Better Bible Study Tip #66: Don’t Second Guess God’s Choice in Inspiration

One of the reasons why some people find the Bible difficult is because it doesn’t clearly answer all of their doctrinal questions, or articulate their beliefs as plainly as they wish it would. Sometimes this can lead to the bad habits of trying to pull more out of a text than what the text actually teaches, or to pull proof texts away from their contexts in an effort to explain a particular position more clearly.

We need to trust God’s wisdom in inspiring the text the way he did. For instance, if God wanted to inspire a text the show the importance of infant baptism, he could have easily included that. If God wanted to more precisely answer all of your questions about the Holy Spirit, or about the continuation or secession of miracles, he could have inspired someone to explain that more clearly. If God wanted to inspire authors of later generations to write in a way that would more clearly answer every question a modern Christian might raise, he could have done that.

Even though God could have given us a different Bible, he didn’t. For whatever reason, he choose to inspire the particular writers that he did, at the particular time that they wrote. For whatever reason, he chose to address the particular questions that the Bible deals with, teach the particular doctrines that the Bible teaches, and teach them with the precise words that he chose to teach them with. If the Bible is silent on a particular subject, God can be credited with that decision as well.

It was God who inspired scripture. It was God who selected and prepared the particular writers that he chose to inspire. It was God who gave us the Bible as it is, with the words it contains. He did not inspire a different text. God is not incompetent.

As Paul puts it in 2 Timothy 3:16-17,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The Bible, as it is, has a divine origin. The Bible, as it is, is sufficient. For this reason we should be extra careful to keep man made catechisms, creeds, statements of belief, and church traditions in proper perspective. If those creeds or traditions teach anything less than what the Bible teaches, they don’t say enough. If those creeds or traditions include anything more than what the Bible teaches, they may say too much. If those creeds or traditions are precisely the same as what is revealed in inspired scripture, they are redundant.

This is not to suggest that it is inappropriate for uninspired teachers to try to explain the text using their uninspired words, or for churches to write a statement of beliefs, or for traditions to be formed and kept. But we must remember that while God could have inspired other words to be included in the Bible, for whatever reason he didn’t. “Other words” are “other words.” They are not inspired. They do not originate with God.

If we can’t explain a particular belief without using the inspired words of scripture, and without using proof texts ripped from their original context, perhaps we should reexamine why we hold that particular belief. Or at they very least, we should reexamine why we feel like it needs to be explained in a way that is different from how the Bible explains it.

When we try to teach more or less than what the Bible teaches, we are disrespecting God’s choice in inspiration. We must honor God’s wise choice to inspire scripture the the time, place, and way that he did.

One Creation Story or Two?

In recent years I’ve noticed a growing trend where Genesis 1 and 2 are often referred to as “the first and second creation stories.” If there are, in fact, two different creation accounts in Genesis 1-2, this would strongly imply that there were two different authors or two different sources behind what we now recognize as the book of Genesis. This would also cast serious doubt on the traditional view of the Mosaic origin of the book of Genesis. This claim is also used to imply that inspired scripture contains contradictions, which in turn challenges the truthfulness, reliability, and inspiration of scripture as a whole.

It is my position that we should not describe Genesis 1 and 2 and two separate creation accounts. The first reason is because the evidence used to suggest that the two chapters are in tension with one another is not at all obvious. The second is reason is that a careful reading of the book of Genesis implies that the first two chapters of the book were always intended to be read together and in light of one another.

The Reasons for “Two Creation Stories” Language

The two supposed creation stores are Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25. Genesis 1:1-2:3 has a seven day structure, with six days of creation and a seventh day of rest. By the end of this section, you have an account of the creation of the whole world. You have mankind living on dry land, which has been separated from the water. You have the sun, moon, stars, plants, and various animals all filling the created world.

This section comes to a clear conclusion in Genesis 2:3.

So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Genesis 2:4 then introduces a new section of scripture.

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

At this point, the reader will quickly notice that the section of scripture that follows is not connected to chapter 1 in a clear, linear, chronological sequence. Genesis 2:5 does not pick up right where Genesis 2:3 left off with the beginning of the second week. Instead, it describes a situation where there was no “bush” or “small plants” in the field. Then the text goes back and gives additional details about the creation of man.

