3 Perspectives on Hell

heaven and hellWe’ve seen a lot of discussion and debate in recent years on the nature of heaven, hell, and what happens after we die. But these discussions are nothing new. The church has been debating eschatology (the study of last things) ever since the time of Christ, and the Jews before Christ were discussing the same.

Scripture provides many insights about the afterlife. But when theologians combine these insights into a coherent whole, they come to some very different conclusions about what the Bible teaches. The nature and duration of hell is one such example.

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How Should Christians Respond to Violence?

Jesus’ Arrest

What is the proper response to violence? In an increasingly violent culture, this is a question we must all ask ourselves. And as Christians, we must answer this question in a way that is not only practical but also faithful. It isn’t just a question of what “works” to reduce violent crime; it’s also a question of how God has called his people to live. In what follows, I will offer my own convictions, though I readily admit that fellow Christians will differ in their responses to this sensitive subject.

I can think of no better place to start—for this or any other issue—than with Jesus. So let’s begin by considering what he has to say on the subject.

How to be sons of your heavenly Father

When asked about the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).

Jesus does something radical here. He doesn’t simply list the most important commands—he reframes the entire Law in the light of one basic mandate: love. Love is the reason for every command God has given.

John 15:12–13

This concept is so important that all three Synoptic Gospels include a similar account (see Mark 12:28ff and Luke 10:25ff), and in the Gospel of John, Jesus narrows it down to just the second half. “This is my commandment: that you love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13).

Jesus essentially says that love of neighbor (or “one another” or “friends”) is how you show love to God, and he defines that love as sacrificing yourself for the sake of others. This echoes what he said in the parable of the sheep and goats, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). And such love of God via love of neighbor fulfils the Law, as Paul and James would later confirm (see Romans 13:8–10, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8).

But “who is my neighbor?” This question was posed to Jesus in Luke’s account cited above. Jesus responded with a parable. And in this parable—we call it “the good Samaritan”—Jesus cast the most unlikely of characters for the role of neighbor. Jews hated Samaritans. They viewed them as the lowest of the low. Yet this is who Jesus said to love.

But that’s not all Jesus taught. He didn’t merely say, “Love the neighbors you don’t really like.” He also said, “Love your enemies.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)

Matthew 5:48

Jesus taught that love of enemies is so important, it defines us as sons of our heavenly Father. God loves his enemies, and so must we. But who is my enemy? And what does it look like to love them? Let’s jump back a few verses to give context to Jesus’ words:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38–42)

When Jesus spoke of those who force you to go a mile, he was referring to the Roman soldiers occupying Israel. These violent men were known for executing Jews at random, just to show off their power and keep their subjects in line. Yet these are the kinds of people Jesus said we must love—evil people intent on harming us.

In Luke’s parallel account, Jesus further explains how to love our enemies, “. . . do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27–28). And when we do this, “. . . you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35–36).

Having seen the importance of Jesus’ mandate to love everyone—including those who would do us harm—we’ll now look at how Jesus lived this principle in his own life. John tells us that “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). So we must consider how Jesus responded to violence, for we ought to respond in the same way.

To that end, let’s examine the most violent episode in Jesus’ life—his arrest and crucifixion.

Buy a sword . . . but don’t use it

Shortly before his arrest, Jesus told his disciples, “Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). Why did Jesus say this? Was he preparing them to defend themselves? Not quite. Jesus explained, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment” (Luke 22:37).

The disciples said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords,” to which Jesus responded, “It is enough” (Luke 22:38). Enough for what? Two swords would hardly have provided sufficient defense against “a great crowd with swords and clubs” (Matthew 26:47), but they were enough to fulfil the Scripture. Alternatively, many translations (CEB, CEV, HCSB, ISV, etc.) suggest that Jesus’ response is better rendered, “Enough of that!”—indicating that the disciples had misunderstood his intent.

When an armed band of soldiers came to arrest Jesus, his disciples asked, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 22:49). Then Peter, failing to wait for Jesus’ response, drew his sword and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear (John 18:10).

Jesus said, “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51). “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:52–54). And he healed the servant’s ear.

To the crowd he said, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matthew 26:55–56).

Jesus before Pilate

Jesus then allowed himself to be arrested, endured a mock trial by the Sanhedrin, and ultimately came before Pilate, who said, “Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” (John 18:35). Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).

