Daily devotionals

Daily devotionals

November 1: The Danger of Unwarranted Favor
1 Kings 1:1–53; Mark 1:1–34; Proverbs 1:1–7

 

No sooner had David assumed the throne of Israel than he began to lose sight of God’s way. As a young “warrior in the wilderness,” he had provided a beacon of hope and an ethical example for God’s people. But King David allowed emotion, rather than spiritual or even rational principles, to drive him. And David’s children made the situation even worse. Although we often look to David as an example to emulate, we can also learn from the mistakes that he made, including the disaster recorded in 1 Kgs 1:5–53.

As king, David was charged with protecting God’s people against all outside enemies. What David didn’t see coming—or so it appears from the text—was the threat from within his own family. When David’s sons began to compete for power, David should have put his love for God’s people and the calling God gave him above his love for his sons. The moment that Adonijah showed signs of laying claim to the throne (1 Kgs 1:5–10), David should have rebuked him—or perhaps even imprisoned or executed him, according to law of the time. Instead, David let it go.
Appointing Solomon as king was a wise political rebuttal, but David still failed to deal with the core problem—Adonijah. David may have been old and sick by this point, but he could have made better provisions for his kingdom, especially with so many loyal military leaders on his side. David’s position as king made his leniency even worse: He should have treated Adonijah like any other traitor.
Why did David ignore Adonijah’s rebellion? Maybe he loved his son. Maybe he was too tired or too frail to take on big problems at the end of his reign. We may never know the reason, but we do know the results. David’s weakness nearly ruined all he had built for God; his mistakes nearly tore the kingdom in two.
Parents often love their children so deeply that they overlook their failings. Righteousness should maintain its proper authority over wishful thinking and ungoverned emotions—in both kingdoms and households.

Who are you unreasonably favoring?

JOHN D. BARRY

 

Daily devotionals
Daily devotionals

November 2: Will We Follow?
1 Kings 2:1–46; Mark 1:35–2:28; Proverbs 1:8–12

The Gospel of Mark opens without fanfare—certainly nothing befitting literary greatness. There is no lofty imagery like the Gospel of John, no impressive genealogies like the Gospel of Matthew, and no historical narrative like the Gospel of Luke. Instead, Mark flashes rapidly through events that build on one another. John the Baptist’s prophecy is followed by short summaries of Jesus’ baptism and His temptation by Satan. After calling His first disciples, Jesus begins healing and preaching both near and far—all within the first chapter. The unadorned, clipped prose communicates something urgent.
Mark’s narrative captures the coming kingdom that will erupt with a power only some can see. It imparts a sense of urgency to those who know they are needy.
Mark portrays the advancing kingdom through the person and work of Jesus, who draws people. The crowds at Capernaum seek Him out (Mark 2:2), as do those marginalized by society (Mark 1:40; 2:3). Although Jesus seeks to keep His movements hidden and warns the leper to conceal the miracle of his healing, the exact opposite occurs. The leper opts to “proclaim it freely and to spread abroad the account” (Mark 1:45). When Jesus secludes Himself in deserted places because of His fame, the crowds come at Him “from all directions” (Mark 1:45). Even roofs are removed to gain access to Him (Mark 2:4).
While some question His authority, others respond with radical allegiance. Jesus’ simple, direct call to Levi the tax collector, “Follow me!” requires nothing less. Jesus came for lepers and paralytics, to sinners and tax collectors—those who are sick and in need of a physician (Mark 2:16). He came for us—those who know our desperate need—and reversed our fate. With unfettered truth, Mark presents us with the opportunity for the only healing response: Will we follow?

Are you following Jesus with total allegiance? What is holding you back?

REBECCA VAN NOORD

 

Daily devotionals
Daily devotionals

November 3: Love and Commitment: Not Always Synonymous
1 Kings 3:1–4:34; Mark 3:1–3:35; Proverbs 1:13–19

Loving God and living fully for Him are not necessarily synonymous. If I love someone, does that mean I always show untainted respect and unfailing loyalty? Love should command complete devotion and commitment—but our lives are rarely as pure as they should be.
Like his father, David, Solomon acted out of passion and love, but his commitment and respect for Yahweh faltered at the same time: “Solomon intermarried with … the daughter of Pharaoh and brought her to the city of David … Solomon loved Yahweh, by walking in the statutes of David his father; only he was sacrificing and offering incense on the high places” (1 Kgs 3:1, 3).
Solomon didn’t marry Pharaoh’s daughter because he needed Egypt’s protection. Egypt, Israel’s ancient enemy, had enslaved God’s people once before, but it was not an imminent threat. Worse, Solomon committed himself to Pharaoh, an ally who viewed himself as a deity. This alliance introduced the worship of foreign gods into the chambers of the king who was supposed to steward God’s kingdom.
Solomon’s behavior is particularly ironic in light of his own words: “My child, do not walk in their way. Keep your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed blood” (Prov 1:15–16). Solomon may have avoided the wars and violence of his father’s generation, but he walked into a spiritually enslaving sin. Solomon’s problems epitomize Jesus’ words: “And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom is not able to stand” (Mark 3:24). By bringing Pharaoh’s daughter into his household, Solomon divided Yahweh’s kingdom against itself.
Was it lust that drove Solomon to make this decision, or a lack of faith, or a desire for peace? We cannot know for certain, but no matter the reason, this episode shows us something about ourselves. When we ally ourselves with God’s opponents or when we lust after what God has condemned, we do more harm than we realize. We divide what God is building in us and through us against itself by tainting His pure plan.

