Tag Archives: Bible

Redeeming Israel? Confused on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24)

If you went in search of the village of Emmaus today, you would not find it. This Sunday, literally hundreds of millions of Christians around the world will hear the Easter story of the encounter between two disciples and the risen Lord Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. Few however, will hear mention of Emmaus today, or what has happened there in our lifetime. In an article published by If Americans Knew,  Sacred Christian Site Emmaus Destroyed by Israel, Alison Weir writes,

“In 1967, after Israel launched its Six Day War, Israel expelled the inhabitants of Emmaus and obliterated almost all traces of the village, along with two other Palestinian villages nearby. This was part of the Israeli strategy, in the words of an Israeli historian, “to take over as much of Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians as possible” Israeli journalist Amira Hass describes Emmaus before it was levelled:

“Schools, mosques, an ancient church, olive presses, paths to fields and orchards, bubbling streams, mountain air, sabra bushes, carob and olive and deciduous trees, harvested fields, graves, water cisterns.” Israel then “brought in the bulldozers and destroyed and detonated and trampled. Not for the first time, not for the last. And the owners of all that beauty – the elderly, the children, the infants – heard and watched the explosions from a kilometre or two away.”

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The Bible and the Land: Gary Burge

Gary Burge has written not one but two short and very readable books for Zondervan – The Bible and the Land and Jesus, The Middle Eastern Storyteller. Both are about 110 pages long, easy to read and bursting with glorious photos and simple maps.

Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller

In Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller, the parables of Jesus come alive as never before when Gary uncovers the culture that gives them their deepest meaning. His expert, illustrated guide shows in everyday terms how the customs, literature and values of the ancient world can inform and grow your faith in today’s digital age.

Storytellers made history, and Jesus was the greatest of them all. But how can modern readers know what he actually meant in such iconic parables as the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan? Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller combines the readability of a popular novel and the authority of scholarship to uncover the hidden meaning of references too often misinterpreted or left shrouded in mystery. The first volume in the Ancient Context, Ancient Faith series drives to the heart of readers’ desire to know the culture behind the Scriptures. Colorful maps, photos, and illustrations enhance the context of the times that shaped Jesus’ vivid communication of core truths. This expert guide is an invaluable resource for study groups, teachers, leaders, and inquiring Christians who want to dig deeper and enrich their spiritual life.

The Bible and the Land

In The Bible and the Land Gary offers a rare exploration into the world of the Bible and how its land, culture, and traditions contribute to a unique understanding of a life with God. Insights into numerous biblical passages reveal how cultural assumptions lie behind countless biblical stories.

As the early church moved away from the original cultural setting of the Bible and found its home in the west, Christians lost touch with the ancient world of the Bible. Cultural habits, the particulars of landscape, even the biblical languages soon were unknown. And the cost was enormous: Christians began reading the Bible as foreigners and missing the original images and ideas that shaped a biblical worldview.

This new book by New Testament scholar Gary Burge launches a multivolume series that explores how the culture of the biblical world is presupposed in story after story of the Bible. Using cultural anthropology, ancient literary sources, and a selective use of modern Middle Eastern culture, Burge reopens the ancient biblical story and urges us to look at them through new lenses. Here he explores primary motifs from the biblical landscape—geography, water, rock, bread, etc.—and applies them to vital stories from the Bible.

Listen in on a Q & A with Gary over these two new books:

Q:     Does culture always affect one’s understanding of spiritual life?

A:      Every community of Christians throughout history has framed its understanding of spiritual life within the context of its own culture. Byzantine Christians living in the fifth century and Puritan Christians living over a thousand years later used the world in which they lived to work out the principles of Christian faith, life, and identity. The reflex to build house churches, monastic communities, medieval cathedrals, steeple-graced and village-centered churches, or auditoriums with theater seating will always spring from the dominant cultural forces around us.

If it is true that every culture provides a framework in which the spiritual life is understood, the same must be said about the ancient world. The setting of Jesus and Paul in the Roman Empire was likewise shaped by cultural forces quite different from our own. If we fail to understand these cultural forces, we will fail to understand many of the things Jesus and Paul taught.

Q:     If we fail to consider cultural context, are we in danger of misinterpreting scripture?

A:      We must be cautious interpreters of the Bible. We must be careful lest we presuppose that our cultural instincts are the same as those represented in the Bible. We must be culturally aware of our own place in time-and we must work to comprehend the cultural context of the Scriptures that we wish to understand. Too often interpreters have lacked cultural awareness when reading the Scriptures. We have failed to recognize the gulf that exists between who we are today and the context of the Bible. We have forgotten that we read the Bible as foreigners, as visitors who have traveled not only to a new geography but a new century. We are literary tourists who are deeply in need of a guide.

