophecy is deliberately cryptic. There were very good reasons why, even after the resurrection, the disciples had a hard time understanding what was going on (Luke 24:44-45).

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Why Isn’t the Bible Easy to Interpret?

why is the bible hard to understand
Anyone who has invested serious time into studying Scripture knows that it isn’t always easy to understand. For sure, there are core ideas in the Bible that are straightforward and quite within the grasp of most readers to understand. But to be honest, most of the Bible isn’t like that. You can’t just immediately understand the content of its pages after one read. A number of passages take sustained attention for days, weeks, months, and perhaps years. And in some cases, even scholars can’t agree, which is why the meaning of certain passages is still being debated thousands of years after they were written.

Why is Bible interpretation so problematic? Why didn’t God make his Word easy to understand in every passage?

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Where Do Demons Come From?

Where do Demons come from?

Everyone familiar with the Bible knows it talks about angels and demons. But most would be surprised to learn that there’s no verse in the Bible that explains where demons came from. Christians typically assume that demons are fallen angels, cast from heaven with Satan (the Devil) right before the temptation of Adam and Eve. But guess what? There’s no such story in the Bible. The only description of anything like that is in Revelation 12:9—but the occasion for that whole episode was the birth of the messiah (Rev 12:4-6), an event long after Adam and Eve. The idea of a primeval fall of angels actually comes from church tradition and the great English poet John Milton in his epic Paradise Lost.

So if the Bible doesn’t record an ancient expulsion from heaven by hordes of angels who then became known as demons, where do demons come from?

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You Should Probably Stop Using Lexicons

Why you should stop using a lexionLexicons are commonly used for studying biblical languages. It may shock you, then, that I discourage beginning Hebrew and Greek students from using them. I’m not kidding.

I’d be happy if beginning students never used them.

I don’t diminish lexicons because they are so frequently abused, though that’s true. It also isn’t because I want people to spend hundreds of hours memorizing Hebrew and Greek vocabulary. The reason is that, for those newly initiated to Hebrew and Greek, lexicons just don’t give you much useful information.

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God, Jesus, and Judaism: An Old Testament Bridge to Faith

Michael HeiserJudaism and Christianity disagree in a number of ways. The most fundamental impasse is obviously Jesus. Christians embrace Jesus as the God of Israel incarnate, the messiah who came to earth to offer himself as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of humanity. One can find a spectrum of opinions about Jesus within Judaism, but not that one. For a Jew serious about their faith, accepting Jesus as God feels polytheistic—like a violation of the creed of Judaism in the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4; JPS Tanakh). You can’t have more than one God in heaven.

It wasn’t always that way in Judaism.

The Jewish Godhead

Twenty-five years ago, rabbinical scholar Alan Segal produced what is still the major work on the idea of two powers in heaven in Jewish thought. Segal demonstrated that the two-powers idea was not deemed heretical in Jewish theology until the second century CE. He carefully traced the roots of the teaching back into the Second Temple (“Intertestamental”) era (ca. 200 BCE). Segal was able to establish that the idea’s antecedents were in the Hebrew Bible. Several passages became subjects of rabbinic discussion. For example, is there anything that strikes you as odd in Gen. 19:24?

“Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.”

If you noticed that the divine name (Yahweh)—translated “Lord”—occurs twice, creating the impression of two divine actors, you saw what many Jewish thinkers saw in ancient times. The Hebrew Bible contains similar passages, in which the Lord is speaking and then refers to God in the third person (e.g., Amos 4:11).

Other passages became core focus points in the idea of two powers in heaven. Exodus 15:3 describes Yahweh as a “man of war.” That phrase might take our minds back to the captain of Yahweh’s host whom Joshua encountered (Josh. 5:13–15). Jews were certainly aware of that passage, but rabbis instead tied it to Exod. 23:20–23. In that text, God sends an angel to lead the people into the Promised Land. This angel was unique among all others not only because he could forgive sins (or not), but because God’s “name” was in him. The “name” is a Hebrew expression used as a substitute reference for God himself—his very presence or essence (e.g., Isa. 30:27–28). Even today, conservative Jews who will not say the divine name use ha-Shem (“the name”) to refer to God.

