Shelf Life Book Review: Luke: The Gospel of Amazement

Matthew M. Whitehead

Luke: The Gospel of Amazement
Biblical Imagination Series, Intervarsity Press, 2011

In Luke’s Gospel, encounters with Jesus result in amazement. In the first of four volumes on the Gospels, Michael Card highlights this theme and invites his readers to experience the same reaction.

Card’s goal is to reunite the heart and mind by encouraging us to use our imagination as we study Jesus. As Christians, Card says that “we are being conformed to His image as we engage our hearts and minds, by means of the imagination, with the Word of God” (pg. 14).

Card demonstrates how Luke’s background and experience color and shape his reconstruction of Jesus’ life and ministry. He also investigates how the themes in Luke contribute to the overall flow of the narrative.

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

It Starts at Home

Cynthia Hyle Bezek and Rebecca Kruyswijk

“When we disciple our children, we’re teaching them what to believe, why to believe, and how to apply that to the way they live,” says Voddie Baucham, Jr. “That’s what we’re instructed to do in Ephesians 6:4, where it says, ‘Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.’ We don’t want to do that based on the traditions of man. It’s got to come from the Word.”

Both Baucham and his wife, Bridget, are committed home educators. Baucham is also a pastor, a seminary professor, and a conference speaker specializing in cultural apologetics. He is the author of several books, including Family Driven Faith (Crossway, 2007).


Baucham first encountered the Bible when he was a football player in college. “A staff member from Campus Crusade started asking some exploratory questions. He tried his Four Spiritual Laws and realized—with me coming from this background of Buddhism—I didn’t even have enough context for him to use his presentations. So he backed up, and he picked up this Bible, and he said, ‘Okay, Voddie. This is a Bible,’ just like that old Vince Lombardi moment, where his guys need to be brought back to their senses, and he says, ‘This is a football.’ That’s where we started. He came back every day for three weeks until he answered all my questions; then he taught me how to find the answers to those questions. I tell people I was being trained in apologetics before I was converted.”

Two of his football teammates mentored him and bought him his first Bible. “They taught me how to read it and taught me how to study it. They taught me how to share my faith, and they gave me my first preaching opportunity. God used those guys. Sometimes it was formal—sitting down with the Word and answering my questions. Other times it was informal like coming up to me on the field and saying, ‘Hey, Voddie, you probably shouldn’t say that anymore.’”


When asked about his own Bible study habits, Baucham says that moving from studying to teaching is a streamlined process. “In seminary we were told, ‘If all you’re doing is studying the Word for sermons, and you’re not having personal time in the Word, then you’ll dry up.’ I was always convicted by that because I could not read the Scriptures without getting fired up about teaching it. That’s when I learn the most. After a while I just asked myself, ‘Why am I trying to force myself [to separate studying and teaching]? This is how I’m wired. I’m just being who I am.’”

Baucham says he is always thinking about how to teach something when he’s studying the Bible. “When I get in the Word, God is applying things to my life, and then I’m immediately thinking about how I can turn around and use it to be a blessing to other people.”


The Bauchams encourage their children to apply the Bible to every aspect of their lives. “Whatever we’re studying comes back to our stewardship of the gifts, talents, abilities, time and treasure that God has given us.”

“There’s a sense in which we teach the Bible as a course, and I think that’s important to a degree. But what’s more important is that the Bible permeates everything we teach,” says Baucham. “So when we’re studying science [with our children], we go to the Word and talk about how the heavens declare the glory of God. When we’re doing political science, we discuss what the Word says about the role and jurisdiction of the government. When we’re doing history, we ask what the Word says about God’s work in progress. And when Paul preaches at Mars Hill about how God made from one man every nation of men and appointed the boundaries of their habitation, we relate that to the study of geography. Everything has to come back to the Word of God.”


The Bauchams do not limit their Bible reading to biblical books that are accessible or child-friendly. “Second Timothy 3:16 says that ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,’ ” says Baucham. “There will always be parts that are more appealing to us—regardless of our age. What we don’t want to do is take this cut-and-paste approach to the Bible that gives children an unbalanced diet instead of the whole counsel of God.”