Jesus endured scourging, mocking, humiliation, beating, spitting—all with no attempt at retaliation. He then went to Golgotha, where he allowed himself to be crucified between two criminals. While dying on the cross at the hands of his enemies, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

In summary, Jesus prohibited his disciples from using a sword, even in self-defense. He instead entrusted himself to the Father, enduring the suffering that followed. He made it clear that his kingdom does not follow the pattern of this world—his followers do not fight. And as his ultimate response to the violence he had suffered, Jesus forgave those responsible for his persecution.

At this point, an observation should be made. Jesus had a very specific mission to accomplish. He was in the process of fulfilling Scripture and atoning for the sins of mankind. Though we may face violence, we will not do so under these same circumstances. Does this negate the idea that we should follow Jesus’ example, at least in this instance?

Peter—having walked in the Spirit for some time since his incident with the sword—provides us with a definitive answer to this question:

For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:20–23, emphasis added)

Having now examined both Jesus’ instructions and his example, let’s consider how we can practically live this out.

Nonviolent resistance

Fight: A Christian Case for Non-ViolenceThe first thing to clarify is that Jesus never told us to adopt a position of passivity. He did not mean that we should simply let evil have its way and do nothing to stop it. For this reason, I tend to like the term “nonviolent resistance” better than “pacifism.”

But didn’t Jesus say, “Do not resist the one who is evil”? That is one possible translation, but it isn’t without its difficulties.

Here’s what Preston Sprinkle has to say in his book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence:

The Greek word for “resist” is anthistemi, and it often (though not always) refers specifically to violent resistance. Throughout the Old Testament, for instance, anthistemi refers to military action: Israel resists its enemy in battle, and the Canaanites weren’t able to resist Israel in the conquest. In the New Testament, other words related to anthistemi refer to violent revolts, insurrections, and war. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, almost always used anthistemi in ways that convey some sort of violent action. So when Jesus tells His followers not to resist evil people, He uses a word that suggests a violent resistance.

N.T. Wright, in Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, translates this phrase as “don’t use violence to resist evil!” Rather than prohibiting resistance, Jesus prescribed a very different kind of resistance. No longer should we respond in kind—“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” We should instead respond by turning the tables on our aggressors. N.T. Wright explains further:

Jesus offers a new sort of justice, a creative, healing, restorative justice. The old justice found in the Bible was designed to prevent revenge running away with itself. Better an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth than an escalating feud with each side going one worse than the other. But Jesus goes one better still. Better to have no vengeance at all, but rather a creative way forward, reflecting the astonishingly patient love of God himself, who wants Israel to shine his light into the world so that all people will see that he is the one true God, and that his deepest nature is overflowing love. No other god encourages people to behave in a way like this!
Matthew for Everyone, Part 1
So Jesus gives three hints of the sort of thing he has in mind. To be struck on the right cheek, in that world, almost certainly meant being hit with the back of the right hand. That’s not just violence, but an insult: it implies that you’re an inferior, perhaps a slave, a child, or (in that world, and sometimes even today) a woman. What’s the answer? Hitting back only keeps the evil in circulation. Offering the other cheek implies: hit me again if you like, but now as an equal, not an inferior.

Or suppose you’re in a lawcourt where a powerful enemy is suing you (perhaps for non-payment of some huge debt) and wants the shirt off your back. You can’t win; but you can show him what he’s really doing. Give him your cloak as well; and, in a world where most people only wore those two garments, shame him with your impoverished nakedness. This is what the rich, powerful and careless are doing. They are reducing the poor to a state of shame.

The third example clearly reflects the Roman military occupation. Roman soldiers had the right to force civilians to carry their equipment for one mile. But the law was quite strict; it forbade them to make someone go more than that. Turn the tables on them, advises Jesus. Don’t fret and fume and plot revenge. Copy your generous God! Go a second mile, and astonish the soldier (and perhaps alarm him—what if his commanding officer found out?) with the news that there is a different way to be human, a way which doesn’t plot revenge, which doesn’t join the armed resistance movement (that’s what verse 39 means), but which wins God’s kind of victory over violence and injustice.

Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really TriedSuch nonviolent resistance is risky. It makes us vulnerable. But it also exposes our aggressors’ sins for what they are. And if we believe what Jesus said—that “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52)—then our nonviolent response is actually much safer than carrying a weapon. Wouldn’t you rather entrust yourself to the God who rules the universe than to a piece of steel?

