ESV Archaeology Study Bible | Book Review


The Bible is God’s Word in human words. As God’s Word, it is inspired and inerrant, the final authority for what Christians believe and how they behave. As God’s Word in human words, it reflects the time and place of its original composition. Interpreting Scripture correctly, then, means understanding both its divine message and its human forms.

Archaeology is one of several academic disciplines that help us do the latter. The interpretive fruit of archaeological investigation is evident in the recently published ESV Archaeology Study Bible, edited by John D. Currid and David W. Chapman. Notable features include the following:

  • introductory essays to the Old Testament and the New Testament, as well as to the books within each testament;
  • notes on individual biblical passages showing how archaeological studies illuminate their meaning;
  • sidebars about specific people, places and concepts mentioned within the text;
  • photos, maps, diagrams and charts to illustrate places, things and events;
  • articles on topics related to biblical archaeology as a discipline;
  • and a glossary, a bibliography, indexes and a brief concordance.

From the outset, the editors identify three “foundational pillars” that characterize their work: “biblical orthodoxy,” “academic integrity” and “accessibility.” They affirm the historicity of Scripture, but they also note instances where archaeologists disagree on the time, place and meaning of biblical events. Most importantly, they show how archaeology helps readers better understand the biblical text’s original context. Let me offer three examples.

First, covenants. The Bible makes repeated references to covenants. For example, referring to the giving of the Ten Commandments, Moses says, “The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb” (Deuteronomy 5:2, ESV). Archaeologists have discovered a number of second-millennium B.C. Hittite covenants between a suzerain and a vassal. These suzerain-vassal treaties lay out the reciprocal rights and duties each has toward the other, though the relationship is not egalitarian. The suzerain is clearly in charge.

What’s interesting about these Hittite treaties for our purposes is that Deuteronomy is organized roughly like one of them. For example, the treaty between the Hittite King Mursili II and his Amurru subject Duppi-Tessub contains five elements: preamble, historical prologue, stipulations or commandments, witnesses and sanctions, both positive (blessings) and negative (curses). Deuteronomy similarly has a preamble (1:1–5), historical prologue (1:6–4:49), stipulations (5:1–26:19), witnesses (31:19–22; 32:45–47) and sanctions (27:9–30:20).

Obviously, there are differences between Deuteronomy and the Hittite treaties. Moses was a monotheist; Hittites were polytheists. Deuteronomy is a covenant between God and His people, whereas the other treaties were between a human overlord and other human subjects. Still, it is helpful to know that when God revealed himself to the Israelites, He did so in a cultural form that they would understand.

Second, parables. Jesus Christ is famous for His story parables — e.g., the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). Interestingly, the only other people to use story parables during this period were Jewish rabbis. They used them to explain Old Testament texts, introducing them with the formula, “To what may the matter be compared?” The Talmud records hundreds of these parables, and all of them are in Hebrew, even though the commentary about them is in Aramaic.

How does this help us understand New Testament parables? For one thing, it helps us understand that when Jesus taught His disciples, He used a well-established Jewish form of teaching — the story parable. For another thing, though the rabbis used parables to elucidate the meaning of the Law, Jesus used them to help His listeners understand the advent of the kingdom of God. Note Luke 13:18,20, for example, where Jesus asked: “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?” and “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?” (ESV).

Finally, Jesus’ use of story parables may hint at the fact that He taught in Hebrew. New Testament scholars often say that Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Holy Land in the first century A.D. That’s true to an extent and is reflected in the Gospels. Jesus uttered words and/or phrases in Aramaic (e.g., Mark 5:41; 15:34), certain place names in Jerusalem were in Aramaic (e.g., John 19:13), and Aramaic phrases even made it into the liturgical language of the Early Church (e.g., 1 Corinthians 16:22). But if Jesus’ use of story parables paralleled the rabbis’ well-established form of teaching, and if the rabbis told parables in Hebrew (even long after the first century A.D.), then it stands to reason that Jesus told His parables in Hebrew, too.

Third, the Erastus Inscription. I recently had the opportunity to travel through Greece, retracing Paul’s steps around the Aegean on his second missionary journey. One of our stops was Corinth, a city whose church Paul founded and in which he spent 18 months of fruitful ministry (Acts 18:1–17). Paul wrote two letters to the church in this city (1 and 2 Corinthians), and it is likely that he wrote his magnum opus, Romans, from this city.

