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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Immerse: The Reading Bible | Book Review


Most Americans own a Bible, but few read it. According to the 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 entire church — from Jr. 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 (1 Chronicles–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 or encyclopedia — 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 their Bible reading when encountering a difficulty in life (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, 2017).

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

What Should We Pray For?


January 7–13 is the national week of prayer in the Assemblies of God. Throughout this week, I will be sharing daily devotions on prayer. May you draw closer to God in 2018 as you seek His face.

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In Matthew 6:9–13, Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

Notice the pattern of this prayer and the specific requests it makes.

The pattern is vertical and horizontal. First, we direct our attention to God and His concerns; then we ask God to direct His attention to us and our concerns. In Matthew 22:37–39, Jesus says: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Prayer simply follows the pattern of these two great commandments.

The Lord’s Prayer makes six specific requests. First, we pray, “hallowed be your name.” The name of God is revelatory; it tells us about His person and works. According to Matthew 1:21, for example, Joseph and Mary named their baby Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.” In Hebrew, Jesus simply means, “The Lord saves.” So, the first thing we do in prayer is praise God for who He is and what He has done. By doing so, we focus on God’s powerful love for us.

Our second and third requests are, “your kingdom come, your will be done.” The will of God is what He wants to accomplish in the world He created and the people He is saving. Through prayer, we prioritize God’s agenda for our lives.

Fourth, we pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” In first-century Palestine, most people lived at a subsistence level. They worked as day laborers, earning only enough money to buy what short-term provisions they needed. So, the prayer for daily bread was a prayer for actual bread. In our day, it includes other things. When we pray, we can ask God for whatever we need. Interestingly, there is a connection between doing God’s will and receiving our daily bread. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:33, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, drink and clothing, among others] will be given to you as well.”

Fifth, we pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” When we pray, we seek God’s grace and promise to send it along to others as well. Prayer is the nexus between our reconciliation with God and our reconciliation with other people.

Finally, we pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Life is difficult. God uses these difficulties to make us better people. So, when we pray, we must learn to trust God in trying times.

When we pray, we ought to follow the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer and make its requests our own.

Your Father Knows What You Need


January 7–13 is the national week of prayer in the Assemblies of God. Throughout this week, I will be sharing daily devotions on prayer. May you draw closer to God in 2018 as you seek His face.

~~~~~

Four “how” questions arise from Jesus’ discussion of prayer in Matthew 6:5–15: How often should we pray? Where should we pray? Should we use patterned prayers? And what should we pray for? We have answered the first three questions, but before answering the fourth, I want to take a look at something Jesus says in Matthew 6:8: “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Later, He says, “your heavenly Father knows that you need [food, drink and clothing]” (Matthew 6:32).

Why does Jesus tell us that God knows what we need even before we pray to Him? For at least one very simple reason, I think: He wants to assure us that God always has our best interests in mind. Often, we let the anxieties of life pile up on us before we take them to God in prayer. We forget about God until the very moment we realize we cannot live without His help. But God has not forgotten us. “Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:26, “they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

God already knows our needs, so when we pray, we can rest assured that He desires to meet them and has the power to do so.

But if God already knows our needs, why do we need to ask Him to meet them? Soren Kierkegaard hints at the answer when he writes, “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.”

God could meet our needs without our prayers. By asking for our prayers, He meets a need deep within us that we may not even know we have — our need to depend on Him.

Consider what John Calvin wrote in this regard: “Believers do not pray with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things.”

“By our praying,” Martin Luther concludes, “we are instructing ourselves.”

Because God knows all things, including our needs from hour to hour, we can be confident that He will take care of us. This confidence is evident in Paul’s assertion that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Not all things that happen to us are good, of course, but God can turn even bad things to good ends. The real question is whether we love God and express our need for Him.

Should We Use Patterned Prayers?


January 7–13 is the national week of prayer in the Assemblies of God. Throughout this week, I will be sharing daily devotions on prayer. May you draw closer to God in 2018 as you seek His face.

~~~~~

Matthew 6:7–8 says: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Other translations speak of “empty phrases” (ESV) and “vain repetitions” (KJV).

Does Jesus prohibit using set phrases or repetition in prayer? Should we use patterned prayers? No and yes, respectively.

Let me give you two examples of patterned prayers. At meals: “For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful.” At a child’s bedtime: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

Does Jesus prohibit the use of patterned prayers such as these? No! Consider His instructions to the disciples in Matthew 6:9: “This, then, is how you should pray….”

The Lord’s Prayer is a patterned prayer. Jesus not only taught His disciples patterned prayers, He used them himself. His prayer from the cross — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) — is a quotation from Psalm 22. When you read that psalm in its entirety, you see why Jesus prayed it as He died. It is the appropriate prayer for that agonizing moment. In fact, the Book of Psalms is simply a collection of patterned prayers. If such prayers are good enough to be included in the Bible and used by the Lord, they are good enough for our use too.

What Jesus really prohibits is pointless prayer, not patterned prayer. As John Stott explains, He prohibits “any and every prayer which is all words and no meaning, all lips and no mind or heart … a torrent of mechanical and mindless words.”

So, should we use patterned prayers? Yes, but only if they help us express our minds and hearts to God.