He believes parents should “invest in those things that make better readers, better worshipers and better followers of Christ.” The Bauchams make this investment in their own family is by teaching the basic Bible study skills of observation, interpretation and application during family worship.

This begins with opportunities for their children to comment on the material. “We ask, ‘What did you hear? What stuck out to you?’ We just finished reading Job as a family. There’s deep stuff there. [Our son] Elijah observed one day: ‘Job is sad.’ We told him, ‘That’s a great observation.’ And then for the rest of the book, every day, his younger brother would raise his hand. We’d ask, ‘Asher, what’s your observation?’ And he’d say, ‘Job is sad.’ Already he had this idea in his head that after we read, everybody has to make an observation.”


The most essential element in the training of Christian families is also the simplest, Baucham says: family worship. “We just pick a book of the Bible and go chapter by chapter. We read and we find new nuggets every time. Sometimes it takes us 10 or 15 minutes. Sometimes we’re there for an hour and we realize, ‘Hey, we’ve got other stuff to do.’ But it’s just a natural outgrowth of who we are and what we’re committed to as a family.”

He stresses the importance of keeping Bible reading time simple. “If you make this too involved and too complicated, you’re not going to stay with it. You want it to be simple, so that everyone can be engaged in it. We’re not trying to reproduce what happens at church. We just want to worship God as a family.”

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 4

Walk Like an Israelite

Michael S. Heiser

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.

A Bible Study Epiphany

I had the impression that interpreting the Bible in context meant learning about a piece of pottery here, an odd custom there, or having a factual acquaintance with who was alive, and what those people were doing at the time of the biblical events.


But in my Ugaritic course, I learned that all of that can divorce the Bible from the ancient world in one critical way: It can exclude religious or theological ideas from all the “context talk.” It’s easy to presume that most of the Bible’s theological content was unique to Israel. I basically thought that Israel shared some cultural customs with pagan Gentiles—like diet, dress, marriage and family structure. But I thought Israel’s religious worldview was handed down from heaven, having no common links with paganism. Not true—and the content of the tablets I had to translate in my graduate school course was Exhibit A.

For starters, the people of Ugarit, a city-state in ancient Syria, described their gods with words and phrases that were in the Old Testament—in a number of cases word for word. Their chief deity shared the same name (El) as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (But the El of Ugarit could hardly be called holy by biblical standards.) The honorary titles and other descriptions of the Ugarit El and his primary assistant, Baal, are applied to the God of Israel in many passages in the Old Testament.

There are other examples. The behavior of prophets and the use of divination (casting lots, consulting the ephod) have clear ancient Near Eastern parallels. The design and purpose of the ark of the covenant align well with the use of sacred boxes known as palanquins in ancient Egypt. Trial by ordeal—such as that found in Numbers 5, where a woman accused of adultery must drink a potion to test her fidelity—occurred in surrounding cultures. Terms for Israelite sacrifices are found in ancient gentile religious texts. The belief that the sky was solid is part of the ancient Near Eastern cosmology shared by the Bible (Job 37:18; Prov 8:28). The notion that the seat of our intellect and emotions was our kidneys or intestines was common throughout the ancient world. 1

How Can I Do That?
Use a resource like The Context of Scripture or Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Start by reading ancient inscriptions and comparing them to the Old Testament. For this, check out resources like Heiser’s Semitic Inscriptions: Analyzed Text and English Translations.

Go to,, and for these resources.

Spiritual Lessons and Implications

Discovering all this was a little shocking. But God used that temporary discomfort to produce honesty with the biblical text. I needed to think like an ancient Israelite to understand the Old Testament.

Israelite religion had some significant divergences from the religions of other surrounding nations, but on the whole, there were more similarities than differences. I came to the realization that the correct interpretive context for the Bible is not the early church, the Protestant Reformation, the Puritans, or modern evangelicalism. Those historical contexts are alien to the Bible. Rather, the context for understanding the Bible is the historical, literary, intellectual and religious context in which it was written.