Our guide walked us through an overgrown field of grass until he came to a roped-off pavement. Pointing down, he read what’s left of a mid-first-century A.D. inscription discovered in 1929: “ERASTVS. PRO. AED. S. P. STRAVIT.” That’s an abbreviated Latin sentence. When translated, it says, “Erastus in return for his aedileship paved it at his own expense.” (An aedile was a public official in charge of public buildings and, in Corinth, the famous Isthmian Games.)

Interestingly, in Romans 16:23, Paul sends greetings to the Roman church from one “Erastus, the city treasurer,” using the Greek word oikonomos rather than the Latin word aedile (ESV). It’s not certain, but it is quite possible that the Erastus of the inscription is the Erastus of Scripture, whom other New Testament passages identify as a coworker of Paul’s (Acts 19:22; 2 Timothy 4:20).

The value of the Erastus Inscription is not so much that it confirms the existence of a person mentioned in the New Testament. Rather, its value is that it shapes our understanding of the sociology of the Early Church. Sometimes, we think of early Christianity as a movement of poor people with little social influence, which it largely was. But Christ drew converts from all segments of society, including wealthier public officials such as Erastus. This helps us better understand some of the tensions between richer and poorer members that strained the fabric of Corinthian church unity (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:17–34). I’m not suggesting that Erastus participated in this division, by the way. I’m only pointing out that there can’t be division between rich and poor in the church if there aren’t both rich and poor within the church in the first place.

In many ways, we live in a golden age of biblical interpretation, at least from the standpoint of what we can know about the world of the Bible. The ESV Archaeology Study Bible is an excellent, one-volume reference work that brings to bear the results of archaeological investigation on the necessary responsibility of reading the sacred text in light of its ancient context. Given the amount of useful information the ESV Archaeology Study Bible contains, it is reasonably priced and will repay careful study.

Book Reviewed
ESV Archaeology Study Bible, ed. John D. Currid and David W. Chapman (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018).

P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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Mental Health and the Church | Book Review


In the spring of 1996, I entered an extended season of sadness. Not the kind of sadness where you wistfully wipe a tear from your eye with a Kleenex, by the way. It was the kind where you wake up in the middle of the night sobbing uncontrollably for hours. The sadness lasted for months.

A licensed Christian counselor diagnosed me with clinical depression. Through prayer, Scripture, counseling and the help of family and friends, I made it through that awful season, one of the worst I have experienced in my life. One I don’t ever want to enter again.

The first time I mentioned this episode in a sermon, I was surprised by the grateful response I received from a few members of the congregation. Though their words varied, their responses repeated a theme: “I’m glad to know that I’m not the only Christian who struggles with this.” After that sermon, I began to reference my depression if it was appropriate to the content and context of my message. I want people in the Church who struggle with mental health to know they are not alone.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S. Summarizing statistics about the incidence of mental illness among U.S. children and adults, Dr. Stephen Grcevich writes, “more than fifty million Americans today experience at least one diagnosable mental health disorder on any given day” (emphasis in original). These disorders can be episodic or persistent, and they can vary in intensity and effect. Many churches have begun excellent “special needs” and “disability” ministries, but these ministries tend to focus on obvious, physical problems. By contrast, mental health disorders are a “hidden disability.”

Mental health disorders keep people away from church, unfortunately. Grcevich writes: “Whether we realize it or not, our expectations at church for social interaction and conduct, when combined with the physical properties and functional demands of our ministry environments, represent significant barriers to church involvement for children and adults with common mental health conditions and for their families. Church can feel like hostile territory for families impacted by mental illness.” The twin goals of Mental Health and the Church are to identify those barriers and to outline a “mental health inclusion strategy” for overcoming them.

The barriers include stigma, anxiety, executive functioning, sensory processing, social communication, social isolation and negative experiences of church. Stigma arises because churches mistakenly interpret mental health disorders as moral disorders. A child with ADHD lacks self-control in certain environments, for example. Self-control is a moral virtue. Ergo, the child has a moral problem. Right?

It’s not that simple. An ADHD child can exercise some degree of self-control, but certain environments stimulate the child’s hyperactivity and inability to focus. Too often, churches blame the child, not realizing that the way the environment of the Sunday school classroom (brightly colored walls with lots of decorations) or the nature of the activities (hyperkinetic worship followed immediately by sitting and listening for long periods) can work against ADHD children’s ability to control themselves.

