Bible Study Strategies for Moms

Elizabeth Vince

As every parent knows, no two children learn the same way. Yet we often forget that those differences carry over into adulthood. As Sherry Surrat notes, “one size fits all” does not apply to studying the Bible. “You need to try different ways to grow in God’s Word. You have to find what works for you. Find your rhythm.” As a mother of two and the former president and CEO of Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS), Surrat spoke with Bible Study Magazine about overcoming isolation and studying the Word as a family.

BSM: How were you taught about the Bible as a child, and how did you teach your own children?


Surrat: I learned the foundations of the Bible through reading Bible stories. In Sunday school I also participated in something called Bible quiz, where we would memorize a book of the Bible and then compete. I credit a huge part of my Bible learning to memorization. We encouraged our own children to memorize one verse at a time, focusing on the meaning of the verse more than memorization. We really tried to teach our children to take it to heart, asking “What does this verse mean to you? What is God saying to you in your life?”

BSM: Did you notice any differences between your children’s understanding of the Bible?

Surrat: God’s Word is very personal, and you have to find your own way of letting God speak to you. Our son took things at face value. Our daughter was more of a questioner. When we would get together as a family and talk about the Bible or what God was doing in our lives, our daughter would ask, “Why did God take so long to answer that?” Our son’s personality was, “Cool, God did that!”

BSM: What unique challenges do moms face when it comes to studying the Bible?

Surrat: On average, preschoolers demand attention from their moms once every seven minutes. Many of the moms who join MOPS want to study the Bible, but they don’t have time. At MOPS, we agree not to judge each other because we know that time is a precious commodity. We don’t want a mom to skip coming because she hasn’t had a chance to read her Bible. We challenge mothers to make it their goal to grow closer to Him every day, but we don’t need to guilt people into pursuing a relationship with God or Bible study. He already loves us.

BSM: What is the benefit of studying the Bible with other moms?

Surrat: Moms of preschoolers are often home alone with their children, and they have little opportunity for adult conversation. It can be very isolating. When moms come to the group and share their stories and struggles, it draws them together. A MOPS group is not a Bible study, but an important connection point where moms can find community and be encouraged to take that next step toward Christ.

When you study the Bible with another mom, you’re studying with someone who understands you, who may be experiencing the things you’re experiencing: frustration, depression, doubts about whether you’re a good mom or questions about your marriage. This common bond allows for discussions to take off. You’re not studying the Bible to memorize it; you’re studying it to understand your life and discover who God made you to be as a woman, wife and mom.

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

God’s Will: It’s Confusing

John D. Barry

Exodus 26–27; John 5:1–15; Song of Solomon 3:6–11

It’s sometimes difficult to understand why God does what He does, or why He asks us to do certain things. God goes so far as to list precise materials and calculations in Exod 26 for the tabernacle—the portable temple the Hebrew people built for God in the wilderness. You can imagine the conversation:

Nadab says, “Aaron, is it okay if I use leather for this curtain?”
Aaron responds, “No, you know the rules. If God commands it, you have to do it. I don’t want another golden calf incident. I made that mistake once; I won’t make it twice.”
“But there is more leather,” says Nadab.
“I’m not having this discussion any longer,” Aaron says sternly. “Let’s just get the job done.” (“For an elder, you think he would know better,” Aaron says under his breath.)

Aaron, in this fictional scene, is rightfully frustrated because God does know better. Most of us know the answer before we ask God, “Why?” But we ask Him anyway. God’s will can be confusing, and it’s for this reason that discerning it requires great prayer and a dedication to an ongoing relationship with Him. Trying to understand God’s will without that close relationship cannot only be detrimental to us, but also to others. We see this in the golden calf incident later in the exodus narrative (Exod 32).

And isn’t this often the case? God knows what we need before we do; we just don’t always realize that He has already given instructions.

Has God already given instructions for your current situation that you may not have realized yet?

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: Dictionary of the Old Testament

Matthew James Hamilton

Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets
IVP Academic, 2012

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Edited by Mark Boda and J. Gordan McConville, the final addition to the IVP Black Dictionary series includes articles by both Christian and Jewish scholars, providing multiple viewpoints on the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible.