Although He could have done so, God didn’t change Israel’s culture when dispensing His truth. He didn’t give Israel a new culture that was dramatically distinct from Israel’s neighbors. That choice would have produced something indecipherable to the people of the time. That would have undermined the whole enterprise of communication.

What this means is that inspiration operates within a cultural context chosen by God in His sovereign wisdom. We cannot honor God’s choice of communication strategies if we refuse to ignore the deep worldview connections shared by both Israelites and pagans.

The profound contextual overlaps between Israel and her pagan neighbors was a wise theological tactic on God’s part. When divergences in Israel’s theology appear in the text—and there are some dramatic, stark points of contrast—they scream for attention on the part of the ancient reader. Unlike the pagan deities, Israel’s God could not be cajoled like an idol; Yahweh could not be brought down to earth and tamed. Laws about sacrifices were set in specific covenant contexts, giving them a unique theological dimension. Yahweh would rather have faith and loyalty than sacrifice.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 4

1. For example, see the Hebrew words rendered “heart” and “breast” in modern translations of passages like Song 5:4; Jer 31:20; Job 19:27; Ps 7:9; 16:7; 22:14; 40:8. These are actually the same Hebrew words for “intestines” and “kidneys” in descriptions of sacrifices. There is no biblical Hebrew word for “brain.”

Walking in Circles

John D. Barry

Joshua 18:1–19:9; 2 Corinthians 12:1–10; Psalm 56:1–13

I often wish things were more obvious. I ask God to help me understanding His timing so that I can easily act. I ask for everything to happen at the right moments. I ask Him to give me such clear directions that I can’t fail in following them. I used to think this was a good thing, but I realize now that all my questions could indicate a lack of faith. It seems that my questions lead to more questions. Like a man losing his memory in old age, I end up walking in circles around the block rather than finding my way home.

Maybe it’s not the lack of knowing that disturbs me, but that when I really know what God wants, I will have to act. In general, this seems to be the problem with faith in western Christianity. We say we don’t know what God wants. However, if we’re honest with ourselves, perhaps we don’t really want to know what God wants. In our hearts, we’re certain that knowing will mean uncomfortable change.

Joshua calls the Israelites on this type of faith problem: “How long will you be slack about going to take possession of the land that Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, has given you?” (Josh 18:3). The same question applies to us. How long will we wait? We really know what we’re supposed to do? If we don’t, might the reason be that we don’t want to know?

Often we hesitate because we’re afraid of our weaknesses—that we don’t think we have what it takes. Paul addresses this when discussing his own weaknesses: “And [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, because the power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore rather I will boast most gladly in my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may reside in me’ ” (2 Cor 12:9).

Rather than live in fear, we should boast in our weaknesses. Christ is working in us, to use us, in spite of them. No one is perfect; only Christ has the honor of perfection. And while we are weak, He will give us strength in Him. His strength can overcome whoever we are, wherever we have been, and whatever we will do.

Rather than walking in circles looking for home, let’s realize that we are already home. Our home is Christ.

In what ways are you currently walking in circles? What should you be doing instead?

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: Images of Salvation in the New Testament

James R. Hamrick

Images of Salvation in the New Testament
Intervarsity Press, 2010

The New Testament writers use various metaphors and analogies when they talk about salvation. For example, the Gospels talk about the “Kingdom of God,” John emphasizes “eternal life,” and Paul talks about “justification” and “election.”

Brenda Colijn examines 12 of these images in their original contexts and discusses their implications for Christian theology and discipleship. She shows us that the biblical presentation of salvation is not one-dimensional, but rich and multifaceted. Many of her observations challenge popular understandings of salvation that are human-centered and individualistic.

This book is recommended for serious Bible students interested in the doctrine of salvation or New Testament theology. It would be an excellent resource for an adult Sunday school class or sermon series.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 4