Shelf Life Book Review: Reading Genesis 1–2

Elliot Ritzema

Reading Genesis 1–2: An Evangelical Conversation


This book is the result of a 2011 symposium held at Bryan College. It features essays from five Old Testament scholars—Richard E. Averbeck, Todd S. Beall, C. John Collins, Tremper Longman III and John Walton—each presenting a different way to read Genesis 1–2. Each essay is followed by responses from other contributors.

The five views represented in the essays are hard to classify in relation to one another, since each author uses his limited space to focus on different aspects of Genesis 1–2. The contributors discuss the nature of the creation days, the genre of Genesis 1–2, the historicity of Adam and Eve, the degree to which ancient Near Eastern backgrounds should inform our reading of the creation account, and whether Genesis 1 and 2 represent two different creation accounts or one.

While this collection of essays does not represent every possible evangelical reading of the first chapters of Genesis, it is a fascinating introduction to the conversation.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 1

What’s Jesus Waiting For?

Michael S. Heiser

I recall the traumatic experience of seeing the movie The Thief in the Night as a teenager. The film was about how Jesus could return at any moment—like a thief in the night, a description borrowed from 1 Thessalonians 5:2. The message: If we weren’t believers, we could be left behind by the Lord. The movie didn’t lead to my decision to put my faith in Christ, but it did accomplish one desired effect—it scared me. Is the idea of the imminent return of Jesus biblical?


Jesus warned His followers to be ready for His return; even He did not know the precise day or hour it would happen (Matt 24:36). Therefore, He would return unexpectedly (24:50). Other passages written after Jesus’ resurrection suggest that His return could be very soon (1 Cor 1:7; Titus 2:13), even “at hand” (Phil 4:5; Jas 5:8–9).

Two thousand years have passed since these blunt statements were made, leading many to believe that they have been misunderstood. Additional obstacles to the idea of an “imminent” return emerge from other Scripture passages. The New Testament suggests that certain signs or events would precede the return of Jesus. For example, the temple had to be destroyed (Matt 24:2), and there would be celestial signs indicating His return (Matt 24:30; Luke 21:11).

In three of His parables, Jesus suggested that His return would not be immediate but after a delay (Luke 19:11–27; Matt 25:5, 19)—at least until the death of an aged Peter (John 21:18). Paul believed, apparently on the basis of Matthew 24:14, that the gospel had to reach all the Gentile nations before the salvation plan of God was fulfilled and Jesus would return (Rom 11:12, 25).

Even 1 Thessalonians 5, the chapter in which the “thief in the night” phrase is found, suggests that believers will have some sort of inkling about the time of His return. Note how Paul uses nouns and pronouns to distinguish believers as able to discern something unbelievers will not:

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober (5:1–6).

If believers have some sense of when the Lord will return, the idea that Jesus’ return could be at any moment may be incorrect. To solve this problem, many Christians argue that 1 Thessalonians 5 refers to the return of Jesus at Armageddon, but that there will be an earlier return (a rapture) that will happen before any sign or hint. Perhaps the best advice is that instead of describing Jesus’ return as imminent, we might want to think of it as impending. Either perspective can agree on that thought.

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. 5

Into the Family

Rebecca Van Noord

Jeremiah 33:1–34:22; Romans 8:1–17; Proverbs 22:1–16

As people once bound to sin and destined for death, our ability to approach God personally—to call Him our Father—should astound us. Yet we sometimes forget to pray. We can take it for granted that He looks out for our every need.

The concept of approaching God as Father would have been a radical concept for the Roman community. In his letter to the church there, Paul discusses how our former lives without God were nothing but slavery to sin and death, the wages of sin. Christ’s work has set us free from this trajectory: “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself confirms to our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer together with him so that we may also be glorified together with him” (Rom 8:15–17).

Paul’s audience would have used the term “Abba! Father!” only within immediate family relationships. To call God “our Father” would have been a shocking paradigm shift—especially for Jewish believers. However, Christ’s sacrifice made this relationship possible. He paid our debt and repaired the rift. Because of His work, and because we share in His Spirit, we also share in His relationship with the Father. We can call out to God, just as Jesus did. And the Father cares for us, just as He cares for His Son.

We may forget our intimate relationship with God, yet the Spirit continues to work within us to bring our lives into accordance with this relationship with the Father. Pray for insight and gratitude for your new position because of Christ. When you call on God, relate to Him as a child would to a loving father—bringing all to Him and knowing He understands you and knows what is best for you.

