The Good Book Blog


The Good Book Blog

The Good Book Blog is the faculty blog of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Representing the diverse areas of specialty within the seminary, but bound by a common commitment to biblical authority, the blog seeks to engage with important topics in biblical studies, theology, philosophy, spiritual formation and Christian education. The Good Book Blog is a resource for anyone seeking solid biblical scholarship that engages contemporary ideas from a decidedly evangelical perspective. 

Visit the Good Book Blog at: http://thegoodbookblog.com

3 Things We Teach Our Children When We Pray

By Ken Berding

Last week I posted a piece in which I encouraged each of us to actually pray when we pray. Since then my thoughts about prayer have moved in another direction, particularly as it relates to the training of our children. I am becoming increasingly convinced that one of the most significant ways we convey spiritual truth to our children is through our prayers. I believe that when we pray with our children, our children learn about our relationship with the Lord and what we believe about God. Let’s look at three things we teach our children when they listen to us pray.

1.  When we pray, our children learn that we have a sincere relationship with the Lord.

This past Sunday I was talking with a friend about what children learn when they listen to their parents pray. He shared with me that when he was growing up his father’s prayers were formulaic and seemed artificial to him. But in recent years my friend has noticed a change in his elderly father’s relationship with the Lord. What’s significant is that the chief way he has come to recognize the change is by listening to the way his father prays.

I grew up with a mother who had a sensitive relationship with the Lord, and I knew it from the way that she prayed. When I was a child she used to tell me that even if all my friends stopped being my friends, Jesus would always be my friend. I believed her. The reason I believed her is that when she prayed I could tell that she was talking to her closest friend.

 2.  When we pray, our children learn that we actually believe that God can and will answer our prayers.

Honestly, learning how to pray in groups in the United States has been kind of tough for me. When my wife and I lived in the Middle East, we were often around Christians who were expecting God to do big things. We knew it because of the way that they prayed. But one message has come through loudly and clearly to me in most of the prayer meetings I have attended in the United States: we don’t actually believe anything is going to happen when we pray! I want my children to know that when we pray, we are speaking to a God who is strong enough to answer our prayers and who cares deeply enough to act on our behalf.

 (Please note that you don’t generate such faith by trying really hard to believe; rather you increasingly develop sensitivity to the Holy Spirit who helps you know how to pray and who increases your faith as you pray in dependence upon him. But that is another topic for another day.)

 3.  When we pray, our children learn what we believe about God.

I’ve thought more about this since reading Fred Sanders’s recently released book, The Deep Things of God:  How the Trinity Changes Everything. The basic biblical pattern is praying to the Father, on the basis of what the Son has done, empowered by the Spirit. It is, of course, possible that we could communicate to our children a deficient view of the Trinity by praying always to Jesus as a friend, or being overly Spirit-focused in our prayers. (I am not saying that a prayer thanking Jesus for his death on the cross or a prayer to the Holy Spirit asking for him to empower you for witness is wrong, just that it isn’t the biblical pattern.)

Your children will learn from you that God is holy by listening to the way you confess your sins; that God is a God of power when you worship him; that God truly cares when you call upon him in your time of need, and so on. 

When I’m alone with the Lord, one of the prayers I pray more than any other is: “Lord, I want it to be real. I don’t want to be a fake. I need your grace to live out what I teach.” And now, by God’s grace, I want my children to see the same thing in me. I don’t pray for them; I pray to the Lord. But I think it’s good to remember that our children are listening.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

What Should We Ask God For?

By Kenneth Berding

I am regularly vexed by how shallow my prayers can become. When I pray for something—and I know that all prayer is not for things—what should I pray for? Only for my family? For someone I know who is ill? For God to help me in the day ahead? For God to resolve whatever problem is currently worrying me? I often sense that there is some content that I’m missing when I’m praying. Do you sense the same thing?

With this concern in mind I recently embarked on a quest to figure out what I was missing scripturally about the content of prayer. I decided to focus on the letters of Paul since he has a lot to say about this topic. I read through all of Paul’s letters, taking notes on everything he asks people to pray for, or that he mentions others are praying for, or that he in fact is praying for in his letters. Once again, I wanted to uncover areas that needed attention in my own prayer life that are emphasized in Paul’s letters.

I discovered that there are three main categories of what to pray for in Paul (applied to praying for other believers—though you can pray the same for yourself). Here is a summary:

  1. Ask God to grow them in their Christian faith.
  2. Ask God to make them bold in sharing their faith.
  3. Ask God to deliver them from evil/the Evil One.

Here are the details:

The most common category that Paul prays for is that believers might grow in their Christian faith. Though this is the largest category, it is interesting that this is one area of prayer that many of us can easily neglect when we pray for others. Here is a list of the types of things you can ask God to do in Christians you know. (Note that you can also ask the same things for yourself!)