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up – for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground – then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden of Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:5-9

Not only does Genesis 2:4 begin a new section, but there are some stylistic differences between the two sections. One obvious example is that God is referred to as “God” (Elohim) throughout Genesis 1, whereas “LORD” (Yahweh) is used in Genesis 2:4ff.

Why would one author choose to use two different names for God? This is an excellent question. You can see how a modern reader might conclude that either the author of Genesis is schizophrenic, or there are two different authors.

Another reason for the “two creation stories” language is that there are allegedly contradictions between the two sections. This suggestion is primarily focused on the order of creation. Genesis 1 indicates that plants were created on the third day (1:11-12), and that man was created on the sixth day (1:26ff), whereas in Genesis 2 there were no bushes or small plants in the field until after the formation of man (2:5-7). Genesis 1 represents animals as existing before man (1:24-26), whereas Genesis 2 describes the creation of man (2:7) prior to the creation of animals (2:18-19).

These stylistic differences and alleged contradictions between the two narrative sections are the primary reasons why some refer to Genesis 1 & 2 as two creation stories.

Disunity Between Genesis 1 and 2 Is Not At All Obvious

Although there are clear differences between Genesis 1 and 2, the alleged contradictions are not at all obvious. It’s not difficult to find numerous commentators and scholars who have shown that Genesis 1 and 2 can easily be read in harmony with one another.

If Genesis 2 appears to recap Genesis 1 in some places, this should not surprise us. While in western cultures we tend to read and process everything in clear linear, chronological fashion, we should not assume that the author of Genesis intends to tell the story in this way. In the book of Genesis (as well as in other ancient near eastern writings) it is common to tell stories in cyclical fashion, where recapitulation is often employed. For an author to break from a linear, chronological telling of the story is not at all foreign to their culture. When Genesis 2 describes the creation of plants, animals, and man, this should not be considered strong evidence that the text has a different origin.

While it is helpful to observe stylistic differences between chapters 1 and 2, It is well known that a single author can vary his style or vocabulary to fit the points he wants the reader to draw from the text. Could it be that the author intentionally used the name “God” in Genesis 1, and intentionally started using “LORD” in Genesis 2 because he had a purpose for doing so?

Elohim and Yahweh are not synonyms. Elohim is a more generic term for powerful spiritual beings, whereas Yahweh is the personal name for the God of Israel. While Genesis 1 begins with the claim that the heavens an the earth were created by an Elohim (a claim which would easily be accepted in the ancient world), Genesis 2 makes the point that the heavens and the earth weren’t just created by any god. It was THE LORD God, Yahweh, the God of Israel who created the universe and all of mankind. The Creator is not only all-powerful, but He is also the most-personal and most-faithful. If we jump too quickly to the conclusion that Genesis 1 and 2 have different origins, we may miss what the author was intending to communicate by changing his style the way he did.

Although there are alleged contradictions, they are not at all obvious, as numerous biblical scholars have observed. For a good overview of why we should not assume that the chapters contradict one another, I recommend this article written by Wayne Jackson: “Critical Theory Attacks Genesis 1 and 2”. As long as there are possible satisfactory explanations to show that the text does not contradict itself, we should not act as if it obviously does.

Genesis 1 and 2 are Designed to be Read in Relation to Each Other

Biblical scholars have long recognized that the various sections of the book of Genesis are linked together by the recurring phrase, “These are the generations of…” Variations of this formula appear ten different time throughout the book (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 37:2). In each instance, this “generations” phrase serves to introduce the upcoming section of scripture and to link it to the section of scripture that has immediately preceded it. This is significant because it shows that Genesis 2:4 functions not merely as an introduction to the Adam and Eve narrative that follows, but also as a link that hitches the story of Adam and Eve back to the story of creation in Genesis 1. In other words, Genesis 2:4 communicates to the reader that the two stories should be read in connection to one another.