Do you neglect prayer? Pray that the Spirit would work to bring you a childlike faith and trust in God.

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

Paul: Team Player, Team Writer

Stephen Witmer

We tend to think of the Apostle Paul as a rugged individualist—a pioneering loner. He’s a man on the road, doing the hard work of ministry in the face of formidable circumstances that include imprisonment, snakes and shipwrecks. It’s the stuff of Westerns and modern action movies. But if we read Paul’s letters closely, we will find he isn’t ministering on his own.

For years, if you had asked me who sent 1 Thessalonians, I would have confidently—and incorrectly—answered, “the Apostle Paul.” That answer is partially correct. The letter names Paul as a sender, but it also mentions two other senders. First Thessalonians 1:1 reads, “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Together, these three men wrote to the young church in Macedonia.


Who were these men? Silvanus (the Latinized form of Silas) was a prophet and leader in the Jerusalem church and one of Paul’s close co-workers (Acts 15:22, 32). Together in prison, Paul and Silas participated in the most famous hymn sing in history (Acts 16:25). Silas also worked alongside Paul to found the church in Thessalonica (Acts 17:4). Timothy, a close associate of Paul, helped establish the church in Corinth with Silas (2 Cor 1:19). He frequently served as Paul’s representative to various churches (e.g., 1 Cor 4:17; 16:10). We learn in 1 Thessalonians that Paul had already sent Timothy to the church in Thessalonica, and Timothy had returned with a good report (1 Thess 3:2, 6).

Context is important: When we consider these three co-senders in light of typical Hellenistic letter-writing of the time and Paul’s other letters, we notice a striking distinction.

Greek letters of Paul’s day very rarely name a co-sender. In The Secretary in the Letters of Paul, E. Randolph Richards considers 645 papyrus letters and finds only six cases in which a co-sender is named in the opening. Yet naming a co-sender was normal practice for Paul. He mentions co-senders in the openings of eight of his 12 letters (1–2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians and Philemon).

Does the reference to Timothy and Silas indicate that they co-authored the letter with Paul? The consistent use of the first person plural throughout the letter (e.g., “we give thanks to God” in 1 Thess 1:2; “we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus” in 1 Thess 4:1) could be taken as evidence for joint authorship, but some believe Paul might instead be using “we” as a literary or authorial plural to lend a “warm tone” to the letter. In other places, Timothy is referred to in the third person (1 Thess 3:2, 6), and in the few places where the first person singular is used, it is clearly Paul speaking (1 Thess 2:18; 3:5; 5:27). In any case, the naming of co-senders in Thessalonians 1:1 reminds us that Paul’s letters were written from within a circle of associates who had some influence on the content of these letters (compare Rom 16:22).

But perhaps more intriguing is the sense of community we gather from Paul’s letters. The naming of Timothy and Silas reflects Paul’s keen sense that he proclaimed the gospel as part of a team. His close companions were Barnabas, Timothy, Silas and Titus, but his circle of associates went well beyond these four. According to Wayne Meeks, Paul’s letters (excluding the Pastoral Epistles) include 65 individuals “named or otherwise identified as persons active in local congregations, as traveling companions or agents of Paul, or as both.”

Paul was not on a one-man mission. He always worked within a team—a network of close colleagues. We, like Paul, need to pursue close partnerships in ministry today—for the purposes of accountability, fellowship and discipleship. Paul stands as the example of how partnership in ministry can lead faith communities to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thess 3:12).

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

Planning for Crises

E. Tod Twist

I’m a recovering twitch—way too tightly-wrapped for my own good—and it messes up my thinking and my relationships. I work hard on self-management, but when life gets too dramatic, my self-management becomes crisis management. In those moments, 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 provides some of the best advice I’ve found: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It’s a tall order. To understand the meaning of Paul’s command, we will need to consult a commentary, a lexicon and a Bible handbook.

Step 1: Focus on Central Questions

Paul’s letters usually close with ethical exhortations, with the commands often coming in a series without explicit connection. First Thessalonians 5:12–22 follows this pattern, with the central command to “rejoice always” (5:16) placed within a larger block of other commands.