The next three barriers — anxiety and other mood disorders, executive functioning weaknesses, and sensory processing disorders — describe how mental illness itself creates barriers to participation in church activities. Consider sensory processing disorders. Today, many churches darken the auditorium and light up the stage for the song component of their Sunday service. They crank up the volume and often use flashing lights in a well-produced, high-energy set of worship music. Many people love this. People with sensory processing disorders don’t. It’s overstimulating and distracting. Indeed, it literally can be painful to them.

The final three barriers pertain to the barriers that result from the clash between the first four barriers and church participation. People with mental health disorders find it difficult to communicate in what most of us take to be a normal church situation. They became socially isolated. And because churches don’t always treat people with mental health disorders well — including children — they and their families develop a bank of negative church experiences.

Grcevich believes churches can and must do better at ministry to people with mental health disorders. For each of the seven barriers just identified, he proposes a strategy for overcoming it. “Mental health inclusion is best understood as a mind-set for doing ministry rather than a ‘program’ for ministry,” he writes. He uses the acronym TEACHER to outline that strategy:

T: Assemble your inclusion TEAM.
E: Create welcoming ministry ENVIRONMENTS.
A: Focus on ministry ACTIVITIES most essential for spiritual growth.
C: COMMUNICATE effectively.
H: HELP families with their most heartfelt needs.
E: Offer EDUCATION and support.
R: Empower your people to assume RESPONSIBILITY for ministry.

Grcevich provides helpful suggestions and examples under each of these seven headings, but for purposes of this review, I think it will suffice simply to name the elements of the strategy.

Too many people in America suffer mental illness silently and alone. The church, an institution founded on the good news of Jesus Christ, should be a place of hope and help for them. Mental Health and the Church is an excellent resource for pastors and other church leaders, showing them how to do this. It is based on sound conservative theology, but it also is attuned to the best in contemporary, evidence-based psychology. I recommend it enthusiastically.

Book Reviewed
Stephen Grcevich, M.D., Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).

P.S. This review is cross-posted with permission from InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Magnolia Table | Book Review by My Wife


My wife wrote a review of this cookbook on Facebook, and I received permission to share it here:

Here’s an honest 3-recipe review of the new Joanna Gaines’ cookbook, Magnolia Table. I cooked a breakfast and dinner casserole, along with a dessert. It’s fairly scathing until you get to the end. Please bear with me.

In the order my family enjoyed them:

1) Chocolate Cola Cake, with Chocolate Cola Buttercream (pg. 295): George said it was “phenomenal.” I liked the icing, not the denser cake. I prefer all my cakes to be light and moist. I will make the icing again, not the cake.

2) Sausage and Hashbrown Casserole (pg. 33): My family all liked it, including my non egg-eating son. I felt like it had the texture of dog food. Alas, a breakfast casserole is born. It needs crunch, or something. (So I gnawed on the well-done edges.) But, as a side to a brunch, it’s good enough and would feed a crowd. (My Yorkie really enjoyed it, as evidenced by the teeth marks left on the edges, since my son didn’t clean off the table as instructed. There is that. Bob [the Yorkie] loved it: ✔)

3) Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas (pg. 193) Come now, Lord Jesus, and fix this mess, I pray. I couldn’t eat it. Think can of cream of chicken soup meets a flour tortilla. Literally. George claims it’s a regional preference, since we grew up on red and green sauce on our enchiladas. I say cloying sauce by any other name, still ain’t a decent bechamel.

I’m also curious about her recipe writers and tasters. The enchiladas called for 10, 10 inch tortillas. Figure that in a 9×13 pan. It’s like some man from Epicurean magazine, twice removed from the average home cook, let this one slide. Any self-respecting recipe reader would immediately question how 10, 10-inch tortillas would fit in the pan, let alone rolled up with chicken inside. They didn’t. Only 7, 6 inch tortillas did. Someone fell asleep at the wheel on this one.

And, it’s the little things. The breakfast casserole called for a “container” of frozen hashbrowns. They must do things different in Texas. I’ve only seen and used “bags” of frozen hashbrowns. (See Epicurean note above.)

With that being said, I like this cookbook. I love its soul. It’s how I want my family to feel when I serve them my food. I want to create the food memories she elegantly describes throughout the recipes.

I just need to keep trying more of them. My trust meter is just not that strong, right off the bat. And, that’s disappointing because I wanted to like it so bad simply because the book itself has soul.