The dictionary entries include terms and ideas from the Prophets. This resource is excellent for beginning students, pastors, and laypeople, although advanced students and scholars also have a great deal to gain from the bibliographies that accompany each dictionary entry. The IVP Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets is an excellent reference tool and, along with the rest of the Black Dictionary series, belongs on the shelf of every serious student of the Bible.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 4

How To Take Unsolicited Advice

Jeff Miller

As a pastor, I’m an easy target for unsolicited advice. I currently have 10 borrowed books on my desk, and I didn’t ask for any of them. One sweet, elderly woman in my congregation recently placed a book in my hand and whispered, “God told me to read this, and I thought of you on every page.” I smiled and thanked her. How could I say no to God? As she walked away, I stole a glance at the title, which could be paraphrased: “How to Transform Your Worthless Pastor into the Effective Leader God Intended for Your Church.”


At some point in our lives, we’re all victims of unsought counsel. We receive input on our marriages, parenting skills, health, career and clothing. Does the Bible say anything about responding to unsolicited advice? Instead of searching Scripture for stinging psalms or passages that use the word “smite,” we might consider the story recorded in John 2: the wedding at Cana, where Jesus received advice from His mother.

In this passage Mary saw a problem that Jesus could solve. The pitchers of wine—the lifeblood of the wedding feast—had been drained. Knowing her Son’s capabilities and the social repercussions if the hosts ran out of wine, Mary suggested that Jesus do something.

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3–5)

Jesus’ reply—“My hour has not yet come”—indicates Mary may have wanted Jesus to solve the wine shortage in a way that would reveal Him as the Messiah. He openly told her He didn’t intend to follow this suggestion. What can we glean from this? In following Jesus’ example, we should be cautious about misleading those who offer advice. If we have a good reason for declining a suggestion, we should honestly communicate our intentions. But if we struggle to find a good reason to refuse an idea, maybe we need to reconsider.

Of course, this story isn’t only about the manner in which we respond to advice-givers. Often, second-rate suggestions expose important issues that have escaped our attention. In Jesus’ day, serving wine wasn’t merely a celebratory addition to a good party; it was the responsibility of the host to provide wine for the duration of the seven-day feast—running out of wine had social and financial consequences. Jesus did not solve the wine shortage the way Mary had intended, but He was willing to consider His mother’s opinion and address the predicament of the hosts. For us, good advice often comes from unexpected sources. Children sometimes provide fresh insights; seasoned leaders sometimes offer unwise counsel. We must prayerfully weigh each suggestion on its own merit.

Instead of accepting or rejecting Mary’s advice outright, Jesus humbly and strategically modified Mary’s suggestion and solved the wine shortage privately. At the end of the feast, everyone enjoyed the best wine, the hosts avoided disgrace, and only a few servants knew a miracle had occurred. Most important, Jesus’ disciples believed in Him.

Jesus performed His first miracle in response to unsolicited advice. And He manifested the light of His glory in Cana of Galilee. His example teaches me that I have to respond wisely to each suggestion. Who knows? A book placed in my hand by a church member might be from God after all.

Jesus is not being disrespectful to Mary when He uses the term “woman” (gynē, γυνή). He uses this polite address when speaking to other women in John’s Gospel (John 4:21; 8:10; 20:15). He also uses the term from the cross when addressing Mary in a loving, caring way (John 19:26).

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. 2

The Power of the Pen vs. Word of Mouth

Rick Brannan

We tend to distrust the spoken word. When we’re making a deal, our first response tends to be, “Can I get that in writing?” Not so in the second century. When the church father Papias wrote about Jesus’ sayings, he collected sayings from both written material and oral tradition. When he encountered conflicts between accounts, he had to decide which source to trust: written or oral?


Papias often chose the spoken word because he wanted to learn everything he could from the “elders”—referring to those who were taught by Jesus Himself. He makes a point of telling us he’d rather hear straight from those who heard from the elders than trust things that were only written down, showing us that, at least for Papias, oral tradition was a more trustworthy means of passing down truth.