For more specific suggestions on how to respond nonviolently, along with real-life examples, check out Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really Tried by Ron Sider.

But in this violent world, there are no foolproof methods of preventing violence. When we choose to live in nonviolent love, we accept the possibility that we will “share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13). When that happens, we have one further response—one more way in which we follow the example Jesus left for us.

Forgiveness

It would be easy for me to speak of forgiveness when I have had no major offenses to forgive. So I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to close this post by pointing you to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof joined them for an evening Bible study. After initially participating with their study, he pulled out a gun, and he murdered nine people. If there was ever a case for retaliation—for responding to violence with violence—surely this would be it? But that’s not what happened.

This is how the survivors and relatives responded:

“No matter how much hate there is in the world, it’s no match for love” Chis Singleton, son of slain Sharonda Singleton, said. “Love is always stronger than hate.”

And the daughter of Ethel Lance, addressing the killer directly in court, said, “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her ever again. But I forgive you.”

She added: “You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you.”

Anthony Thompson, husband of the slain Myra Thompson, echoed Lance’s daughter’s words. “I forgive you, my family forgives you,” he said.

Felecia Sanders, the grandmother who shielded her 5-year-old granddaughter from the gunfire, but lost her son in process, told the killer that the parishioners “welcomed you Wednesday night at our Bible study with open arms.”

She continued, fighting tears: “You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know . . . And it will never be the same. But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you. May God have mercy on you.”

Alana Simmons, granddaughter of victim Daniel Simmons, said: “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate . . . everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived and loved and their legacies will live on.”

“Hate won’t win,” she concluded firmly.

A relative added, “I am a work in progress and I acknowledge that I am very angry. But we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate so we have to forgive.”

Celebrate C.S. Lewis with a Free Book and Two New Pre-Pubs

It’s little wonder that so many people love C.S. Lewis. He crafted his words like no one else, and his writings influenced much of Christian thought today. A number well-known believers—such as J.I. Packer, Chuck Colson, and Francis Collins—have pointed to Lewis’ Mere Christianity as an influence in their own conversions.

“Jack” (as he was known to friends and family) declared himself to be an atheist when he was 15 years old. However, influenced in part by the writings of George MacDonald and in part by his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien, he converted to Christianity in his early 30s, and he went on to become one of the world’s best-known Christian apologists. He authored more than 30 books and hundreds of essays which are still being read and discussed today.

In celebration of C.S. Lewis, here are some great resources from Logos and Vyrso. You can read them from your Faithlife Study Bible app!

Two Pre-Pubs on C.S. Lewis

Perhaps more important than the books Lewis wrote are the conversations he started. He didn’t just present his beliefs; he provided us with his own unique way of thinking. Modern theologians have taken Lewis’ writings, studied and dissected them, and applied his thoughts in new ways to life and theology. Such is the case with these two products Logos currently has in Pre-Publication:

In C.S. Lewis vs the New Atheists, Peter S. Williams uses Lewis’ arguments to show that there is nothing especially “new” about the new atheism. He places Lewis in conversation with modern atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Pre-order the Select Works of Peter S. Williams today to see how Lewis’ own journey from atheism to Christian belief illuminates and undercuts the objections of the new atheists.

How did Lewis understand topics like the church and salvation, sufferance and atonement, substitution and election, deliverance and salvation, and Christ’s work on the cross? What can the life and death of Lewis and his wife tell us about the triune God of love? P.H. Brazier explores these questions and more in C.S. Lewis—On the Christ of a Religious Economy: II. Knowing Salvation.

Free book on C.S. Lewis!alive-to-wonder-celebrating-the-influence-of-c-s-lewis

Popular pastor and author John Piper is also a big fan of C.S. Lewis. Alive to Wonder: Celebrating the Influence of C.S. Lewis is a collection of extended excerpts from Piper’s corpus where Lewis’s fingerprints are most vividly seen, including a significant introduction from Piper specially written for this project. Pick it up free from Vyrso!

Further reading on C.S. Lewis

We have many more resources on C.S. Lewis available for you. From Vyrso, you can pick up C.S. Lewis Remembered, with contributions from his personal friends, family, colleagues, and students. You’ll also find a number of biographies, including Alister McGrath’s recent C.S. Lewis—A Life, George Sayer’s Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis, and Sam Wellman’s C.S. Lewis: Creator of Narnia.

