Stylistic Variation or Intentional Shaping? A Look at Characterization in John 11

Today’s guest post is from Dr. Steve Runge, a scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software, whose work focuses on the discourse grammar of Hebrew and Greek.

Have you ever wondered about the changes in names, or the orders of names, that you see in the New Testament? A common answer to these kinds of questions has been that the changes represent “stylistic variation” by the writers, and are not very significant. Depending on your view of inspiration, you might not be satisfied with such an answer. I know that sometimes I vary the names I use to refer to my kids, and there is meaning to be associated with the changes. If they have been behaving badly while mom was out running errands, I might say to her, “Your children were . . . .” You can fill in the rest. If my wife heard these words, she would immediately know that I was not well-pleased with them. Calling my kids ‘your children’ in certain contexts has predictable, repeatable effects.

If I were to ask my wife, “How’s the most helpful and caring wife in the world doing this morning,” she will likely wonder if I am buttering her up for something. Using these kinds of expressions to refer to my kids and my wife is not the norm; they stand out in the context. They each serve to ‘characterize’ the people they refer to in a specific way.

About 11 years ago, this question of characterization got stuck in my craw, and it took a good bit of reading to figure out what was going on. I found examples of it all over the Bible, but was not satisfied with the typical answers I found. These kinds of questions ended up becoming the focus of my doctoral studies. John 11, the chapter where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, provides a great chance to look at some of the devices that the biblical writers used to carefully shape their words and message. The patterns they used are found not only in Greek, but in Hebrew and many other languages as well. Understanding these devices will help us better understand the point the writers are trying to make, and can really help you with your Bible study. So if you are interested in learning more about this, keep reading! These concepts are part of a new resource we are working on called the Lexham High Definition New Testament. Here is the ESV version of John 11:1-5.

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

Three people are mentioned in v. 1: Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. This is the first mention of Lazarus in John’s gospel, so he needs to be introduced from scratch. His introduction in v. 1 could be translated something like, ‘There was this sick guy, Lazarus of Bethany . . . .’ Mary is the most well-known character, which John reminds us of in v. 2. Finally, Martha is introduced, and linked to Mary as ‘her sister’ so that we know how she fits into the story.

In v. 3, Mary and Martha are referred to collectively as ‘the sisters’. Lazarus is referred to as ‘he whom you love’. Why not just call him ‘Lazarus’? One reason for making a change like this is to make the reader think about Lazarus in a particular way, just like I did with my wife and kids above. In this case, the sisters are appealing to Jesus not just to heal Lazarus. They are appealing to Jesus’ love for Lazarus as an encouragement for him to come and heal their brother. Calling him ‘he whom you love’ also lets us know that Jesus has a close relationship with Lazarus, something that is important for understanding Jesus’ actions later in the story.

This strategy of switching from a proper name to a thematically-loaded expression is frequently used to characterize participants in a particular way. It forces us to think about them in a way that we would not otherwise have had in mind. Such changes are often motivated by wanting us to think about a particular person in a particular way, based on its importance to the big idea of the passage. In the context of John 11, this thematic characterization lets us know that when Jesus does not immediately heed the sisters’ request that he is not blowing them off because he doesn’t care about Lazarus. It also lets us know why he weeps in v. 35.

In verse 5, we learn that Jesus loves all of them, not just Lazarus. Take a look at how Lazarus, Mary and Martha are now referred to in this verse. Do you see the changes from v. 1?

3 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

There are several of them. The order of the characters has changed, with Lazarus last and the sisters first. There is also a change in Mary’s referring expression from a proper name ‘Mary’ to the less-specific ‘her sister’. Do these changes make any difference? Yes!

There are three basic reasons for switching from a proper name like this. One reason was already mentioned above, (re)characterization. The change makes you think about the character in a particular way that is important to the context. The second reason for changing from a proper name is to background one character with respect to another. Most main characters are given a proper name, while less-important ones are assigned less-specific expressions like ‘his servant’ or ‘one of the Pharisees’. If both sisters had been referred to using proper names, it would have placed Mary and Martha (and Lazarus too, for that matter) on an equal level of importance, perhaps with the more important one occurring first in the list. In v. 5 we have both Lazarus and Martha assigned proper names. Changing from ‘Mary’ to ‘her sister’ has the effect of pushing her into the background, figuratively speaking. This raises a question. Which of the two named characters is more important, Martha or Lazarus? This is where the third function of these name changes comes into play.

Use of ‘her sister’, either as a substitute for a proper name or as a supplement to a proper name (like ‘Mary, her sister’), can indicate who the current ‘center of attention’ is. It is something like the writer putting a spotlight on the character he wants us to focus on. Notice that Mary is linked to Martha as ‘her sister’. She also could have been called “Lazarus’ sister”, but this would have made us think that Lazarus is the center of attention, not Martha.

Why is she more important than Lazarus? After all, it is Lazarus who is raised from the dead, not Martha. Martha is the center of attention because of the importance of her conversation with Jesus in vv. 20-30. This dialogue is with Martha, not Mary, not Lazarus. John is foreshadowing this through the changes that he makes, and he uses these kinds of devices consistently throughout his gospel. If he had called Mary by her proper name, there would be no explicit signal about who the center of attention is. Calling her, ‘Mary, her sister’ in v. 28 accomplishes the same thing, reinforcing that attention is still focused on Martha.