What are you wrongly allying with or lusting after? What are the long-term effects of doing so, and how can this perspective help you change course?

JOHN D. BARRY

 

Daily devotionals
Daily devotionals

November 4: Cutting a Deal with God
1 Kings 5:1–6:38; Mark 4:1–24; Proverbs 1:20–27

Sometimes we think we can make deals with God. We hear His commands, but we plan on being faithful later. Or we make light of our rebellious thoughts and actions, thinking they’re only minor offenses in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps we think God will overlook them just as easily as we’ve rationalized them.
Jesus put special emphasis on “having ears to hear” in the Gospel of Mark. He expected much more than a captive audience, though: “ ‘If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!’ And he said to them, ‘Take care what you hear! With the measure by which you measure out, it will be measured out to you, and will be added to you’ ” (Mark 4:23–24).
Jesus issued this command shortly after giving His disciples special insight into the parable of the Sower and the Seed. The rocky soil, the thorns, the road, the good soil—these represented various responses to the good news. The good soil was receptive to the seeds. But more than that, such soils “receive it and bear fruit—one thirty and one sixty and one a hundred times as much” (Mark 4:20).
Jesus revealed the secret of the kingdom to His disciples, to the surrounding crowd, and to us. Now that we hear, we must take care that we respond. Bear fruit befitting His work in you (Mark 4:20), and let others know why you bear fruit (Mark 4:21–22). Because He has given to you with such abundance, He expects you to live abundantly for Him—right now.

How are you rationalizing your response to God’s work? Are you delaying responding to God?

REBECCA VAN NOORD

 

Daily devotionals
Daily devotionals

November 5: Of Fields and Temples
1 Kings 7:1–51; Mark 4:26–5:20; Proverbs 1:28–33

The building of Solomon’s temple and the growth of the kingdom of God are similar: Both require extensive labor. Both bring miraculous results. And in both efforts, the dredging and toil can proceed for weeks, months, or years before the fruits of the labor become apparent.
When the Bible describes the building of God’s temple, it mentions features and materials that would have been incredible at the time: “He built the House of the Forest of Lebanon … It was covered with cedar above … There were three rows of specially designed windows … All of the doorways and the doorframes had four-sided casings” (1 Kgs 7:2–5). Consider the logistical, expediting, and procurement hurdles that Solomon must have faced. How could one leader build a project that required the finest materials and the most highly skilled craftsmen from all over the known world, all in his lifetime? That it was completed is nearly miraculous. Even today, major architectural feats often take longer than a lifetime (e.g., Gaudi’s cathedral in Barcelona).
Like the construction of Solomon’s temple, what we as Christians build into other people’s lives is meant to happen miraculously. We labor for it, but the fruits are not ours—they are often unexplainable. Jesus once remarked, “The kingdom of God is like this: like a man scatters seed on the ground. And he sleeps and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows—he does not know how. By itself the soil produces a crop: first the grass, then the head of grain, then the full grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he sends in the sickle [a tool for harvesting crops] right away, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26–29). We must continue to labor, knowing all the while that the results will be different than what we expect. We must rely on the Spirit for the real work.

What are you laboring at today? How may the results be different than what you expect?

JOHN D. BARRY

 

Daily devotionals
Daily devotionals

November 6: The Pursuit of God
1 Kings 8:1–53; Mark 5:21–6:6; Proverbs 2:1–15

We’re willing to put an incredible amount of effort into pursuing something that’s really important to us. Before buying a new gadget, we’ll read reviews, research the manufacturer’s reputation, and consult our tech-savvy friends. Our efforts and curiosity betray the true treasures of our hearts. Other things that we say are important might not receive the same effort—often to our detriment.
In Proverbs, being curious about God’s ways is vital for life. The father in Proverbs encourages his son to be curious about God’s ways, representing his desire to fear God: “My child, if you will receive my sayings, and hide my commands with you, in order to incline your ear toward wisdom, then you shall apply your heart to understanding. For if you cry out for understanding, if you lift your voice for insight, if you seek her like silver and search her out like treasure, then you will understand the fear of Yahweh, and the knowledge of God you will find” (Prov 2:1–5).
The knowledge of God isn’t just knowledge about God. It’s also the desire and the process of inclining and applying your heart to understanding. The father encourages his son to cry out for understanding or lift his voice for insight—going beyond just intellectual comprehension. The son must seek understanding the same way someone might search out silver or a treasure. The father wants his son to learn about God’s ways, to understand them himself so he can apply them to his life.
We might claim to hold to a life of worship, but do our actions really reflect that value? Do our efforts and decisions reflect a heart that cries out to God for His wisdom? God has redeemed us at a great price with the death of His son. He desires that we turn over our lives to Him—and that includes pursuing Him with all our being.