“I will not hesitate to set down for you, along with my interpretations, everything I carefully learned then from the elders and carefully remembered—guaranteeing their truth. For unlike most people I do not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor do I enjoy those who recall someone else’s commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. And if by chance someone who had been a follower of the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders—what Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, Thomas, James, John, Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples; and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and abiding voice.” 1

Papias (ca. AD 60–130) wrote a series of books known as the Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord. 2 Irenae us, bishop of Lyons, says Papias was “a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp.” 3 His writings have not survived; we know about them through scattered citations in the writings of other church fathers.

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

1. Papias, cited in Eusebius, Church History, 3.39.3–4. Translation adapted from Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, Third Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 735.
2. F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev.; Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1224.
3. William R. Schoedel, “Papias” in David Noel Freedman, Vol. 5, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996), 140.

The Truth about Truth

John D. Barry

Nehemiah 12:1–13:31; 2 John 1–6; Psalm 115:1–18

John the Evangelist’s letter to the “elect lady” presents a picture of joy and hope, as he “rejoiced greatly to find some of [her] children walking in truth, just as we were commanded by the father” (2 John 4). One word keeps reappearing in John’s letter, focusing his message: truth. John says that he loves the elect lady and her children “in truth” (2 John 1). He says that all who know the truth also love them. His reason is simple: “the truth … resides in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 2). When John speaks of truth, he’s referring to Jesus (John 14:6).


After his initial greeting, John goes on to express his wishes: May “Grace, mercy, [and] peace … be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Son of the Father in truth and love” (2 John 3). In acknowledging the source of truth, John acknowledges his connection to it. All believers live in truth because they are linked to God, who is the Truth. He is the source for all they do (that is godly), all they are (that is holy), and all that they will become (that is virtuous). In a few brief statements, John teaches us an important lesson: God is the source of all the goodness in the world. Even in acknowledging others, we must acknowledge Him. If we’re to discuss truth, then we must talk about Him.

The elect lady that John addresses is not only truthful—she also leads others to the truth. When we act to encourage someone to work toward who they’re meant to be, we need to follow her example. We need to first lead them to truth: God.

What is God teaching you about truth? How can you live it?

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: Formation of the Bible

Elliot Ritzema

Formation of the Bible: the Story of the Church's Canon
Hendrickson, 2012

From the popularity of The Da Vinci Code to the works of Bart Ehrman, there is widespread interest in how the Bible took shape. Lee Martin McDonald has written several books on the formation of the Christian Bible, but this is his first attempt at an accessible introduction to the subject.


In the first chapter, McDonald sets the stage by discussing what the Bible is. He emphasizes, for example, that the Bible is a library of ancient books. The idea of a fixed canon was not something Christians inherited from the Jewish people, but rather one that emerged during the first Christian centuries. In the following chapters, he tells the story of how the canon took shape, beginning with the Old Testament and moving to the New Testament. He discusses the criteria the Church used to determine what would be included in the canon and the different canonical collections that emerged in various Christian traditions. He also addresses other subjects, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient manuscripts, and their influence in the formation of the Bible. Finally, he discusses what role church councils played in canon formation.

This book serves well as a short introduction to the issue of how the Bible came to be. While it is written with the beginner in mind, some of the discussions can be heady. McDonald does a good job at striking the balance between making a difficult subject accessible without oversimplifying.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 4

The Art of Telling True Stories

Michael Burer

As modern readers, we have preconceived notions about how literature works. We may think of history as a strict chronological retelling of events and biography as character development with chronology. These concepts inform our reading of contemporary texts, but they can hinder us when we read ancient texts like the Gospels. There is no apples-to-apples comparison when it comes to modern and ancient texts.


Nonbiblical ancient texts, however, can give us insight into the Gospels. One such text is Parallel Lives, written by the Greek philosopher Plutarch (ca. AD 46–120). This work portrays the lives of famous men from history and legend. Consisting of 50 biographies, Lives includes 46 that are paired—one Roman and one Greek—to highlight common virtues and vices. Examining Plutarch’s collection of biographies alongside the Gospels can help us understand the Gospel writers’ choices as they compiled their biographies of Christ.