It’s challenging to unpack and apply a compressed passage like this, especially since the command occurs without clarification. To present-day readers, “rejoice always” comes across as an admonition to be happy—all the time. In fact, the Greek verb translated “rejoice” (chairō, χαίρω) has the basic sense of being glad or delighted. Consulting either a commentary or a specialized resource on Paul can help explain the sense of “rejoice” used here. The New International Greek Testament Commentary on Thessalonians states:

Although Paul does not spell out the source or basis of Christian joy in [1 Thessalonians] 5:16, the instruction to “rejoice always” derives its meaning from the earlier passages in the letter. To rejoice always is to see the hand of God in whatever is happening and to remain certain of God’s future salvation. Without such conviction joy would not be possible in the face of affliction, suffering, and death.

So, rejoicing in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 is about looking at life from a different perspective, through the eyes of faith.

Step 2: Adjust Your Questions

Sometimes Scripture doesn’t give us the answers we want. Often, we need to abandon our own agenda and refocus on what a passage is addressing. For instance, we may ask what it means to pray “without ceasing” (adialeiptōs, άδιαλείπτως; 5:17). Does it mean “all the time” or “on a regular basis”? Opinions go both ways, and even A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature lists the meanings of the Greek word as either “unceasingly” or “constantly.” Instead of trying to make the passage more specific than it is, we might change our focus. What about prayer makes it worthy of so much attention?

A similar puzzle occurs with “give thanks in all circumstances” in the next verse (5:18), where a strictly literal translation would read, “give thanks in all.” The UBS Handbook on Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians explains, “Circumstances is not explicit in the text, and it is equally possible that ‘at all times’ is intended. The Greek is quite general.” Again, instead of trying to make the passage more specific than it is, we need to change our focus. What about thankfulness makes it an appropriate response in any situation?

Step 3: Focus on How it Fits Together

The commands to rejoice, pray and give thanks (5:16–18) all share a common element—they are focused on God. Each action is an implicit recognition that we are incomplete in ourselves; that we need God. We rejoice in what God has done for us already and we look forward to His help in the future. We pray to God, bringing our needs and experiencing His presence. We give thanks in the ups and downs of life because we trust that God will bring about the deepest good in the end.

That’s the sort of perspective that can turn crisis management back into self-management—with the ever-important caveat that you don’t do it all by yourself.

Pick up the UBS Handbook on Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians at

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


Rebecca Van Noord

Jeremiah 31:1–40; Romans 6:15–7:6; Proverbs 21:1–12

We like to think of ourselves as autonomous. Our modern culture champions freedom and the right to pursue happiness. But if we apply the concept of rights when we think about faith, following Christ can feel like religion, dogma, rules—a type of bondage that requires us to think and behave in ways that make our autonomous selves bridle.

Paul looks at the issue differently: “Do you not know that to whomever you present yourselves as slaves for obedience, you are slaves to whomever you obey, whether sin, leading to death, or obedience, leading to righteousness?” (Rom 6:16). He uses another analogy in his letter to the church in Rome—one that draws on the practice of the slavery within his own culture—to highlight the opposite view. If we live without God, he says, we have a debt that binds us. We are a slave to sin, and it’s the type of bondage that leads to death.

Yet, there is hope. Although we were slaves to sin, we can be redeemed from that slavery. Christ has paid the debt we incurred. He has set us free and brought us into a new bondage—not one that binds to death, but one that binds us to Him in life. If we believe this is true and put our trust in Him, we are no longer slaves.

As redeemed people, we’re called to a new life. While we once charted our own independent path—one that led to death—we can turn and follow a path that leads to sanctification and eternal life, a path that God charts just for us. While our path required a toll—death—Christ has paid that toll so we can walk in new life: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

How have your old habits and patterns of behavior changed now that you’ve been set free? What still needs to change to reflect your new loyalty to Christ?

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

Patterns within Patterns

Eli T. Evans

Before assembly lines, computer-aided drafting and universal public education, replication was the accepted way to produce crafts and craftsmen. Without a blueprint, the best way for a carpenter to build a certain kind of bench would be to reproduce an example. Likewise, the best way to build a certain kind of carpenter was to emulate a master carpenter by working at his side. Tradesmen didn’t go to college; they apprenticed. Nor were there any Bible colleges to mass-produce Christians.


Unlike the debate societies of the Greek philosophers or the Torah schools of the Jewish synagogues (from which they were cast out), early Christians were trained through direct contact with other Christians. Indeed, discipleship is nothing more than apprenticeship extended into all areas of life and worship: behavior, speech and thought.