To illustrate this point, consider how the “generations” phrase functions throughout the rest of the book of Genesis. The next two appearances of the phrase are found in Genesis 5:1, “This is the book of the generations of Adam”, and in in Genesis 6:9, “These are the generations of Noah.” Between Genesis 5:1 and 6:9 is a genealogy that traces an unbroken line between Adam and Noah. Next, Genesis 10:1 begins a section that traces the descendants of the sons of Noah as they were scattered into the various nations of the earth, thus linking Noah to the story of Babel that follows. Next, Genesis 11:10 and 11:27 bracket another genealogy that links the chosen line of Shem to the family of Abram. Genesis 25:12, and 25:19, and 36:1 trace the descendants of Ismael, Isaac, and Esau. Finally Genesis 37:2, “These are the generations of Jacob” continues the story of Jacob’s family by introducing Joseph and Judah.

Every time this phrase appears, it functions to hold the book of Genesis together into one unified work, by clearly communicating to the reader that each of these main characters are connected to one another, and should be considered in light of one another. In other words, the author of the book of Genesis intends for its readers to think of the book as one unified work.

Therefore Genesis 2:4 serves to show how Adam and Eve should be read as proceeding from creation in similarity to how the nations proceeded from Noah, Abram proceeded from the nations, and Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph all proceeded from Abraham. When read in this way, we understand that creation itself points the reader forward to the story of Israel and all mankind. This explains why Jesus showed no hesitation in combining both Genesis 1 and 2 to establish his teaching (Mark 10:5-8).

To read Genesis 1 and 2 as two independent creation stories disregards the author’s design of the book of Genesis and his intention for the stories to be read together as a unified whole. When we separate the stories, we miss theological points that can be drawn only by reading the whole text. Before adopting this language, bible students should carefully reconsider whether it actually honors the inspired text, or if it serves to hinder our understanding by introducing internal disunity that was not intended by the author.

Forgive Them

Whenever we reflect on Jesus’s death on the cross, one of the most shocking and challenging verses is Jesus’s prayer in Luke 23:34:

“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”

It’s one thing to pray for our enemies when those enemies are distant, don’t present any immediate danger to our loved ones, or perhaps only mildly annoy us. But the setting of Jesus’s prayer makes this verse even more shocking and challenging. Jesus said this right after being betrayed, arrested, denied by his closest friends and disciples, mocked, beaten, falsely accused, unjustly tried, nailed to a cross, crowned with thorns, and left to slowly suffocate on the cross. What’s more, Jesus had the power to call more than twelve legions of angels to save himself and destroy his enemies (Mt. 26:53), so it’s not as if Jesus didn’t have other options. And yet, it was at this moment that Jesus assumes the ignorance of those who were crucifying him, and prays for their forgiveness on that basis.

This prayer, prayed on behalf of Jesus’s enemies (and for us, for it was our sin that put him there – Romans 5:6-10), is powerful. It is life changing. This is the kind of radical forgiveness that allows us to leave our sin in the past and move ahead without having to carry our guilt with us. This is the kind of undeserved forgiveness that can transform us into completely new kind of people. But it also presents us with a tremendous challenge because we, as disciples of Jesus, are expected to forgive our enemies in the same way that Jesus forgave his enemies.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is continually held up as an example that we are to follow. For a few examples, consider the following scriptures.

A new commandment I give to you, that you are to love one another: Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:34-35

Observe that we are not simply commanded to love one another. We are commanded to love one another as Jesus loved.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Observe that we are not simply commanded to imitate God. We are specifically commanded to imitate God by loving as Christ loved – a love that was demonstrated by his self-sacrifice for us.

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believed in him for eternal life.

1 Timothy 1:16

Observe that Paul did not simply benefit from Christ’s mercy and patience. Paul recognized that Jesus’s mercy and patience were an example for those of us who believe in Him. If Jesus’ mercy and patience is an example, that means that we are expected to imitate Him.

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. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

1 Peter 2:20-24

Of course we should strive to follow Jesus’s example in all things. But observe that in this text, Peter specifically calls us to follow in the steps of Jesus as he patiently suffered and died on the cross at the hands of his enemies. We are to die to sin especially in those moments when we would be the most tempted to retaliate against our enemies.

