Shelf Life Book Review: The Bible Study Handbook

Elliot Ritzema

The Bible Study Handbook
IVP Connect, 2012

Lindsay Olesberg, Scripture manager for InterVarsity’s Urbana Student Missions Convention, shares wisdom and practical methods she has gleaned from years of inductive Bible study. For Olesberg, inductive study begins with the particulars of a passage and then moves to general conclusions (deductive study moves in the opposite direction: from the general to the particular). Inductive study can be done individually or in groups and consists of three phases: observation, interpretation and application.

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The book is divided into three parts: “Foundations,” in which Olesberg shares the presuppositions behind inductive Bible study; “Building Blocks,” in which she shares the six components of inductive Bible study (honoring the author, respecting the story, attentiveness, curiosity, understanding and response); and “Tool Box,” in which she offers practical suggestions on a variety of topics, like how to study various genres or how to identify the structure of a book or passage.

Written with the hope of training “God’s people to study the Bible for themselves rather than relying on ‘professional Christians’ to explain it,” (pg. 28) this book will appeal both to Bible study beginners who are looking for a proven method of digging into the Bible, and to veterans who want to bring new vitality to their study of familiar passages.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3

Paul, Pop Culture and the Gospel

Derek R. Brown

Growing up, I had limited experience interacting with people from other cultures. That all changed when I became a teaching assistant at a university in Vancouver, BC—a city where fewer than half of the residents speak English as their first language. Surrounded by university students from unfamiliar cultures and worldviews, I was plunged into the role of the outsider. I quickly realized how difficult it was to communicate ideas when two people don’t share first languages, backgrounds or cultural reference points.


As I studied Paul’s teachings and letters in graduate school, I learned to appreciate why God selected him for the role of apostle to the Gentiles. A “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil 3:5) steeped in Old Testament traditions, Paul had to explain the gospel and its implications to people of mostly non-Jewish background. He was the perfect man for the task: Although raised a Jew, Paul was brought up in a Graeco-Roman context (e.g., Acts 21:39).

This background gave Paul an insider perspective into Graeco-Roman culture and the lives of those he was trying to reach. He engaged popular culture so he could better communicate the gospel.

Paul was familiar with the works of poets, playwrights and philosophers, and he often quotes them to make a point. For instance, he alludes to Stoic poet Aratus while speaking in the midst of the Areopagus in Athens, the center of Greek culture and philosophy: “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring’ ” (Acts 17:28). Paul uses the quotation from Aratus to make an apologetic argument for God’s existence: If the Athenians are “God’s offspring” and alive, then God also must be living.

In 1 Corinthians 15:33 Paul cites a proverb often attributed to the Greek comic playwright Menander: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’ ” Although several verses in the Old Testament make the same point (e.g., Psa 119:63; Prov 13:20; 14:7; 28:7), Paul found it more fitting to cite a popular writer to communicate with the Corinthians in familiar words. Paul did so to show them that their behavior was not based on the hope of resurrection in the future (1 Cor 15:33–34).

In his letter to Titus, Paul supports his view of the Cretan people by quoting their own prophet and teacher, Epimenides: “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). Epimenides was regarded as a religious teacher and miracle worker. By appealing to his words, Paul demonstrated his knowledge of Cretan society and his ability to communicate biblical truths within their cultural context.

Paul’s use of cultural images and metaphors made the gospel accessible to a wider audience. For example, in 1 Corinthians 3:5–15 Paul turns to architectural metaphors to clarify his role in the church. In this passage Paul likens himself to a “wise builder” (sophos architékton, σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων; 3:10) who laid the one true foundation—Jesus Christ—in establishing the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 9:24–27 Paul uses athletic imagery to describe his apostolic ministry. By describing himself as a runner and a boxer (9:24–27), Paul identifies with the Corinthians, who hosted the Isthmian games.

But literature and cultural concepts aren’t always compatible with the gospel. Some can even be corrosive to our understanding of the Christian faith. Can we still draw on such references without compromising people’s understanding of the gospel?