Are you pursuing “the knowledge of God” and applying your heart to understanding?

REBECCA VAN NOORD

 

Daily devotionals
Daily devotionals

November 7: The Results of Worship and Teaching
1 Kings 8:54–9:28; Mark 6:7–44; Proverbs 2:16–22

“It happened that when Solomon finished praying to Yahweh all of the prayer and this plea, he got up from before the altar of Yahweh, from kneeling down on his knees with his palms outstretched to heaven. He stood and blessed all of the assembly of Israel with a loud voice …” (1 Kgs 8:54–55).
Solomon demonstrates the natural and proper response to worship—declaring God’s goodness to others and blessing them in His name. These blessings can come in simple forms, such as doing good for others, or they may look more elaborate, as Solomon’s prayer continues in 1 Kgs 8.
Worship can become stilted when we focus on our place before Yahweh instead of His natural and rightful place. We’re meant to view Yahweh for who He is and what He has done, and to respond to His work by helping others.
Jesus demonstrated a similar point in His own ministry. He could have kept His disciples with Him day and night, but instead He sent them on their way to do God’s will (Mark 6:6–13). For Jesus, teaching was a means to an end. Everything the disciples had learned up to that point would carry them in the ministry work they were about to do. They weren’t meant to hoard their knowledge or focus on learning for learning’s sake. Instead, teaching led to action.
We, too, must follow worship with actions. When we learn, we must act upon what we have learned. Anything that stays in a vacuum is useless. It’s only when we apply what God is doing in our lives that we live up to our calling in Him.

What is God asking you to live out?

JOHN D. BARRY

 

Daily devotionals
Daily devotionals

November 8: Traditions and a Priority Problem
1 Kings 10:1–11:8; Mark 6:45–7:13; Proverbs 3:1–5

Traditions make us feel secure. They give us a sense of camaraderie with those who came before us, and they can build a sense of community with those around us. But traditions handed down unexamined can be dangerous. We can apply them in contexts that differ from those in which they were born—often leading to disastrous results, offenses, and misunderstanding. More dangerously, we might consider these human traditions to be the commands of God—or above His commands. In doing so, we hold the opinions of people to be higher than God’s. We commit the same type of idolatry we find rampant in the OT.
In many communities, traditions can carry the heavy weight of religiosity, as if God were the very author of the tradition. Many of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time were known to “tie up heavy burdens and put them on people’s shoulders” (Matt 23:4). When the Pharisees confront Jesus because His disciples did not wash before eating, Jesus quotes from Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6–7).
To us, hand-washing seems like a smart, valuable tradition. For these Pharisees, it is a cleansing ritual meant to protect against defilement. Jesus shows how the practice sharply conflicts with the state of their hearts, which are far from God. The Pharisees often excuse some of God’s commands if it means following their traditions—like offering sacrifices while neglecting to provide for the material needs of parents (Mark 7:11–13).
Are there areas in your life in which you hold others’ opinions above those of God? Do you have nagging guilt because you’re not living up to others’ expectations? Why? Examine your life, seek biblical wisdom, and ask God to show you how best to serve Him.

How are you holding the values of people higher than those of God?

REBECCA VAN NOORD

 

Daily devotionals
Daily devotionals

November 9: Fear Not What’s Outside but Inside
1 Kings 11:9–12:33; Mark 7:14–8:10; Proverbs 3:6–3:12

How should we respond to a miraculous experience? Worshiping God for His goodness is the right place to start, but our ongoing response is every bit as important as our initial reaction. We see this play out in Solomon’s life.
“Yahweh was angry with Solomon, for he had turned his heart from Yahweh, the God of Israel who had appeared to him twice. And [Yahweh] commanded [Solomon] concerning this matter not to go after other gods, but he did not keep that which Yahweh commanded” (1 Kgs 11:9–10).
Despite Solomon’s experience with Yahweh, he chose to deny Him. This angered Yahweh—not just because of the general disobedience, but also because, after Solomon’s miraculous experience, he had more reason than anyone to stay devoted. Solomon’s refusal of the opportunity to turn back to Yahweh only aggravated the situation.
We don’t know exactly what led Solomon to disobey, although selfish desire, lust, and power seem to dominate his poor decisions. We can be certain that his inner thoughts drove him to act in the way he did. Solomon’s situation is reminiscent of Jesus’ remark about what defiles a person: “For from within, from the heart of people, come evil plans, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, acts of greed, malicious deeds, deceit, licentiousness, envy, abusive speech, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person” (Mark 7:21–23).
How many of us have at some point walked off God’s path and excused our actions in the name of grace? Solomon had ample opportunity to return to God, yet he continued to aggravate Him. How many of us react the same way to the goodness God has offered us?

What is happening “in” you that leads to the evil in your life? How can you allow the Spirit to resolve that?