We are commanded to have the same self-sacrificial mindset that we see in Jesus himself.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 2:4-5

Or as Paul simply puts in in 1 Corinthians 2:16, “We have the mind of Christ.”

This means that the attitude that Jesus had toward his enemies is the attitude we are expected to have toward our enemies and toward one another. Even when we are witnessing the worst possible behavior, we are to follow the example of Christ. Even when we are the ones who are left to suffer the pain caused by the behavior of others, we are to follow the example of Christ. Even when we are wrongfully accused, publicly slandered, or betrayed, we are to follow the example of Christ. Even when we find ourselves with the opportunity to make our enemies justly suffer for their actions, we are to follow the example of Christ. We are to assume “they know not what they do” and pray for their forgiveness on that basis.

Of course, someone might reasonably ask, “Is there ever a line that could be crossed that would be such an extreme evil that we are no longer expected to follow Jesus’s example?” This is a good question, but as we wrestle with this question we also consider if there could even be an example of evil that is more extreme than what Jesus experienced at the cross? It should be noted that the first Christian martyr, Stephen, followed the example of Jesus’ prayer almost verbatim (Acts 7:60).  

Following Jesus’s example runs contrary to what seems to come most naturally. Of course we should also be praying for friends and neighbors who suffer as a result of violence. Of course we should pray for justice to be executed in response to evil. Such prayers are natural responses to evil, and they aren’t wrong provided we leave vengeance in God’s hands (see Romans 12:18-21). But if we do not pray for the forgiveness and deliverance of our enemies, we will fail to reflect the attitude that God had towards us when we were his enemies.

For while we were still weak at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – But God shows his love for us in that while were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

As our society continues to grow more and more polarized, as opposing groups continually hurl their hatred and insults towards one another, and as people continually assume the worst possible motives from one another, let’s hold ourselves to a different standard: the standard set by the example of Christ. Whenever we find ourselves horrified by acts of war and violence, let’s respond by imitating the mindset that Christ had towards his enemies.

Jesus’s prayer for his enemies (and for us) should encourage His church to cultivate this same attitude. Even when others seem to be filled with wickedness, their sin is the same as those who crucified Jesus. Jesus prayed for them. Jesus died for them. Jesus loved them. Let us follow the example of Jesus and pray “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Better Bible Study Tip #65: Do Not Force The Bible Conform To Your Denominational Preferences

If you want to understand what the Bible really teaches, it is absolutely crucial that you do not filter the Bible through your denominational preferences or your church’s interpretive tradition. Don’t try to force the Bible to be something it’s not. Don’t try to force to Bible to address modern denominational debates that were not being considered when the Bible was first written.

I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: If we are going to rightly apply the Bible in our own cultural context, we first need to make sure we are understanding it correctly in it’s original cultural context (see Better Bible Study Tip #41: Context is King). Thousands of years separate us from the time when the Bible was written. They were not us. We are not them. We can understand the Bible like they did, but it requires that we put ourselves in their shoes and read scripture in light of their worldview.

To illustrate my point, consider the phrase “I sent you a text.” We all know what that sentence means. But what if someone said “I sent you a text” in the year 1990? The same phrase would obviously mean something different, because “texting” as we know it simply did not exist. If someone said that in 1990, we would conclude that someone was sending somebody a book, or a manuscript or something. The same phrase would mean something completely different simply based on when it was said.

So for example, when Paul wrote to the “bishops” in Philippi, we shouldn’t imagine that Paul thought of a bishop the same way a modern Catholic thinks of bishops. When Paul wrote “be filled with the spirit” (Eph. 5:18), he was writing as a first century Jew, not as a modern charismatic. When Joel say “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”, he wasn’t imagining that people would be saved by saying the “sinner’s prayer.” John the Baptist wasn’t a “Baptist” in the same way we use the word. He was simply a baptizer. When Paul said “the churches of Christ salute you” he wasn’t referring to the Ephesus Church of Christ or the Corinth Church of Christ as if they were a first century denomination as many use the phrase “Church of Christ” today. He was simply referring those first century churches that belonged to Christ.

