Beginnings

John D. Barry

In the beginning, God subdues the greatest symbol of chaos in the ancient world: the waters. He also creates light—something that the ancients thought ruled everything. Even darkness, which they deeply feared, is now ruled by Him.


The ancients were in the middle, asking, “God, where are you in the midst of this chaotic world?” He answers them with a story about beginnings. In this story, we find that God establishes order in a chaotic world. He rules other gods. He rules the light. He rules the night. It’s as if God said, “Why are you afraid? I’m here. I’m working it out.”


Matthew 1–2 gives us another beginning—a child born in humble circumstances. But it’s through this child, Jesus, that the world itself was first created. And that’s not all: in Him and through Him everything is brought together. Chaos is made orderly: “Because all things in the heavens and on earth were created by him … and he himself is before all things, and in him all things are held together” (Col 1:16–17). If we want to truly understand our origins, we need this frame of reference.


Like the ancients, we too are in the middle. We worry that evil and chaos will reign, but we must let Christ take control. He can bring order to our unruly lives. We need a new beginning. In Genesis, God wants us to see Him taking back what He created—and that includes us.

What chaos do you fear? We often feel in the middle, but our beginnings suggest that Christ is holding everything together. What areas of your life still need God’s order? Where do you need Christ to step in and hold everything together?

Barry, J. D., & Van Noord, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Finding the Trinity in the OT

Author Ryan Rotz

When studying the Trinity, it makes sense to start with the New Testament and the words of Jesus in passages like Matthew 28:19 and John 15:26. But what about the Old Testament? Was the idea of a Trinity or Godhead ever mentioned? Was it heretical, as it is in Judaism today?

These questions get more interesting when you consider Judaism’s monotheistic beliefs. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4; JPS Tanakh) is the first line of the Shema, a prayer recited by Jews every day. This brings up another question. How could Jews in the early church believe Jesus was God if they grew up with monotheism—being taught there was only one God in heaven?

In this video segment, Hebrew Bible and Semitic language scholar Dr. Michael Heiser explains that before Jesus came, Jews did believe in the idea of a Godhead.

Dr. Heiser continues this lesson in the rest of his Mobile Ed course OT291 The Jewish Trinity: How the Old Testament Reveals the Christian Godhead. It’s the ideal course for those teaching or studying the doctrine of the Trinity and provides excellent content for conversations with Jewish friends.

Watch additional clips and learn more at Logos.com.

When I Open the Gospels

An Interview with Dr. Mark Goodacre
Author John D. Barry

WhenIOpenTheGospels

The Gospel writers often record a particular event in Jesus’ life differently. These differences have resulted in long quests to find the historical Jesus, who is supposedly “behind” the Gospel accounts, as well as many scholars devoting their entire lives to understanding the particular theological message behind each Gospel writer’s account. Since grasping the complexities of the Gospels is often a difficult task, Bible Study Magazine posed a set of questions to a world-renowned expert on the Gospels as synoptic (parallel) accounts, Dr. Mark Goodacre, professor of New Testament studies at Duke University.

BSM: Can you provide an example in the gospels that illustrates the importance of reading each gospel on its own merits?

GOODACRE: The most obvious example is the depiction of Mary Magdalene, who today has become a composite of a variety of figures from the four Gospels: a fictional, harmonized creation of the prostitute who repented and followed Jesus. She is variously thought of as three or four different women in the Gospels: the anonymous sinner of Luke 7:36–50, the Samaritan Woman of John 4, and the Woman Caught in Adultery in John 8. None of these women are ever called Mary Magdalene. What we actually know about Mary Magdalene is rather limited, but we do know she is never called a prostitute. It’s a good case of Christian tradition warping the way that we read the Gospels—for a long time no one really noticed that interpreters were doing this.

Right up to the present, Mary Magdalene is depicted this way in films and fiction (e.g., most recently in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ). I was delighted that in the recent BBC/HBO production The Passion, Mary Magdalene, for the first time in a major production, was not depicted as a prostitute!

BSM: Generally speaking, what are the theological slants each Gospel writer puts on their work?

GOODACRE: This is not a quick and easy question to answer, and I am always a bit wary of attempts to try and put the Gospel writers’ agendas into a nutshell.  Such attempts are rarely satisfactory and tend to draw wedges between the Gospel writers while oversimplifying their Gospels.  In spite of the importance of looking at each of the Gospels as a text in its own right, I think it is actually easier to describe what they have in common.  All four share the same basic plot and structure and agree that Jesus is the Messiah, that he taught about the kingdom of God, healed people, died and rose again on the third day, and will come again. The theme of the suffering Messiah in fact dominates all four Gospels, even if it is manifested in different ways in each.

BSM: If someone is speaking to their church, Sunday School class, or small group, how should they go about teaching on a passage that is recorded in parallel accounts in the gospels?