JOHN D. BARRY

 

Daily devotionals
Daily devotionals

November 10: Take Up Your Cross

1 Kings 13:1–34; Mark 8:11–9:1; Proverbs 3:13–22

The way we respond to desperate circumstances often clarifies what gives us hope. Jesus’ followers faced the very real threat of death by choosing to follow Him—something He warns them about: “And summoning the crowd together with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life on account of me and of the gospel will save it’ ” (Mark 8:34–35).
In Jesus’ time, “taking up the cross” would have been associated with a shameful death at the hands of the ruling Roman powers. To risk suffering this type of shameful death required more than lukewarm commitment.
Jesus doesn’t limit this calling to His disciples; anyone who “wants to come after” faces this uncertainty and must hold a faith that displays this loyalty. For some Christians today, following Jesus means opposition and death. For most of us, it doesn’t. Yet Jesus goes on to show that this type of devotion is still relevant today: “For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:36–38).
Many of our lives reflect a lax neutrality—a purposeless ease that avoids conflict and commitment. We might shy away from bold claims. We might fade into the wallpaper in an attempt to fit in. We might show reluctance to declare Christ’s name.
What does commitment look like for you? Are you following Jesus with this type of devotion? Or do you hesitate to share the good news?

How are you taking up your cross?

REBECCA VAN NOORD

 

Daily devotionals
Daily devotionals

November 11: Traditions and Miracles
1 Kings 14:1–15:24; Mark 9:2–37; Proverbs 3:23–35

In the face of perplexing situations, we naturally respond with what we know and understand—we even take refuge in familiar traditions. This is precisely how Jesus’ disciples respond when Jesus is transfigured before them.
After Jesus is transformed and Moses and Elijah appear, Peter says, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! And let us make three shelters, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:5). Peter is drawing on the Festival of Tabernacles (or Booths), which celebrated God’s dwelling among His people (Lev 23:42–43). Peter isn’t certain how to respond, so he evokes a tradition. At least Peter understands that this confusing event shows God at work among His people.
But is Peter’s response the correct one? Mark gives us a hint in an aside: “For [Peter] did not know what he should answer, because they [Peter, James, and John] were terrified” (Mark 9:6). It’s not surprising that Peter has trouble understanding this situation—who could? But his response, underscored by the editorial aside in Mark, suggests something larger about how we, as the audience of this Gospel, should understand Jesus.
When Jesus reveals Himself to us—really inaugurates His reign in our lives—it may be terrifying, but we do not need to resort to our traditions to understand it. By going back to our old ways, we might lose sight of the point of God’s work altogether. Instead, we must be ready to accept what is new. We must realize that when God acts, the results will be unexpected and perhaps unexplainable. When God intercedes in our lives, when He lets us experience Him, our lives—our very view of the world—will change.

What traditions is Jesus radically altering in your life?

Barry, J. D., & Kruyswijk, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Paul: Redemption and Transformation

Bible Study Lessons
CHRISTIAN WEBMASTER NETWORK
CHRISTIAN WEBMASTER NETWORK

Paul and the Stoics

Stoicism was one of the most influential philosophies in Paul’s day. Boasting adherents across the social spectrum, Stoicism counted lowborn slaves and members of the imperial aristocracy among its ranks. Its origins lie in the teachings of Zeno who, having been deeply influenced by Socrates, presented his ideas in third century BC in Athens.

Many points of continuity and discontinuity exist between Paul and the Stoics. Stoicism was pantheistic but held that the universe was a vast quasi-rational being with intelligence and will. Paul, on the other hand, believed the universe was created by a personal God who was distinct from His creation (1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16). The Stoics believed in a perpetual cycle of cosmic destruction, in which the entire universe was destroyed by fire and then reborn with everything occurring exactly as before. Stoics were also skeptical about the afterlife. In contrast, Paul believed that human history was moving toward a cosmic conflict between God and the forces of evil (2 Thess 2:1–10), in which God would triumph (1 Cor 15:24–28), creation would be redeemed (Rom 8:19–22), and all humanity would be judged (2 Cor 5:10). Paul also confidently affirmed the reality of the afterlife and a bodily resurrection (1 Cor 15). Despite other points on which Paul’s teaching seems to align with Stoicism, these key differences mark the worldviews of Paul and Stoics as fundamentally distinct.

However, the question of how virtue is attained constitutes a primary point of comparison and overlap between Paul and the Stoics. Stoics believed that the ideal sage was one who could face calamity and misfortune with casual indifference, feeling neither sorrow nor regret. Stoics were proud of their ability to endure hardships and often paraded their fortitude and strength through “hardship catalogs” which listed the adversities they had endured—a literary form that also occurs in Paul’s letters (e.g., 2 Cor 4:8–9; 6:9–10). Stoics believed that the fully mature soul needed no help from any other source for contentment, peace, and happiness.

Similarly, Paul believed that enduring hardships led to growth in character and virtue (Rom 5:3–5; 1 Cor 9:24–27; 2 Cor 4:7–18). However, he delighted in hardships because they displayed his weakness and God’s power—not his own invincibility (2 Cor 12:9–10). Paul found contentment not in his own achievement, but in Christ: “I am able to do all things by the one who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).