This principle goes beyond simple phrases, and extends to doctrinal teachings as well. When Paul wrote about the relationship of “faith” and “works”, he wasn’t referring to 16th century Catholic/Protestant debates. I could keep going, but hopefully the point is clear. We need to be careful not to make the biblical authors say more or less than what they actually said and meant in their own context.

To filter the Bible through our own denominational preferences or church traditions that post date the time of the Bible means imposing a foreign historical context on scripture. It means changing the original meaning of scripture. It means altering what the biblical authors were trying to teach. The more we cling to our favorite denominational understandings, the more we put ourselves at risk of misunderstanding scripture. We need to respect the Bible for what it is and what it teaches, and not force it to be what we wish it was or teach what we wish it taught.

What I – A Christian – Would Say to President Biden About Ukraine

Does being a Christian mean that I am opposed to Russia invading Ukraine? Does it mean that I am opposed to the United States getting violently involved in the conflict to protect Ukraine? If I, as a Christian, am pro-life, what would I say if President Biden asked me for my opinion on how America should respond to recent events in Ukraine?

The first thing I would try to explain is that I don’t think that being a Christian means that one must take the position that the governments of this world must embrace pacifism. Of course Christians are commanded to love to their enemies, to do good to their enemies, and to seek peace and pursue it. This is based not only on the commands of our Lord and of his apostles, but also on a strong pro-life understanding that all humans are created to reflect the image of God. To take the life of another human is to destroy an image of the God we serve. Because of this, many assume that Christians should all call the governments of this world to “turn the other cheek”. That’s not actually my understanding of what the Bible teaches. I don’t believe that Jesus and Paul’s instructions for Christians to love their enemies and do good to their enemies was ever intended as instructions for how the governments of this world are to respond to evil.

To the contrary, in Romans 12 and 13, Paul explicitly contrasts the attitudes and actions of Jesus’s disciples with the attitudes and actions of the governments of this world. Paul instructs Christians to “bless those who curse you” (12:14), to “repay no one evil for evil” (12:17), and to “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God” (12:19). Rather than retaliating against enemies, Christians are commanded to overcome evil with good, by giving food and drink to their enemies when they are in need (12:20-21). Then Paul immediately proceeds to say that God “institutes” all the governing authorities as he sees fit (13:1), which is why they “do not bear the sword in vain” (13:4). God institutes these sword-bearing governing authorities as “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (13:4).

The point I would try to stress to Mr. Biden is that Paul forbids disciples of Christ from ever engaging in the very activity that he says God uses governments to accomplish, namely the the taking of vengeance against evildoers. We as Christians are to leave vengeance to God, who has promised “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” (12:19). This doesn’t mean that God wants Russia or Ukraine or the United States to act violently, but God does institute (or “organizes”) them and their swords to bring about as much good as possible for his disciples. Part of the good he works to bring about is specifically the punishment of wrongdoers so as to keep evil in check.

I do believe this implies that there are certain “sword bearing” activities that governments take towards their enemies that Christians are forbidden from participating in. But I do think it’s a misunderstanding to think that Christians have a responsibility to try to get their governments to try to take a pacifist position. This is to act as if the New Testament gives instructions on how to reform the kingdoms of this world, when in reality, Jesus came to establish a kingdom that is not of this world.

So what do I think that President Biden should do about the crisis in Ukraine? The most important thing I would stress is that whatever my opinion is – as a Christian – should not be taken as a distinctly Biblical teaching about what Mr. Biden should do in Ukraine. The Bible just doesn’t speak to that directly. Mr. Biden’s kingdom, and the kingdom of which I am a citizen, operate under a completely different set of values. Mr. Putin’s kingdom, and the kingdom of which I am a citizen, operate under a completely different set of values. The kingdoms of this world fight for their self-interest, while we die to ours. Their primary concern is with whatever is most practical. Our primary concern is with what is most faithful. They rely on the power to threaten and take life if necessary, while our confidence is in the power of self-sacrificial love and the hope of resurrection.

