A Conversation with Dr. Craig Evans

In this episode of Mobile Ed Conversations, New Testament scholar Dr. Craig Evans talks about his travels to Israel and about his experience of the long road from archaeological discovery to publication. He is especially known for his writing and teaching on the historical Jesus and the Jewish background of the New Testament.

Learn from Dr. Evans in community

One of Dr. Evans’ Mobile Ed courses, NT311 The World of Jesus and the Gospels, is being featured in the first-ever Mobile Ed Summer Session. Starting Monday, you’ll have the opportunity to work through this course with others like you and with a PhD-level moderator who will provide study plans, pose discussion questions, and guide conversation on the material you’re working through together—all at no extra cost.

One user who is taking advantage of another Summer Session course has this to say:

I would like to encourage more Logos users to avail themselves of this opportunity. It really does enrich the Mobile Ed program. I have over fifty of the Mobile Ed courses and each is good as a self study, but this moderated session moves the education to a higher level.

Summer Session Blog 300x300Dr. Evans’ course leads you through the events that built the New Testament world: the decline of the Persian Empire, the rise of Alexander the Great, Israel’s military engagements and religious movements, and more. You’ll gain a better understanding of the New Testament by understanding the events leading up to it.

You can participate in just this course or take part in all three courses that are offered. When you purchase all three, you’ll also get a special discount.

Call 888-875-9491 or visit the Summer Session page to learn more.

HiDef Mondays: Summer Reading Challenge 2

Steve’s on vacation to Glacier Park, Montana this week, but he posted this note from the road. Have questions about what the Summer Reading Challenge is? Read last week’s post for the details, and be sure to join the discussion at Faithlife’s High Definition Bible Study Group group.

 

Unfiltered Fridays: Serious Bible Study Isn’t for Sissies

One of my favorite scholarly quotations about the hard work of seriously engaging the biblical text—what we popularly call Bible study—is that of the renowned Greek lexicographer, Frederick W. Danker (the “D” in BDAG). Danker famously said that “scholars’ tasks are not for sissies.” He was right, and I’m grateful he was willing to say what needed to be said.

The truth about serious Bible study is that it isn’t easy. It takes sustained time and effort, often measured in days, weeks, and months, to really grasp what a passage means (or probably means) and why. If Bible study doesn’t seem like work to you, you aren’t doing it.

I realize that saying serious Bible study is work takes the pleasure out of it for some people. But presuming that one has to choose between enjoying the study of Scripture and attaining a more advanced grasp of it is a fallacy. People who are really good at anything or have a deep comprehension of a subject enjoy their mastery because they put in the work. Whether it’s mastering an instrument, becoming a chef, or fielding countless ground balls in practice, people at the top of any given field only reached that station after thousands of hours of effort. People who make those sorts of sacrifices when it comes to the study of Scripture have counted the cost. They decided that the exertion wasn’t going to deter them. They weren’t sissies.

Do you really want to know more about Scripture than satisfies most? Do you really want a deep comprehension of this thing we call the word of God? If you do, here are some points of advice.

1. The goal of Bible study isn’t to get a spiritual buzz

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Any student of Scripture who really believes the Bible is God’s message to humanity will be emotionally moved from time to time at the wonder of why and how God maintains a loving interest in us. That’s normal for someone who really understands the spiritual implications of Scripture. So I’m not suggesting emotional responses are antithetical to serious engagement with the Bible. What I am suggesting, though, is that if you’re doing Bible study to feel a particular way, or get some spiritual high, your Bible study is too self-focused.

Nowhere are we taught in the Bible to “search the Scriptures to feel a certain way.” Ultimately, Scripture is about God and what he did, is doing, and will do—not you. You’ll never appreciate God’s story if all you focus on when you study Scripture is your problems. Comprehending the former can go a long way toward addressing the latter, but the reverse will never be true. Serious Bible study that transcends self-therapy is about mastering the inspired text. You either want that or you don’t. If you do, you’ll be willing to put in the time and be willing to constantly reevaluate your work and your thinking.

2. Attention to detail and thinking clearly are not antithetical to loving Jesus

Early in my own spiritual journey, I was consumed with knowing Scripture. I’d ask questions, listen to answers, and then follow up with more questions. Sometimes it irritated people. I can recall several instances in church or home Bible studies where I was scolded about obsessing over the Bible. After all, I was told, the real point of Bible study was learning about Jesus and how to follow him.