When the chapter opened, Mary was the one that the village and Martha were connected to, since she was the best-known character of the three. John needed to tell us how to connect these new characters to the story, and he did it by connecting them to someone we already knew: Mary. However, once everyone is introduced, John shifts gears in v. 5 to put Martha in the spotlight because of the importance of her dialogue with Jesus.

John has a point that he wants to make sure we understand, and he uses every means available to make sure we get it. These kinds of changes are one of the many tools the biblical writers used, and they are comparable to tools found in many other languages. The Lexham High Definition New Testament identifies the most practical of these tools every place they occur in the New Testament. We have looked at how John used ‘characterization’ in John 11, but he is not the only writer to use this convention. Look at how Paul refers to the Father in Eph 1:3: “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”. He is not trying to tell us which ‘God and Father’ he is referring to with “who has blessed us…” He is characterizing God in a particular way based on its importance to what follows. He wants us to recall these qualities and characteristics of God because of their importance to what he is about to tell us in the letter that follows.

Now, the Greek New Testament is not the only place you find (re)characterization used to shift the center of attention back and forth between the actors in a narrative. Most every language does this: The devices may differ from language to language, but the basic task and its effects are the same. For some great examples of shifting the center of attention onto different characters, take a look at Genesis 27. There are SEVEN re-characterizations in ONE chapter. They all coincide with switches in the initiator of the action within the story. Below is a chart with excerpts from the ESV text in one column and a description of what is going on in the other.

If you read the story, take a close look at v. 21. At the point that Isaac is not sure whether to believe Jacob or not, there is no explicit indication of the center of attention. Once he decides to go along with Jacob’s plan, Isaac is referred to as “Isaac his father” in v. 22.

The same device is used in Gen 2-3 to indicate shifts in the center of attention. Take a look at how ‘Eve’ is referred to. She starts as ‘Adam’s wife’ in 2:25, then shifts to ‘the woman’ as she interacts with the serpent in 3:2-6. Then she gives the fruit to ‘her husband’ who eats it, which is consistent with Eve being the center of attention (Adam was last referred to as ‘the man in 2:25). Eve is the initiator and the center of attention for the first part of Genesis 3, which is a shift from Genesis 2. The writer unambiguously communicates this shift through the changes in referring expressions. When the two of them hide from the LORD God in 3:8, ‘they’ hear Him coming and ‘the man and his wife‘ hide themselves. Another switch! There is no need for saying ‘the man and his wife’ since saying ‘they’ would have been just as clear. But making this switch from ‘the woman’ to ‘his wife’ explicitly signals the shift in center of attention from Eve to Adam just before the LORD God addresses Adam as the one responsible for the Fall.

This are just of few examples of ‘characterization’, one of fifteen devices that is included in the soon-to-be-prepubbed Lexham High Definition New Testament. If you found this post helpful, take a look at the post on backgrounding of action or the making of the Lexham High Definition New Testament. Tune in next week to learn about another practical device from this new resource that can help make a difference in your Bible study!

Update: Both products are now available for pre-order:

Connecting Your Hebrew OT with Your Greek NT

A good friend of mine sent me the following question:

I’ve been using a Libronix workspace a lot for Bible study, but one feature is annoying me (probably because I’m doing something wrong). If I start out in the OT, the Hebrew texts in one corner are all visible. If I type in a NT reference into the English translations, the corner of Hebrew texts switches to Greek. So far so good. But when I go back to the OT, the Greek stays Greek (i.e., LXX) rather than returning to Hebrew. How can I fix this?

Great question. If you do much work in the original languages and jump back in forth between the Hebrew OT and Greek NT, you’ve probably experienced this. While it’s nice to be able to look at the LXX, most people who know Hebrew usually prefer to see the Hebrew by default rather than the Greek.

So how can you avoid having your Hebrew OT switch to the Greek OT when you jump from the OT to the NT and back again to the OT?

Here are three suggestions on how to avoid this problem:

  1. A simple solution that may work for some is to keep a second English text opened and unlinked for the purpose of jumping to cross references, etc. This will keep the rest of your linked resources from following you from the OT to the NT and then back again. The problem with this option is that you may want the rest of your resources to follow you.
  2. A second option is to have the LXX and the Hebrew open in two separate tabs. Always unlink your Hebrew text from your English text before jumping to the NT. Relink it when you return to the OT. This is okay if you jump back and forth infrequently, but could get rather tedious if you’re jumping back and forth often.
  3. The best option—at least that I’ve been able to think of—is to create a custom serial resource association linking your preferred Hebrew text with your preferred Greek text. This will override the default behavior.

To set up a new serial resource association, go to Tools > Library Management > Define Resource Associations, select Serial, and click New. Name your resource association something like “Hebrew OT with Greek NT” and add your preferred Hebrew OT text and Greek NT text.

Here’s a brief video (without sound, 1.01 MB, 51 sec.) showing you how to set up your resource association.