  • Ask God that they might be of the same mind with other believers. (Romans 15:5-6)
  • Ask God to fill them with joy and peace in believing and in hope by the power of the Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
  • Ask God for his people to do the right thing when there are relational conflicts. (2 Corinthians 13:7 in its broader context)
  • Ask God to make his people “complete.” (2 Corinthians 13:9)
  • Ask God to give a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God. (Ephesians 1:15-17)
  • Ask God to enlighten the eyes of the hearts of believers (Ephesians 1:18-19):
    • to know the hope of his calling
    • to know the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints
    • to know the surpassing greatness of his power toward those who believe
  • Ask God to grant them strength through his Spirit in their inner selves so that Christ might dwell in their hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3:16-17)
  • Ask God to root them and ground them in love. (Ephesians 3:17)
  • Ask God to help them comprehend along with other believers what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that they might be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19)
  • Ask God for their love to abound more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, that they might approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:9-11)
  • Ask God to fill them with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, resulting in them (Colossians 1:9-12):
    • walking in a manner worthy of the Lord
    • pleasing him in all respects
    • bearing fruit in every good work
    • increasing in the knowledge of God
    • strengthened with all power according to his glorious might
    • attaining all steadfastness and patience
    • joyously giving thanks to the Father
  • Ask God to encourage their hearts (Colossians 2:1-2, prayer implied):
    • being knit together in love
    • attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding
    • resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself
  • Ask God to make them stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12-13)
  • Ask God to make them increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)
  • Ask God to establish their hearts without blame in holiness at the return of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
  • Ask God to sanctify them entirely; and to preserve their spirits, souls, and bodies complete and without blame at the coming of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
  • Ask God to count them worthy of their calling. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
  • Ask God to fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of the Lord Jesus might be glorified among them. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
  • Ask God to comfort and strengthen their hearts in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:17)
  • Ask God to direct their hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ. (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
  • Ask God to grant them peace in every circumstance. (2 Thessalonians 3:16)
  • Ask God that the fellowship of their faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in them for Christ’s sake. (Philemon 1:6)

The second largest category relates to the mission that God’s people are doing. In some cases Paul is asking for prayers for himself in this category; sometimes he is praying for others. Here is a list to help you pray for people (and for yourself!) in this category:

  • Ask God to open a way for them—or yourself—to go and do ministry somewhere. (Romans 1:10-12; 15:32; 1 Thessalonians 3:10-11)
  • Ask God to bless and make successful a particular area of service. (Romans 15:31)
  • Ask God to give utterance in the opening of their mouths, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:18-19)
  • Ask God to allow Christ to be exalted in them whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:20)
  • Ask God to open up a door for the word, so that they might speak about the mystery of Christ and to make it clear. (Colossians 4:3-4)
  • Ask God to make his word spread rapidly so that God might be glorified. (2 Thessalonians 3:1)

A third category consists of prayers for deliverance from some sort of suffering, just as Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:13): “Deliver us from evil (or the Evil One).”

  • Ask God to rescue someone from persecutors. (Romans 15:30-31)
  • Ask God to aid someone suffering or being persecuted. (2 Corinthians 1:11)
  • Ask God to deliver someone from prison (or to preserve them until their final future deliverance). (Philippians 1:19)
  • Ask God to keep someone from shame, and that Christ might be exalted in them whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:20)
  • Ask God to rescue them from perverse and evil people. (2 Thessalonians 3:2)
  • Ask God to strengthen and protect them from the evil one. (2 Thessalonians 3:3, prayer implied)
  • Ask God to work with kings and others in positions of authority so that believers may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Finally, here is a list of a few other things that we can pray about that are found in the letters of Paul. The items in this list don’t easily fall into any of the above three categories.

  • Ask God for people to come to salvation. (Romans 10:1; cf. 9:1-5)
  • Ask God to work spiritually in a spouse or child, including moving them toward salvation. (1 Corinthians 7:14-16, prayer implied)
  • Ask God to help you personally interpret a tongue you have spoken in a meeting. (1 Corinthians 14:13)
  • Ask God to take care of the things that worry you. (Philippians 4:6)

My personal take-away from this time of study was that I needed to pray more for the first two categories listed above: 1) for the spiritual growth of my fellow believers—including such particulars as were listed above, and 2) for their boldness in proclaiming the word of God and its effects.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

5 Tips to Survive in Ministry

By John McKinley

Michael Wilkins recommended these axioms to me. It has taken me several years to figure out and understand what they mean. They have worked like seeds for me. I’m sure he would elaborate on them differently (and better) than I’m doing here. But this is what I see in them:

1.  Face and Accept Yourself

Be honest about your wounds, weaknesses, vices, and failures, as known and provided for by God who accepts you. Justification means that God himself has made you worthy to enjoy his presence and favor, now that you are in Jesus. Embrace and own who you are and how you have developed under God’s care, with particular abilities, biases, and weaknesses. It may be that God’s acceptance of you (he has justified you in Jesus) is the catalyst for you to accept yourself.

2.  See that God Accepts You as You Are

Justification means that none of your misdeeds and failures has kept God away from taking you on entirely. Justification means that none of your good deeds can make you more acceptable to God than you are in Jesus. Instead, God has completely taken you on, with all your sin, and provided you the needed righteousness accomplished by Jesus. Jesus alone is your standing with God. Jesus alone is your perfection as a creature with God.

Christians contradict the doctrine of justification by grace alone when we say we can please God by our obedience, and displease him by our sin. That’s not justification, but moralistic performance sneaking in through the window. Instead, when we do well with God, we enjoy God. When we fail, we suffer for turning aside from God; we enjoy God less. What seems too good to be true is that we have been justified. The vicissitudes of daily moral intentions and actions do not constrain or enlarge God’s love towards us. God accepts you as you are because of Jesus.

3.  Look to Growth in the Good and Out of the Bad

We all have phases of thinking we’re brilliant and wonderful, and then later fearing that we are really just wretched, incurably selfish, hopelessly lazy, and weak in the face of temptation to sins. The truth is that we’re not that great despite what others might say about us. Because of God’s work, Jesus is being formed in every Christian. I see the temptation to try and develop ourselves according to some set of values of what a Christian is supposed to be. Avoiding that moralism, we can look to Jesus, and desire his values, goals, and methods for living with others as the good we seek.