I disagreed then and I still do. The answer to why women who had their periods were considered unclean, or what the Urim and Thummim were, or why some English translations of John 5 don’t include verse 4 in the chapter have nothing to do with Jesus. The fact that they’re in the Bible means they’re just as inspired as any passage that is about Jesus.

Bible study is about learning what this thing we say is inspired actually means. Knowing what all its parts mean will give us a deeper appreciation for the salvation history of God’s people, and the character of God. Jesus is the core component of all that, but there’s a lot more to those things than the story of his life, death, and resurrection; his parables; and the Sermon on the Mount. If that was all God wanted us to know, he’d have given us only the four gospels. It’s pretty evident he had more in mind.

3. The Spirit’s guidance wasn’t intended to serve as a cheat sheet

If you’ve watched a baseball or football game in television at some point this century you no doubt have seen players either ask God for success or thank him for it. Athletes today regularly do things like point to the heavens after crossing home plate or finding themselves in the end zone. Some will bow in a short prayer. It’s a nice sentiment and, for many, a testimony that transcends a token gesture.

But let’s be honest. Unless that football player gets in shape and memorizes the playbook, all the pointing to heaven in the world isn’t going to lead to success. You can say a short prayer on the mound or in the batter’s box, but unless you can hit the curveball, you’re going to fail—perhaps spectacularly.

It’s the same in Bible study. All too often people who sincerely want the feeling of knowing Scripture aren’t willing to put in the time it takes to get there. Instead, they’ll take short cuts and then expect the Spirit to take up the slack. The assumption seems to be that the promise of the Spirit to guide us into truth means he’ll excuse a lack of effort and give us the answers we need. The third person of the Trinity isn’t the kid sitting next to you in high school that lets you cheat off their exam.

Rather than substitute the Spirit for personal effort, ask the Spirit for insight to expose flawed thinking (your own and whoever you’re reading) when you’re engaged in Bible study. The more of God’s word you’ve devoted attention to, the more the Spirit has to work with.

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Agree? Disagree? Want to qualify? Sound off in the comments, like and share with your friends, and check by every Friday for more unfiltered insight from Dr. Michael Heiser.

Dr. Darrell Bock—Patterned Prophecy and Progressive Dispensationalism

In one of our most popular episodes from the vault of the Mobile Ed Conversations podcast, Dr. Darrell Bock, author and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary discusses his recent research, Progressive Dispensationalism, patterned prophecy in the Old Testament, and key passages in the Book of Luke.

Dr. Bock has a number of Mobile Ed courses available, including NT217 Key Events and Speeches in Acts, which is shipping next week as part of the Studies in Acts Bundle.

To learn more about the history and theology of dispensationalism, check out the two-course Studies in Dispensationalism Bundle, taught by Dr. Carl Sanders.

HiDef Mondays: The importance of also, too

We are heading into the summer vacation season, the perfect time to let your bible reading go on vacation too! I am issuing a Summer Reading Challenge for those wanting to either enhance (or begin!) their regular time in Scripture. How? I will be giving a different question to focus on in your reading that will help you identify key details and make new connections you might have missed. The questions are general enough that you should find a few examples not matter where you are reading.

The focus for this week is on the importance of “also” and “too” for making connections in the text. Normally things that we want to connect are placed right next to each other, like “this and that.” When they are this close, words like and, or, but make these connections clear. But when the things are not right next to each other, we use other words to make long-distance connections: also and too. These words instruct us to connect this person or thing with some other closely related thing in the previous context.

There are different motivations for writers to instruct us to look for these connections. The most common is to closely connect some new thing to a related thing in the previous context. For instance, in Matt 2:8 Herod is giving instructions to the wisemen who are looking for the newborn king so that they can worship him. He uses a connecting word to add his own name to the list of those wanting to worship Jesus: “Go, inquire carefully concerning the child, and when you have found him, report to me so that I also may come and* worship him.” We know from what follows that Herod’s only interest in locating him is to kill him, not worship him. Nevertheless, “also” here captures the use of adverbial καί (for you Greek nerds out there) to make an important connection.