Q:     Why did you write the Ancient Context, Ancient Faith series?

A:      The goal of this series is to be a guide-to explore themes from the biblical world which are often misunderstood. In what sense, for instance, did the physical geography of Israel shape its people’s sense of spirituality? How did the story-telling of Jesus presuppose cultural themes now lost to us? What celebrations did Jesus know intimately (such as a child’s birth, a wedding, or a burial)? What agricultural or religious festivals did he attend? How did he use common images of labor or village life or social hierarchy when he taught? Did he use humor or allude to politics? In many cases-just as in our world-the more delicate matters are handled indirectly, and it takes expert guidance to revisit their correct meaning.

In a word, this series employs cultural anthropology, archaeology, and contextual backgrounds to open up new vistas for the Christian reader. I wrote the first two volumes of the Ancient Context, Ancient Faith series to connect modern readers with ancient life.  If the average reader suddenly sees a story or an idea in a new way, if a familiar passage is suddenly opened for new meaning and application, this effort has succeeded.

Q:     Do I really need to understand ancient Middle Eastern culture in order to understand the Bible?

The stories we read in the Bible sometimes presuppose themes that are completely obscure to us (e.g. the scarcity of water; see next question). Moreover, when we read the Bible, we may misrepresent its message because we simply do not understand the cultural instincts of the first century. We live two thousand years distant; we live in the West and the ancient Middle East is not native territory for us.

Q:     How does water highlight the simple yet profound differences between ancient Middle Eastern life and ours today?

A:      Those of us who live in North America or Europe think little about water.  Rainfall averages are generally ample; if anything, we may experience flooding.  This is the opposite of life in the Holy Land. The people of the Middle East think about water constantly: it is the “oil” of the Holy Land.  And if you control it, you have power.  Glimpses of this reality are hidden behind many political struggles. When the rains failed to come during biblical times, the springs dried up and the wells went dry, drought and famine became a reality.

Judaism also distinguished between “living” water (which came from the hand of God via rain, a spring, a river) and common water (held in a cistern or “lifted” by human hand).  Many Jewish purification rituals had to take place in such living water; living water had the power to cleanse and purify.  So when Jesus offers “living water” to the Samaritan woman at the well, he is offering an inner life-giving spring for cleansing.  This significance would not have been lost on a woman who had probably been barred from her community’s ritual baths of purification.

Q:     How is an understanding of the Holy Land’s geography, topography, and agriculture vital to interpretation of scripture?

A:      The Holy Land itself gives us a window into God’s purposes for life.  The Promised Land is not an easy land-it is not paradise, neither today nor in biblical times.  The land has a spiritual architecture that incorporates elements we desire (good cities with ample rainfall and rich soil) and things we would prefer to avoid (wilderness).  But this is life.  And when God brought his people to this land, he built into it those elements that would provide a framework for his people to understand life with him.

The land is itself the cultural stage-setting of the Bible.  Biblical stories assume we know something about altars, sheepfolds, cistern water, and the significance if the wind blows west out of the desert.  To project European or American notions of farming (seed distribution) or fishing (cast and trammel nets) or travel (at night or day) onto the Bible is to immediately distance oneself from what the Bible may have intended to say.

Q:     How did Jesus’ storytelling fit the context of his culture?

A:      Jesus lived in a storytelling world and he was well known for his ability as a storyteller.  Jesus himself was theatrical, and this was feature of his teaching strategy.  Rather than giving a speech about a corrupt temple, he ransacked it.  His culture valued the clever image, the crisp story.  Jesus himself was clever and in this brilliance, people intuited his sophistication.  However, Jesus’ best figurative stories contain a surprise.  They are like a box that contains a spring-and when it is opened, the unexpected happens.  They are like a trap that lures you into its world and then closes on you.

Q:     Do we need to become more like the ancient world in order to live biblically?

A:      No, we do not need to imitate the biblical world in order to live a more biblical life. This was a culture that had its own preferences for dress, speech, diet, music, intellectual thought, religious expression, and personal identity. And its cultural values were no more significant than are our own. Modesty in antiquity was expressed in a way we may not understand. The arrangement of marriage partners is foreign to our world of personal dating. Even how one prays (seated or standing, arms upraised or folded, aloud or silent) has norms dictated by culture. There is no ideal cultural standard; we must each learn how to live biblically within the context of our own culture.

Gary M. Burge (PhD, King’s College, Aberdeen University) is a professor of New Testament in the Department of Biblical & Theological Studies at Wheaton College and Graduate School.