And from Logos, you can grab Andrew Wheeler’s C.S. Lewis: Clarity and Confusion, a collection of essays in C.S. Lewis and Friends, and an issue of Tabletalk magazine on C.S. Lewis for under $2.

Celebrate C.S. Lewis and learn from his wisdom by adding these resources to your library!

Illuminate the Temple Cleansing with Bible Study Tools

Giovanni_Paolo_Pannini_001We’ve previously discussed the benefits of including Bible dictionaries in your lineup of Bible study tools. But I figured you might like to actually see some of these dictionaries in action. So I put together a case study, examining John 2:13–17 (Jesus’ cleansing of the temple) with the help of Bible dictionaries.

Let’s start with the text itself:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:13–17)

You’ll note that I applied bold formatting to six terms in the text above. When studying with dictionaries, it’s a good idea to keep an eye open for such key terms. Then you can look them up in your dictionary of choice, and get a fuller picture of what’s going on. For this case study, I’m going to sample six different dictionaries (one for each term) to demonstrate how they enhance our understanding of the text.

Passover

Jesus’ cleansing of the temple took place in the context of the Passover. Let’s see how Philip Schaff’s A Dictionary of the Bible describes this feast:

[It is] the principal annual feast of the Jews, which typified the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world. Comp. 1 Cor. 5:7, 8, Christ our Passover is slain for us, etc. It was appointed to commemorate the exemption or “passing over” of the families of the Israelites when the destroying angel smote the first-born of Egypt, and also their departure from the land of bondage. . . .

This particular entry goes on to describe the Passover in tremendous detail, but we’ll leave it there for now.

Jerusalem

What about the city of Jerusalem—what is its significance? Here are some insights from the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

Jerusalem is a city set high on a plateau in the hills of Judah, considered sacred by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Its biblical-theological significance lies in its status as Yahweh’s chosen center of His divine kingship and of the human kingship of David and his sons, Yahweh’s vice-regents. . . .

The NT portrays the various Jerusalem-related prophecies as fulfilled in and through Jesus, Israel’s Messiah. . . . Indeed Jesus’ mission ended in His rejection by Jerusalem’s rulers and His death outside the city walls (Mark 8:31; 10:32–34; chaps. 14–15).

Temple

We can’t do a study on cleansing the temple without taking a look at the temple itself. The temple Jesus cleansed was not the original temple, as The Essential Bible Dictionary explains:

For several centuries, the center of Hebrew worship was the tabernacle, a portable tent. King David purposed to build a permanent house or temple for God (2 Sam. 7), and his son Solomon was able to fulfill this desire (1 Ki. 6–8). This building was destroyed in 586 BC but then rebuilt by Zerubbabel (Ezra 5:2) and greatly expanded by Herod the Great (Jn. 2:20). Herod’s temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.

Money-changer

Central to this account are the money-changers Jesus drove out of the temple. What about them caused Jesus to react so strongly? The Tyndale Bible Dictionary offers some insights:

Jesus encountered the money changers in the temple courtyard when he “cleansed the temple” (Mt 21:12–13; Mk 11:15–16; Lk 19:45–46; Jn 2:13–22). The reason for this action has been a matter of debate. Worshipers needed to procure the half-shekel to pay their tax. But they needed also to purchase birds, animals, or cake offerings in some cases. This wholesale activity in buying and money changing seemed inappropriate in the temple precincts, which constituted a sacred area (cf. Mk 11:16), although Jesus evidently approved the payment of the temple tax as such (Mt 8:4; 17:24–26; Mk 1:44; Lk 5:14). There is also the possibility that the charge made by money changers and by those who sold sacrificial birds and animals was exorbitant, whether for their own profit or for the profit of the temple authorities. Such operations could be carried on at a suitable distance from the sacred area so that the haggling and noise associated with such activities in an Eastern setting did not unnecessarily disturb the prayer and the offering of sacrifices carried on in the temple courts (cf. Jer 7:11).