Another reason for for using these connections is to make the added thing stand out for some reason, like in Gal 2:1. Paul states that he went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas and then adds (seemingly as an afterthought) that he also brought along Titus. Why not state that he took Barnabas and Titus, why list him separately? Problem to draw attention to him based on the stink his presence caused for the Judaizers because Titus was an uncircumcised Greek (see Gal 2:3).

The Challenge

As you are doing your bible reading, slow down and think about the connection that’s being made by the use of also and too. What connection is being made to the preceding context? What does the connection highlight?

And if you find any cool examples you hadn’t really noticed before, or have questions about something, head on over to the High Definition Bible Study group and post what you have. Let others benefit from what you’ve learned, or let them help you find an answer.

It’s easy to post directly from Logos to the Faithlife group, just select the text, right-click on it, then click the green Faithlife icon by Share.

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If you enjoyed today’s post, like and share it with your fellow grammarians.

You can join the High Definition Bible Study group and keep tabs on this weeks conversation by click the button below.


If you have had some Greek and are longing to dig deeper into issues like these, then it’s time to dive into discourse grammar. And there is no easier or more effective way to get started than the New Testament Greek Discourse Bundle.

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Unfiltered Fridays: Bad Bible Interpretation Really Can Hurt People

Anyone who teaches the Word of God wants people excited about exploring Scripture. Ultimately, you want to turn listeners into competent students so that they can teach others. Along the way you have to deal with a lot of mistaken methods and conclusions. But so what? Hey—having folks engaged in studying the Bible is more important than what they actually think they see in it. It’s no concern that what most Christians think is “digging deep” is barely scratching the surface of a passage or a topic. I’ll take one misguided Bible student over a hundred straight-laced, passive, ecclesiastically-correct “believers” who never open a Bible anywhere else but church.

At least those are the sorts of things I’ve told myself for a long time. If I’m honest, though, I’ve had doubts about the wisdom of my position. I still do.

I’ve run across a lot of bad Bible interpretation over the years. The problem isn’t just the internet. Granted, most of what passes for Bible teaching online could be aggregated under the banner of the P.T. Barnum School of the Bible. Unfortunately, a lot of poor thinking about Scripture has been published for popular consumption in the Church—and consumed it is.

But is it really harmful? Most of it isn’t destructive. It won’t do anything worse than keep those who buy into it ignorant and never able to move on to what they might really discover. And I’ve seen a few instances where bad Bible interpretation has even been helpful. Because of the sorts of things I do—especially writing paranormal fiction and maintaining two blogs on strange stuff that people believe—I often encounter people with terribly misguided ideas about the Bible and its meaning. My offbeat “ministry” produces all sorts of, shall we say, interesting email. Many people who contact me are Christians with genuine testimonies who’ve had an unusual, frightening experience, or who’ve spent too much time watching Ancient Aliens on the Fantasy (er, History) Channel. After their pastor or another friend who’s ill-equipped to talk about what’s causing their spiritual crisis tells them they need counseling (or worse), they have a decision to make: dump Christianity or find a way to process what’s disturbing them using the Bible. I’ve heard some of the most absurd Bible interpretation imaginable emerge from those sorts of struggles, but it often keeps people pursuing the Lord. So be it. In these circumstances, the last thing that’s needed is a biblical scholar-bully destroying the interpretations that keep people in the faith. It’s far better to maintain some relationship and build some trust. Maybe down the road we can have a talk about the fact that the Tower of Babel really wasn’t a stargate.

Truly destructive Bible interpretation

But some Bible interpretation is truly damaging, and on a wide scale. For that sort of harm you needed professionals—people who are supposed to know better because they have degrees or are in positions of spiritual leadership.