In this light, my allegiance to the enemy-loving Jesus probably means that whatever foreign policy advice I might have to offer Mr. Biden might not be very “street smart” when it comes to the best way to lead the American military. Although most Christians, including myself, have plenty of different opinions about how the United States (or Russia or Ukraine for that matter) should handle this situation, the Bible doesn’t give any specifically “Christian” guidance for how to run the governments of this world.

So with that somewhat strange point being stressed, what would say if Mr. Biden asked me what I think he should do about Ukraine? First, I would encourage him to act slowly and think very carefully. There have been numerous examples over the years of the United States acting rashly and violently towards enemies, in what turns out in hindsight to be quite foolish.

I would also encourage Mr. Biden to consider the long-term consequences of his actions. Violence almost always looks like a solution in the short run, but in the long run, violence almost always leads to more violence. How would American intervention against Russia be used in Russia and other countries to harden more people against the United States and be used to recruit a stronger anti-US sentiment in the future? I would encourage Mr. Biden to think about just how little has been accomplished in the middle east after decades of involvement. And if Russia is repelled, and Ukraine regains their peace and sovereignty, how long will this last before they expect us to get involved again?

If Mr. Biden asked for my advice, I would ask him if all other avenues have been exhausted. Have all possible diplomatic solutions been tried? Have we exhausted all attempts to dialogue with Putin? I know the media tries to make him out to be a Hitler-type madman, but ever since the cold War, the US has been able to maintain mostly peaceful relations with Russia. What changed? Is there anything we can possibly do to reopen the door for dialogue and peaceful negotiations?

I also would ask Mr. Biden to consider the costs of getting involved. The Federal Reserve is already struggling as they try to control high inflation without crashing the economy. What kind of impact will it have on the poor if they are asked to finance war expenses on top of everything else?

I would also encourage Mr. Biden to take a position that is principled, and consistent. If he views Ukrainian lives as worth defending, why stop there? Why not defend other innocent life? A great place to start would be to start defending the innocent lives of unborn children at home. If Mr. Biden recognizes Ukrain’s secession and independence from Russia, would he be consistent in peacefully recognizing the independence and sovereignty of one of America’s own states if they were to secede from the United States?

Finally, after what has hopefully been a kind and respectful dialog with Mr. Biden, I would ask for permission to ask a more personal question. Mr. Biden, as a Catholic, claims to follow Jesus. I would ask, “Mr. Biden, how do your reconcile your position as Commander and Chief of the most powerful military in the world with your profession to follow Jesus? What difference would it make if your allegiance to the teachings of Jesus were to surpass your allegiance to the United States? What difference would it make if your allegiance to Jesus were even more important than your allegiance to the Catholic church? Is there a chance that you would be willing to forsake everything else, be immersed in baptism, and begin a new life as a disciple of Christ? Would you be willing to become a citizen of His kingdom, and place your hope in the way of the cross and resurrection? Will you become a part of His church? Until Jesus comes back, there will always be plenty of violent men and women who will happily fill the role you currently fill. But in the long run, what hope does this way offer? When Jesus returns, and his enemies are defeated, don’t you want to make sure you are on his side?”

And finally, I would assure Mr. Biden that I am praying for him, and for Ukraine, and for Mr. Putin and for Russia. Because at the end of the day, I am confident that the prayers of faithful Christians will accomplish much more than violence ever will.

Better Bible Study Tip #64: Listen to Bible Themed Podcasts

I’ve been a podcast listener for several years now. Although I enjoy listening to all kinds of podcasts (business, leadership, Star Wars, economics, history, sports, etc), I spend most of my time listening to Bible study themed podcasts. I initially started listening to podcasts simply because they are more entertaining than listening to the same 20 songs over and over on the radio. But the more I’ve listened to podcasts, the more I’ve noticed that listening to podcasts can actually improve your Bible study.

We’re all busy people. Even the most disciplined Bible student will often feel like they just don’t have enough time to study as much as they should. The beauty of listening to podcasts is that you can listen on demand. You can play a podcast while you are driving, exercising, or cleaning. That means you can listen to podcasts without having to take any additional time out of your day!