Cord

What about the whip Jesus made? Sometimes we have to try different entries to get the information we need. I couldn’t find an entry for “whip” in the dictionaries I checked, but the entry for “cord” in Smith’s Bible Dictionary is just what we’re looking for:

The materials of which cord was made varied according to the strength required; the strongest rope was probably made of strips of camel hide, as still used by the Bedouins. The finer sorts were made of flax, Isa. 19:9, and probably of reeds and rushes. In the New Testament the term is applied to the whip which our Saviour made, John 2:15, and to the ropes of a ship, Acts 27:32.

Father’s house

Finally, we ought to look up “father’s house.” As The Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary demonstrates, this term has a rich and varied history that goes beyond a simple reference to the temple:

In ancient Israel, and more broadly in the surrounding region, the “father’s house” (i.e., ancestral family) was the basic unit of kinship, more extensive than “brothers” (Gen. 46:31; Judg. 16:31) or the single “household” (Exod. 12:3) but smaller than the clan and tribe (note the contrasts in, e.g., Num. 1:2; Judg. 6:15). In genealogies the “father’s house” is often rendered “family” (e.g., Exod. 6:14; Num. 1:2 and throughout the chapter; 1 Chron. 4:38). In some instances, the twelve tribes of Israel are construed as father’s houses (Num. 17:2–6; 1 Sam. 2:28). . . .

On two occasions Jesus referred to the temple in Jerusalem as his “father’s house,” once when he was a young man (Luke 2:49), and once when he drove merchants from the temple (John 2:16). On another occasion, he referred to a “place where I am going” as “my father’s house” (John 14:2–4). In addition, we have two references to the “father’s house” as a kinship unit (Luke 16:27; and possibly Acts 7:20).

Add Bible dictionaries to your library

Here are all the dictionaries we used in this case study:

And there are many more to choose from. Check them out, add a few to your FSB, and improve your Bible study today!

Altars and Infographics in the Faithlife Study Bible

Infographics are a tremendous resource for studying the Bible. They help us picture what we’re reading, and they visualize concepts that may be foreign to us, allowing for much greater understanding. And you’re in luck—the Faithlife Study Bible is full of biblical infographics!

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The 9 Major Types of Bible Study Tools

bible.study

Bible study tools come in all different shapes and sizes, but the most common resources usually fit into one of a few basic categories. They each have a specific purpose to aid your studies.

For your convenience, we’ve compiled a list of different kinds of Bible study tools and what they can do for you, along with some suggested resources to get you started.

Bible dictionary

Bible dictionaries are a lot like English dictionaries, but they are focused on biblical words. Rather than providing modern definitions, they describe what a given word means when used in the Bible. They often include details like the meanings of biblical names. Some more technical Bible dictionaries will include references to the Greek and Hebrew, while others stick to the English.

Bible encyclopedia

Bible encyclopedias are similar to Bible dictionaries in concept, but they are greater in scope. While dictionaries typically have short entries for quick reference, encyclopedias tend to have longer articles covering people, places, events, objects, and more as found in the Bible. Bible encyclopedias often go into much greater historical and cultural detail than dictionaries.

Both Bible dictionaries and Bible encyclopedias are organized alphabetically by topic. When you get one from Logos.com, you’ll see links to it in your study notes whenever the text you’re reading mentions a topic it addresses. In this way, your FSB app gets more detailed and powerful as you add resources from Logos.com.

Commentary

Commentaries go verse by verse or passage by passage through the Bible, or through a particular section of the Bible. This system of organization is called “versification” because it follows the book, chapter, and verse structure of the biblical text. Commentaries are meant to be used in parallel with the Bible’s text, offering explanations, insights, textual notes, historical background, and more. Most commentaries also include introductions to the books of the Bible, providing details such the book’s author, as well as when, where, and why it was written.

Study Bible

Study Bibles combine multiple study tools (such as a Bible dictionary and commentary) into one relatively compact volume. Like commentaries, study Bibles are versified, but the notes in study Bibles are usually much more concise and to the point than full commentaries. When sold in print, the text of the Bible is placed right alongside or above the notes and articles. The world’s largest, most advanced study Bible is free! If you’re not already using it, get your free Faithlife Study Bible now. You can also add notes from other study Bibles to your FSB.

Versified resources like commentaries and study Bibles offer a great alternative to the study notes included in your FSB app. If you’d like to survey multiple opinions while you study, add a commentary set or another study Bible to your FSB, and you can quickly switch between them.