Five Books That Changed My World

Wondering what to give as a gift for Easter? Want to know the five basic books I recommend every Christian to read? These are the five books that have helped me in my Christian life – after the Bible itself.

Mere Christianity: C.S. Lewis
In 1943 Great Britain, when hope and the moral fabric of society were threatened by the relentless inhumanity of global war, an Oxford don was invited to give a series of radio lectures addressing the central issues of Christianity. Over half a century after the original lectures, the topic retains it urgency. Expanded into book form, Mere Christianity never flinches as it sets out a rational basis for Christianity and builds an edifice of compassionate morality atop this foundation. As Mr. Lewis clearly demonstrates, Christianity is not a religion of flitting angels and blind faith, but of free will, an innate sense of justice and the grace of God.A forceful and accessible discussion of Christian belief that has become one of the most popular introductions to Christianity and one of the most popular of Lewis’s books. Uncovers common ground upon which all Christians can stand together.

Knowing God: J.I. Packer
A lifelong pursuit of knowing God should embody the Christian’s existence. According to eminent theologian J.I. Packer, however, Christians have become enchanted by modern skepticism and have joined the “gigantic conspiracy of misdirection” by failing to put first things first. Knowing God aims to redirect our attention to the simple, deep truth that to know God is to love His Word. What began as a number of consecutive articles angled for “honest, no-nonsense readers who were fed up with facile Christian verbiage” Knowing God has become a contemporary classic by creating “small studies out of great subjects.” Each chapter is so specific in focus (covering topics such as the trinity, election, God’s wrath, and God’s sovereignty), that each succeeding chapter’s theology seems to rival the next, until one’s mind is so expanded that one’s entire view of God has changed. Having rescued us from the individual hunches of our ultra-tolerant theological age, Packer points the reader to the true character of God with his theological competence and compassionate heart. The lazy and faint-hearted should be warned about this timeless work–God is magnified, the sinner is humbled, and the saint encouraged.

Basic Christianity: John Stott
Jesus certainly existed. His existence as an historical figure is vouched for by pagan as well as Christian writers,’ says John Stott. Who was Jesus? Why was he crucified? Did he really rise from the dead? We need answers to these key questions in order to understand the basics of Christianity. The author offers a clear and full explanation, showing what it means to be a Christian today. John R. W. Stott defends the fundamental claims of Christianity and defines the proper outworkings of these beliefs in the lives of believers. Here is a sound guide for those seeking an intellectually satisfying presentation of the Christian faith. “There are…few landmark books that everyone in the world should read. This is one of the rare few. ” — Rick Warren

The Case for Christ: Lee Strobel
The Case for Christ records Lee Strobel’s attempt to “determine if there’s credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God.” The book consists primarily of interviews between Strobel (a former legal editor at the Chicago Tribune) and biblical scholars such as Bruce Metzger. Each interview is based on a simple question, concerning historical evidence (for example, “Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted?”), scientific evidence, (“Does Archaeology Confirm or Contradict Jesus’ Biographies?”), and “psychiatric evidence” (“Was Jesus Crazy When He Claimed to Be the Son of God?”). Together, these interviews compose a case brief defending Jesus’ divinity, and urging readers to reach a verdict of their own. A Seasoned Journalist Chases Down the Biggest Story in History The Project: Determine if there’s credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God. The Reporter: Lee Strobel, educated at Yale Law School, award-winning former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune-with a background of atheism. The Experts: A dozen scholars, with doctorates from Cambridge, Princeton, Brandeis, and other top-flight institutions, who are recognized authorities on Jesus. The Story: Retracing his own spiritual journey, Strobel cross-examines the experts with tough, point-blank questions: How reliable is the New Testament? Does evidence exist for Jesus outside the Bible? Is there any reason to believe the resurrection was an actual historical event?

The Purpose Driven Life: Rick Warren
The spiritual premise in The Purpose-Driven Life is that there are no accidents—God planned everything and everyone. Therefore, every human has a divine purpose, according to God’s master plan. Like a twist on John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural address, this book could be summed up like this: “So my fellow Christians, ask not what God can do for your life plan, ask what your life can do for God’s plan.” Those who are looking for advice on finding one’s calling through career choice, creative expression, or any form of self-discovery should go elsewhere. This is not about self-exploration; it is about purposeful devotion to a Christian God. The book is set up to be a 40-day immersion plan, recognizing that the Bible favors the number 40 as a “spiritually significant time,” according to author Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, touted as one of the nation largest congregations. Warren’s hope is that readers will “interact” with the 40 chapters, reading them one day at a time, with extensive underlining and writing in the margins. As an inspirational manifesto for creating a more worshipful, church-driven life, this book delivers. Every page is laden with references to scripture or dogma. But it does not do much to address the challenges of modern Christian living, with its competing material, professional, and financial distractions. Nonetheless, this is probably an excellent resource for devout Christians who crave a jumpstart back to worshipfulness.