Another reason I recommend listening to podcasts is because you can listen to discussions on almost any niche topic you can think of. Whether you are interested in apologetics, ancient near eastern culture, the Christian and finances, Christians leadership, book by book exegesis, or teaching children’s bible classes, there are podcasts out there focused specifically on that specific topic! I will usually have four or five different podcasts that I listen to regularly, plus several more that I will listen to occasionally whenever they post an episode that looks interesting.

What’s even better is that the the endless content of podcasts is completely free. With some podcasts you can actually learn more about a subject matter than you would if you attended a college class. I’ve read that if you drive 12,000 miles in a year, in three years time, if you listen to podcasts, it is the equivalent of two years worth of college classes. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but I do know that you can learn quite a bit from podcasts and it’s way cheaper than paying thousands in college tuition.

One other hidden gem is that many podcasts will refer listeners back to their website or show-notes page, where they have additional resources listed. It may not seem like much, but I’ve stumbled across some really interesting articles and book recommendations simply from visiting some podcast show-notes pages.

Better Bible Study Tip #3 was “Don’t Just Read – Think“. Listening to podcasts will give you plenty of things to think about. Of course, we should always listen critically. As with any other media used for teaching, some podcasts are better than others. The only way to critically decipher between good teaching and false teaching is to spend plenty of time studying the inspired text of scripture itself. For this reason, listening to podcasts should be viewed as supplement to Bible study, and should NEVER be treated as a replacement for Bible study.

Podcasts have been a blessing to my Bible study, and I’m sure they can help you gain some additional insights as well. It’s simple to start. Using a podcast app, just search for whatever topic you want to learn about, and then start listening. If you don’t like what you find, just search try something else. If you find a good one, hit subscribe as keep listening. You might also try asking for recommendations from Christian friends. If you haven’t started listening to Bible themed podcasts, I highly encourage you to do so.

Better Bible Study Tip#63: Download and Use Bible Study Software

Back in the 1900’s, Bible students used to have to invest in several reference works, such as a concordance, a Bible dictionary, a lexicon, and a Bible atlas. But unless you still use a landline phone and don’t use the internet, I suggest you download some Bible study software.

Bible study software makes it quick and easy to look up all kinds of helpful information. Instead of looking up words in a lexicon, you can simply click on a word to see it’s Hebrew or Greek definition. Instead of using a concordance, you can do a quick search for a word or a phrase to see where else it appears. You can quickly analyze the text of a book or a chapter to see how frequently different words appear. You can easily compare translations, add study notes, and download commentaries. Bible study software companies usually have huge libraries of resources available, many of which are many are free.

Bible study software is all about making Bible research quicker and easier so that you can accomplish more in less time. E-sword, Logos, and Accordance are some of the more popular Bible study programs. For Better Bible study, download and use Bible study software.

Better Bible Study Tip #62: Explore the World of Commentaries

Every so often someone will ask me what set of commentaries I recommend. I never quite know how to answer that question. Different commentaries are good for different purposes. It’s kind of like a golfer asking which golf club he should use next; it depends on where he is on the golf course. If he’s driving, I’m going to recommend one club. If he’s putting, I’m going to recommend another club. If he’s in the sand trap, I’m going to recommend another club.

Some commentaries are written on a popular level, while others are written on a scholarly level. Some commentaries focus on exegesis, while others focus on application. Some commentaries are based on the English text, while others are based on the Hebrew or Greek text (Note: you can use most commentaries based on the Greek or Hebrew text, even if you don’t know Greek or Hebrew. You will find that you can usually just read around the Greek and Hebrew with minimal loss). Some commentaries do a good job developing the author’s particular viewpoint, while others try to provide an overview of different viewpoints. Different commentaries have different strengths.

For better Bible study, spend time discovering the world of commentaries. Don’t get stuck on just one set. Commentaries can be expensive, but if you have a church library you can save money by borrowing some of theirs. Many older commentaries are also available online for free, or for download using Bible study software. Sometimes discovering commentaries is like searching for gold. It takes time to search, but if you spend enough time sifting through various commentaries, you will eventually stumble across some incredible “nuggets” of wisdom.