The idea of God in human form made Dan. 7:9–13 crucially important. In this famous vision scene, the Ancient of Days (God) sees “a human one” (“son of man”) coming to him with the clouds. It is to this figure that God gives everlasting dominion. This is the passage Jesus quotes to Caiaphas when the high priest demands to know who he is. Caiaphas’ reaction tells us immediately that he knew Jesus was claiming to be the God of Israel in human form—the second power. Caiaphas tears his clothes and charges Jesus with blasphemy (Matt. 26:63–68).

Early Judaism understood this portrayal and its rationale. There was no sense of a violation of monotheism, since either figure was indeed Yahweh. There was no second distinct god running the affairs of the cosmos. During the Second Temple period, Jewish theologians and writers speculated on an identity for the second Yahweh. Guesses ranged from divinized humans from the stories of the Hebrew Bible to exalted angels. These speculations were not considered unorthodox. That acceptance changed when certain Jews, the early Christians, connected Jesus with this orthodox Jewish idea. This explains why these Jews, the first converts to following Jesus the Christ, could simultaneously worship the God of Israel and Jesus, and yet refuse to acknowledge any other god. Jesus was the incarnate second Yahweh, the second power in heaven.

logos-mobile-education-ot291-the-jewish-trinity-how-the-old-testament-reveals-the-christian-godheadLogos Mobile Ed: The Jewish Trinity

My Jewish Trinity course for Logos Mobile Education takes students through the Old Testament basis for the Godhead and Judaism’s two-powers idea. Once the verses and motifs for the second power become clear, I also introduce students to how the same ideas get applied to the Holy Spirit. The Trinitarian teaching of the New Testament was not new to the Jewish apostles who lived with Jesus and inherited his message. They, along with Paul, knew the Old Testament well. How they write about Jesus and the Spirit reveals deliberate connections to teachings familiar to Jews.

Jewish Trinity is therefore an ideal course for conversations with Jewish friends and Jewish evangelism. It’s also a powerful resource for learning to deal with the doctrinal error of denying the deity of Jesus, perpetuated by groups like Jehovah’s witnesses and even “oneness” movements within Christianity.

Pre-order the Jewish Trinity course today for 40% off!

Study the Old Testament with Logos Mobile Education

Knox Logos

Earlier this year, the era of Logos Mobile Education began with the Pre-Pub release of the Bible and Doctrine Foundations bundle. Mobile Ed brings the professors, the library, the visual demonstrations of software features, and the online classroom community directly to you—on your desktop, laptop, or mobile device. It’s education where you are.

The Bible and Doctrine Foundations bundle includes nine courses, several of which acquaint you with how the Bible presents a strategic, epic story in an intelligent, deliberate way. One of these courses is OT101: Introducing Old Testament; Its Structure and Story.

What will I learn in OT101?

OT101 traces the epic history of God’s activity with humanity through his people, Israel, by focusing on the major themes of those Old Testament books that narrate Israel’s history from the call of the patriarch Abraham through the return from exile. Genesis through 2 Kings, 1–2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah were originally written to capture this history and tell the theological story behind the events. The content of OT101 is not verse-by-verse exposition, but instead the important topics and threads that run throughout Israel’s story, showing how each book contributes to the Old Testament’s presentation of God’s plan to establish a people and kingdom.

Scholars divide this biblical history and its literary presentation into two sections: the Primary History (Genesis through 2 Kings, minus Ruth) and the Chronicler’s History (1–2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah). Consequently, OT101 proceeds as follows:

I. Understanding Narrative Structures

II. The Primary History

  • The Concept
  • Genesis: Blessing for the Nations
  • Exodus: Rescue and Relationship
  • Leviticus: Holiness
  • Numbers: Human Failings and Divine Faithfulness
  • Deuteronomy: Loyalty and Love
  • Joshua: Inheriting the Promise
  • Judges: The Need for a King
  • Samuel: The Rise of the Kingdom
  • Kings: The Demise of the Kingdom

III. The Chronicler’s History

  • The Concept
  • Chronicles: Experiencing Restoration
  • Ezra/Nehemiah: Building God’s House

Take the next step—or get started—on your journey to greater biblical and theological knowledge today with the Bible and Doctrine Foundations bundle.