Here’s a brief video (without sound, 2.21 MB, 48 sec.) showing the behavior before and after creating the custom serial resource association. You’ll notice that before I create the resource association (not shown in this video), it switches me to the LXX when I jump back to the OT. After I create the association, jumping back to the OT keeps me in the Hebrew.

Hope this helps! Feel free to comment if you have a better way to address this issue.

For more information on creating a resource association, see 14:53–18:31 of the "Customize Your New Digital Library" training video.

See also our previous post, "The Value of Custom Resource Associations."

Update: If you want all of your Greek New Testaments to be connected to your preferred Hebrew OT, simply add them all to the resource association putting your default GNT on the top.

Try the New Global Bible Reader

How are you doing so far this year with your Bible reading? It’s February, and some statistics suggest that roughly half who started strong on January 1 are faltering or have given up entirely. If that’s you, then perhaps the Global Bible Reader can help.

We provide the schedules for you and let you choose which one(s) you want to read. Presently, there are four Bible Reading plans that you can choose from:

  • Bible in a Year (January–December)
  • Bible in a Year (February–January)
  • M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Calendar (January–December)
  • New Testament in Six Months (January–June)

We even give you a daily popup reminder at the time of your choosing. It’s not too late to start the February–January plan, but you’ll either have to skip the first several readings or make them up in Logos or a print Bible. You could also just jump right into any of the others plans and not worry about trying to catch up with the missed readings.

You can read the text of the Bible (in ESV or KJV) all by itself, or you can jump right in to your Libronix library for further study by clicking the red Libronix icon. One of the fun features is the ability to share with and learn from others around the world who are reading along with you.

Global Bible Reader is currently in Beta 4, so it’s pretty stable and has most of the bugs worked out of it. But since it is still a beta version, we’re not providing any support. So use it only if you feel comfortable testing prerelease software.

To try it out, visit

Video: Flash, 20.0 MBs, 2:43, with sound

Lange’s Commentary Is Finally Here!

The long exciting journey of producing Lange’s massive Commentary on the Holy Scriptures is finally over! (If you haven’t already read it, you’ll want to make sure to read the exciting story of how a user got an extra volume added at no additional cost.) Our Electronic Text Development department just recently put the finishing touches on it and sent it to the replicators. It’s on schedule to start shipping in just another day or two!
At just under 15,000 pages, it’s an enormous amount of excellent material for a very nice price. Putting this out-of-print set together from used volumes would be a difficult task and cost you far more.
Spurgeon in his Commenting and Commentaries gives the series high praise: “The volumes greatly differ in excellence, yet none could be spared. We have nothing equal to them as a series” (70).
But Spurgeon made that statement over a century ago. Perhaps some of you are wondering if a commentary originally authored more than 100 years ago is really going to offer you any insight that you won’t find in more recent commentaries.
Craig Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, thinks so. In his article “When Is a Parallel Really a Parallel? A Test Case: The Lucan Parables” (Westminster Theological Journal 46:1 (Spring 1984): 78), Blomberg observes how Lange makes an important observation that the majority of modern commentators miss:

Most commentators pass over this point in view of the more perplexing exegetical questions surrounding this verse, but already a century ago John Lange observed that “the definite article before allēn or heteran denotes the next city in order which had not yet been visited.”

The folks at The Master’s Seminary are likewise convinced of its enduring value. James F. Stitzinger includes Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures in his list of “The First 750 Books for an Expositor’s Library” (“Study Tools for Expository Preaching,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching (Dallas: Word, 1992), 177). It also shows up in The Master’s Seminary list of “850 Books for Biblical Expositors.”
If you haven’t yet placed your order, it’s not too late to lock in at the discounted Pre-Pub price!