I find patterned prayers useful for two reasons: First, they help me say exactly what I want to say. In the morning, I pray, “This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, ESV). When I sin, I pray, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). And when I go to sleep, I pray, “Guide me while waking, and guard me while sleeping, that waking I may watch with Christ, and sleeping I may rest in peace.” Why invent new prayers when old ones express my feelings exactly?

Second, patterned prayers help me organize my thoughts. The Lord’s Prayer presents an outline of prayer. It begins with focused attention on God (“hallowed be your name,” “your kingdom come, your will be done”) and then turns to our needs (“daily bread,” forgiveness, and deliverance from evil). When I pray, I use this outline, adding my specific requests under the appropriate headings. Under “daily bread,” for example, I ask God for whatever I or my family and friends need.

Patterned prayers are simply tools. Use them if they help you get the job done.

Where Should We Pray?


January 7–13 is the national week of prayer in the Assemblies of God. Throughout this week, I will be sharing daily devotions on prayer. May you draw closer to God in 2018 as you seek His face.

~~~~~

In Matthew 6:5–6, Jesus answers our second question about the “how” of prayer: Where should we pray? He says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

We should not interpret Jesus’ words too literally. True, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). But He also prayed in front of others, such as the crowd of 5,000 men, besides women and children, whom He fed miraculously (Matthew 14:19).

Jesus’ disciples also prayed in front of others. According to Acts 1:14 and 2:1–13, it was because of what the crowds saw happening at a Jerusalem prayer meeting that they asked Peter, “What does this mean?” God used the evangelistic sermon Peter preached in response to their question as a tool to convert about 3,000 of them that very day. All because of a public prayer meeting!

When Jesus tells us to pray in our rooms, in other words, He is more concerned about the spiritual location of our hearts than the geographical location of our bodies. He does not want us to be hypocrites, which derives from the Greek word for an actor. A hypocrite acts one way in public but lives another way in private. His onstage role is driven by a need for public approval. Because Jesus does not want our prayers to be corrupted by this hypocritical desire “to be seen by others,” however, He counsels us to pray alone, in secret, behind closed doors. Solitude enhances authenticity. Alone, we are able to speak our real concerns as our real selves to a real God who really cares.

Unfortunately, many people have trouble practicing solitude. We live in a highly individualistic culture, and they feel isolated and alone. When Jesus talks about solitude, they feel creeping pangs of despair. “I am already lonely,” they say to themselves, “must I continue to be lonely to experience God?” No! Solitude and loneliness are not the same thing. Solitude is healthy individualism; loneliness is unhealthy individualism. In the Christian life, there must be balance between solitude and sociality. Without that balance, we can neither be our authentic selves nor experience healthy relationships. So, let us heed Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s warning: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community…. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone….”

Let us make time and space in our lives to approach God in solitude. By the same token, we should not give up meeting together; instead, we should encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25). As long as our desire is to be rewarded by God rather than seen by others, we can draw near to Him alone and together.

How Often Should We Pray?


January 7–13 is the national week of prayer in the Assemblies of God. Throughout this week, I will be sharing daily devotions on prayer. May you draw closer to God in 2018 as you seek His face.

~~~~~

We have touched on the whether and the why of prayer. Now we need to pay attention to the how. Four questions arise: How often should we pray? Where should we pray? Should we use patterned prayers? And what should we pray for?

First, how often should we pray?

Jesus does not say. In Matthew 6:5, He begins, “And when you pray…,” then talks about where to pray. Jesus assumes we will pray; He does not tell us how often.

Jesus’ own life suggests an answer, however. According to Luke 5:16, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Luke does not quantify the word often, but his words indicate that Jesus prayed at regular intervals. I think we can safely assume that Jesus observed the set hours of prayer practiced by His fellow Jews. Several clues point in that direction:

  • Jesus’ parents kept the Old Testament laws regarding circumcision, purification, presentation of infants to the Lord and sacrifice, as “the custom of the Law required” (Luke 2:21–27).
  • Not only that, according to Luke 2:41–42, they went to Jerusalem every year for Passover, “according to the custom.”
  • Luke 4:16 tells us that Jesus “went to Nazareth … and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.”
  • According to Acts 2:42, the early church members “devoted themselves … to prayer.” (Without explanation, the NIV translates the Greek plural with an English singular.) The prayer or prayers mentioned here most likely refers to set hours of prayer observed throughout the day.
  • Finally, according to Acts 17:2, “As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.”

What emerges from these clues is that Jesus, instructed by His parents and imitated by his protégés, faithfully practiced Jewish customs, including Sabbath observance, synagogue attendance and prayer. If we want to experience God through prayer, we ought to follow Jesus’ example. At minimum, this means making time for biblical meditation and prayer twice daily. Psalm 1:1–2 tells us that the person whom God blesses “meditates on his law day and night.” And in Psalm 88:1–2, the psalmist exclaims, “Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out before you.”

Going further, it means praying whenever a need arises. James 5:13–14 says, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them….”

Ultimately, when we have developed good spiritual habits, prayer will come as naturally to us as breathing; that is, we will always be praying. Consider Luke 18:1: “Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”

Or Ephesians 6:18: “pray in the Spirit on all occasions … always keep on praying.”

Or 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “pray continually.”

So, how often should we pray? Routinely, occasionally and always!