Shelf Life Book Review: Insights on Romans

Heather M. Brooks

Insights on Romans (Swindoll's New Testament Insight Series)
Zondervan, 2009

It’s 64 AD. A tent-maker and Pharisee-turned-apostle is writing a letter encouraging Roman Christians in their faith. Paul is writing what Charles R. Swindoll calls “the first systematic theology of the Christian faith,” “the believer’s constitution,” and “a manifesto of the new kingdom” (pg. 19).

Swindoll sets forth the theme and purpose of Romans. He writes that Romans has three objectives: 1) It sheds light on potentially confusing concepts, and reassures members of the Roman church that their understanding of the gospel was correct. 2) It praised their obedience and the authenticity of their faith. 3) It sought to enlist the church’s help in realizing Paul’s vision for the church.

Swindoll’s work is a verse-by-verse examination of Paul’s discussion of God’s wrath, grace, faithfulness, majesty, righteousness and community. Maps, charts and pictures illustrate Swindoll’s points, and personal anecdotes from his own journal bring insight to the subject matter. This volume supplies key terms in the original New Testament Greek. Endnotes at the conclusion of each chapter suggest titles for further reading.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 2 No. 6

Smack Down: Peter vs. Paul

Chelica Hiltunen & John D. Barry

“I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned” Gal 2:11 ESV 1

Harsh words coming from a pastor—even harsher considering he was addressing another pastor. The confrontation in Antioch between Paul and Peter over whether or not Jews should eat with non-Jews is puzzling. Why was Paul so angry with Peter, and why is he recounting this story to the Galatians?

To resolve this issue, we need a Bible dictionary and a commentary. Using these tools, we will examine the cultural background and context of Paul’s argument with Peter.

Cultural Background
Paul says that “before certain men came from James,” Peter was “eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party” (Gal 2:12). Subsequently, Barnabas, Paul’s right hand in preaching to the Gentiles, also withdrew (Gal 2:13). According to F. F. Bruce’s The Epistle to the Galatians, “the circumcision party” were “Judaizers [or proponents of Jewish practices] within the church (Acts 11:2; Titus 1:10) … the circumcised members of the church” (pg. 131).

But why would Peter and Barnabas stop eating meals with non-Jews when other Jews showed up? A search for “food laws” in The New Bible Dictionary leads us to our answer. Food laws were “distinctions” that reminded “Israel of her special status as God’s chosen people.… Jews faithful to these laws would tend to avoid Gentile (non-Jewish) company, in case they were offered unclean food to eat” (pg. 211). Because of the pressure of Jewish people, who wished to maintain their distinct status, Peter sacrificed church unity. But we still don’t know why Paul would discuss this dispute, at this moment in time, and in this letter. The context of Gal 2 will help us understand his motives.

Peter and James were associated with Jerusalem and the original church (Gal 1:18–19). Because the “men from James” came to Antioch with the authority of the Jerusalem church, they were a threat to Peter (Gal 2:12). Paul uses Peter’s hypocrisy as a case in point to show his authority as an apostle and subsequently make his case to the Galatians that his gospel is “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:1).

Like those in Antioch who were opposing Paul’s gospel and presenting another one, the Galatians were affirming a different gospel based upon the Law (Gal 3:2).

Paul used the story of his dispute with Peter to show that, like the Jews in Antioch, the Jews in Galatia were hypocrites. Christians are equal before God: “There is neither Jew nor Greek,” everyone is “one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28).

Paul’s confrontation with Peter demonstrated that he is consistent in his belief that Christian Jews and Greek are one in Christ—a belief that the Galatians needed to adopt. Paul’s account of the Antioch episode provides support for his message: “We know that a person is not justified [made right with God] by works of the Law but through faith” (Gal 2:16).

Today, the church across the world can rejoice in the fact that in Christ Jesus we “are all sons (and daughters) of God, through faith” (Gal 3:26).

Resources Used:
F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982).

D. R. W. Wood and I. H. Marshall, New Bible Dictionary (3rd ed.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 2 No. 6

1. All biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).


Michael S. Heiser

One of the more vexing problems in the Old Testament is how to parse the parallel accounts of 1 Chronicles 21:1–17 and 2 Samuel 24:1–25.

First Chronicles 21 (ESV) Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. 2So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number.”