Jesus’ form of life must displace our own deformed values, goals, and methods of living that we must outgrow and repudiate. Some of these might be particular roles in relationships, such as performance roles cast upon us in a family of origin that we fulfill as the “black sheep,” “the golden child,” “the pampered princess,” or “the intrepid achiever.” We have to hate some things that get in the way of loving the new life Jesus mirrors to us in his life. Our inclinations to compare ourselves with others in competition or envy, and our illusions of self-improvement must die. If the first two items of accepting ourselves and accepting God’s acceptance of us are clear enough in our grasp, then it can be easier for us to let go of the garbage that obstructs us from God. We can receive the new growth for our enjoyment of God. This is more difficult practically than we realize because it calls for God’s work to completely unmake and reconstruct our identity (cf. Eph. 2:10).

4.  Forget Yourself

The Christian life is surrender to God for his purposes, as in Jesus’ choice to align with God in Gethsemane: “not my will but yours be done.” We must leave off merely attempting to further our own dreams and status. For God to take over and work through us, we have to stop trying to drive our own lives as if we were responsible to make something of ourselves. As a person, of myself, I am nothing, and I deserve no credit for anything good (only for my failures and crimes). God can do ministry through a donkey; God can get praise and honor from rocks. The only worth about me is that I am a member of Jesus, and he works through me. Forgetting ourselves means we do not take ourselves seriously, and we despise the illusions of pride, boasting, and self-satisfaction with our influence, efforts, or achievements.

5.  Get with God’s People

Despite being a nothing on my own, God works ministry through me, as with a lightning rod struck by a bolt, or as a hose filled with water. As I live in the midst of others, I experience God’s active power worked through them to me, and God’s life worked through me to them. We can both refuse to take ourselves seriously, and take very seriously the ministry God might do through us.

We can serve God’s purposes by taking care in what we say and do, so as not to damage or obstruct his work by our stupid political opinions, insensitive slander of others, sloppy preparation, or otherwise misleading of those we are connected to in ministry. For example, if we tell a joke in poor taste, that can obscure what God might otherwise have provided for someone through us. A harsh word can influence someone to mistrust us. A sloppy theology can muddy the clarity of perception that someone might have held.

Being with God’s people also takes us out of ourselves into their lives and God’s. We see God’s wise works in saving them, which reminds us to forget ourselves, and to accept ourselves, and to face ourselves as we truly are, in total need of God, constantly.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.


Before You Use that Biblical Illustration...

The time to teach a biblical story is when it is the primary passage for your message, not when it is a secondary illustration of another passage. In other words, you should preach the story Joseph and his brothers as part of a series through Genesis, and not as an illustration of Romans 8:28.

Biblical illustrations are seldom as helpful or as effective as contemporary pictures from the everyday lives of your listeners and should be rarely used.

First, their events and situations are usually far removed from the experiences of our listeners and tend to strike them as “from a foreign culture, and from another age, when maybe God did such things.” Few of your listeners, hearing of Joseph, for example, expect to be sold to Egyptian merchants, to be seduced by their boss’ wife, to interpret dreams for convicts in prisons, or to become chief-of-staff to their country’s leader. Such experiences are difficult for your listeners to identify with; they’re not true to life today.

Second, preachers sometimes too quickly assume that a biblical story fits or illustrates another passage, and they end up connecting the passages in ways contrary to the theological intent of the original authors. The story of Joseph does not really fit the teaching of Romans 8:28. The point of Genesis 50:20 is that God used the brothers’ evil intentions to bring about good circumstances in Joseph’s life. But that’s not the point of Romans 8:28.

The point of Romans 8:28–30 is that God will work in your sufferings and weaknesses to bring about the good character of Christlikeness. Romans 8:28 isn’t teaching that no matter what happens in your life, God will bring good circumstances out it, but rather that the “good” he’s working in all situations is to conform you to the likeness of his Son.

Third, using a biblical illustration can deceive you into thinking you’ve applied the truth, when all you’ve really done is repeated it. Instead of properly moving from the biblical passage to the timeless truth to contemporary application, you’ve moved from the biblical passage to the timeless truth and then back to another biblical passage.

For example, suppose you’re preaching Colossians 3:5–6, and your point is, “Greed brings God’s wrath.” If you then tell the story of I Kings 21—how Ahab’s greed for Naboth’s land brought God’s wrath—you’ve haven’t yet applied the biblical truth, you’ve simply repeated it. You haven’t advanced the message; you’ve gone backward:

Biblical Application of the Text

The best time and way to teach biblical narratives is when they are the primary passage for your message—when they are the source of the truth, rather than an illustration of it. As a primary passage, they can lead you to eternal truth; as an illustration, they can only give you an ancient example.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.


The Secret to Becoming Irrelevant: Spend All Your Time Trying to Be Relevant

By Thaddeus Williams

The Peace and Love Hippie Hostel is one of Paris’ most budget-friendly, a dingy sanctuary for under-showered backpackers. It was there that I met Derrick. Derrick didn’t believe in organized religion. Derrick didn’t believe in unorganized religion. Derrick believed in marijuana, and that marijuana alone gave life meaning. One factor that drove Derrick to find meaning in chemicals rather than Christ was, quite frankly, Christ’s people—the church. In Derrick’s own words, “Whatever the world can do, Christians can do ten years later and worse.” He went on to cite Christian music, movies, literature, and church trends that struck him as derivative, contrived, inauthentic, shallow, and kitsch. The big irony was how so many of these Christian endeavors were aimed precisely at being relevant to guys like Derrick. The harder the church tried to be relevant, the more irrelevant she became.

THE RELEVANCE QUESTION           

Behind this irony lies a question that is both good and dangerous. It is what we may call the “Relevance Question,” which asks: What would it look like for us, as believers, to be relevant to unbelievers? We don’t want the Derricks of the world to see us as a quirky tribe of xenophobes. So in answering the Relevance Question we usually come up with a projection of what we think those unbelievers out there are like. Once we think we’ve got a good grip on the tastes and preferences of our unbelieving target demographic, we take the Relevance Question further: we reinvent how we do Christianity so that what we’re selling coincides with what they’re buying. As perceived demand shapes what we supply, innovative church models begin to emerge. We make Jesus relevant again.  

Or do we?

Not according to Derrick and the many like him. With the Relevance Question as the first step in our journey, our final destination is irrelevance. Sure the Relevance Question has its place (e.g., Paul didn’t speak Hebrew on Mars Hill or cite the Stoic philosophers in the synagogues). The Relevance Question is a good question; it is just not to be the first question. When relevance is our first priority we end up powered not by the Spirit of Christ, but the spirit of the age. There is a more fundamental question we must face squarely together. Before asking what relevance looks like to this or that culture (or subculture), we must first ask “Who is the Jesus we exist to reverently worship and reflect with our lives?” Let us call this the “Reverence Question.”

WHEN RELEVENCE TRUMPS REVERENCE

I briefly highlight four effects of putting the Relevance Question ahead of the Reverence question:

1. We alienate anyone who doesn’t fit the bill. If we start with a drive to be relevant to postmoderns, then we become instantly irrelevant to anyone who still puts faith in science, still values logical propositions, or holds out hope for objective truth. If we assume that postmodernism is in the oval office of ideas in Western culture (and that’s debatable), there are still protesters in the streets who voted for the other guy. Don’t all these people need the Gospel too?

2. We play a never-ending game of follow the leader. Like every other “ism” created by human minds, postmodernism’s days are numbered. One day the polls will come in and some new “ism” will be sworn into office—post-postmodernism. Eventually we will realize that our postmodern church is yesterday’s news, ask the Relevance Question all over again, and dream up a post-postmodern church. In this train-of-thought, the church has made herself the caboose, always trailing distantly behind culture. What’s even more of a problem is that culture itself has become the engine, pulling the church caboose along. Shouldn’t Jesus be our engine, and His Word the tracks we follow into the future?

3. We present a torn portrait of Jesus to the world. Postmoderns, so we are told, value the image over the word, mystery over certainty, questions over answers, the relational over the rational. So the relevance-driven church follows suit. If post-postmodernism one day swings the pendulum back toward reason and objectivity, then what happens to the relevance-driven church? She packs her candles and icons in storage, swaps out story-telling time with serious study time, and replaces open questions with closed answers. Yet Christ is simultaneously relational and rational. He used words and images, mysteries and certainties, questions and answers. When we begin with the Relevance Question, we allow cultural trends to determine which few aspects of our multidimensional Christ the church expresses. Shouldn’t we be displaying a wider spectrum of Jesus’ radiance to the watching world?

4. We lose sight of the chief end of everything. The chief end not only of man, but of everything—waterfalls, education, subatomic particles, romance, art, science, food, sleep, golfing, mountains, humor, tears, etc.— is to glorify God. Driven by the conviction that “the aim and final end of all music is none other than the glory of God” Johann Sebastian Bach created some of the most original, powerful, and beautiful music ever composed. Imagine, however, if he saw the “aim and final end of all music” as being relevant to a culture that likes music. What if the primary factor determining where Bach’s dots fell on the score sheet was not glorifying an infinite God, but merely making something that people would like? Do you think that his music would have been as powerful? Me neither. There is a profound difference between the art motivated by adoration for God and that motivated by the approval of people. Shouldn’t worship be the deepest motive behind every thought we think, word we speak, and sound we make?  

BECOMING TRULY SEEKER-SENSITIVE

In sum: live a life of authentic reverence for Jesus and you become relevant to the watching world. Live your life to become relevant and you become both irreverent to Jesus and irrelevant to the watching world. Let me say again, the Relevance Question is a good question; it is just not to be the first question. Before we ruminate on how to reach seekers, we must focus on how to revere the Great Seeker, the God who seeks worshippers who worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). You exist “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:12-14), “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you” (2 Thessalonians 1:12), that your life and mine would shout together Paul’s anthem “to Him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36)!


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash


The Shortest Verse in the New Testament

By Ken Berding

What is the shortest verse in the New Testament? Did you respond “Jesus wept”? (Buzzer sound) No, that is the third shortest verse in the New Testament.

Granted, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) is the shortest verse in English. In English it is 9 letters long. But in Greek it is 16 letters long (Ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς). 

For a long time I have known that there is a shorter verse in Greek. That is 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “rejoice always,” which is only 14 letters in Greek (Πάντοτε χαίρετε).

But a few years ago, one of my Greek students, Steven Malan, pointed out to me that there is a verse that is even shorter in Greek. That verse is Luke 20:30 “and the second,” which in Greek has only 12 letters (καὶ ὁ δεύτερος). This ridiculously short verse is found in the section where Jesus is being verbally challenge by the Sadducees (Luke 20:29-32): “Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; 30and the second 31and the third married her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children. 32Finally the woman died also.”

So “Jesus wept” comes in third. “And the second” comes in first.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

Image Credit: ©Thinkstock


9 Truths about Sex and Marriage from Genesis 1-2

By Sean McDowell

Critics have sometimes claimed that marriage is not that important to God. But interestingly, the Bible both begins and ends with a marriage. In fact, marriage is the defining metaphor God uses to illustrate His love for the Church, His “bride.”

The natural place to begin an investigation into what God thinks about marriage (and sex) is in Genesis 1 and 2, where scripture describes God’s creation of the world and everything in it. Here are nine truths about sex and marriage from the first two chapters in Genesis:

1. Sex and marriage are a creation of God. Sex is not the result of a blind, evolutionary process that lacks meaning and merely exists to propagate the species. Rather, God is the one who created sex with a purpose for how it is to be expressed and experienced. The first explicit attribute we learn about God in the Bible is that He is the Creator (Gen 1:1), which implies there is a purpose for what He creates, including sex.

2. People are created as gendered beings. Gender is not accidental to the creation story. Rather, God intentionally made human beings male and female (1:27-28) so they could populate the earth. The creation story emphasizes distinctions between day and night, land and sea, as well as male and female. Gender is fundamental to what it means to be human.

3. The biblical design for marriage is monogamy. The pattern in Genesis 2:24 is that a man leaves his household, which consists of his father and his mother, and then “clings” to his wife. When God called Adam to name the animals, “there was not found a helper fit for him” (2:20b). The clear implication is that Adam was looking for one partner. Populating the earth only requires one man and one woman. Although many biblical leaders embraced polygamy, the clear design for marriage is monogamy.

4. The two sexes are equal in value. Even though there is contrast between Adam and Eve (male and female), there is no hint of ontological superiority for the male. Both are equal image bearers of the divine (1:27). While egalitarians and complementarians differ over the roles of men and women in the family and church, both agree that men and women have equal value.

5. Marriage is an exclusive relationship. Genesis 2:24 says a man shall leave his father and mother. The Hebrew term for “leave” is a strong term that is often translated as “abandon” or “forsake,” and is sometimes used to indicate that Israel has forsaken the God of Israel for false gods (e.g. Deut 28:20). Richard Davidson explains: “This leaving also implies the exclusiveness of the relationship: husband and wife, and no other interfering party, are bone of each other’s bones, flesh of each other’s flesh.”[1]

6. Marriage is meant to be permanent. According to Genesis 2:24, man will “hold fast” to his wife. The language of this same verse, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” expresses a marriage covenant vow. Holding fast and the one-flesh union indicate permanence in the relationship. Jesus affirmed the intended permanence for marriage (See Matt. 19:3-4).

7. Marriage is heterosexual. Both Genesis 1 and 2 indicate that marriage is gendered. The man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife. While marriage entails much more than gender differences, it entails no less. Paul affirms that marriage is gendered (See Eph. 5:22-33).

8. One of the primary purposes of sex and marriage is procreation. After indicating that males and females are made in God’s image, Genesis indicates that they are to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Thus, one of the primary purposes of marriage is procreation. Not all couples can have children, for a variety of reasons, but part of the divine design for sex and marriage is procreation.

9. Sex is good and beautiful. Over and over again the author of Genesis 1 makes it clear that creation is good: “And God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good” (1:31). Sex is part of God’s original good creation. Sex is only bad when we abuse God’s intended design. But in the marriage relationship of one man and one woman, sex is meant to be experienced without fear, shame, or regret and is both good and beautiful.


Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

[1] Richard M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Peabody, MA Hendricksen, 2007), 44.

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.


God Has Dealt Bountifully with Me

By Nell Sunukjian

The colors and smells of fall have arrived, even here in southern California. Red, yellow, gold, and peach-colored roses, fresh from my garden, are tucked into a round pumpkin. Homemade pumpkin bread, smelling of cinnamon and ginger is fresh from the oven and ready to be tucked into our mouths.

Thanksgiving is almost here.

Sometimes, though, we have trouble entering into the full spirit of Thanksgiving. Perhaps we’ve experienced a loss recently, as my friend, Jan, did when her mother died. Or, someone we love may have inoperable cancer. Maybe one of our children is not following the Lord. And we feel sad, and even a bit ungrateful as Thanksgiving approaches.

At times we may even feel God has forgotten us.

                  Where is God?

                  Why can’t I sense God’s presence?

                  Have you forgotten me, O Lord?

                  How long will my enemies triumph?             

King David felt this way once. He felt despair and desolation and it seemed like it would last forever! In Psalm 13, he kept saying, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”

Some scholars think that David was physically sick when he wrote this psalm, and that he was deeply discouraged because he hadn’t heard from God. Clearly some situation which was unchanged was causing him sorrow.

He admitted to God that he was wrestling with his thoughts, and feeling great sorrow every day. And he wanted it to end!

We get to these places, too. We may have prayed for healing from a sickness and are no better. We prayed earnestly for a sister to recover from cancer, but she continues to get worse. Our son or daughter is not seeking God as we have asked and we find that God is distant—where is He? How long will it be until He answers my prayer?

What did David do to solve the dilemma of waiting for God? He continued to pray to God and to put his hope in Him. David knew that he himself couldn’t solve the problem. If he was physically ill, he knew he would die without God’s help. He knew that the answer lay with continuing to seek God in prayer. So he called out to God in verse 3, “Look on me and answer me, O Lord, my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death.”

Even though David couldn’t sense God and didn’t know where God was, David didn’t turn his back on God. He turned toward God and put his full confidence in Him. He said, “I have this enemy, this sickness and sadness, and You are distant, O God, but I will put my trust in you anyway! I’m not going to give in to my enemies! They are not going to win! I’m going to put my trust in You; You are my Lord and my God. Look on me and answer me. I have no one else to turn to and I’m going to choose You and not listen to the taunts of my enemies.”

And so he prayed. He poured out his heart to God. He told God that if he was ever going to see light in his desolation, God would have to shine that light. And he wanted God to shine that light so that David’s enemies would not think they had triumphed over him! He wanted God to answer him so he could triumph over his enemies (verses 3 & 4)!

When we are ill or have a continuing problem that God doesn’t seem to hear and we think He has forgotten us, we can choose to give in to that. We can say, “I’m just not going to pray anymore, because how long has it been since God answered me? I give up.”

We can choose to do that.

And then our enemies win.

OR,

we can choose to follow David’s example and say, “I’m not going to give in to my enemies! I’m going to put my trust in God and not let my enemies win. I’m going to keep on praying!”

We can keep on praying for healing, for ourselves or for others. We can keep on praying that our son or daughter will follow the Lord. If God doesn’t answer and it seems so long, we can choose to keep on! And not give up! And not let our enemies win!

As David continued to pray, his spirit did an about-face. He said, “As for me, I’m putting my trust in God’s unfailing love! (verse 5) I’m leaving these enemies, these doubts, this uncertainty about why You don’t answer, God, and I’m just putting my trust in You. I’m putting my confidence in Your unfailing covenant love! You made a covenant with Israel—You promised Your love to them, to me, and You, not my enemies, are the truth and the way and I’m going to follow You! I’m going to rejoice in the salvation You are bringing me!”

And so, we must, as King David did, turn toward God—even if we think He has forgotten us—and we must continue to trust in God’s unfailing love.

That’s what trust is, that’s what faith is. It’s walking toward God when there is no evidence. Otherwise, why would we need to trust Him?

And then we come to this marvelous verse that ends the psalm, verse 6. David, looking toward a future that has not yet changed, but speaking as though it has, says, “I’m going to sing a song of praise to God for He has dealt bountifully with me.”

David chooses to praise God, even this God who seemed to have forgotten him, because David focuses on the truth—GOD HAS NOT FORGOTTEN HIM. No, indeed, looking ahead as though it has happened, David says that not only has God not only not forgotten him, God has dealt bountifully with him! God has been better to him than he could have ever hoped. God has been more generous with him than he even asked for. God has been lavish with him.

And so with us.

When I am tempted to stop praying for my son or daughter who doesn’t follow the Lord, I can follow the example in this psalm. I can by faith say, “Wait a minute. This is God we are talking about. He can’t forget me! He has me engraved on the palms of His hands! He sent His precious Son, Jesus, to die for my sins so I could be forgiven! He’s preparing a place for me in heaven. He can’t have forgotten me. It’s not possible! He has promised to love me. He loves the whole world! “

So, by faith I can choose the truth. God has not forgotten me. Instead of forgetting, He is dealing bountifully with me. He is dealing lavishly with me. He is treating me with deep love and provision, far more than I deserve or could ever expect.

I can choose to look to the future, and I can say, “Oh, how good God has been to me. He’s been even better than I imagined. He’s been not just good, He’s been bountiful.”

And for you, God does the same. You pray for healing from the cancer, but if He doesn’t heal in this life, you can still say that God has dealt bountifully with you. After all, we have salvation! We have eternity! We have so much to rejoice in with those things.

“Lord, You are good. We turn from our own way, and our complaining, and our wrong thinking that you don’t hear us, and we look at You. We gaze at who You are—Your unfailing love for us, Your salvation. We know that You will be good to us. We say, by faith, O Lord, that we give You praise, for You have dealt bountifully with us and You will continue to do so.”


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.


Lessons from the Fog

By Joy Mosbarger

A few weeks ago I had an early morning meeting that required me to get up and leave home way before it was light. As I walked out my front door, I noticed for the first time that not only was the world still shrouded in darkness, but it was also shrouded in fog. This immediately brought back strong memories of the years I lived in California’s Central Valley where heavy fog at certain times of the year was commonplace. And most of those memories were not pleasant.

In fact, most of those memories involved driving, and the primary emotion they evoked was apprehension. My first memory of driving in the fog happened during my first year of college when the college closed down for a “fog day.” In my naiveté, I viewed this as an opportunity to leave early for a planned weekend in Southern California. I soon realized the folly of my decision when I got on the freeway and could hardly see more than a few feet in front of me. Eventually I developed a strategy of getting behind a big semitrailer. I stayed just close enough so I could see its lights. If it slowed down, I slowed down. If it speeded up, I speeded up. If it changed lanes, I changed lanes. Needless to say, my eyes were intensely focused on those lights.

The fog that was present on my way to my early morning meeting was not as thick as that Central Valley fog often was. But it was thick enough that I adopted my strategy of keeping my eyes focused intently on the lights of the car in front of me, my hands tightly gripping the steering wheel. In the midst of my intense focus, a line from one of the songs that was playing on the radio jumped out at me... “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” The connection between the intensity of my focus on that car in front of me and the idea of fixing our eyes on Jesus struck me immediately. That thought was followed almost instantly by a powerful grief that I so rarely focus as intently on Jesus as I was focused on that car in front of me.

Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us that we should run with endurance the race of life before us with our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of our faith. The Greek participle that is translated “fixing” (aphorōntes) evokes the idea of directing close attention on one thing without distraction and to the exclusion of anything else. Unfortunately, I am easily distracted. But when driving in the fog, I realized that if I took my eyes off of that car or truck in front of me, I could miss a lane change or a sudden stop. Straining to look beyond that car or to see what was happening on either side of me could result in the failure to notice a key move on the part of what should be the object of my attention. Fixing our eyes on Jesus involves a decision to turn away from all else that might distract us and gazing intently at Jesus alone.

And the reason we are to fix our eyes on Jesus is that he is the author and perfecter (archēgon kai teleiōtēn) of our faith. He is the author of our faith—the pioneer or originator. He is the one who has gone before us and provides the only sure example of how the life of faith is to be lived. And he is the originator of the individual path that each of our lives of faith is intended to follow. In addition, Jesus is the perfecter of our faith—the one who has brought the life of faith to a successful conclusion and makes it possible for us to do the same.

Hebrews 12:2 indicates that this successful conclusion and one of the ultimate goals of the life of faith is to sit down in the presence of God. Jesus has gone before us and was the first to attain that goal. And through Jesus, we too can enter the presence of God. On that foggy morning a few weeks ago, I was just trying to get to my meeting on time and in one piece. That’s why I fixed my eyes on that car in front of me. But during that trip I was challenged to fix my eyes consistently, with the same intensity and focus, on Jesus. Because my ultimate goal is not to get to a meeting; rather it is to arrive safely in the presence of God. Jesus is the only one who knows the safest and best path to that goal. And he will lead me there if I keep my eyes fixed on him.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

3 Ways Jesus Teaches Us to Respond to Family Frustration

By Klaus Issler

We must look to Jesus to show us the way to be strong people who are compassionately tender at appropriate times. Jesus experienced a wide range of emotions himself. He openly wept (see John 11:35); He felt deep compassion for people (see Mark 3:5); and he even displayed righteous anger (Mark 3:5). Consider this episode in His life for our instruction.

After Jesus' wonderful mountaintop experience of His transfiguration, Peter, James, John, and Jesus return to find an upset father surrounded by a crowd in debate and the other disciples who, although experienced at the ministry of exorcism, were not able to cast a demon out of a boy. The father approached Jesus to lodge his complaint: “I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not” (Luke 9:40; see also Matthew 17:16; Mark 9:18).

Instantly Jesus let out a very personal and emotional response, “O unbelieving and perverse generation, . . . how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (Luke 9:41). The comment conveys frustration regarding the lack of faith of the father, of the crowd, and even of His disciples—or, as J.P. and I prefer to say it, a lack of God-confidence. Jesus then dealt with the situation: "Bring your son here'" (verse 41). As the boy was being brought to Jesus, the evil spirit threw him into a convulsion. When Jesus rebuked the demon in the power of the Spirit (see Matt 12:28), the boy was instantly healed. Later, while alone with His disciples, Jesus responded to their question regarding why they could not cast out the demon. “Because you have so little God-confidence” (see Matthew 17:20).

From this passage, consider the following general points, which may offer some guidance for how to respond appropriately with God's grace when facing difficulties and crises that arise with family members, friends, fellow church members, colleagues at work, and neighbors:

1. In a conflict situation, leave room for healthy emotional venting.

“Venting” suggests the letting off of a bit of internal emotional steam or frustration. R. T. France notes that rhetorical questions, as Jesus made in this particular situation (for example, “How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?”), "need be no more than idiomatic expressions of frustration."[[i]] Because Jesus never sinned (Hebrews 4:15), His expression of frustration gives us permission also to vent our own frustrations. But we must also notice how He did so. He identified the object of His frustration in their lack of God-confidence ("What an unbelieving and perverse generation!" Matthew 17:17; Luke 9:41) as one commentator translates it)[[ii]]—more of an aside to Himself, the lament of a prophet. It's not a blaming statement starting with you, but with “I” although a few Bible versions unfortunately interpret the emotional Greek interjection “O” as “You” here. Then, he owns His feelings: "How long shall I... put up with you?" And it’s not the time for fix-it solutions yet. Now is the time for appropriate emotional expression and feeling the hurt or pain of the one venting....

2. Together work on dealing with the immediate situation.

Jesus asked for the boy, and the disciples brought him. Jesus interviewed the father about the problem and diagnosed it. He healed him, in dependence on the power of the Spirit (Matt 12:28), and gave the boy back to his father. So, after we leave some time for emotions to be vented and affirmed, we then look at the pressing need together as partners, rather than as adversaries. Of course, honest venting and empathic listening sets the best tone to move to this second step. If we start looking at the past to fix blame, we've moved back into the mode of sinful compulsions and defense mechanisms, and we're also wasting valuable time and energy that could be used to work on the immediate problem. If there is an immediate issue, it must be addressed right away. That is the primary concern, not the history of how we got here.  "So what do we do now?" We face the conflict as a team. It's our problem, not your problem. We postpone any discussions of what brought the conflict on....

3. Later, privately and at leisure, discuss the episode and brainstorm ways to decrease a recurring problem.

After the healing was completed, the disciples went privately to Jesus and asked Him why they couldn't cast out the demon. Jesus explained that it was their lack of God-confidence. He then used the occasion to teach about God-confidence (see Matthew 17:20–21).

Once the impending crisis is addressed in some fashion, we can agree on the best time for reflecting on the event, when emotions are calmer and the pressing need of the problem won't oppress the tone of the conversation. We can then be honest about what went wrong. Each of us can admit the part we played. If need be, we can apologize and ask for forgiveness and receive it. For those of us who tend to fix problems, we can then offer systematic solutions that might help prevent this kind of problem from recurring.

At this point, a deeper question arises: how is growing deeper in our relationship with God tied with being more aware of our emotions? Because honesty before God is highly valued by Him, as indicated in David's psalm of confession: “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place" (Psalm 51:6, emphasis added). If we know that God wishes us to open up our deep emotions to Him, we can't go on living the same clueless way. To ignore God's invitation to open us to His searching gaze would indicate a willful resistance to His loving embrace in the deep parts of our lives. Rather, as David closes Psalm 139, let us invite God in: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (verses 23–24).


This blog article is adapted from The Lost Virtue of Happiness: Discovering the Disciplines of the Good Life by J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), Ch 3: “Forming a Tender, Receptive Heart,” 61-79.

[i] R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 366.

[ii] John Nolland, Luke 9:21-18:34, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 35B (Dallas: Word, 1993), 505.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

How Biblical Backgrounds Help Make Scripture More Engaging

By Joe Hellerman

Last Saturday evening, my wife and I had a delightful dinner out with two of our very best friends, John and Leah Hutchison. Before we left the house, I had about fifteen minutes to kill while Joann was still getting ready. The nerd in me has something lying right on my nightstand for just such occasions: a volume of Josephus’ Antiquities. I picked it up, intending to read a little Greek, and stumbled across a story that had escaped my memory but is worth revisiting.

In the passage Jews and Samaritans are going at it in the presence of king Ptolemy Philometor (186–145 BC...), in Alexandria, Egypt. The point of contention has to do with what social anthropologists call sacred space. The Jews were convinced that God had chosen Mount Zion in Jerusalem as the place he wanted to be worshipped. The Samaritans insisted, instead, that Mount Gerizim, in Samaria, was God’s sacred real estate. They had even built a temple there to offer sacrifices. Now the two groups are arguing their respective cases before Ptolemy.

At one level, there is nothing particularly new here. We see the same disagreement reflected in an observation made by the woman at the well in John 4:20: “Our fathers worshiped on  this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

What is striking in Josephus’s account, however, is just how high both Jews and Samaritans were willing to “set the stakes,” so to speak, with respect to the outcome of the debate. As the story unfolds, Josephus tells us that the disputing parties “requested the king to sit in council with his friends and hear their arguments on these matters, and to punish with death those who were defeated” (Ant. 13.75). Yikes!

The king gathers a large group of his friends, and the smackdown begins: “Sabbaeus and Theodosius made speeches on behalf of the Samaritans, while Andronicus, the son of Messalamus, spoke for the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea” (13.75).

The outcome? “Andronicus persuaded the king to decide that the temple at Jerusalem had been built in accordance with the laws of Moses, and to put to death Sabbaeus and Theodosius and their party” (13.79)—thus giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “a hill to die on.”

This is an informative illustration of both the value and the limitations of the use of background materials for New Testament exegesis. There are some examples where historical or cultural background illuminates a passage in such a way as to make sense of the text for the very first time. But this is seldom the case. Generally, extra-biblical data, judiciously applied, simply helps us to see more clearly—and appreciate more deeply—what is already apparent in the text itself.

We gain no profound new insights into the Jew–Samaritan schism (in general) or into John 4 (in particular), for example, from our text from Josephus. But we do get a better sense of just how seriously both Jews and Samaritans took their respective convictions about the proper place to worship God.

This, in turn, makes Jesus’ pronouncement in John 4:21 all the more striking: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” In a instant, Jesus sweeps sacred space completely off the map (pun intended) in a world where holy ground was something to defend to the death.

Biblical backgrounds do for the interpreter what color cinematography did for The Wizard of Oz. You can follow the story just fine in black and white. But when that house hits the ground, and Dorothy walks out into a world of living color, well, the story is all the more engaging. So it is for biblical backgrounds. God’s story as revealed in Scripture is already quite clear. But it often benefits greatly from a little local color here and there.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.


2 Striking Truths about the Last Supper

By Joy Mosbarger

Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ words at the Last Supper—or at least with some of those words. When we celebrate communion together, we regularly hear “this is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” and “this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Recently, however, I read through Luke 22, which includes the Last Supper and the events surrounding it. In addition to these familiar words from the Last Supper, I was struck by some of the other words spoken by Jesus on this momentous occasion.

After Jesus and the disciples settled together around the Passover table, the first words Jesus spoke were these: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). As he faces a time of unimaginably intense suffering in his life, Jesus has a deep and powerful longing to be with his disciples. Though Jesus clearly needed to be with his Father as he approached the suffering that was to come (vv. 41-44), he also seems to have felt a need to be with his disciples—his closest earthly, human friends. Jesus’ profound yearning to be with his disciples at this darkest, most difficult place in his life is quite remarkable.

This desire is even more remarkable when considering the major imperfections of the disciples, which are on display for all to see in the events following the Last Supper in Luke 22. Their immediate reaction to Jesus’ disclosure of his imminent suffering is not sympathy, but a discussion of which one of them is going to betray Jesus (v. 23). This is immediately followed by a dispute that arose among them as to which of them should be considered to be the greatest (vv. 24-30). He later asks them to pray that they might not enter into temptation while he is alone in prayer with the Father. Instead, they fall asleep (vv. 39-46). Judas betrays him (vv. 47-48), and Peter denies him (vv. 54-62). Their actions do not reveal the disciples as being intent on encouraging and strengthening a friend in a time of great need. Yet in spite of the disciples’ human frailties and failures, of which Jesus was well aware, he still earnestly desired to be with them at this horrendously grueling point in his life.

There are two truths in particular from this narrative in Luke 22 that I find most striking and extraordinary. First, Jesus loved his disciples as they were and strongly desired to be with them. It is obvious that the disciples needed Jesus in profound ways. Yet, on some level, Jesus “needed” the disciples—or at least he wanted them with him in this place of deep struggle and pain. And he didn’t want to be with them because of the depth of their maturity; rather, he longed to be with them with all their flaws and defects because he knew that they (except maybe Judas) loved him to the degree that they were capable of doing so. I find it immensely comforting and quite astounding to know that Jesus actually wants to be with me with all my imperfections and weaknesses—because I have a lot of them.

Second, though the disciples were with Jesus in this place of deep anguish, they didn’t really hear what he had to say. They were more focused on themselves and what they perceived as their needs. They seemed to be more worried about which of them would betray Jesus rather than the fact that Jesus was going to be betrayed. During their last hours with the greatest human being who ever lived, they were arguing about which of them was the greatest. When Jesus asked them to pray while he was alone with the Father, they fell asleep. With momentous events of eternal consequence taking place around them and in the presence of the one at the center of these events, the disciples seem to be missing the significance of Jesus’ words and the privilege of Jesus’ presence.

It saddens me to realize that often I am welcomed into the presence of Jesus, who earnestly desires to be with me, and all I can do is think about and talk about me. I miss what he is saying and doing, which is of much greater, deeper, and lasting significance than what I am saying and doing. Jesus gave his body for me and poured out his blood for me; he willingly sacrificed all for me. Shouldn’t that motivate me to recognize the eternal, incalculable value of reveling in the privilege of enjoying his presence and closely watching for what he is saying and doing while I am with him?


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.