The Thessalonians were such good apprentices of Paul that their reputation spread among the other churches (1 Thess 1:7–8; 2 Thess 1:3–4; see also 1 Tim 5:10). This fact brings Paul great joy, even in the midst of personal hardship (1 Thess 1:6; 2:19–20; 3:9). He knows that through them, the church will branch out and grow—beyond him, and if necessary, without him (1 Thess 4:9; 5:1).

Each branch of a tree is a smaller copy of the one it sprouted from, all the way back to the trunk. If all the branches follow the right pattern, the tree will be well-formed, but if a branch is deformed, it will break the chain of healthy replication, and any branches that grow from it will be malformed.

In this regard, Paul commends Thessalonian believers for being good, healthy branches in the Christian tree, and he encourages them to continue to grow as “imitators” of himself, Christ and other churches (1 Thess 1:6; 2:14). He encourages them to repeat the pattern of living that he showed them (1 Thess 4:1–2, 11–12; 2 Thess 3:7–9). In this way, they would “become an example” for other churches and even the world (1 Thess 1:7; 4:12).

Thus, Paul’s main ongoing concern for the Thessalonians is not that they recall his best sermons while he was with them, or even that they read and disseminate his letters, but rather that they remember how he treated them and how he worked and lived when he was among them. In addressing the problem of some lazy members of the community, he doesn’t appeal to the Thessalonians’ intellect through reasoned argumentation, but to their memory: “You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you” (2 Thess 3:6–9). Having been shown the pattern, they should have no need for further teaching on this point. Nor did they have any “need for anyone to write” to them about brotherly love or the timing of the second coming of Christ (1 Thess 4:9; 5:1).

In general, Paul harbored deep suspicion of teachers and “super-apostles” who made their appeal through “smooth words and flattery” rather than by aspiring to “live quietly [among their disciples] and to mind [their] own affairs” (1 Thess 2:5; 1 Thess 4:11; see also Rom 16:18; 1 Cor 1:17; 2:1–5; 2 Cor 11:5–6). It isn’t a know-nothing bias against learning as such—Paul was well-educated and could hold his own in a debate (just ask Peter or the Galatians)—but he had no patience for “unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words,” nor endless discussions of “myths” and “speculations” (1 Tim 1:4; 4:7; 6:4; 2 Tim 4:4; Titus 1:14). It’s worth noting that every time Paul uses the word “doctrine,” it is in the context of a whole-life pattern of ministry, where followers speak and act the way their leaders do. For Paul, the point of Christian learning is sanctification and growth in personal holiness, not to gain ammunition for theological turf wars.

It’s tempting to think of Paul as having a purely rhetorical bent. All that remains of his teachings are his letters, which of necessity were written when he was far away from his audience. Being even further away ourselves, it is comfortable to view him through the lens of the theological treatise he wrote to the members of the Roman church—whom he had never met in person, either. Nevertheless, the letters to the Thessalonians show that Paul preferred an incarnational style of ministry whenever possible, a hands-on method in which he reared his spiritual children like a nursing mother or an admonishing father would (1 Thess 2:7, 11–12). Even when he was unable to be with them in person—or as he puts it, when he was “torn away” and could “bear it no longer” (1 Thess 2:17; 3:1)—he was still “with them in heart” (1 Thess 2:17; compare 1 Cor 5:3; Phil 1:27; Col 2:5). Whether present or absent, Paul was always expecting (and praying) that each brother and sister would be sanctified, that is, conformed to the image of the Son of God—copies of copies, never flawless, but nevertheless true and faithful reproductions of the perfect original, Jesus Christ.

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. 5

How Many Times is Jesus Coming Back?

Michael S. Heiser

Few things in the Bible attract more attention than prophecies about the end times. Even people with only a passing acquaintance with the Bible know that it foretells a second coming of Jesus. Those who study the Bible know the book of Revelation reveals that the second coming brings an end to the reign of the antichrist (the “beast”; Rev 19:11–21). The risen Christ, the incarnation of God, returns to earth not as a suffering Savior, but as the glorious warrior-king. But does the Bible describe an earlier return of Jesus—one that precedes this triumphant arrival?

The “Rapture”


Some Christians believe that 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 describes how all believers will be taken from earth, dead or alive, at an appearing of Jesus before the second coming described in Revelation 19.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:16–17).