Hanging Out with Dr. Geisler

Today’s guest blogger is Scott Lindsey, Ministry Relations Director at Logos.
As part of the Ministry Relations team at Logos, I have one of the best jobs on the planet: introducing people to the power of Logos for Bible Study. Last weekend was a milestone in my 10+ years traveling the country teaching at various conferences. I had the privilege of hanging out with Dr. Norman Geisler. Dr. Geisler and I were both speakers a recent set of Code Blue conferences in Springfield, MO and Bentonville, AR.
The first conference was Friday night in Springfield, MO. So the next morning Dr. Geisler and I left for our 3 hour drive to Bentonville, AR, where the next conference was being hosted. And what a drive it was! The countryside was beautiful, the sun was shining, and the conversation was brilliant. Imagine, 3 hours with Dr. Geisler as your passenger! I witnessed the passion of a man who has dedicated his life to the cause of Christ and has been in ministry for half a century.
Dr. Geisler came to know the Lord because of the faithful outreach of a local church in his home town of Warren, MI. His parents weren’t believers yet. Dr. Geisler always felt a desire to know God. Starting at age 9, he rode the church bus over 400 times to Sunday service until, at age 17, he finally yielded to the tugging of God on his heart. The lesson Dr. Geisler learned was, “Don’t give up; it may take 400 sermons!” After conversion, Dr. Giesler jumped immediately into full-time Christian service. Every night there was some type of church activity: door-to-door evangelism, Bible studies, jail ministry, and more. He even met his bride of 51 years while serving in his church; they worked together in the church prison ministry. Dr. Geisler said the expectation back then was, “Get saved; start serving!”
One night while helping out with the local jail ministry, the scheduled preacher didn’t show up due to illness and someone asked Dr. Geisler if he would teach. Dr. Geisler had only known the Lord for 9 weeks yet sheepishly took the microphone, shared from John chapter 3 and gave his testimony. Several gave their lives to Jesus that night, and Dr. Geisler felt the call to ministry.
A few nights later Dr. Geisler was with his youth group doing ministry in an area in Detroit known as Skid Row—this is where the truly down-trodden of the city lived. While witnessing in the streets, Dr. Geisler was confronted by a drunk who grabbed Dr. Geisler’s Bible, opened it to Mark 8:30, and read, “Jesus warned them not to tell ANYONE about Him!” Dr. Geisler was stumped!!! How could he reconcile the Great Commission with this passage of Scripture? He had no answer for this challenge and realized he either needed to get educated about his new faith or stop evangelizing altogether.
Dr. Geisler heard through some friends that Emmaus Bible School had a Bible correspondence course for FOUR DOLLARS. Dr. Geisler tried as hard as he could to explain to me how much money that was back in 1950!!! I have a new perspective now when I purchase my $4 latte at Starbucks. The problem, though, was that Dr. Geisler didn’t have four dollars. Amazingly, the providence of God was revealed when his boss asked him to work a Saturday shift “bunching radishes”—the amount he earned: $4. The exact amount Dr. Geisler needed! Imagine the enthusiasm that day as Dr. Geisler worked on the farm.
This began Dr. Geisler’s amazing educational journey. The remarkable thing for me was discovering that Dr. Geisler didn’t even learn to read until his junior year in high school. His 11th grade teacher was suspect of Dr. Geisler’s reading abilities and asked him one day, “How did ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ end?” As witty as Dr. Geisler is today at 75 years old, the 16-year-old Norman replied, “With a period!” The day concluded with a familiar visit to the principal’s office.
The correspondence program from Emmaus eventually led him to Detroit Bible College (DBC) where he received his first degree. Upon graduation from DBC, Dr. Geisler took his first pastorate at Dayton Center Church in Silverwood, Michigan. Today, the congregation still invites Dr. Geisler to speak when his schedule permits. After pastoring for 3 years at Dayton Center Church, Dr. Geisler realized his “barrel was empty” and he needed more formal education. He enrolled at Wheaton and received his bachelors in philosophy and two years later earned his M.A. in Theology. He received his Th.B. from William Tyndale College in 1964, and his Ph.D. from Loyola in 1970.
I asked him what led the transition from preaching to teaching, and he said that during college and seminary, the students would always come up to him after class and have him explain what the professors were teaching. He simply had a knack for digesting the hefty theology being taught, and this led to his almost 50 years of Christian teaching.
Of all the things I learned about Dr. Geisler during our drive, I was most inspired by his love for his wife and family and continued devotion to the Lord. Every night after dinner, the Geisler family would gather in the living room for their nightly devotions and time of Bible study. From day one, Dr. Geisler and his wife poured a foundation of the Word into their children’s lives—all of whom are serving the Lord today.
We enjoyed a great plate of Fajitas for lunch, and Dr. Geisler refilled my “joke” quiver. I have enough opening jokes to last me 10+ years of conference speaking! He has authored/co-authored 67 books, and I now wonder when the Dr. Norman Geisler joke book will be released. His humor only adds to the uniqueness of this great man. Even after 50+ years of faithful service, he is still excited about life and the Lord.
As I watched Dr. Geisler teach Saturday night in Bentonville to a crowd of over 900, I had a new appreciation for his brilliance. I have taught with Dr. Geisler at many conferences over the years and have had the privilege of learning how to defend the faith because of his scholarship and teaching, but Saturday gave me a new perspective of Dr. Geisler. I realized that he not only knows the Word, but lives it with passion every day!
You may not be aware that we have several of Dr. Geisler’s books available for Libronix. Be sure to check them out!

Dr. Geisler is also a Logos user. Here’s what he has to say about Logos:

Wow! What a great way to get into the Bible. With a whole library at your fingertips and language tools in the palm of your hand, anyone can benefit from Logos Bible Software. Whether someone is a scholar, pastor, Sunday school teacher, or layperson Logos can help them accomplish their academic and spiritual needs. If you are in Seminary or Bible College then you should have this program. Logos is already the standard in Bible software and for good reason—it is simply the best.

Ancient Semitic Inscriptions—How Can They Assist English Bible Study?