Concordance

Concordances are designed to help you find things in the Bible. Basic concordances have fallen out of popularity, due to the ease of searching digital Bibles. However, the more advanced concordances are still useful, due to their ability to search by topics and themes or even people and places, rather than simple word searches.

Harmony

Harmonies take books of the Bible that overlap one another in content, and they show how the books fit together. They reorganize the biblical content to flow chronologically, so you can find parallel passages more easily. The most common variety are Gospel harmonies, combining the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; however, harmonies also exist for other books, such as Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. Many harmonies only include Scripture references, while others place the actual texts in parallel columns. A few harmonies actually combine the four Gospels into a single text that flows chronologically.

Lectionary

Lectionaries are reading plans for the Bible that group texts into weekly readings. They often span three-year cycles, designated year A, year B, and year C. The idea is to provide believers around the world with a shared reading schedule. While some lectionaries include only the readings themselves, others include reflections on the texts.

Devotional

Devotionals are one of the most common Bible study tools, but they have wide variety among them. Some focus on a book or passage of the Bible, while others focus on a certain topic, while others still cover multiple topics. Some devotionals include a year’s worth of reading, while others only last for a month. Some are meant to be read in the morning, while others are meant to be read at evening, while others still have entries for both morning and evening.

Bible atlas

Bible atlases are collections of maps that show the world as it was in Bible times. They are helpful for seeing how different biblical locations fit together. Many Bible atlases show the paths followed by biblical people during their travels.

All the study tools you see here can be enjoyed in your free Faithlife Study Bible app. Buy one from each category, and you’ll have a robust Bible study library that will serve you well for years to come.

* * *

Serious Bible study is easier with serious Bible study software. The Faithlife Study Bible is a great place to start, but if you’d like to study in greater detail, Logos 5 is for you. Its powerful, intuitive tools and vast libraries are the perfect way to expand your understanding of the Scriptures. Visit Logos.com/Logos5 to learn more.

Why I Love the NET Bible

the-net-bibleThe NET (or New English Translation) is a relatively new Bible version, but it has quickly become one of my favorites. It is completely unlike any other translation before it. Perhaps the word openness best describes what makes this Bible so special.

Open translation process

When the NET Bible was being translated, the drafts were put on the web for beta testing. Many people, from professors to junior high students, submitted suggestions. The translators (themselves highly qualified scholars) used that feedback to improve their translation. This resulted in a unique Bible version that is highly readable while remaining faithful to the original texts.

Open licensing model

Most Bible versions today have heavy copyright restrictions. This often makes it difficult to quote the Bible legally in a new publication. The NET Bible, however, operates on a “ministry first” model. The goal is to make it easy to secure the proper permissions by eliminating as many obstacles as possible. In most cases, authors can use the NET Bible in their books without having to pay any licensing fees.

Open translators’ notes

My favorite aspect of the NET Bible is the wonderful set of notes it comes with. The translators provided detailed explanations for every major decision they made, giving us an inside look at the translation process. The notes cover the text-critical issues surrounding any given text, including alternate readings. They discuss different meanings a word can convey, comparing their translation with other versions. And they explain what the idioms and figures of speech in the Bible would have meant to their original audience.

There are over 60,000 notes in total, and they are truly an invaluable resource. I would not want to be without them. The NET Bible notes are so helpful that they have actually been used by other Bible translators and editors:

The extensive and reliable notes in The NET Bible were a wonderful help to our translation team as we worked to prepare the English Standard Version.
Wayne Grudem, member of translation oversight committee, ESV

The translators’ notes, study notes, and text-critical notes (over 60,000 notes altogether) alone are worth the price of the NET Bible. In our work on the fully revised NIV Study Bible of 2002, the TNIV, and the TNIV Study Bible, we consulted the NET Bible notes and were often helped by them. Kudos!
Kenneth L. Barker, general editor, NIV Study Bible and TNIV Study Bible

What are you waiting for?

You can add the NET Bible—along with the incredible translators’ notes—to your Faithlife Study Bible for only $10. I don’t know of a better Bible study resource for that price!