This earlier return of Jesus is called the “rapture” by believers who embrace this idea. The term is derived from the Latin word rapiemur (from rapio, meaning “to carry off”) used by the translator of the Latin Vulgate for the Greek word harpazō (ἁρπάζω), translated “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

Other Christians, however, reject the idea that 1 Thessalonians 4 speaks of a different event than the return of Jesus to earth described in Revelation 19. For them, there will only be one return of Jesus in the future. So, who’s right?


The answer to the question is “it depends.” If we were to read all the passages in the New Testament that speak of Jesus’ future return, along with Old Testament passages that speak of a final, climactic visitation by God on earth that will put an end to evil (“the Day of the Lord”), we would notice immediately that they do not agree in the details or descriptions. For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 seemingly has Jesus returning in the air, gathering believers into the clouds, whereas the prophet Zechariah foretold the physical arrival of the pierced Lord on the Mount of Olives with His holy ones at the Day of the Lord (Zech 12:10; 14:1–5; compare Rev 19:14).

Interpreters are forced to make a decision: Should we take these verses and split them into two events, or should we harmonize them? The former approach produces two events: a rapture and a second coming. Harmonization, the second approach, eliminates the rapture and leaves only one event: the second coming. Harmonization is a tried-and-true method frequently used by interpreters to resolve disagreements between the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. It is also used to reconcile Old Testament accounts of Israelite history recorded in Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. But many see the harmonized differences as “inconsistencies” between biblical prophecies.

The Bible doesn’t telegraph which interpretive approach is correct. There is no appendix on interpretation following the book of Revelation. Both views are based on choices we bring to the text. Neither is self-evident as the “biblical position.” That realization should prompt us to act with humility and charity toward each other, no matter what position we take.

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. 5

After the Storm

John D. Barry

Jeremiah 29:1–30:24; Romans 6:1–14; Proverbs 20:13–30

As we blink and squint in the light that emerges after a storm, we marvel that the sun was there all along and we just couldn’t see it. The same is true during times of difficulty. When we’re in pain or worried, it seems impossible to find God, but in retrospect, it always seems obvious: God was there all along.

Jeremiah prophesied to God’s people about their unraveling. The people heard words from Jeremiah’s mouth that must have seemed hopeless and full of despair. But in Jeremiah 29, we catch a glimpse of the light that comes after: “Build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and father sons and daughters … and multiply there, and you must not be few” (Jer 29:5–6).

Even in exile, God will continue to guide His people. Because of their sins, they have endured (and lost) war and have been driven away from the land that God gave them; but God remains with them nonetheless. They may need to experience the pain of exile to understand the consequences of turning away from God, but God still plans to be good to them. He will provide for them.

We witness a parallel picture in Rom 6. After describing the death that sin brings into the world and the current sad state of humanity, Paul presents a full vision of living without sin—of conquering the very problem that drove God’s people into exile: “What therefore shall we say? Shall we continue in sin, in order that grace may increase? May it never be! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1–2).

Even with the grace God has offered us, Paul encourages us to live the vision God has created through Jesus—one that strives to be sinless. Likewise, Jeremiah does not offer empty words without the command that God’s people follow Him with their entire beings (Jer 29:8–14).

We have all made mistakes. We’ve all lost ourselves in the storms—in storms we caused and storms that came upon us for no apparent reason. But what’s certain in both instances is that God is with us and desires for us to be one with Him.

What storm are you currently in, coming out of, or anticipating? What is God teaching you through it? What is He asking of you?

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: Bible Savvy Series

James Matichuk

Bible Savvy Series

In the Bible Savvy series, a collection of four short books, James L. Nicodem provides a brief guide for understanding and interpreting the Bible. He especially writes for those who are interested in the Bible but intimidated by its size, scope and ancient context.

In the first volume, Epic: The Storyline of the Bible, Nicodem summarizes the story of the Bible with an emphasis on redemption. The second volume, Foundation: The Reliability of the Bible, covers issues from inspiration and inerrancy to the formation of the canon and the doctrine of revelation. Context: How to Understand the Bible explores how we can understand the Bible through studying the historical, literary, theological and immediate context of each book. In Walk: How to Apply the Bible, Nicodem proposes a structure of Context, Observation, Message and Application to bring the Bible off the page and into our lives. According to Nicodem, once we understand a passage in context, our personal observations of the passage’s features prompt us to discover the message God has for us. Then we make a plan and put the passage into practice.

Nicodem’s engaging writing and study guides make this Bible Savvy series a good choice for group Bible studies.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 1