Second Samuel 24 (ESV) Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” 2So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people”

The two accounts are nearly identical, save for one glaring disparity: the Chronicler’s version has Satan as David’s instigator, while 2 Samuel names Yahweh, the God of Israel, as the provocateur. The Chronicler’s account notes that David’s act “was evil in the sight of God,” but this line is omitted in 2 Samuel. Both accounts have God posing three punishments before David, but David leaves the decision to the LORD. The Angel of Yahweh executes a plague on the land in both versions.

The two accounts are contradictory. The options for resolution are all somewhat disconcerting. If we want to blame Satan, we must identify Yahweh as Satan. The reverse strategy requires that we identify Satan with the sovereign Yahweh. If Satan can somehow be removed from the picture, then we are faced with the fact that Yahweh incited David to do something, and then punished him for doing so. Is there any way out of this mess?

The solution is surprisingly straightforward. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word satan (שׂטן) is not a proper personal name. This is because the definite article in Hebrew (the word “the”) is nearly always attached to it. Like English, Hebrew does not permit its definite article to be paired with a proper personal name (I don’t call myself, “the Mike”). The noun satan, paired with the definite article, simply means “the adversary.”

There are only a handful of places in the Hebrew Bible where satan is not preceded by the definite article. First Chronicles 21:1 is one of them, and thus many interpreters see this as a rare instance of the being known as Satan appearing in the Old Testament. If this is the case, though, we have a blatant contradiction. There is a better explanation.

The only other place in the Old Testament where satan lacks the definite article and the term is used of a divine figure is Num 22:22, where we read that the Angel of Yahweh stood in the way of Balaam and his donkey “as an adversary (satan).” The Angel was opposing Balaam; he was a divinely appointed adversary, like the satan in 1 Chr 21.

This connection between the word satan and the Angel of Yahweh is crucial to understanding the discrepancy between 1 Chr 21:1 and 2 Sam 24:1. In both accounts, the Angel dispenses God’s judgment upon David (1 Chr 21:14–15; 2 Sam 24:15–16). God and the Angel of the Lord were frequently identified with each other in the Old Testament (e.g., Exod 3 [compare Josh 5:13–15]; Judg 6). Thus, it seems that we don’t have Satan (God’s cosmic enemy) in the Chronicles passage. Instead, the writer is referring to the Angel, who is Yahweh in human form. This means that both the writers of Chronicles and 2 Samuel have Yahweh initiating the census and there is no contradiction.

One question looms, despite this solution: Why? Why would Yahweh incite David to do something for which He would later punish him? Both accounts begin by saying Yahweh was angry with Israel, not David. Yahweh chose to use David as His instrument of judgment against the nation, similar to the way He would use Nebuchadnezzar centuries later. As the Babylonian king was still accountable for His actions, so was David. Judgment (and its means) both belong to the Lord, but human agents are still accountable.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 2 No. 5

The Pursuit of God

Rebecca Van Noord

We’re willing to put an incredible amount of effort into pursuing something that’s really important to us. Before buying a new gadget, we’ll read reviews, research the manufacturer’s reputation, and consult our tech-savvy friends. Our efforts and curiosity betray the true treasures of our hearts. Other things that we say are important might not receive the same effort—often to our detriment.

In Proverbs, being curious about God’s ways is vital for life. The father in Proverbs encourages his son to be curious about God’s ways, representing his desire to fear God: “My child, if you will receive my sayings, and hide my commands with you, in order to incline your ear toward wisdom, then you shall apply your heart to understanding. For if you cry out for understanding, if you lift your voice for insight, if you seek her like silver and search her out like treasure, then you will understand the fear of Yahweh, and the knowledge of God you will find” (Prov 2:1–5).

The knowledge of God isn’t just knowledge about God. It’s also the desire and the process of inclining and applying your heart to understanding. The father encourages his son to cry out for understanding or lift his voice for insight—going beyond just intellectual comprehension. The son must seek understanding the same way someone might search out silver or a treasure. The father wants his son to learn about God’s ways, to understand them himself so he can apply them to his life.

We might claim to hold to a life of worship, but do our actions really reflect that value? Do our efforts and decisions reflect a heart that cries out to God for His wisdom? God has redeemed us at a great price with the death of His son. He desires that we turn over our lives to Him—and that includes pursuing Him with all our being.