Proverbs 14:11 reminds us that “in the abundance of counselors there is safety”. Discovering the world of commentaries can provide safety as well. Sometimes commentators will disagree with each other. Sometimes they will correct or balance out each other’s viewpoints.

Remember, it is important not to begin your Bible study with a commentary. You should only go to commentaries after you have done you own work (Bible Study Tip #60). If you’ve done your own exegesis well, you will find that the better commentaries more often than not will end up drawing the same conclusions. At the same time, if you are in the practice of discovering new commentaries, you may occasionally discover some compelling arguments to consider a different point of view. It’s always a good thing when we give ourselves the opportunity to correct errors in our own understanding. One way to do this is to do your own study first, and then spend time exploring the world of commentaries.

Better Bible Study Tip #61: Don’t Use a Study Bible as Your Primary Bible

I’m a big fan of study Bibles. Not only do they include the biblical text, but they also include all kinds of other helpful tools, such as maps, charts, introductions and outlines for each book, cross references, footnotes, as well as essays and articles that help explain difficult passages or concepts. However, even good resources can be misused, and of all the good resources out there, the study Bible is one of the most frequently misused.

The study notes and resources provided in study Bibles should be approached the same way we approach commentaries (see Bible Study Tip #60). Although teachers play an important role in the church (Eph. 4:11), we should always strive to follow the example of the Bereans who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). There is a difference between the inspired word of God and the non-inspired words of teachers who write about the word of God. It is important that we spend more time focusing on the text of the Bible more than on the words of teachers who are seeking to explain the Bible.

For better Bible study, don’t use a study Bible as your primary Bible. Using a regular Bible without study notes will eliminate the temptation to look away from what God has said. I’m not suggesting you should throw out your study Bible. But before you pull your study Bible off the shelf, force yourself to do the hard work of thinking about the text itself. When you struggle to figure out what a text means, meditate on it a little while first. Only by chewing on the text for awhile will you be in a good position to think through the strengths and weaknesses of the essays and explanations provided in your study Bible.

Who is a more reliable teacher? A biblical scholar, or God? When we are overly dependent on study notes, a subtle shift takes place from living by “every word that comes from the mouth of God” to living by “every word that comes from the mouth of our favorite Bible teachers.”

There is no doubt that there are some excellent study Bibles out there produced by wonderful Christian scholars. There is no doubt that a good study Bible can bless your study tremendously. But we must also be aware: if we use them in the wrong way, they may actually distract us from the text they seek to illuminate.

Better Bible Study Tip #60: Don’t Open a Commentary Until After You Have Studied

I love collecting good resources to help me in my Bible study. My collection of commentaries grows every year. It’s not uncommon for me to read something in a commentary that really helps me to gain additional clarity about a particular Scripture.

Commentaries are an important resource for serious Bible students, but they are also one of the most misused Bible study tools. Beware about using commentaries as a crutch for lazy Bible study. If you ever find yourself skipping the hard process of meditating on the text, and skipping straight to consulting your favorite commentary, you are doing it wrong. The Lord gave the church teachers for a reason (Eph. 4:11), but we should also follow the example of the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

Maybe you’ve been led to believe that you’re not smart enough to understand Scripture on your own, without significant help from Bible teachers. Although it is true that there can be some things in scripture that are hard to understand (even Peter admitted this much! 2 Peter 3:16), we should also remember that God intended for Scripture to be studied by everyone, young and old. The key to good Bible study is meditating on the text day and night (Psalm 1:1-3).

My point is not that we shouldn’t consult commentaries in our study. But before pulling your favorite commentary off the shelf, force yourself to think hard about the text of Scripture alone. Consider your Bible study methods. Do you spend more time focusing on the text of the Bible, or on the words of uninspired writers? When we are overly dependent on commentaries, a subtle shift takes place from living on “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4) to living by the words of Bible teachers.

Once you have done the hard work of thinking seriously about the text itself, go ahead and open a commentary. You will be in a better position to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the author’s arguments. You may even come across some new observations have haven’t thought of before. There is no doubt that we can learn a lot from commentaries written by good Bible teachers. But remember that there is no substitute for thinking when it comes to Bible study.