In Lives, Plutarch was not interested in being exhaustive or uniform; instead, he selected the most significant details from his material. He openly acknowledged this in his study of Alexander the Great:

The multitude of the deeds to be treated is so great that I shall make no other preface than to entreat my readers, in case I do not tell of all the famous actions of these men, nor even speak exhaustively at all in each particular case, but in epitome for the most part, not to complain. 1

From the points he chose to highlight in each account, we can identify events and characteristics that Plutarch considered particularly telling. For example, Plutarch rarely mentioned women in his accounts, but in the case of Mark Antony and Demetrius, women feature prominently. We can see that Plutarch considered each man’s interactions with women as telling of his character. 2 Antony’s troublesome relationship with Cleopatra caused him to struggle on the battlefield, yet Demetrius remained a noble warrior despite his poor relationships.

The Gospel authors are similarly selective. John admits that he’s not presenting readers with an exhaustive retelling of events: “Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book” (John 20:30). The other Gospel writers also feature a selection of the events and teachings of Jesus’ life. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7) includes more material than Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17–49) and focuses on the application of Old Testament passages. Matthew intentionally presents Jesus in light of His Jewish heritage. In contrast, Luke focuses strongly on ethics, so he includes material Matthew does not, such as John the Baptist’s specific ethical commands to Roman soldiers (Luke 3:14).


Plutarch’s primary concern was character development, not chronology. The details he chose to include reveal his subjects’ very souls:

For it is not Histories I am writing, but Lives; and in the most illustrious deeds there is not always a manifestation of virtue or vice, nay, a slight thing like a phrase or a jest often makes a great[er] revelation of character than battles where thousands fall … so I must be permitted to devote myself rather to the signs of the soul in men, and by means of these to portray the life of each, leaving to others the description of their great contests. 3

Plutarch wanted to feature events in these men’s lives that exemplified their virtues and vices, allowing readers to gain a sense of their character. He wasn’t interested in retelling their public histories; he strove to create a more intimate portrait.

Similarly, the Gospel authors want to convey Jesus’ teachings and actions for the overarching purpose of explaining who He is: “But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). To do this, they sometimes arrange events in surprising ways—often by theme, not chronology. For example, John presents Jesus’ cleansing of the temple as one of the first public acts in Jesus’ ministry, while the other three Gospels place it toward the end of His ministry (compare John 2:14–22; Matt 21:12–13; Mark 11:15–17; Luke 19:45–46). By doing so, John establishes Jesus’ authority early in his account. Luke places Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth before His ministry in Capernaum, when arguably the chronology is reversed (compare Luke 4:23 with 4:31–37); this shows that opposition to Jesus began at the start of His ministry, even from those who grew up with Him and should have welcomed His message.


In his writing of Lives, Plutarch’s goal was moral instruction. For instance, he presented the accounts of two major rulers—Theseus, the founder of Athens, and Romulus, the founder of Rome. Through their brave and noble deeds, both men rose from humble parentage to greatness, each founding a “most illustrious” city. Yet both men also failed to remain virtuous: Plutarch noted that “each resorted to the rape of women … and even in their last days both are said to have come into collision with their own fellow citizens.” 4 He concluded:

Although Theseus and Romulus were both statesmen by nature, neither maintained to the end the true character of a king, but both deviated from it and underwent a change.… For the ruler must preserve first of all the realm itself, and this is preserved no less by refraining from what is unbecoming than by cleaving to what is becoming. 5

By highlighting the twofold moral imperative that enables rulers to rule well—avoid evil and cling to good—Plutarch implicitly asked the reader to live this out on a personal level.

The Gospel authors also aim for moral instruction, but they do so by bringing readers into contact with Jesus. John explains that he writes so that “by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). The other Gospel writers have the same goal. In Mark 8:29, Peter makes an important profession about Jesus: “He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered Him, ‘You are the Christ.’ ” Immediately after this, Jesus rebukes Peter for denying His coming passion (Mark 8:33). By including this event, Mark presents the reader with the same choice: Either reject Christ’s death and resurrection, or accept them fully as part of Jesus’ messianic ministry.