Are you pursuing “the knowledge of God” and applying your heart to understanding?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Standing in the Council

Michael S. Heiser

Most people think a prophet is someone empowered by God to foretell the future. No doubt, prophets announced God’s intentions, but forecasting future events wasn’t their primary job description. A prophet’s chief task was to serve as God’s mouthpiece to His covenant people Israel and to her enemies. So how did someone become a prophet? Was there some sort of heavenly qualification? In fact, there was.

You might think the standard for a prophet was whether their words came to pass exactly as uttered (Deut 18:15–22). But that’s actually a bi-product of the real litmus test, which we read about in Jeremiah:

For who among them has stood in the council (sôd, סוד) of the Lord to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? [The LORD says] … “If they had stood in my council (sôd, סוד), then they would have proclaimed my words to my people.” (Jer 23:18, 22 ESV)

What does it mean to “stand in the council”? Jeremiah elaborates: “to see and to hear his word … to pay attention to his word and listen.” The one essential test of a prophet—that preceded their ability to deliver a divine message—was that the prophet had to see and hear God in His council.

In the Bible, God and His heavenly host were thought to live and conduct business in the divine throne room. This assembly, with God as its CEO, is called “a divine council” (Psa 82:1; 89:5–7).1 God chose prophets and commissioned them directly for ministry. When a prophet “stood in the council,” they had a direct encounter with God in His throne room. This motif of “standing in the council” is a repeated pattern in the Bible.

In the case of Isaiah, the prophet was transported to the throne room of Yahweh (Isa 6:1–6) to receive his call to service (Isa 6:8–9). For Ezekiel, the circumstances were reversed, with the throne of the LORD coming to him (Ezek 1:1–14, 26–28). Jeremiah was also commissioned via a direct encounter with God. At the beginning of his ministry the “word of the LORD” came to him (Jer 1:4) and appointed him a prophet. The “word” is identified as Yahweh (Jer 1:6–7) who has come in human form. He reaches out His hand to touch Jeremiah’s mouth (Jer 1:9). It was this encounter that distinguished Jeremiah from false prophets.

The pattern began with the first man, Adam, as Job 15:7–8 indicates: “Are you the first man who was born? Or were you brought forth before the hills? Have you listened in the council (sôd, סוד) of God? Have you restricted wisdom to yourself?” Eden was the abode of God and his heavenly host. If Job could say he had such access, then he could speak with authority about his innocence.

Proceeding from Adam, Enoch and Noah “walked with God” (Gen 5:22, 24; 6:9). The former “prophesied” (Jude 14–15), while the latter is called a “herald of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5). God appeared visibly to Abraham (Gen 12:1–3; 15:1–6; compare Acts 7:2–4), Isaac (Gen 26:1–5) and Jacob (Gen 28:10–22; 31:11–13; 32:22–32; compare Hosea 12:3–4). Moses was commissioned at the burning bush (Exod 3:1–15). The elders of Israel under Moses were commissioned directly by Yahweh (Num 11:24–25), as was Joshua (Deut 31:14–23; Josh 5:13–15). The book of Judges records dramatic appearances to Gideon (Judg 6) and the “word” of the Lord “appearing” to Samuel, the last of Israel’s judges, when he was a boy: It “stood” (1 Sam 3:10) before Samuel to inform him of Eli’s fate.

Many New Testament figures also began their ministries with a direct divine commissioning. For example, the Father and the Spirit were present at Jesus’ baptism (Matt 3:16–17), an event that told astute observers that Jesus was in the prophetic line. Paul’s famous encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus was crucial to proving his status as an apostle in the prophetic tradition (Acts 9:1–9; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:8). And it is no accident that the commissioning of the disciples at Pentecost was accompanied by divine fire (Acts 2:1–4), since fire is a frequent element of divine throne room commissioning scenes in the Old Testament (Exod 3:1–3; 24:17; Isa 6:6–7; 66:15; Ezek 1:4, 13, 27; Dan 7:9–11).2

Amazingly, the New Testament applies this commissioning to every believer. Every Christian is united to Christ and is commissioned to not only spread the gospel (Matt 28:18–20), but also to be Jesus to the world (2 Cor 3:18; 4:11; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 2:21; 2 Pet 1:4). Every believer is Christ’s ambassador (2 Cor 5:20), having met Christ through the gospel. As the prophets before us, we are now God’s mouthpieces.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 2 No. 3.