If you are looking for a good Study Bible, there are two I use on a daily basis and would recommend:

Today’s New International Version (TNIV) Study Bible

Recommended by leading evangelical scholars, pastors, teachers, and church leaders worldwide for its clarity, accessibility, and precision of meaning, the “TNIV” is now available in a full-featured study edition. The “Zondervan TNIV Study Bible” combines over 20,000 in-text notes that form the study backbone of this Bible with the most current scholarship reflected through ongoing discoveries in archaeology, linguistics, and biblical history. Including award-winning features and concise, conservative biblical commentary, the “Zondervan TNIV Study Bible” is edited by the same leading evangelical scholars who brought the world the bestselling “Zondervan NIV Study Bible”. With a treasury of instant study material alongside the easy-to-read and highly accurate today’s “New International Version”, the “Zondervan TNIV Study Bible” provides the most comprehensive study Bible for an emerging generation of Bible readers.

Features include: over 20,000 bottom-of-the-page, verse-by-verse study notes offer biblical perspectives and study insights; icons throughout the study notes highlight historical/archaeological contexts, biblical characters and people groups, notes for personal application; topical index offers over 700 entries to enhance personal and topical Bible study; 16 pages of new, satellite-generated, full-color maps; “TNIV” side-column cross-reference system and concordance; helpful indexes to study notes, in-text maps, and color maps; the complete text of the “TNIV” in a single-column format with words of Christ in red; and presentation page, notes and map index, and 8-page historical timeline section.

Check out the TNIV website.

The English Standard Version (ESV) Study Bible
The ESV Study Bible was created to help people understand the Bible in a deeper way—to understand the timeless truth of God’s Word as a powerful, compelling, life-changing reality. To accomplish this, the ESV Study Bible combines the best and most recent evangelical Christian scholarship with the highly regarded ESV Bible text. The result is the most comprehensive study Bible ever published—with 2,752 pages of extensive, accessible Bible resources.

Created by an outstanding team of 95 evangelical Christian scholars and teachers, the ESV Study Bible presents completely new study notes, maps, illustrations, charts, timelines, articles, and introductions. Altogether the ESV Study Bible comprises 2 million words of Bible text, insightful explanation, teaching, and reference material—equivalent to a 20-volume Bible resource library all contained in one volume.

Check out the ESV website.

Counting your Profits and Losses: Philippians 3:1-11

Can you imagine earning £3 million a day? Can you imagine spending £3 million a day? For every day of every week of every year of your entire life? Then you are beginning to comprehend how much money Bernard Madoff confessed to defrauding his clients of Friday. He faces a possible 150 year jail sentence for defrauding people of a cool $65 billion dollars. But that amount pales by comparison with what the British government is planning to do legally over the next three months.

The Bank of England has just announced unprecedented steps to prevent the deepest slump since the 1930s. Described as “Quantitative Easing” policy makers cut the key interest rate to 0.5 percent last week, the lowest since the bank was founded in 1694. The Economist described this policy of “Quantitative Easing” with something of an understatement as advancing “to the frontier of orthodox monetary policy.” But more dramatically, this week, the Bank of England published plans to print £75 billion pounds. Something the Economist described as “having already crossed a frontier…”

Newsweek Magazine, noting that some banks made a profit the last two months and that their shares are rising, has confounded the pessimists by predicting we are actually entering a bull market.  Their headline shouts “Buy”. So should we sell or buy? Should we sit tight or take risks? What lessons do we learn from the week? Jesus once asked a question which may shed light on all this.

“What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?” (Mark 8:36).

What good is it for you to defraud $65 billion dollars and forfeit your freedom? What good is it for a nation to print £75 billion pounds and continue in the life style that led to the crisis? Despite the front cover of Newsweek suggesting we are entering a bull market instead of  a bear market, I’d like to suggest a third option – a Biblical market – for God has spoken more about wealth than just about any other subject in the Bible. My advice is sell, sell, sell and invest in the Church. We give a far better rate of return and for a far longer period. Jesus says:

“I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel  will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

That’s what I call a pretty good rate of return. In our passage from Philippians this morning Paul encourages us to think about our profit and loss account.