 

Ephesians 5 1-2
Ephesians 5 1-2

The mind was also crucial in moral formation for the Stoics; it served as the rationale faculty which enables people to distinguish between things that are good, bad, and indifferent. According to Stoicism, vice (as seen in lust, greed, and ambition) represented a disease of the mind that could be cured by right thinking via education and reason (Dio Chrysostom, Or. 32.16). According to Epictetus, one of Paul’s Stoic contemporaries, the key to moral transformation was simply to “purify your thinking” (Epictetus, Disc. 4:1.112).

While Paul believed that the mind was critical in spiritual formation (Rom 12:2; 13:14; Phil 4:8; Col 3:2), he maintained that growth in virtue could not be accomplished merely through mental discipline; it required the empowerment of the indwelling Spirit (Rom 7:6; 8:9; Gal 5:22; Eph 3:16). In short, while the Stoics taught that, “the wise person is self-sufficient” (Seneca, Ep. 9.8), Paul taught that the Christian is radically dependent on God—a notion the Stoics would have greeted with derision.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Paul and the Stoic adherents of his day is the pre-eminent place of love in Paul’s ethical system. It has no analogy in Stoicism. Paul’s letters contain over 100 occurrences of “love” (in verbal and nominal forms), and he frequently singles out love as the paramount virtue (1 Cor 13:13; Rom 13:8–10; Col 3:14; 1 Tim 1:5). Stoicism regarded love as a somewhat dangerous quality, associated with excessive emotional attachments that endangered the ideal of self-sufficiency. While any summary of Christian ethics—ancient or modern—puts emphasis on the supremacy of love, searching for this topic among Stoic writers would be unsuccessful.

The primary reason for this radical difference rests in the different interpretations each group had of the deaths of their principle exemplars, Jesus and Socrates. While the Stoics admired Socrates’ death because of his dutiful commitment to justice (e.g., Musonius Rufus, Dis. 29, 29; Seneca, Ep. 70; 61:2), Christian literature regularly interprets the death of Jesus as an act of sacrificial love on behalf of his followers (John 15:13; Gal 2:20). It is this image which Paul and other early Christians found so compelling: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all” (2 Cor 5:14).

MOYER HUBBARD

 

 

fruit of the spirit
Fruit of the Spirit

Paul: A Life of Redemption and Transformation

Paul’s life demonstrates God’s amazing ability to redeem and transform. Paul once lived as an enemy of the Christian faith. He sought to destroy everything that Christ achieved through His death and resurrection. Yet God did not simply stop Paul; in His grace He utterly transformed Paul. He even took Paul’s strengths as a Pharisee—his knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, his education in the Greek and Roman system, and his overwhelming zeal—and used it to help spread the gospel.

In the New Testament we learn that Paul, who was first known as “Saul,” was born in Tarsus, a Hellenistic city in the Roman province of Cilicia in modern Turkey (Acts 22:3). According to the book of Acts, Paul was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28). In his letters Paul traces his Jewish ancestry back to the tribe of Benjamin (Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5).

Like other young Jewish boys, Paul would have learned a trade. In Paul’s case, the skills he learned as a tentmaker would later support him during his missionary journey (e.g., Acts 18:3). While he was still young, Paul went to Jerusalem and studied under the well-known Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 5:34; 22:3). Following such tutelage, Paul eventually became a Pharisee himself (Acts 26:5; Phil 3:5)

Paul first appears in the book of Acts at the stoning of Stephen. This account paints Paul in a terrible, even shocking light. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was a man full of the Spirit who remained faithful even in the face of death (Acts 7:55). As Stephen was stoned, Paul silently stood witness, approving of the killing (Acts 8:1; 22:20). Following this horrific act, Paul committed himself to destroying the Church (Acts 22:4–5; Gal 1:13). He even received authority from the high priest to pursue Christians outside of Jerusalem to bring them back as prisoners (Acts 9:1–2; 26:9–10). Paul passionately and zealously pursued those whom he believed to be blasphemers of God. His quest to eradicate the Church created widespread fear among early Christian believers (Acts 9:13).

During this period of his life, while on the road to Damascus, he had a supernatural and life-changing encounter with the risen Christ (Acts 9:1–9). The man known and feared throughout the Christian world by the Hebrew name Saul was renamed and reborn. He turned his zealous, unstoppable passion to persecute the Church into an obsessive obedience to the risen Christ (Phil 3:7–11). In his new Christian life, he never forgot where he came from, how he persecuted the Church, or his God-given calling (1 Cor 15:9).

As an apostle called by God, Paul devoted himself to spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, the very message he once vehemently opposed. The work God accomplished through Paul was nothing short of miraculous. In his many years of ministry, he preached the gospel in many cities, established many new churches, and gathered a collection of financial support among the Gentiles for the poor in Jerusalem.