Perhaps the most egregious example is racism. Since the Age of Exploration (16th century) on through the eras of European empire and colonization, the racism that was an inextricable part of those centuries can be laid at the feet of the Church. Though it may make you flinch, it’s true—and I’m not launching into some ludicrous left-wing propagandistic screed. It’s pretty simple and, on its own terms, very understandable, though the coherence of how it all came about is no excuse.1)A good deal of scholarly work has been done in recent years explaining how flawed Bible interpretation led to theories of race and racial superiority. For example: David N. Livingstone, Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, & the Politics of Human Origins (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008); Colin Kidd, The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000 (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

In the sixteenth century as Europeans ventured for the first time across the Atlantic and deepened their penetration east into the “Indies,” they encountered people and places that were not part of the biblical world. The place that would be called North America was not India or China, places that Europeans had been exposed to earlier. How did they get here? The Bible said nothing about them. Things didn’t get any more comfortable in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries after the decipherment of the literary language of ancient India (Sanskrit). In a shocking twist, Sanskrit turned out to be from the same language family as classical Latin and Greek (Indo-European), the intellectual bedrock of European civilization. Sanskrit texts revealed a much longer human history than that of the Bible. And the physical evidence of a civilization much older than the patriarchs gave weight to that history.

The cumulative impact of all these discoveries was that the Bible no longer looked like it had any claim on being special. To make the crisis even more acute, in 1859 Darwin published his Origin of Species. In the wake of that bombshell, the alternative stories of creation in Sanskrit and the discoveries of people in the New World who shouldn’t have been there gave opponents of the Bible all the ammunition they needed. The Bible was not only wrong, but inferior. After all, it was such a Jewish book.

It’s no accident that this was era that produced theories about how all races not European (especially the Black and Semitic) were inferior to the “more pure” Europeans. Defenders of the Bible couldn’t argue there; instead they did their best to make the Bible say these things. The era produced “scholarly” defenses of how the sin of Ham produced the Negroes, or how Cain’s wife proved there were co-Adamic races in antiquity (inferior to Adam—who wasn’t Jewish by the way), or that Jesus wasn’t really a Jew but an Aryan (a Sanskrit term for the high born). Other interpretive gymnastics justified older suspicions of Jews as Christ killers whose disinheritance by God had subordinated them to the civilization who had embraced Christianity—Europeans. But at least the Bible wasn’t left behind in its “accurate” understanding of history. It still deserved its high status. And so the Bible was “saved” through horrific Bible interpretation. And we’re still living with the results since this was all brought to American shores.

So yes, sometimes bad Bible interpretation is truly destructive—even lasting generations. This is yet another illustration why we need to get serious about interpreting the Bible in its own context, not against the backdrop of our own modern questions. The tragic baptism of racism was completely unnecessary. But there it is.

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Agree? Disagree? Want to qualify? Sound off in the comments, like and share with your friends, and check by every Friday for more unfiltered insight from Dr. Michael Heiser.

Check out Dr. Heiser’s introduction to Bible interpretation with the Mobile Ed course BI 101 Introducing Biblical Interpretation: Contexts and Resources.

References   [ + ]

Dr. John Walton on Genesis and Science

“Are we reading the book of Genesis as if God has sort of subtly placed scientific information there for us to read 2000, 3000, 4000 years later as modern people?” asks Dr. John Walton. “Or are we supposed to read it as an ancient book? I’m inclined to think the later; that God was talking to them at the level of what they understood. And so we have to think the way they thought.”

In this segment from his course on Genesis, Dr. Walton goes on to explain how ancient people viewed God and the scientific world and how those views contrast with modern views today.

Continue learning with the two-course Genesis Bundle, featuring Old Testament experts Dr. John Walton and Dr. David Baker.

HiDef Mondays: Animated High Definition Commentary

Steve’s taking a break this week, so today we’re going to sample an awesome new discourse analysis experience: Animated High Definition Commentary. These new resources will make Steve’s groundbreaking discourse studies more accessible than ever.

Here’s an excerpt from the forthcoming commentary on Philippians.

The Animated High Definition Commentary: Philippians is available to pre-order now. Plus, if you already own the original High Definition Commentary on Philippians and you pre-order the Animated Commentary, you’ll receive a gift of $10 in Logos credit when the Animated Commentary ships!

Unfiltered Fridays: Bible Reading and Bible Memorization Are Not Bible Study

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. You should read your Bible. You should also commit Scripture to memory. Both spiritual disciplines are axiomatic for Christians. But neither is Bible study. I’ll explain what I mean by taking one at a time.

Reading Is Casual; Study Isn’t

Reading the Bible is not where your engagement with the Bible ends. It’s where it begins, or at least ought to. But over the course of my teaching career I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming to the realization that many Christians think the act of reading Scripture is to be equated with study. That simply isn’t the case.