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Michael Heiser, Academic Editor at Logos.
Note: Some characters in this post require a Unicode font like Gentium or Charis SIL. You can download both Gentium and Charis SIL from the SIL site.
One of the challenges we face at Logos when we create research tools for studying ancient texts in their original script is how such data can be made useful in the Libronix platform for users who do not read the ancient languages. Our aim is not merely to produce tools for scholars, but tools that can help everyone inform their Bible study. The new databases for Aramaic inscriptions and the Hebrew and Canaanite inscriptions are a good case in point.
In this blog post, I’d like to focus on how these inscriptions can assist your Bible study even if you can’t read the ancient languages. Veteran Libronix users will recognize immediately that since these inscriptions come with fresh English translations and can be displayed as an interlinear, they are accessible to the English reader. But what may not be apparent is why the English reader might want to include them in searches or Bible study. It’s easy to see how commentaries or reference books that deal with Bible backgrounds would be helpful, but users often balk at the thought of utilizing ancient non-biblical texts for enlightening biblical content. I think the three examples that follow illustrate the value of including these kinds of texts in Bible study.
Balaam, son of Beor, and the Deir ʿAlla Inscription
We’re all familiar with the Old Testament story of Balaam, where Balak, king of Moab, summoned Balaam to curse the children of Israel (Numbers 22-23). Not nearly as well known is the fact that Balaam, son of Beor, is featured prominently in an ancient inscription, discovered in 1967 at a place called Deir ʿAlla. That inscription is included in the set of Aramaic inscriptions recently developed by Logos. It reads in part:

1 . . . the report of Balaʿam, son of Beʿor, who was a seer of the gods. Now the gods came to see him by night, and he saw a vision
2 as the utterance of El. They said to Balaʿam, son of Beʿor, “Thus he will do . . . afterwards a man . . . ”
3 Balaʿam arose the following day . . . but he was not able to . . . and he wept
4 bitterly. Then his people came to him and said to Balaʿam, son of Beʿor, “Why are you fasting and weeping?”
5 He responded to them, “Sit down, I will tell you what the Shaddayyin have done. Come, see the work of the gods! The Shaddayyin gathered together
6 and established the assembly. Then, they said to Š[ ], ʿSew up [and] block out the heavens with your cloud putting darkness [over it]; do not any
7 light [shine] . . .

There are a number of gaps and difficult reconstructions in this inscription (hence the brackets that appear), but there are a number of clear points. First, a seer named Balaam the son of Beor had a vision in the night in which the gods speak to him. Save for the fact that the Old Testament has one deity speak to Balaam, this is precisely the same situation recorded in the Old Testament in Numbers 22:8-9, 14-20. Second, Balaam is presented in the inscription as a seer or clairvoyant, one who had contact with the gods through divination (cf. Josh. 13:22). This is the biblical picture as well. The Hebrew terminology associated with Balaam indicates that he did not practice sorcery, as some have charged, but used some sort of divination method. While some forms of divination are expressly condemned in the Old Testament, even on pain of death (Deut 18:9-12), other forms are not (e.g., casting lots, Joseph’s divination cup, Daniel’s training in Chaldean “sciences”). The issue with “proper” and “improper” methods of divination for the Israelite was whether Yahweh was the source of the divine information and, in most cases, whether the contact was initiated by Yahweh. This helps resolve the notion that Yahweh would speak his word through a foreign seer by his Spirit (Num. 24:2). Third, Balaam is cast in a positive light in the inscription. While the Bible has some pretty unflattering things to say about Balaam, it also has some positive assessment. For example, the prophet Micah says, “O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him.” Balaam unapologetically proclaimed himself Yahweh’s servant and denied saying anything other than what Yahweh has told him to say.
What are we to make of this inscription and its connection to the Old Testament? Simply put, the Deir ʿAlla inscription is an extrabiblical confirmation of the Balaam story. The Deir ʿAlla inscription dates to the 8th century B.C., well after the time of the Balaam incident in biblical chronology. Balaam is not introduced in the inscription, so it appears that the writer presumed his readers knew about Balaam already, and so the story of Balaam had been around for some time. The prophet Micah’s statement dates from the same era, since the prophet lived at the time of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Micah 1:1). This is confirmation that the Balaam story wasn’t invented during the 8th century but precedes it.
Does the Old Testament Speak of a Blissful Afterlife?
This question may surprise many readers, but it’s actually a hot topic in scholarly discussions about the Old Testament. Behind this issue is the fact that the Old Testament never actually speaks of a godly person “going” to heaven. Rather, they go to Sheol, the realm of the dead, or the “Underworld” (see, e.g., Gen. 37:35; 42:38; 1 Sam. 2:6; Job 17:16; Psa. 6:5; 49:14; 88:3; 116:3; Ezek. 31:17). Sheol also refers to a hole in the ground or some space under the ground (see Num. 16:33; Job 11:8). As such, many scholars argue that the Old Testament had no concept of a hallowed, pleasant afterlife—the dead only went to the grave—or that the dead remained in the grave until a future resurrection. Some scholars seek to strike a parallel with the depressing view of the afterlife held in Mesopotamia, where the deceased “lived on” while in a state of decay.
Other biblical scholars have argued, with some justification, that discerning the Old Testament’s view of the afterlife on the basis of one word (Sheol) is myopic. Archaeologically speaking, we know that, like our custom of leaving flowers or other items at grave sites, Israelites also regularly deposited gifts at tombs, such as food and wine—items that we believe are appreciated by the dead. This doesn’t fit with a view that only saw the grave as final, or a despondent life in the Underworld. Such an approach fails to incorporate passages like Psalm 73:23-26:

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Two Hebrew inscriptions found in a small burial cave at a site just outside the ancient city of Jerusalem known as Ketef Hinnom shed some light on Israelite beliefs about the fate of the dead. The site dates to the late seventh or early sixth century B.C., clearly in the first Temple period. These inscriptions were etched onto two small silver plaques. The text is not entirely legible and complete, but much is quite readable:

Ketef Hinnom 1
1 [ ] 2 YHW [
2 [ ]
3 [ ]
4 l]oves the covena[nt
5 and lo]vingkindness to those who lo[ve
6 [and] with respect to those who keep [
7 ]BK[
8 ]HHʿL rest[ing place
9 [ ]BH[ ]H from all[
10 [ ] and from the evil
11 for in him is redemption (?)
12 for Yahweh
13 will [re]store us
14-16 ]KWR may Yahweh bless [and] may [he] keep you
17 May Yahweh [sh]ine
18 [his f]ace (upon you).

Ketef Hinnom 2

1 ]HB[
2 to Yahwe[h]
3 [ ]
4 ]Gʿ[
5-7 May Yahweh bless and may [he] keep you
8-9 May Yah[weh] shine his face
10 [up]on you and
11 may [he] give you
12 pea[ce].
13 [ ]
14 [ ]
15 ]M[
16 [ ]
17 [ ]

Both of these inscriptions, deposited as they were with the dead body of the loved one, ask Yahweh to “bless and keep” the dead and “shine upon” the deceased. This is certainly positive, and is very much in the spirit of Psalm 73. The writer also expresses his belief that Yahweh shows lovingkindness to those who love Him. If the writer believed that the fate of the dead was only the grave, or that the deceased was rewarded only with a cadaverous existence, these sentiments make little sense.
The Witness in the Clouds
One of the Phoenician inscriptions in the new Libronix database of Hebrew and Canaanite inscriptions comes from a location known as Arslan Tash. The inscription is found on an amulet and reads in part:

Arslan Tash 1
9-10 Asshur has made with us and eternal covenant. He made (it)
11 with us, and (with) all the sons of the gods,
12 and the chiefs of the council of all the holy ones
13 with a covenant of heaven and earth
14 forever, by an oath of Baal,
15 [l]ord of earth, by a covenant
16 of Ḥawron, whose mouth is pure,
17 and his seven concubines, and
18 the eight wives of Baal-Qudsh.

In this inscription, the high god Asshur is said to have made a covenant with the people among whom the author lived. Asshur makes this covenant, and then the covenant is said to be ratified or “guaranteed” by other gods: Baal, Ḥawron, and Ḥawron’s seven concubines and eight wives, who were all (presumably) considered divine beings.
This kind of inscription content is easy to cross-reference in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. It might be instructive, for example, to compare covenant language between the Bible and sources outside the Bible for parallels and significant differences. This kind of thing is referenced many times in study Bible notes. In this instance, it might strike us as odd that a god would make a covenant with his people and then have that covenant promise backed up by other gods, since in the Bible God swear oaths by himself since, according to Hebrews 6:13-20, there is none greater. But are there exceptions?
If you were attempting a thorough Bible study of all the covenants in the Bible between God and people, you’d come across a surprising covenant circumstance in Psalm 89, where the idea of God swearing only by himself in a covenant relationship is in fact not the case. Psalm 89, which is a reiteration of the Davidic covenant given in 2 Samuel 7, has God making the covenant with David and his dynasty and then appealing to a witness in the clouds as a guarantee of that covenant. Believe it or not, the covenant of the Arslan Tash inscription helps us to know what’s going on here.
Psalm 89:35-37 [Hebrew text, 89:36-38] reads:

35 “Once I have sworn by my Holy One;
I will not lie to David.
36 “His descendants shall be forever
And his throne as the sun before me.
37 “It shall be established forever like the moon,
And the witness in the clouds will be faithful.”

The keys to understanding this small section of Psalm 89 are the two underlined portions. English translations disagree on this passage for very technical reasons I’ll skip here (readers can click here for more detail). This is my own literal rendering, though the NASB comes closest to what I have. Notice how the passage has certain parallel elements, which I’ve marked by letters:

A I have sworn by my Holy One;
B I will not lie to David.
C “His descendants shall be forever
C his throne (shall be) as the sun before me.
C “It [his throne] shall be established forever like the moon,
A And a witness in the clouds will be faithful.”