~Tiffany (George says I’m a “taste bud dilettante.” If I actually knew what that meant, I’d probably agree. So, take my review with a grain of kosher salt.🙄)

Book Reviewed
Joanna Gaines, Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering (New York: William Morrow, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Brief Insights on Mastering the Bible | Book Review


Brief Insights on Mastering the Bible is one of three volumes in Michael S. Heiser’s 60-Second Scholar series, published by Zondervan. The other two similarly titled volumes have to do with Bible study and Bible doctrine. Each book contains 80, two-page chapters that explain the topic sentence which constitutes the chapter’s title. For example, the title of chapter 43 is “Most of the Material in the Prophetic Books Isn’t About Predicting the Future,” and the chapter goes on to explain why this is the case.

Heiser is scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software, as well as an erstwhile professor at several evangelical schools. He’s the host of the Naked Bible Podcast and author of The Unseen Realm (reviewed here), among other books. He blogs regularly at drmsh.com.

Brief Insights on Mastering the Bible is a quick, helpful read, especially for those seeking an introductory text on how to interpret the Bible. It covers similar ground as Gordon D. Fee and Douglas H. Stuart’s excellent How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (4th ed.), also published by Zondervan.

Though I enjoyed Heiser’s book and plan on reading the other two in the series, I still recommend Fee and Stuart’s as my first choice for an introductory level text on biblical interpretation. Where Heiser’s material is short and suggestive, Fee and Stuart’s is longer and more detailed.

Book Reviewed
Michael S. Heiser, Brief Insights on Mastering the Bible: 80 Expert Insights, Explained in a Single Minute, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Three Book Recommendations


Each issue of Influence magazine carries three book recommendations, which I usually write. Here are my three recommendations from the May/June 2018 issue. (They are cross-posted here with permission.) Yesterday, I posted a longer review of Immerse: The Reading Bible, which also appears in that issue.

Celebration of Discipline (40th Anniversary Edition)
Richard J. Foster (HarperOne)
“Superficiality is the curse of our age,” writes Richard J. Foster in Celebration of Discipline. “The desperate need for today is … deep people.” These words ring as true in 2018 as they did in 1978 when Celebration of Discipline was first published. And spiritual disciplines are still the way to produce depth. As Foster summarizes the matter in the book’s new foreword, spiritual disciplines are “the means God uses to build in us an inner person that is characterized by peace and joy and freedom.” If you’re looking for help in overcoming the superficiality and distractedness of the current age, start with this book, which is 40 years young.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

From Jerusalem to Timbuktu
Brian C. Stiller (IVP Books)
“For two thousand years, the rise and fall of Christian faith has had much to do with renewal and revival,” writes Brian C. Stiller. The last century especially has witnessed the largest sustained movement of people to faith in the Church’s history. In From Jerusalem to Timbuktu, Stiller identifies five “drivers” behind this growth: the Holy Spirit, Bible translation, indigenous leadership, engagement of the public square, and holistic forms of ministry. “Living in the midst of this resurgence,” he asks, “we can’t help but wonder: will it carry on?” The only way to find out is to lean in to the Spirit even more.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Small Church Essentials
Karl Vaters (Moody Publishers)
“Your church is big enough,” writes Karl Vaters in Small Church Essentials. “Right now. Today, at its current size.” That’s good news for small-church pastors, but it doesn’t let them off the hook. “Small churches are not a problem,” Vaters writes, but neither are they “a virtue, or an excuse.” What small-church pastors need is a broader understanding of church health and growth. “We are always striving to increase our capacity for effective ministry,” Vaters writes. If you’re looking for “field-tested principles” for leading a small church, check out this hopeful, helpful book.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Immerse: The Reading Bible | Book Review


Most Americans own a Bible, but few read it. According to American Bible Society’s State of the Bible 2017 (SOTB), 87 percent of U.S. households own at least one copy of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, only 50 percent of U.S. adults read the Bible, listen to it, or pray with it at least three or four times a year.

How can we help people move toward greater Bible engagement?

There are many ways to answer this question, but I want to focus on a new Bible product I believe merits attention. It’s called Immerse: The Reading Bible, which Tyndale House Publishers created in Alliance with the Institute for Bible Reading. You can read more about it at ImmerseBible.com (BibliaInmersion.com for the Spanish version).

Immerse is designed to take the church — from junior high to senior adults — through the Bible in three years. It presents Scripture in six high-quality, low-cost paperbacks or e-books.