Reading is casual, something done for pleasure. The motivation is personal enjoyment or enrichment, not mastery of the content. We read Scripture to be reminded of God’s story in human history and the life lessons that story provides for our own lives and relationship with God. Bible reading is inherently devotional and low maintenance.

Bible study, on the other hand, involves concentration and exertion. We have an intuitive sense that study requires some sort of method or technique, and probably certain types of tools or aids. When we study the Bible we’re asking questions, thinking about context, forming judgments, and looking for more information.

It’s not hard to illustrate the difference. Practically anyone could manage to make a cup of coffee, but they’re not baristas. We know instinctively that both perform the same basic task, but what distinguishes the barista is a lot of time, effort, research, and experience in learned technique. It’s the same with Bible study.

Let’s say you and your friend were from the moon and didn’t know what coffee was. You’re only mildly interested in the topic, so you decide to look it up in a dictionary. You read that coffee is “a popular beverage made from the roasted and pulverized seeds of a coffee plant.” Good enough. You learned something. But your friend wants to know more—a lot more. How is coffee made? What’s the process? Is there more than one process? Is there more than one kind of coffee bean? Where are the beans grown? Does that make any difference in color, aroma, or flavor? How is coffee different than tea? If it’s a popular beverage, how much is consumed? Does consumption vary by country? State? Gender? Age? IQ?

Maybe your friend doesn’t need to discover caffeine. But you get the point. Study requires passion and commitment; reading is way less intense.

Memorization Isn’t Thoughtful Analysis

When I was freshman in Bible college, one of my professors was something of a zealot for Bible memorization. During the semester he had us memorize 150 verses—with punctuation. I had an excellent short-term memory, so the feat wasn’t that hard. While the discipline of that class was good for me, I have to be honest. I never learned what any of the verses meant in that class.

Being able to recollect a verse with precision does not mean you understand it. You could memorize your tax forms, but that isn’t going to provide answers to any confusion that may arise from what they say. (It also won’t turn you into an accountant or an IRS agent). It’s the same with Scripture. I could memorize the entire Bible, but how does that nurture my comprehension?

Real Bible study demands analysis and thinking. For example, you could easily commit the following sentence to memory: “New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group.” Knowing what the words mean, though, takes some reflection . . . and a sense of humor.

Many things we read, especially in the Bible, aren’t as easy to parse as this funny headline. Many Christians will have memorized Eph 2:8-9 (ESV):

8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

How many of us have bothered to ask the obvious question: What is the gift of God in this verse? Is it grace? Faith? Both? Something else? How would we know? Memorizing these verses is a good idea, but understanding what they mean is even better.

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Agree? Disagree? Want to qualify? Sound off in the comments, and check by every Friday for more unfiltered insight from Dr. Michael Heiser.

Unlock early access to powerful Bible study tools.

Want to take the next step in your Bible study? Try out the full Logos feature set and a scholar’s library with free early access to Logos Cloud!

Dr. Craig Evans at Faithlife HQ

We’ve had the privilege of hosting Dr. Craig Evans in the Mobile Ed studio for the past two weeks, filming courses on the Gospels of Mark and Luke. Dr. Evans is one of those “walking encyclopedias.” His depth of biblical and contextual knowledge is astounding and is something we feel honored to record as a part of his legacy.

In addition to a full week of teaching, he also offered to preach at a local church. He spoke about the story of the Good Samaritan at two services and also taught the adult Sunday school class! His passion for sharing God’s word is evident and inspiring and we hope to have him back soon.

Here’s a clip of Dr. Evans describing the city of Sepphoris, an important archeological site near Nazareth where Joseph and Jesus may have worked.

To learn more about the ancient world of the New Testament, add Dr. Craig Evans’ New Testament Backgrounds Bundle to your library.

Next week we will also be releasing Dr. Evans’ course NT314 Book Study: The Gospel of Matthew in Its Jewish Context as part of the Studies in the Gospels Bundle. Although this bundle is on Pre-Pub, if you pay the Pre-Pub price today, you’ll receive 41% off and seven of the nine courses. Dr. Evans’ course will automatically be added to your library next week, as well as the ninth and final course, once it is finished. Because of the savings and instant access, this option has become wildly popular among Mobile Ed customers.

Order the Studies in the Gospels Bundle today.