Translations disagree most often on the underlined portions. Many have “by my holiness” for the first underline, but that makes little sense in light of the literary parallelism. It seems that Yahweh has sworn by a person (a witness) in the second underlining, which calls for a person being “sworn by” in the first underlining. All that is needed to arrive at “my Holy One” is to change the vowel marks in the Hebrew at this point to conform it to “Holy One” found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Most translations also have “an enduring witness” or “a faithful witness” for the second underlined portion, but there are grammatical problems with that translation.
What we have here is Yahweh swearing a covenantal oath to David and guaranteeing that oath by some witness in the clouds. This is actually similar to what we read in Arslan Tash. The head of the Phoenician pantheon at Arslan Tash, Asshur, makes a covenant in the presence of his heavenly council (the “council of the holy ones”), and then calls on other gods to confirm that the covenant will be carried out. Israel’s faith was monotheistic, but these elements are all present in Psalm 89. Yahweh swears an oath to David, and Yahweh’s own heavenly host (“divine council of the holy ones”; Psalm 89:5-8) witnesses the oath. But there’s a problem—Israel’s faith has no place for other gods to hold Yahweh accountable to his oath. Nevertheless, the language is there.
How can Yahweh swear by another and yet not be held accountable to a separate god other than himself? The passage seems to require an equal to Yahweh who will uphold the covenant, but how does that work? The idea of one god binding another god’s oath was familiar in the ancient Near East-Arslan Tash is but one example. But how can this work in Israel? Who is this witness in the heavens who will be faithful to make sure the covenant of David’s eternal dynasty comes to pass and never fails?
The New Testament answers these questions by filling the witness slot with Jesus. Revelation 1:4-5 is telling:

4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

Jesus, of course, as the son of David, fulfilled the Davidic covenant of Psalm 89. And since the New Testament presents Jesus as true deity incarnate and equal in nature with the God of the Old Testament, Jesus fulfills the role of witness-guarantor eternally. We know this if we’ve read the New Testament, but sometimes more ancient material—canonical and even outside the canon—can contextualize a point more clearly.
If you haven’t already placed your pre-order, be sure to check out the Semitic Inscriptions: Analyzed Texts and English Translations (CD-ROM) as it will be shipping soon!

BibleTech:2008 a Huge Success

BibleTech:2008 was an awesome event and a huge success. A big thanks to all of the speakers and attendees! It was fun putting faces with names and chatting over meals with so many people who share a passion for the Bible and technology.

We realize that many of you wanted to attend, but were unable to. Well, we have some great news for you.

First, the audio for most of the sessions is now available at the BibleTech website. Go to the Sessions page and look for the MP3 Audio links. We also added a directory of participants, which includes both speakers and attendees who wanted their names to be listed. If you went to the conference and didn’t get the contact info for someone you wanted to get in touch with, check the directory. If you went and want to have your name added to the list, please send an email to and let us know.

Also, based on the great feedback that we got, we are already making preparations for BibleTech:2009. So start making your plans to be with us next year. We’ll provide you with more details when we have them. If you’d like to be added to the BibleTech email list to receive updates and information about the next BibleTech, send us an email.

If you want to read more about BibleTech, search for bibletech and bibletech08 at Technorati and Google Blog Search. Many of the speakers have posted PowerPoints and PDFs of their presentations. If you’re a World Magazine subscriber, you’ll want to check out their article about BibleTech.

We look forward to seeing you at BibleTech:2009!

Update to Libronix DLS 3.0e

The latest version of the Libronix Digital Library System, 3.0e, is available for download. If you haven’t already updated, you should do so as soon as possible so that you have all the latest bug fixes and improved functionality.
Here are some of the new features that you will get:

  • Improved speed of opening the Search menu for the first time.

Bible Tools

  • Added missing homograph numbers to GRAMCORD™ lemma list.
  • Remote Library Search
  • Changed format of citations exported from Remote Library Search (for better interoperability with other programs).
  • Export Citations dialog in Remote Library Search remembers the last citation style that was used.


  • Added 2 Corinthians and Galatians to Lexham SGNT.
  • Added Louw-Nida numbers to Lexham SGNT.
  • Updated version of Lexham Syntactic Greek NT including Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Revelation.

Sermon File

  • Topics in Sermons and Illustrations resources are found by the Topic Study on the home page.
  • “Topics” and “Illustrations” sections in the Passage Guide list topics from the Sermons and Illustrations resources (respectively).

Syntax Tools

  • Added arrows to indicate immediate child vs. any descendant in Syntax Search results.
  • Syntax Search results highlights different terms with different colors.
  • Added “Group” and “Unordered Group” constructs to Syntax Search dialog.

Windows Vista

  • Added high-resolution application icon (for Windows Vista).

For a list of bug fixes visit
Keep in mind that all new books require 3.0e and that you’ll need 3.0e to use the updated version of many old books as well.
If you have a slow connection, you may want to order the new 3.0e media, which is available on DVD-ROM or CD-ROM.