GOODACRE: I am not a minister or a church leader of any kind, nor have I been trained as one, so I would not presume to make suggestions about how church leaders do their work.  Nevertheless, when I am asked to speak to church groups about such things, I like to explore the world of parallel accounts a little by showing people the richness of understanding the way that different evangelists tell the same or similar stories.  Let’s take an obvious example, the annunciation of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1:18–25 and Luke 1:26–38.

Both have clear features in common, not least the announcement that Mary will give birth to a son who will be called Jesus. Nonetheless, there are substantial differences: Matthew’s Gospel has an announcement to Joseph and Luke’s Gospel has an announcement to Mary, each giving reflections on Jesus’ future that are characteristic of the way each Gospel writer portrays the narrative of Jesus’ life.

BSM: Should readers be distraught about accounts in the gospels that appear to disagree with one another?

GOODACRE: It depends on your perspective.  Since I am not, nor have I ever been, a kind of biblical literalist, I have always been a bit puzzled by those who struggle with places where the Gospels disagree with one another or, for that matter, other places in the Bible where there are disagreements.  Ignoring the disagreements does not make them go away.  What is enjoyable about studying the Gospels as a historian is that one is trained to take disagreements seriously, rather than harmonizing them. I tend to feel that taking the Gospels seriously shows a respect for their integrity as texts.  If one is interested in texts that many regard as sacred, then it is important to take those texts seriously, and that includes taking seriously places where they disagree with one another.

To learn more about Dr. Goodacre, or read more written by him, go to NTGateway.com.

For more tips on reading the Gospels, see Mark Goodacre’s The Synoptic Problem: A Way through the Maze. Go to Logos.com/Goodacre.

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

Born Again ... and Again and Again?

Author Michael S. Heiser

Was Jesus open to the idea of reincarnation? The question may seem odd, but it’s one that many people, even biblical scholars, contend has a positive answer.[1] The idea comes from a passage you’ve likely read dozens of times.

John 9:1–4 ESV

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but in order that the works of God might be made manifest in him (he was born blind). We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”

BornAgain

Notice the disciples’ question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Many presume the question indicates that the disciples believed the man born blind really could have sinned before he was born, and that his pre-birth sins caused his congenital blindness. This presumption is followed by another: that Jesus’ answer wasn’t a categorical denial. Since Jesus doesn’t come out and say, “What a silly idea, don’t be ridiculous!” Some have argued that his response means that in this case the man born blind didn’t sin in a previous life, but perhaps that could have happened in another case. Could this interpretation be correct?

Reincarnation is the belief that the soul migrates from one body to another, different body, in a long (possibly endless) succession. The idea of the “migration of the soul” cannot be found in the Bible, or in other Jewish writers of antiquity,[2] which indicates the disciples were likely presuming something different: People can do good and evil while still in the womb. Paul addresses this misconception in Rom 9:9–13, when dealing with the case of Jacob and Esau. Even if a pre-born person could sin in the womb, this does not involve the migration of a soul.

Romans 9:9–13 ESV

“For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Matthew 16:13, where some people suggest that Jesus was John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the Old Testament prophets, is also no help to those who want to see reincarnation in John 9:3–4. Jesus and John were contemporaries, born six months apart (Luke 1:8–36), thus John’s soul could not have migrated into Jesus’ body. Elijah never died (2 Kgs 2:1–17), and so the migration of his soul is also not possible. If Jesus were one of the prophets, who had come back to life, then the prophet would be resurrected, not the prophet’s soul in another body. There are other, more technical flaws in this interpretation of John 9,[2] but from this examination alone, it should be apparent that the idea of Jesus approving of one being born again into another physical body,  is dead . . . again.

Notes:

[1] The notion that Jesus embraced reincarnation is usually associated with New Age writers such as Elizabeth Clare Prophet and Dolores Cannon. However, J. D. M. Derrett, a highly-respected Greek New Testament scholar, recently promoted this view in a scholarly journal article, “The True Meaning of Jn 9, 3–4” (Filología Neotestamentaria xvi 2003), pgs. 103–106.

[2] See “Did Jesus Allow for Reincarnation? Assessing the Syntax of John 9:3–4” at MichaelSHeiser.com/John9.pdf

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

Seeing What’s Right in Front of You

Author Jeannine Seery

“Pick me up, Mommy.”

I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard those words in the past eight years. Most times, I’ve gladly complied with the request. But as the years pass, it’s quickly becoming more difficult to do.

My children are quite a bit larger than they once were. While it may be quite easy to whisk up a whining one-year-old, toting around a three-and-a-half-year-old is a totally different story. For one, it slows me down quite a bit. Have you ever tried to flag down a school bus while running with a very large toddler in your arms? Most of the time, you don’t make it.

SeeingWhatsRightInFront

So with all the carrying I’ve been doing, I’ve been thinking about what I carry with me when I come to spend time with God. When I sit down to open up His Word, what am I holding onto that might distort my view? Are the trials and tribulations of life causing me to see His character in an unrealistic light? What items are getting in the way of correctly seeing where He’s leading me? Are there worries and anxieties weighing me down? Is unresolved anger or bitterness skewing my perspective? Most importantly, how can I find my way free of these things in order to commune more fully with Him?