Paul’s life bears testimony to God’s amazing power and to His ability to take our pa

Hubbard, M. (2012, 2016). Paul and the Stoics. In Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Early Christianity, Revelation, and the Gospels

bible study
CHRISTIAN WEBMASTER NETWORK
CHRISTIAN WEBMASTER NETWORK

The Book of Daniel

The book of Daniel is the only full-fledged apocalyptic writing in the Old Testament. It contains a series of visions (Dan 7–12) that may have been recorded at the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the years 167–164 BC. In Daniel 7, Daniel sees four great beasts coming up out of the sea. These are explained to be the four kingdoms to which the Jews had been subjected, but the book draws its symbols from ancient myths and suggests the beasts are embodiments of primeval chaos. Daniel then sees the Most High depicted as an ancient figure seated on an amazing throne and surrounded by thousands of holy ones or angels. He presides over a judgment, and the fourth kingdom (representing the Greeks or perhaps Rome) is condemned to burn in the fire. Then the kingdom is given to one like a son of man who comes on the clouds—an identification used elsewhere in the OT for Yahweh (e.g., Isa 19:1).

The symbolism and function of Daniel’s visions become more specific in Daniel 10–12. The angel Gabriel appears to Daniel, telling him that he is engaged in a struggle in heaven against the “princes” of Persia and Greece, and that there is no one to help him but “Michael, your prince” (Dan 10:21). He proceeds to tell Daniel what is written in the book of truth—the whole course of history in the Hellenistic period (ca. 330–168 BC) through the persecution of the Jews by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Syria. (The book was likely completed before the death of Antiochus Epiphanes in 164 BC.)

The revelation of Daniel concludes by looking beyond history to the resurrection of the dead. Some will rise to eternal life, some to shame and contempt. The “wise” who died for their faith in the time of persecution will shine like the brightness of the heavens, or the firmament; they will become companions to the stars or the host of heaven (Dan 12:1–4). This is a clear reference to resurrection in the Hebrew Bible. In Israelite religion up to this point, salvation primarily meant living long in the promised land and seeing one’s children’s children. After the time of Daniel’s writing—at least in the apocalyptic tradition—salvation meant to live forever with the angels in heaven. Belief in resurrection was especially powerful in times of persecution when people were being killed for keeping their faith.

 

Bible Questions and Answers,
Bible Questions and Answers,

Other Jewish Apocalyptic Literature

Some of Daniel’s imagery parallels ancient Near Eastern mythology (beasts rising from the sea, the figure riding on the clouds, etc.) and some parallels earlier passages in the Hebrew Bible, especially in the later prophetic passages. A good example is Isaiah 24–27, which says that God will punish Leviathan, the twisting serpent, and will slay the dragon that is in the sea (Isa 27:1). There is no particular story in the Old Testament about Leviathan or the dragon—they are only mentioned in passing or as a general force against Yahweh’s work—but they are featured in Canaanite myths from the second millennium BC.

In addition to Daniel, the cluster of extra-biblical writings known collectively as 1 Enoch also illustrates individual judgment and afterlife. In Genesis, Enoch is among the seventh generation after Adam, before the flood. He was said to walk with God, and Genesis 5:24 says God “took” Enoch, likely meaning that Enoch ascended to heaven while still alive. He was, then, uniquely placed to reveal the mysteries of heaven. Dated from the second century BC, the collective writings known as 1 Enoch describe both the mysteries of the universe and the whole course of history, from creation to the final judgment.

Jewish apocalyptic writings can be divided broadly into two types: first, historical apocalypses, typified by Daniel, which are concerned with the course of history and its final resolution. Then there are otherworldly journeys, mainly heavenly ascents, in which the visionary passes through the heavens and sees the abodes of the dead. The Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1–36) is a prime example of this type of apocalypse.

Another cluster of apocalypses (e.g., the extra-biblical books 2 Esdras and 2 Baruch) appeared in the period immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. In these revelations, consolation comes from the hope that Rome will eventually be overthrown, Jerusalem restored, and the righteous freed to enjoy eternal life in heaven. Most of these apocalypses were not preserved in the Jewish tradition, but they survived in Greek, Latin, Syriac, or Ethiopic translations. Many more Jewish apocalypses likely existed that were not translated and did not survive. Fragments of the books of Enoch in Aramaic were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, as were fragments of several other apocalyptic writings that were previously unknown. Moreover, the Dead Sea Scrolls show that apocalyptic ideas—such as the expectation of a war between the good and evil—were widespread even if they were not expressed in writings formally recognized as apocalypses.

 

Bible Trivia Answers
Bible Trivia Answers

Early Christianity, Revelation, and the Gospels

To a great degree, these apocalyptic writings provide context for the writings and beliefs of early Christianity. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, for instance, was crucial for the development of Christianity. Yet, as Paul makes clear, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either” (1 Cor 15:13). The belief that Jesus was resurrected builds on the apocalyptic view of the end of history. Christ was the firstfruit of the resurrection, the beginning of the general resurrection. Paul expected that when Christ returned, those who were left alive would be caught up to meet Him in the air (1 Thess 4:17).