  • Messiah (New Testament)
  • Beginnings(Genesis–Deuteronomy)
  • Kingdoms (Joshua–2 Kings)
  • Prophets (Isaiah–Malachi)
  • Poets (Job–Song of Songs, plus Lamentations)
  • Chronicles (1Chronicles–Esther, plus Daniel)

According to its website, “Immerse is built on three core ideas: reading a naturally formatted Bible, reading at length, and having unmediated discussions about it together.”

While most Bibles are formatted like a dictionary — a two-column format with scholarly apparatus, including chapter and verse numbers, headings, cross-references and notes — Immerse presents Scripture in a single-column format and eliminates the scholarly apparatus entirely. According to SOTB, 8 percent of U.S. adults cite difficult layout as a significant frustration when reading the Bible. Immerse’s formatting reduces that frustration.

Using this Bible, a church’s small groups or Sunday School classes meet twice a year for eight weeks each time to read and discuss one of Immerse’s six paperbacks, starting with Messiah. Reading each paperback takes 20 to 30 minutes daily, five days a week, for the duration of the small group. This is what Immerse means by “reading at length.” Thirty percent of U.S. adults say lack of time is a significant Bible reading frustration. By delimiting how much and how often participants read, Immerse’s program addresses this concern.

During meetings, a leader facilitates open discussion around four questions:

  1. What stood out to you this week?
  2. Was anything confusing or troubling?
  3. Did anything make you think differently about God?
  4. How might this change the way you live?

State of the Bible 2017 found that readers are motivated to increase Bible reading when encountering difficulty (41 percent), a significant life change, such as marriage or childbirth (17 percent), or contemporary discussions about religion and spirituality in the media (17 percent). By focusing on four open-ended questions, Immerse encourages readers to ponder what the Bible teaches in the specifics of their lives.

Several other features of Immerse are worth highlighting. First, it uses the New Living Translation of Scripture (NLT). According to SOTB, 16 percent of U.S. adults are frustrated by the Bible’s difficult language. The NLT features readable, idiomatic English for a broad audience.

Second, within each paperback, Immerse reorganizes the books of the Bible in an interesting fashion. For example, the standard New Testament order of books is Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, other epistles and Revelation. Messiah pairs each gospel with letters related to it: Luke–Acts with Paul’s letters, Mark with Peter’s and Jude’s letters, Matthew with Hebrews and James, and John with John’s letters and Revelation. This helps readers see thematic connections between each gospel and its associated letters.

Third, Immerse provides resources to help readers understand the theological, historical and literary context of each book of the Bible. All six paperbacks include brief introductory essays. And the website includes free aids for small groups: a weekly 3-minute video that introduces each week’s readings, audio files of daily Bible readings, and downloadable guides for pastors, small-group leaders and participants.

God inspired the Bible to equip us for holy living (2 Timothy 3:16–17). If we don’t use it, however, it does us no good. Immerse offers church leaders a well-thought-out strategy for guiding readers through Scripture.

Books Reviewed
Immerse: The Reading Bible, 6 vols. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017).

P.S. This article originally appeared in the May/June 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

P.P.S. If your found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

The Judiciary’s Class War | Book Review


In this new Encounter Broadside, Glenn Harlan Reynolds (aka Instapundit) argues that “Front-Row Kids” have taken over the federal judiciary, rendering decisions that both reflect and reinforce the prejudices of their social class.

As Reynolds describes them, Front-Row Kids—the term is Chris Arnade’s—are the people “who did well in school, moved into managerial or financial or political jobs, and see themselves as the natural rulers of their fellow citizens.” By contrast, “Back-Row Kids” “placed less emphasis on school” and not surprisingly “resent the pretensions, and bossiness, of the Front-Row kids. Back-Row Kids are more plentiful, but Front-Row Kids are more powerful, as they’re the ones who for the most part lead America’s institutions, both private and public.

The Judiciary’s Class War is a short essay, so Reynold merely sketches the outline of an argument that needs to be made more fully elsewhere. Still, it is a suggestive argument. Given that, for example, all nine Supreme Court Justices hail from only three law schools—Harvard, Yale, and Columbia—perhaps it’s time that the court look a little more like America. Isn’t that what diversity is all about, after all?

Book Reviewed
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, The Judiciary’s Class War, Encounter Broadside No. 54 (New York, Encounter Books, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.