Although the goals of Plutarch and the Gospel writers, as well as the manner in which they bring about these goals, are similar, the two texts are not the same. Plutarch illustrated the character of mortal men to instruct the character of mortal men. The Gospel authors write to introduce us to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, so that we might become like Him. Plutarch hoped readers would be changed as they encountered these Lives. The Gospel authors hope for even more: When we encounter Jesus in the Gospels, we leave changed—not just morally or ethically, but spiritually and relationally. By reading about Jesus in the Gospels, we come in contact with the one life that truly mattered.

For more on the Gospels as genre, pick up Richard Burridge’s What Are the Gospels? Go to

Biblical references are from the New English Translation (NET).

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

1. Translation by Bernadotte Perrin, Plutarch’s Lives, vol. 7 (Loeb Classical Library; New York: Putnam, 1919), 225.
2. Perrin, 336–41.
3. Perrin, 225.
4. Perrin, 7.
5. Perrin, 190–93.

The Law, Take 2

Douglas Mangum

Deuteronomy has always struck me as an unusual addition to the Pentateuch. The book retells the biblical story from Exodus through Numbers. Even its name states that it’s a second (deutero) telling of the law (nomos). It wasn’t until I compared the structure of Deuteronomy with an ancient Near Eastern suzerain-vassal treaty (a legal covenant between a high king and a lesser king) that I began to understand how and why God included this book in Scripture.


Hittite, Aramaic and Assyrian suzerainty treaties all follow the same basic format, from preamble to provisions. Somewhere in the middle we find the formal stipulations—the things the suzerain (high king) requires of the vassal (lesser king). The language of the treaty indicates that the treaty also applies to future generations.

The book of Deuteronomy follows the format of a suzerainty treaty, such as the Sefire Inscription between the Syrian kings detailed in the table on the next page. Deuteronomy opens with a preamble and a historical prologue recounting God’s great works on Israel’s behalf. The remainder of the book contains mostly stipulations—the legal requirements.

Although the suzerainty treaties called for political loyalty and military support, Deuteronomy calls for spiritual loyalty and covenant love. The adoption of the treaty format helps explain the primary purpose of the book as a covenant-making document. Moses isn’t just retelling the law; he is formally presenting it to a new generation of Israelites and asking them to agree to this covenant, which means accepting God as Lord and agreeing to obey His laws—just as their parents did at Sinai (Exod 24:3).

Like the suzerain-vassal treaties, God’s covenant wasn’t meant for one generation. Near the end of Deuteronomy, Moses commands that the covenant summarized in Deuteronomy be regularly repeated and renewed for future generations. Deuteronomy is a reminder of God’s faithfulness—that He is willing to extend His love to a thousand generations (Deut 7:9).

Biblical references translated by the author.

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

A Famous God

Rebecca Van Noord

Nehemiah 10:28–11:36; 1 John 5:17–21; Psalm 113:1–114:8


Fame can have startling effects on people. Those who attain power and influence suddenly become less available: They’re selective with the phone calls they take, the emails they answer, and the people they associate with. Those who receive their attention tend to feel special. When we call on God, we expect Him to answer us and help us. Sometimes, we are so confident that He will or should help us that we forget how amazing it is that He interacts with us in the first place.

Psalm 113 reminds us that God is beyond our comprehension. The psalm praises the power and glory of God, who is “high above all nations.” God isn’t just ruling over the earth, though. His realm of power extends even “above the heavens” (Psa 113:4). Both earthly and heavenly powers are subject to Him.

His power is astounding, but what is most confounding is His nature and character. Psalm 113 points out that even in His power, God is still concerned with the plights of those far below: “Who is like Yahweh our God, who is enthroned on high, who condescends to look at what is in the heavens and in the earth?” (Psa 113:5–6). And He isn’t just concerned with the powerful and mighty; He is concerned about the helpless and the needy. “He raises the helpless from the dust, he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to seat them with princes, with the princes of his people” (Psa 113:7–8).

God is more majestic and powerful than we can comprehend. His fame exceeds that of any celebrity. Yet He still desires to help us—to lift us “up from the ash heap.” This alone should astound us, but there’s more: He cares for us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son to restore our relationship with Him.

How are you astounded by God’s nature and His care for you?

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