Still not convinced? Here are just a few more endorsements the NET Bible has received:

There are many wonderful things I could say about The NET Bible, but the most important is this: the NET Bible is a Bible you can trust. The translation is clear, accurate, and powerful. And the notes, those wonderful notes! They bring to the layman scholarly insights and discussions that have up till now been accessible only to those trained in the biblical languages. If you are serious about studying Scripture, get a copy of The NET Bible.
Chuck Swindoll, chancellor, Dallas Theological Seminary

The complaint I hear from many Christians is that some of the translations of the Bible are too wooden. They are grammatically correct, but don’t seem to convey the passion of the writer. On the flip side, some paraphrases and translations convey the passion of the writer at the cost of an accurate translation. The NET Bible is the best of both worlds. The notes are helpful to the scholar and the lay person alike. This is the Bible for the next millennium.
Tony Evans, senior pastor, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship

This Bible is a triumph: a straightforward and accurate translation that is also elegant. The annotations are much fuller and more helpful than in other popular translations, and the production of a constantly-improving electronic text brings Bible reading and Bible study into the new millennium.
Philip R. Davies, professor at the department of biblical studies of The University of Sheffield

Download your copy today!

Don’t Make These 10 Common Bible Study Mistakes (Part 2)

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Last week we examined five of the most common mistakes made when studying the Bible. Today, we’re going to cover five more.

5. Missing the historical setting

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible was not written to twenty-first century Americans. Each book of the Bible was written by a specific person, to a specific group of people, in a specific culture, at a specific time, and for a specific purpose. If we miss these details, we are likely to misunderstand much of what we are reading. The Faithlife Study Bible includes much of this information in the introductions to books of the Bible. For even greater detail, I would recommend adding the IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (and Old Testament) to your FSB.

4. Assuming modern definitions of biblical words

Very few Greek or Hebrew words have an exact English equivalent. So we have to remember that the English words in a translation may not mean exactly the same thing as the original Greek or Hebrew. One way to get around this obstacle is to do a word study, examining every occurrence of a particular word in the Bible to see how it is used therein. However, this method is time consuming. A quicker way is to use a tool such as Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. This dictionary is a collection of such studies on almost every major word in the Bible. It makes it easy to understand what a given word actually means when used in the Bible. Add it to your FSB for easy referencing.

3. Failing to understand the genre

The Bible is made up of 66 different books, and they include many different genres of literature. There are epistles and narratives, poems and parables, instances of wisdom literature and apocalyptic literature, and a host of other specific styles. Keeping them all straight can be confusing, but it’s a vital part of understanding what we read. Thankfully, there are tools to help us here as well. One great resource to add to your FSB is How to Read the Bible Book by Book. It provides an overview for each book of the Bible—including the genre—along with a number of other important details.

2. Ignoring biblical context

All too often, we read the Bible as if it were a collection of unconnected verses. A single verse taken by itself can appear to mean something totally contrary to the author’s intent. We wouldn’t skip to a sentence in the middle of Moby Dick and expect it to make sense, so why do we do this with the Bible? One good example is Jeremiah 29:11. This verse is frequently claimed as a promise for God’s specific blessing on an individual. But when we look at the context, we see that God was talking to the Israelites, whom he had sent into exile for their sins. Only after being in exile for 70 years would God bring them back to prosperity. Those are “the plans I have for you” according to Jeremiah’s full context.

1. Studying for the wrong reasons

It is easy to view Bible study as an intellectual exercise. But acquiring information about the Bible is not a proper end in itself. Paul described the purpose of Scripture: “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). If our studies do not equip us for good works, then they are unprofitable studies. As we read the Bible, our goal must be to ultimately apply it to our lives.

These mistakes are easy to make, but they can be avoided. Let’s all continue studying Scripture together, and continue living it out every day.

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Serious Bible study is easier with serious Bible study software. The Faithlife Study Bible is a great place to start, but if you’d like to study in greater detail, Logos 5 is for you. Its powerful, intuitive tools and vast libraries are the perfect way to expand your understanding of the Scriptures. Visit Logos.com/Logos5 to learn more.

Don’t Make These 10 Common Bible Study Mistakes (Part 1)

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We know we ought to be studying the Scriptures, but sometimes we don’t know how. Here are five of 10 common Bible study mistakes to avoid:

10. Starting without prayer

The Bible is unlike any other book because it was inspired by God himself. Paul told us that “the things of the Spirit of God . . . are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14), and Jesus said that the Spirit guides us into the truth (John 16:13). We have access to God through prayer, so we should be looking to him for guidance as we seek to understand his Scriptures. It doesn’t matter what incredible resources and study tools we use if we do not first go to God.