By far the most elaborate apocalyptic writing in the NT is the book of Revelation, which includes a series of revelations received by John of Patmos. Some of the imagery derives from Daniel. John sees a beast rising from the sea (Rev 13:1) and another from the earth. For John, the beasts represent the Roman Empire, which is also symbolized by the great prostitute of Babylon, riding on a beast, in Revelation 17. In Revelation 19, however, Christ appears from heaven, riding a white horse and wielding a sword from his mouth (Rev 19:11–15). Satan is imprisoned for 1,000 years (Rev 20:2), and the righteous dead are raised to reign on earth for the same period (Rev 20:4–5). At the end of this period, Satan is released temporarily (Rev 20:7)—before his end in the lake of fire (Rev 20:10)—and all the dead are raised for judgment (Rev 20:12). Death and Hades, the underworld, are thrown into a lake of fire (Rev 20:14), and a new heaven and a new earth appear (Rev 21:1).

The Gospels suggest that Jesus, like John, was thoroughly apocalyptic. Mark 13 is often called “the little apocalypse.” There, Jesus predicts great upheavals at the end of the age, after which the Son of Man will appear on the clouds. In addition to its appearance in Daniel 7, the motif of the Son of Man sitting on the throne of glory also appears in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37–71), a Jewish apocalypse from the first half of the first century AD. In apocalyptic language, Matthew 16 describes a judgment scene in which Jesus, as the Son of Man, comes again in the glory of God the Father with His angels and offers mercy to those who chose to follow Him (Mt 16:24–28).

JOHN J. COLLINS

Further Reading

Daniel, Book of LBD

Revelation, Book of LBD

Enoch, First Book of LBD

Enoch, Second Book of LBD

How to Study the Bible

Biblical Theology

Collins, J. J. (2012, 2016). Apocalyptic Literature. In Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Spirit and Flesh

Spirit and Flesh
Spirit and Flesh
Spirit and Flesh
Spirit and Flesh
Spirit and Flesh

Simon Peter

Simon Peter was one of the three members of Jesus’ inner-circle (Mark 5:37; 9:2; Matt 17:1–3). He was a fisherman (Matt 4:18; Mark 1:16; Luke 5:1–7; John 21:3), preacher (Acts 2:14–40), miracle worker (Acts 3:1–10, 9:32–42), prophet (Acts 5:1–11), and author (1 Pet 1:1; 2 Pet 1:1). Originally called Simon, he was later renamed Peter by Jesus (Mark 3:16), which means “rock” or “stone” (kephas in Aramaic; petros in Greek). The New Testament also refers to him as Simeon (Acts 15:14), the “son of John” (John 1:42; 21:15–17), and “son of Jonah” (Matt 16:17).

One of the more celebrated statements by Peter is his confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). In Matthew’s account, Jesus responds by saying it is “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt 16:18).

All four gospels include Peter’s denial of his association with Jesus (Matt 26:69–75; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:54–62; John 18:17, 25–27). In Mark 14:72, he weeps, experiencing inward conflict and self-awareness. Of the Gospels, only the Gospel of John directly recounts Peter being restored, with his triple declaration of his love for Jesus and his commissioning by Jesus to shepherd of His flock (John 21:15–17).

The first 12 chapters of the book of Acts are dominated by events related to Peter and his involvement in the early church. Peter is imprisoned for preaching (Acts 12:3) and is later released by an angel (Acts 12:7–10). If Acts is chronologically arranged, Peter is the first to preach to and convert Gentiles after being guided by a vision of a sheet containing clean and unclean animals (Acts 10:1–11:18). After his legitimization of a mission to the Gentiles, the book of Acts no longer mentions Peter (Acts 15:7–11).

In John’s Gospel, Jesus directly prophesies Peter’s future, contrasting his present freedom with his forthcoming restriction and alludes to his martyrdom (John 21:18–19). Early church tradition states that Peter was martyred during the reign of Emperor Nero (AD 64–68).

DAVID SEAL

 

Spirit and Flesh
Spirit and Flesh

Slavery in the First Century

In the Roman Empire, people were either slaves or they were free. These two statuses were central to the social and the legal fabric of the Roman world. Unlike in recent history, slavery in Rome was not based on race or ethnicity; anyone could become a slave and nearly any slave could become free. Consequently, the Roman world was composed of these two groups of people who lived and worked together and were distinguishable by their social status.

Becoming a Slave

Prior to the first century AD, the majority of slaves in the Mediterranean world were prisoners of war. By the first century, however, the primary source was through birth into the slave system. A child born to a female slave was also a slave, regardless of the status of the father. A freeborn child could also be enslaved: exposure of newborns was a practiced form of post-birth control, and these infants, who were left exposed to the elements to die, were often gathered by slave traders and sold as slaves. Children were also sometimes sold by their fathers due to the pressures of poverty.

Penal slavery was used to punish crimes committed against the state, such as evading a census, taxes, or military service. A judgment against a debtor could force a free person into slavery. In limited cases, a person might sell himself into slavery in order to improve his social standing once freedom was restored, but there is uncertainty regarding the frequency of this practice. Masters had a tremendous amount of control over slaves and there was no law guaranteeing that the master would live up to any agreement with a slave.

Living as a Slave

Slavery meant the complete loss of rights. It terminated marriage, family ties, business partnerships, and any public or private offices previously held. Slaves could neither act as debtors or creditors, nor was their testimony admissible in court unless it was gained through torture; they could be sold or loaned out at the will of the owner.