Psalm 68:19 sheds light on my questions: “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens” (NIV). There is a reason why I find it so difficult to see God accurately when I’m carrying these things—I’m just not meant to do it. Day by day, He calls me to come and pour the weight of my burdens on Him. In exchange, He gives me His load to bear, a load that is “easy” and a burden that is “light” (Matt 11:30).

It’s hard to comprehend that the One who poured His life out for us encourages us to pour our burdens on Him. It seems somewhat indulgent to ask the God who sentenced His Son to death in our place to lighten our somewhat insignificant daily load. Yet we are each implored, “Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7 NIV). Not because He is more capable of dealing with our burdens (He is), or because they are too heavy for us to bear (they are), but because He wants to carry them; the incomprehensible love He has for each of us prompts Him to do so. He knows that when we place the burdens we carry squarely upon His back we are able to achieve greater intimacy with Him. What our Father wants most of all is for us to look upon His face with nothing at all impeding our view. Should we ever worry that our load is too much for Him to bear, He reassures us that “his compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lam 3:22–23 NIV).

Only when the weight of our world is cast appropriately upon the one who holds the world in His hands are we able to live to our fullest potential in Christ. We can follow His lead and obey His commandments because we are unencumbered. We can see clearly where He calls us to go because nothing obstructs our vision. We can singularly focus our energy on what He has called us to do because we are free from outside distractions. We are much less likely to stumble and fall because there is nothing between us and God. Our gaze can be fixed upon Him.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.

Busy Moms: How to Find Time for God

Author Jeannine Seery

When I gave birth to my first child nearly eight years ago, I was totally unprepared for the immense change she would bring to my life. Sure, I knew about 2 AM feedings, sleepless nights and endless piles of laundry. I was aware a newborn would be dependent on me and that this job would consume me like no other occupation. However, I could never have prepared for how emotionally and spiritually consuming this job would be. I had no idea that a child could take such possession of your heart.

At seven and three my daughters no longer require the constant care that they did just a few years ago. Yet the mental and emotional energy my job as a mother requires often leaves me exhausted, with very little to offer my husband and friends. Meanwhile, I imagine God watching in the distance, waiting for me to come and sit with Him, only to be addressed by my half-conscious form as I fall into bed, thanking Him for His blessings—for getting us through another day.

Overwhelmed? You're not alone.

I’ve spent a great deal of mental energy in my mothering years trying to figure out ways to enhance my time alone with God. I’ve tried it all—rising early, staying up late, utilizing naptime and even, horror of horrors, putting on a TV show while I sneak away for devotional time. My children, however, seem to have some internal alarm that goes off as soon as I open my Bible and before you know it, someone’s been hurt, had a nightmare or needs my attention right now (think: potty training). In the rare times that I haven’t been interrupted, I find my thoughts wandering to the dentist appointment that needs to be cancelled, the poor grade on the report card or the sweet exchange I witnessed between my daughter and her Daddy earlier that day. Before I started down the road of motherhood I could pore over passages of the Bible and mull them over for hours on end. I prided myself on my analytical abilities and my love of reading. These days I consider it an accomplishment if my attention span holds out until the end of a paragraph.

So, I often conclude my devotional time feeling frustration and guilt, resolving to try harder next time. When I think of other young mothers with many more children and much more on their plates who manage to study the Bible and spend quality time with God, I wonder, is there something wrong with me? Maybe with a little more perseverance or a more engaging topic I’ll have more success. I resolve to find the right study, the right time, the right method—I will leave no stone unturned until I discover it. And if I don’t, my youngest will be off to college in a mere fifteen years. Will it be too late for me to begin then?

With Jesus, all things are possible

Lately, God has been challenging me to look at the process a little differently. He keeps drawing me back to the theme of loaves and fish (Matt 14:14–21). Jesus himself was faced with a seemingly insurmountable task. There he was in a remote place with a large crowd and dinnertime was quickly approaching. His disciples surveyed the crowd and all they could find was a boy with five loaves and two fish. Under no circumstances would that be enough. They advised him to do the only logical thing, send the people away to find some food. Instead, Jesus took a child’s paltry offering and fed the five thousand, collecting twelve baskets of leftovers. Not just enough, more than enough.

FindingTimeforGod

I believe in a God who specializes in making something out of nothing. His Word says He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph 3:20 NIV). I have seen this principle carried out so often in my life: my health, my finances, my human relationships. Yet, when it came to my relationship with God, I found myself believing that I would have to sustain it on my own, that somehow I had the power to do so. What I hadn’t realized was that while I thought that I’d been upholding our relationship in the past, it was God doing the work in me all along—His strength made perfect in my weakness.

So when I carve out a moment to come to Him now, I visualize myself holding a paltry offering of too little time and attention. It will never be enough. But I bring it in faith, trusting that He will multiply the little I have and provide me with enough nourishment for that moment, with some to spare.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 1.