9. Studying by yourself

Scripture was intended to be read and studied in community. We’ve all but lost sight of that in our modern individualistic culture. I’m not saying it’s wrong to do personal study—there is definitely a time and place for that. But if we study on our own in exclusion to studying with others, we’ll miss out on the rich insights the community of God has to offer. Additionally, we all need the checks and balances of other believers to keep us accountable. So do your personal study, but then bring what you learn to a group setting and discuss it together. You can also facilitate your group studies by using Fathlife Community Notes.

8. Bringing preconceptions to the text

It is tempting to read the Bible selectively, trying to prove an idea we already believe to be true. If we come to the Scriptures with a predetermined conclusion, we can force them to say whatever we want. That might make us feel better, but it won’t be doing us any good. Rather, we should open the Bible with humility, knowing that some of our beliefs are wrong and ought to be changed. We must let the text speak for itself without forcing our own preconceptions on it.

7. Reading from only one perspective

Similar to the above mistake, it is tempting to only use study resources we already agree with. But this severely limits our spiritual growth. I’ve found that those whose perspectives differ from my own often have the most to teach me. When Logos selected contributors to write the notes and articles in the Faithlife Study Bible, we wanted to avoid getting stuck in one particular viewpoint. So we reached out to a wide range of different theologians. You’ll find contributions from such men as Timothy Keller, N. T. Wright, and everywhere in between. They all share a love for God, but their differing perspectives bring unique insights to the Scriptures.

6. Using only one translation

We’ve discussed this point on the blog before, but it’s worth repeating. Different Bible versions follow different translation philosophies. The basic categories include formal equivalence (seeking word-for-word accuracy), dynamic equivalence (seeking thought-for-thought accuracy), and paraphrases (rewriting the overall message). Furthermore, the Greek and Hebrew texts have many nuances that can’t be captured by a single translation. If you don’t read Greek or Hebrew, comparing multiple translations can help you see the various nuances each passage has to offer. While Ray recommended pairing the NASB with NLT or the ESV with NIrV, my personal preference would be to pair the NET with the LEB.

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Have you made any of these mistakes before? I know I have. Let’s learn from our past mistakes. What steps can we take to avoid them in the future? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to come back next week to see five more common Bible study mistakes to avoid.

Mastering Cross-References

Faithlife Study BIbleNo single book of the Bible stands alone. The biblical writers continually referenced, quoted, and built off previous books. Cross-references connect related verses and provide the full context for the passage you are studying.

The Faithlife Study Bible provides two sets of cross-references. The first set comes with the Bible text and will vary depending on which version you choose. The second set is found in Faithlife study notes.

Let’s go through a sample passage to demonstrate how these cross-references work. We’ll use Matthew 12 in the ESV for this example.

Matthew 12:1–8 recounts the time Jesus’ disciples plucked some grain and ate it. The Pharisees then rebuked Jesus for his disciples’ actions, and Jesus came to their defense.

This same event can be found in two other Gospels. Find those passages by going to the small letter w before the word Jesus in Matthew 12:1. Tap or click on it to see the cross-references—Mark 2:23–28 and Luke 6:1–5. Tap one of the references (or mouseover if you’re using Bible.Faithlife.com) to see a preview of those verses.

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Why did the disciples feel free to take this grain in the first place? The answer to that is found in the cross-reference marked by a small letter x in Matthew 12:1. It will take you to Deuteronomy 23:25, where you can read the law which allowed for eating a neighbor’s standing grain.

Why then did the Pharisees object? They objected because they thought the disciples’ actions counted as work on the Sabbath. In the Faithlife study notes, you’ll see an entry for “the Sabbath.” That entry includes a cross-reference to Exodus 20:8–11; 34:21 where you will find the law prohibiting work on the Sabbath.

Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ accusations by reminding them of the time David and those with him ate the bread of the presence from the house of God. Want to read the full account of David’s action? The entry in the study notes for “what David did” includes a cross-reference to 1 Samuel 21:1–6.

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Experiment with the other cross-references in this passage. See if you can use them to answer these questions, and answer them below in comments.

  • What was the purpose of the bread of the presence?
  • Where does the quote “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” come from?
  • In what other passages did people accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath?

Use cross-references in the Faithlife Study Bible to connect the Scriptures and expand your understanding of the Bible.