The writings of Paul help us out here as well. When confronted with Graeco-Roman ideas that oppose the gospel, Paul challenges his audience with Scripture and Christ’s supremacy.

In 1 Corinthians 1, he engages his audience in a debate over the meaning of “wisdom” (sophia, σοφίᾳ), which the ancient Greeks associated with philosophy and rhetoric. Paul believes that this association will lead them to hold him in poor esteem and, more crucially, discourage them from recognizing the wisdom of the cross.

Instead of accommodating this cultural concept, Paul refutes the Corinthians’ notion of wisdom. He asks, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?” (1 Cor 1:20). He shows that true wisdom comes by God’s revelation—even when it appears to be foolishness (1 Cor 1:23)—and most profoundly through the “word of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18). The Corinthians’ culturally misguided notion of wisdom was the root of many of the church’s problems (e.g., divisions, jealousy and quarreling); Paul had to correct their definition before he could resolve these issues.

Paul used discernment to “translate” the gospel from one culture (Jewish) to another (Hellenistic). Like Paul, we must root our hearts and minds in the Bible; to reach others, we need to express the gospel through language they understand—images, concepts and stories of the places where God has called us to share the gospel. May He guide us by His Spirit and give us the wisdom to do so.

Interested in works from classical Greek and Roman poets and philosophers? Download Logos’ free Perseus Classics Collection at

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 1

Jesus is God: Jude and Peter Tell Me So

Michael S. Heiser

The letters of Peter and Jude are often overlooked in preaching and Bible study. Not only are they nestled among the more popular letters of Paul and the book of Revelation, but portions of these epistles sound odd to our modern sensibilities. That wasn’t the case in the first century. We can better grasp the meaning of these letters if we understand what they have in common with influential ancient Jewish and Christian writings that were circulating at the time. One of those literary works is known to us today as 1 Enoch, a book Peter and Jude draw upon in their letters.

Jews and Christians of antiquity considered books such as 1 Enoch important resources for understanding biblical books and their theology. Peter and Jude were no exception. For example, Jude 14–15 draws directly from 1 Enoch.

1 Enoch 1:9


Behold, he comes with the myriads of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to destroy all the wicked, and to convict all flesh for all the wicked deeds that they have done, and the proud and hard words that wicked sinners spoke against him. 1

Jude 14–15

It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying,

“Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

All of the ideas found in 1 Enoch 1:9 can be found in three Old Testament passages (Jer 25:30–31; Isa 66:15–16; Zech 14:5). Rather than quote all three, Jude quotes the verse in 1 Enoch that combines them. But the real point of interest isn’t Jude’s succinctness; it’s his interpretation of 1 Enoch, as well as the Old Testament. In 1 Enoch 1:9 it is the “Great Holy One” (God) who is “coming with myriads of holy ones” from Sinai (1 Enoch 1:4) and who has promised to come to earth in the Day of the Lord for final judgment. For Jude (as well as Mark and Paul; compare Mark 8:38; 1 Thess 3:13), this event is transformed into the return of Jesus Christ (Jude 17–18). By naming Jesus as the one coming with the holy ones, Jude equates Jesus with the God of Israel. Jude’s citation of 1 Enoch is his efficient strategy for declaring that Jesus is God.

Peter also draws freely upon 1 Enoch; his first letter contains roughly 20 allusions to 1 Enoch 108. First Peter 1:7–18 illustrates how Peter uses 1 Enoch to teach and encourage his audience. The bolded text below shows these comparisons.

1 Enoch 108:6–10

Here are thrown the spirits of the sinners and blasphemers and those who do evil and those who alter everything that the Lord has said by the mouth of the prophets (about) the things that will be done. For there are books and records about them in heaven above, so that the angels may read them and know what will happen to the sinners and the spirits of the humble, and those who afflicted their bodies, … those who love God, and do not love gold and silver and all the good things that are in the world; but gave their bodies to torment;The Lord tested them much, and their spirits were found pure, so that they might bless his name.