The treatment slaves received depended on their owner. Sexual abuse was not uncommon. Punishments, often cruel, included: flogging, shackling, branding of the face and forehead, iron collars, and dismemberment or maiming. There were few restraints placed upon the owner in the punishment he was allowed to inflict upon his slave who was viewed as property.

Roman laws did afford slaves some protection. Temples and statues of the emperor legally provided a place of asylum from unusually cruel masters.

Under good conditions, slavery could offer security. In theory, all of a slave’s needs were provided for by his or her owner (i.e., food, clothing, shelter, medical care). Slaves were allowed a peculium (property of their own), but since they did not have the right to possess property, the peculium technically belonged to the owner. Retirement, for those who survived, was usually at age 60; those who died while enslaved were buried at the expense of the owner.

 

Bible questions and answers
Bible questions and answers

Becoming Free

Slavery in the Roman world was not necessarily a permanent state. Emancipation was possible under certain legal stipulations. Owners were prevented, however, from releasing a slave from service directly. Both the slave and the owner were required to appear before a magistrate in a ceremony where a “freedom tax” was paid to the magistrate on top of the price already being paid for freedom.

Becoming a freedperson meant acquiring certain social and economic advantages. Former slaves owned by Roman citizens could, under certain requirements, become citizens. This new status placed them in a social level above slaves and free noncitizens, but restricted their status below that of freeborn citizens. Former slaves who remained attached to their masters’ house could receive economic and political boosts not normally available to poor free persons. Former slaves may have learned a skill that enabled them to open a business—some entered freedom with money saved.

Newly-acquired freedom also had its drawbacks. Even after freedom had been granted, a former master could still control aspects of a former slave’s life and finances. In addition to various social obligations, freedpersons could be required to work for their former master a set number of days each year. In contrast to the slave, however, the freedperson gained certain rights. The former master was required to allow the freedperson sufficient time to earn an income. Obligations of service could be reduced due to health complications, or if the former slave had reached a social position or age that was not fitting for such services. These rights, and a variety of others, protected the freedperson from being re-enslaved.

JOHN BYRON

 

 

Bible questions and answers
Bible questions and answers

Spirit and Flesh in Paul’s Letters

In Romans 6, Paul asks a rhetorical question about continuing to sin in order that grace might be multiplied. He answers this question with another: “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:2). This raises the question of why believers still struggle with sin. Are some believers somehow defective?

Jesus’ death and resurrection not only conquered death once and for all, it enabled believers to have new life as well (Rom 6:4; Col 3:1–3). Paul describes a twofold division between the flesh and the spirit. The flesh refers to God’s originally perfect creation, which is now mortal and in decay as result of sin entering the world through Adam (Rom 5:12). The spirit is the essence of who we are, the part of us that lives on after our physical bodies die. In 2 Corinthians 4:16, Paul contrasts the two, stating that our outer person is being destroyed as our inner one is being renewed. Our physical bodies will continue to decay until God gives us a new, spiritual body (Rom 8:23; 1 Cor 15:39–42).

When Paul talks about being raised from the dead once we have believed in Jesus (Rom 6:4), he is talking about the spirit rather than the flesh. Second Corinthians 5:17 states, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” Here, the old and new refers to our spirits.

This is where the ongoing problem of sin arises. Although someday our physical body will indeed be raised and transformed (1 Cor 15:50–52), our new spirits must dwell in our fallen bodies (Rom 8:12–14). Previously, our spirits were in bondage to sin, but now our spirits have been set free from this bondage (Rom 6:17–18). Paul is not saying that the body is bad—God created it, so he is not opposed to it—but instead is using “flesh” as a metaphor where sin resides as we await our sinless, resurrected bodies.

 

Spirit and Flesh
Spirit and Flesh

Inner Spirit and Outer Flesh

The problem of sin for believers stems from the struggle between the new inner spirit and our old sinful flesh (our old sinful self). Since our spirits are no longer slaves of sin, we must no longer obey the lusts and desires of our flesh (Rom 6:12; 8:12). Although sinful desires reside in the flesh, we must consider ourselves dead to sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5).

The only way we can overcome sin in this way is by walking in the Spirit. Paul says that if we live by the Spirit, we will “put to death the deeds of the body” (Rom 8:13). Where we choose to set our mind makes the difference between life and death (Rom 8:6). Living by the Spirit is the only way our new self can overcome the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16). Paul contrasts the natural consequences of each option: the fruit of the Spirit versus the deeds of the flesh (Gal 5:19–23).

When Paul addresses this theme in his letters, he highlights the now and “not yet” tension of the Christian life. The rebirth of our inner spiritual beings enables us to live for God as He intended. But since we continue to live in our earthly bodies, we continue to engage in the battle between flesh and spirit. The key to victory is walking in the Spirit, no longer obeying the desires of the flesh. If we allow our inner spirits to obey “the flesh,” we choose to allow sin to reign over us again (Rom 6:12–13). Paul offers us hope as we wait for the “not yet.” All of creation waits with us for the same restoration and fulfillment of God’s original intention (Rom 8:18–19).

STEVEN E. RUNGE