Teachers and the Personal Book Builder

We have a really cool guest post for you below, but first a very exciting announcement regarding the Personal Book Builder.
We at Logos are passionate about God’s Word. One of our main objectives is to facilitate deeper Bible study. In an effort to better accomplish this, we are dropping the Personal Book Builder annual license renewal fee for all who use the PBB in conjunction with their teaching! This includes those who are teachers by vocation, as well as those who lead Bible studies or teach their children at home. We hope this enables you to be more effective teachers of God’s Word in whatever capacity He allows you to use your gifts.
Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Benjamin B. Phillips, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at the Houston campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In the 2007 fall semester, I began using the Logos Personal Book Builder (PBB) software (Standard Edition) for my systematic theology classes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Each of my students writes a “Practical Theology Paper” where they summarize a Christian doctrine and then reflect on the practical implications of that doctrine for living the Christian life and doing Christian ministry. Each student writes on a different doctrine and I give the final versions of the files to the whole class. The result has been that each member of the class gets the equivalent of a 150-page book that they and their classmates have written.
Prior to using the PBB software, I simply collected the Microsoft Word files on CD-ROM’s and gave copies of the disk to the class at the end of the semester. Unfortunately, this meant that students wishing to use them in future research or sermon preparation would have to open and search each document one at a time. It seems unlikely that many (if any!) would undertake such a laborious process, and as a result, much of the value of the assignment was lost.
The Logos PBB software has enabled me to realize my goal of students doing theological writing to serve each other in their future ministries. By combining all the papers into one Logos electronic book, students no longer have to search through multiple files. Even more significant, however, is the fact that the Logos Libronix software allows students to incorporate their book into the Libronix Digital Library System. By making their book one of the texts that Libronix automatically searches when one studies a Bible passage or a topic, students don’t even need to remember to go look at the papers. If there is something relevant to their study, Libronix automatically includes a link to the relevant part of the book in its search results! If a student prepares a sermon or study on Numbers 23:13-30, Libronix would inform them that a verse in this text is referenced at two different places in their book of practical theology papers. Clicking on a link (here the Doctrinal Summary link) would open a window showing the relevant portion of the book. Similarly, if a student were to search their Libronix library for information on “patience” the results would include 4 occurrences of the word in 3 articles within their book of papers.
Students don’t even need to chase down the scripture passages mentioned in the papers. The PBB software automatically converts scripture references from text to hyperlinks. The result is that within the Logos book, one simply needs to scroll the cursor over the link, and the appropriate passage pops up in the student’s preferred Bible translation. Professors and instructions should note that the PBB software can accommodate a wide range of ways to cite scripture (note in the screen shot that the student used a short citation form and a long form). The functionality of the Logos book will not be lost if a student deviates in some minor way from a specific citation format.
The Logos PBB software is not difficult to use. I use Microsoft Word to combine papers into four or five files by broad topic. From there it is a simple matter of standardizing the formatting of the documents and marking the headings for the table of contents. I then save each file in HTML version. The last step involves running the PBB creator and setting the order of the files for the table of contents. The only inconvenient part has been standardizing the formatting of the papers . . . but in the future, I will have the students do that part for their own papers! With that change, the bottom line will be that I can take 20 papers and create a Logos book in under one hour.
I am incredibly grateful to Logos for their PBB software, but more importantly, so are my students! I hear often from my students about how they really like having a Logos book version of their work and how that has enhanced their appreciation for the class. From my perspective, I am impressed with the improvement in student effort on these assignments that has resulted from creating Logos books. My students know their classmates will be reading and using their papers, and so they have become far more serious and energetic about their work. I strongly encourage professors and instructors to use the PBB software to provide added value to their students.
Dr. Phillips has graciously allowed us to make the two PBB books available to you:

Put the files in C:\Program Files\Libronix DLS\Resources. To use them you must have a Libronix PBB Reading Key, which is included in all of the base packages.
Enjoy! And be sure to let us know what creative ways you come up with to use the Personal Book Builder.

“Love” in John and the ESV Reverse Interlinear NT

A user sent me a question last week, and I thought some of our blog readers might benefit from this little exercise.
Here’s what he wanted to do:

I was wondering if it would be possible to do the following: search for the occurrences of an English word and have it report the original language transliterated word for each occurrence. For example, say I’m teaching on the Gospel of John. I want to find all the occurrences of “love” and identify the part of speech and original language word. . . . Is there an easy way to do this?

There are several ways to accomplish this, but the easiest, especially for someone with minimal Greek knowledge, is to use the ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament.
Here are the steps I took:
1. In Libronix, click Search > Greek Morphological Bible Search.
2. For Bibles, select the ESV NT Rev. Int. | The ESV Greek-English Reverse Interlinear New Testament.
3. For the Range, type John.
4. Type lov* into the Search box. (The * enables you to find love, loves, loved, and loving. To exclude any potential false hits like lovely, you could type love OR loves OR loved OR loving in place of lov*. In this case, they yield identical results.)

5. Click Search. You should get 57 occurrences in 39 verses.

6. Click on the blue box next to any of the references in the search results to see that occurrence in the ESV Reverse Interlinear. You will be able to see the transliteration and part of speech for all of the words.

Make sure to turn on the appropriate interlinear levels. Click View > Interlinear and check the ones that you want to display.

Now, you could also accomplish this by searching any Greek text with morphological tagging, but for those most comfortable with the English, seeing the search results in the ESV might be the best.
Instead of searching for lov* (or love OR loves OR loved OR loving), you could also search for [φιλέω=] OR [ἀγαπάω=] OR [ἀγάπη=]. With this example, you get identical results either way.
How would you do this search?
Update: Searching for lov* is unnecessary because Logos searches on the stem of love by default. So searching for love will yield the same results as lov* or, in this case, love OR loves OR loved OR loving.