1 Peter 1:6–12

You have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him.… Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully … but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look … conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold.

These similarities show how both 1 Enoch and 1 Peter encourage the faithful to persevere. Their love for God is an earthly drama watched by angels. But like Jude, Peter turns the object of this love in 1 Enoch—the God of Israel—to Jesus. Peter is encouraging those of Jewish heritage to continue following Christ.

These parallels show us that both Peter and Jude viewed Jesus as the God of Israel and leveraged a book currently not in our Bible to make that point. They wanted to strengthen the resolve of their readers to follow Jesus, the God of Israel revealed for them.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 1

1. Translation from George W. E. Nickelsburg and Klaus Baltzer, 1 Enoch: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), 142.

Learning from Enemies

John D. Barry

Ezra 3:1–4:24; 1 John 3:11–18; Psalm 106:16–29

If a new venture is really worth pursuing, it will probably be opposed. Some people will refuse to get on board, and others will intentionally get in the way. While these people may be trying protect their own interests, it’s more likely that they don’t like change—even if it’s for the better.

God’s work among His people is not that different from innovation; after all, He is the Author of all good ideas since all ideas come from His creation. And just like new ventures, God’s work is often rejected. The difference between new ventures and God’s work, though, is that all people who oppose God’s work are opposing Him, their Creator; they’re choosing to put their own interests before His interests, which are only for good.

Jeshua and Zerubbabel faced this type of opposition in the book of Ezra. After they had restored worship in Jerusalem, they began to organize the effort to lay the foundation of the temple—the place where God’s people were meant to worship. Then, the unexpected happened: Enemies arrived and began to cause trouble (Ezra 3:1–4:5). We often view such people as hateful, but in reality they were acting in their own interests. These enemies likely didn’t realize the land they claimed as their own had been stolen from God’s people in the first place; they probably thought they were protecting what was rightfully theirs (compare Ezra 4:6–16; see 2 Kgs 24–25).

This is often the case in our lives as well: We think we’re doing what’s legally or morally right, but we may actually be opposing God’s work. Sometimes trying to act rightly can lead us to do the wrong thing. Rather than insisting on what seems or feels right, we must pause to pray about it. We must ask God what He is really doing. And if God is working through someone else, we need to step out of the way. He is innovating—are we willing to innovate with Him?

In what ways is God innovating around you? How does He want to use you in this process? In what areas should you step aside to let His work happen?

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

John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at

Shelf Life Book Review: Lamentations and the Song of Songs

Abram Kielsmeier-Jones

Lamentations and the Song of Songs
Westminster John Knox Press, 2012

Harvey Cox and Stephanie Paulsell address the history of interpretation of these two biblical poems—from early Jewish interpreters to modern philosophers. Cox notes that these poems are not merely “time bound or event bound,” but “timeless” (pg. 24) since they speak to universal themes like seeking joy amidst heartbreak, deliberately remembering an absent one, and rebuilding among ruin.


Cox suggests reading Lamentations, a poem that laments a nation’s loss in the aftermath of war, in a “participatory mood” (pg. 15). As he highlights key themes, he brings Lamentations into dialogue with wars and aftermaths of wars today. Particularly illuminating are his applications of the book to World War II in Germany and 9/11 in the United States.

As Paulsell examines Song of Songs, she notes that it celebrates love in the context of a covenant relationship. She offers commentary passage by passage, giving summary titles for each. For example, Song of Songs 1:7–14 is titled “A Dialogue of Delight” (pg. 198), and 4:1–7 is titled “Altogether Beautiful” (pg. 231). Like Cox, Paulsell also calls us to devotionally pray our way through the Song of Songs, conscious of our relationship to other physical bodies, creation and God.

This commentary’s greatest strength lies in its emphasis on engaging the biblical text. Cox and Paulsell move fluidly across centuries and cultures as they connect Lamentations and the Song of Songs to current contexts.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3