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8)

Read more here

Recommended Bible Software

The Most important book in the world is the Bible. The most widely read book in the world is the Bible. The most highly prized book in the world is the Bible. The most suppressed book in the world is the Bible. And the most frequently downloaded book in countries that suppress religious freedom… is the Bible.

I probably use electronic versions of the Bible as much as my print version. As I travel a lot to teach and preach, having access to my Bibles, commentaries, encyclopedias and Bible dictionaries on my PDA and laptop is indispensable.

As a trustee of the International Bible Society-Send the Light (IBS-STL) Ministries Trust, its perhaps not surprising that I favour the New International Version (NIV) and Today’s New International Version (TNIV), but then again the NIV is the most widely read translation in English.

So what software would I recommend? The short answer is all of them for different reasons. Here is a list of the software I use regularly – in alphabetical order. True, there is some overlap between them and you will probably only want one or two (and the NET Bible and FreeBibleSoftware from the E4 Group is… free!). And I’m sure there are other excellent packages I do not personally own.

Laridian provides a wide range of Bible translations, commentaries, encyclopaedias and dictionaries for the iPhone, Blackberry, iPod, Pocket PC, Palm devices and also Windows based personal computers. I use Laridian on a daily basis.

Libronix used to be called Logos. I have had this software package for about as long as my PC Study Bible. I like its seamless library of resources.

The NET Bible
The NET Bible is an imaginative ‘open source’ project that provides high quality Bible study tools and resources within reach of the whole world without charge. You can access the NET Bible here.

PC Study Bible
The PC Study Bible was the first package I bought and I have found it enormously helpful over the years.

Pradis is a simple to use but comprehensive Bible software package. I use it most frequently to cut and paste scripture into sermons.

produce a wide range of software packages including for Palm Pilots and mobile phones. They even link to Google maps.

I have always liked Wordsearch because they include the Navigator’s Bible study questions – called Lessonmaker. This is a great tool if you are preparing Bible studies. You can buy it separately or as part of WordSearch.

Besides www.Bible.org and the E4 Group, I would also recommend www.Sermoncentral.com for free resources.

I commend these scripture resources that enable you to access the Word of God digitally for free or low cost. And if you want a print version in another language see here.

And since we are having this conversation, may I challenge you to contribute financially to the work of IBS-STL to enable people in other parts of the world receive a copy of the Scriptures in their own language for free?

See here for more information.

Weird and Wacky Theology 4: America in the Bible

Sooner or later, someone was bound to suggest that the United States of America appears in the Bible. Several authors have tried.

Hal Lindsey appears to have been one of the first. His reading of Revelation 12:14-17, ‘The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert’ takes the passage to refer to ‘some massive airlift’ transporting escaping Jews from the holocaust. ‘Since the eagle is the national symbol of the United States, it’s possible that the airlift will be made available by aircraft from the US Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.’

Lindsey does not explain why ‘the eagle’ should mean the United States, rather than Germany or the Czech Republic for instance. Nor does he explain why in Revelation it refers to modern aircraft, while in Exodus 19:4, Deuteronomy 32:11-12 and Isaiah 40:31 it does not. This is hardly evidence for a consistent ‘literal interpretation’.

Mike Evans has caused an even bigger splash with his latest offering, The American Prophecies:
Is America in prophecy?
Yes, it is. Evans insists

“As a Middle East analyst and minister who has worked closely with leaders in that region for decades, I tended to be sceptical of attempts to come up with schemes to plug America into prophetic interpretations. I have often referred to such teachers as “Pop Prophecy Peddlers.” But, after thousands of hours of research, I am totally convinced that America is found in prophecy, and I believe you will, too, after reading [my] book.”

Even the reviewer for Amazon observes that actual quotes from Scripture are rather sparse.
Controversially, Evans goes on to claim

“September 11 would never have happened if America had fought the same bigotry in the 1990’s rather than trying to appease it. Millions of Jews would be living today if anti-Semitism had not been ignored in the 1920s and 1930s. The Great Depression, as well as other American tragedies, happened because of America’s pride and challenge to God Almighty’s plan.”

The danger with this kind of prophetic speculation is that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is how D.S. Russell summarises the dilemma:

“One rather frightening by-product of this process of interpretation is that it is easy to create the very situation which is being described so that the interpretation given brings about its own fulfilment. Russia, for example, is to be destroyed by nuclear attack – and scripture must be fulfilled! It needs little imagination to understand the consequences of such a belief, especially if held with deep conviction by politicians and the military who have the power to press the button and to execute the judgment thus prophesied and foreordained.”

If you feel you need an antidote, check out Zion’s Christian Soldiers for instant protection and lasting relief.

For further examples of wacky theology see: