How to Read: Book of Revelation


This is the final part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narrative

How to Read: The Gospels
How to Read: Parables
How to Read: Jewish Law
How to Read: Prophetic Books
How to Read: Psalms
How to Read: Wisdom Literature

He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! – Revelation 22:20

For modern readers, the book of Revelation feels like entering a science fiction novel. From the vivid imagery to the strange obsession with numbers, Revelation can definitively leave you puzzled when you read through it. Anyone who offers you “Three Keys to Revelation” and claims to have all of the details figured out, needs to return to reality. If you have an end-time chart that identifies everything in the book with modern occurrences, please quit spreading conspiracy theories and read Revelation as it is meant to be read!

The difficulty in interpreting Revelation is that it is an incredible mix of three types of literature: apocalypse, prophecy, and letter. In order to understand the book of Revelation as a whole, there are a few things to keep in mind. Remember, these three ideas are only bare essentials to having a proper understanding of Revelation. I highly recommend picking up the book this series is based on in order to gain a greater grasp on this puzzling book.

1. Remember John’s Original Purpose.

As with the other types of literature we have looked at, we need to remember this fact: The primary meaning and purpose of Revelation is how it was originally received by the church. The primary purpose of Revelation is not to offer clues for you to figure out dates on when the world is going to end. It is not for you to try to plug your patriotic feelings for the United States into the grand scheme of God’s story.

John wrote Revelation to churches that were facing severe persecution. John himself is writing from the island of Patmos which he was exiled to for his faith. It is into this deeply painful season that John offers words of hope that are found in Christ.

Revelation is about Jesus – his rule, reign, judgment, and hope He offers to the world.

Revelation was a prophetic word for the early church. That does not mean it does not apply today (as it does) but the primary purpose was for the immediate future of the churches in question. Now, this can be puzzling since Revelation ends with Christ returning to earth in order to demolish evil. That brings us to the next point.

2. Remember the “Already But Not Yet” Concept Discussed HERE.

Due to the interpretive difficulty of Revelation, we need to be sure to not press images beyond what they are meant to be. One of the reasons we do this is we want Revelation to follow a linear path so that it makes more sense to our minds. Unfortunately for us, this is not how God speaks through Revelation.

Many of the images and concepts mentioned have already happened but are yet to happen. For example, the fall of Rome in chapter 18 seems to coincide with the final return of Christ. As some of you may know, the last Roman emperor was killed in 476 A.D. and it is now 2016 A.D. – Was John wrong? No.

As you study the book of Revelation, you need to have a solid grasp on the temporal and eternal functions of Scripture. Rather than trying to map out every detail and attach certain dates to them, allow your mind to be caught up in the drama of Scripture. You will NOT figure out every detail. This does not mean you cannot have a solid understanding of how the book is structured which will give you the ability to figure out what Revelation is NOT saying.

3. Understand the Structure of Revelation

Whenever you are deeply studying a book or subject, it is best to write out the structure. The structure will serve you as a map and allow you to meditate upon the different truths throughout Revelation. As stated above, the structure will also give you the ability to dismiss wrong interpretations of Revelation.

  • Setting the Stage (Revelation 1-3)
    • The first three chapters set the stage for the reader. We are introduced to some of the main characters (John, Christ, and the Church).
  • Setting the Heavenly Stage (Revelation 4-5)
    • These two chapters continue to set the stage but in a different way. We get a glimpse of the beauty and power of God. As readers, we enter into the throne room of God and hear a vast multitude sing in worship of Him.
  • Unfolding of the Drama (Revelation 6-7)
    • These chapters unfold what is actually happening. Three times throughout the book, visions are presented in sets of 7. This works out in chapter 6 and 7 through the different horsemen that are mentioned.
  • Judgments on Rome (Revelation 8-11)
    • Here we are given a glimpse into the temporal judgments that God enacts on Rome. This culminate in a great war in which the kingdom of the world becomes the Kingdom of our God.
  • Details of the Judgment (Revelation 12-22)
    • Although we see the final judgment happening in chapter 11, John continues to provide specific details on the events in chapters 12-22. This is one of the reasons many readers get frustrated by the lack of linear progression in the book.

The book of Revelation is incredibly complex. With that being said, it is God’s Word to His Church and we should seek to understand it. As you study Revelation, ask the Spirit of God to lead you into all truth. Allow your heart to be in awe at the glory, power, and majesty of God revealed throughout the judgments and establishment of His Kingdom.

Although we do not understand how all the details will work out in our day, we know this: Jesus will return to earth to rescue His Church from death and destruction. There will be a final judgment and God will renew heaven and earth and we will dwell in his presence for all eternity. Come Lord Jesus, come!

Have you ever read the book of Revelation? What is the hardest thing for you to understand? Let me know by leaving a comment!

How to Read: Wisdom Literature


This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narrative

How to Read: The Gospels
How to Read: Parables
How to Read: Jewish Law
How to Read: Prophetic Books
How to Read: Psalms

For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with it. – Proverbs 8:11

Studying and meditating upon Scripture will impart wisdom upon the reader. As you study the different genres throughout the Bible, you will begin to transform into the image of Christ. Rather than making foolish decisions, the Spirit of God will lead you into all truth and wisdom.

There is a special genre in the Bible and its specific role is to impart wisdom. This is known as Wisdom literature. It is a special type of writing which was prominent in ancient cultures. There are three books in the Old Testament that are traditionally classified as wisdom literature:

  • Proverbs
  • Job
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Song of Songs (a form of lyric wisdom)

There are also many other parts of books which include wisdom literature as part of the overall whole. Unfortunately, as the book states, many people misread wisdom literature and use it to “provide a basis for selfish, materialistic, shortsighted behavior.” I want to share a few interpretive keys in order to help you properly read and develop wisdom through these books.

1. Understand the Beginning of Wisdom.

Often time we take it for granted that the people who wrote the wisdom literature come with the presupposition that God is active in the world. Much of the wisdom literature does not directly mention God in every part of the book. As you study the wisdom literature, you need to remember that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (see Proverbs 1:7). This fear of the Lord is what separates Biblical wisdom literature from other literature written in the same style.

In order to truly grow in wisdom and appreciate the beauty of truth in Proverbs, Jobs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, you NEED to begin from the perspective that God is real, alive, and active. You need to have a healthy fear of the power and glory of the King of kings. If you separate wisdom literature from this basis, you will use it to justify selfish desires and plans.

2. Proverbs are NOT Legal Guarantees from God.

Much of the wisdom literature is written in the forms of proverbs (especially the book of Proverbs). Proverbs are accurately defined as, “figures of speech” “parables” or “specially contrived saying”. They are NOT defined as special promises from God.

Proverbs often state what is likely to follow if you take a particular course of action. Since they are short statements, they are not intended to be a systematic understanding of why everything in the world happens. For example, it is a general rule that:

“Anyone trusting in his riches will fall,
but the righteous will flourish
like foliage.” – Prov. 11:28

If we make some simple observation of the world around us, we understand that this is not a concrete rule. At times it seems as if those who trust in riches are abundantly blessed. They enjoy their wealth for their entire lives. On the other hand, there are many righteous people who trust in God but seem to be trapped in poverty. This is not due to Proverbs being incorrect or the righteous people having hidden sin in their lives as that is not the purpose of Proverbs. As a general rule, those who practice righteousness will prosper and those who trust in wealth will fall – this is not always true and cannot be used as a guarantee from God that people who believe in him will prosper (which is why the so-called prosperity Gospel is heretical).

3. Read Wisdom Literature in its Entirety.

Wisdom literature is often written in such a way that it is hard to follow logically. Although this is certainly true, we need to understand that the books are meant to be read as a whole. If you begin to separate sections out of the books and use them to justify a certain belief system, you will end up with false doctrine.

For example, let’s look at one of the most troubling books – Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is full of pessimistic phrases such as those found in Ecclesiastes 3:19-22 –

For the fate of people and the fate of animals is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; they all have the same breath. People have no advantage over animals since everything is futile. All are going to the same place; all come from dust, and all return to dust. Who knows if the spirit of people rises upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? I have seen that there is nothing better than for a person to enjoy his activities because that is his reward. For who can enable him to see what will happen after he dies?

That does not seem very Biblical does it? If you look at Ecclesiastes as a whole, you will understand its the pursuit of wisdom “under the sun”. It is from the perspective of someone who seeks to know purpose apart from finding it in who God is. The conclusion in Ecclesiastes 12:12-14 is thoroughly biblical. Yet, in order to get there, you need to read the WHOLE book and understand the purpose of the original author!

What do you find most rewarding about the wisdom literature? Let me know by leaving a comment!


How to Read: Psalms

This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narrative

How to Read: The Gospels
How to Read: Parables
How to Read: Jewish Law
How to Read: Prophetic Books

The Book of Psalms is a beautiful collection of poetry which expresses a full array of human emotion: joy, happiness, sorrow, depression, and anger to name a few. The Psalms teach us how to pray our emotions rather than be destroyed by them.

The Psalms are one of the most loved parts of the Bible. This is evident in the fact that many New Testaments also contain the Psalms. God’s people have used the Psalms for thousands of years to commune with Him and express emotion.

As your heart is drawn into worship through the Psalms, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Understand the Parallelism of the Psalms. 

The Psalms are Hebrew poetry and as such, the poetic features tend to be lost in our English translations. Although Hebrew poetry has many characteristics, you need to remember the concept of parallelism. Parallelism is when a writer repeats the same idea in a different way in order to express a certain emotion or belief.

For example, let’s look at Psalm 17:10. In this Psalm, David is speaking about those who are attempting to harm him:

They have become hardened;
their mouths speak arrogantly.
They advance against me;
now they surround me.

As you can see when you are reading it, lines 1 and 2 express the same idea and lines 3 and 4 express the same idea. This is known as parallelism. This is vital to understand so that you do not try to pull abstract meanings from lines which are meant to express similar concepts. Often, the second line expresses the same idea in a different way OR the second line expresses the opposite (such as the contrasting in Psalm 1) – Both are parallelism.

2. The Psalms are often Metaphorical.

Poetry is not meant to be read the same way as the Epistles in the New Testament. Unfortunately, many people neglect to think about the special literary features in the Bible. Christians often pride themselves on taking every part of the Bible literally. This is a mistake as not every type of literature in the Bible is meant to be understood in an absolutely literal sense.

This is true for the Psalms.

The Psalms, as Hebrew poetry, are a direct appeal to our emotions. Since the Psalms are a collection of poetry and music, many of the images are not meant to be taken literally. For example, let’s look at Psalm 98:7-8:

Let the sea and all that fills it,
the world and those who live in it, resound.
Let the rivers clap their hands;

let the mountains shout together for joy before the Lord.

Do you really think the fish are going to be singing? How exactly are the rivers going to clap their hands? When was the last time you heard a mountain talk, let alone shout?

This Psalmist did not live in Middle-earth! As such, we need to understand that much of the Psalms are not meant to be taken literally but as beautiful images of the glory of God. Ultimately, all images and metaphors fall short when describing our transcendent King!

3. Understand the Types of Psalms.

As poetry and music, the individual Psalms can be grouped into different categories. Each different type of Psalm has a similar structure and purpose. In order for us to enter into the beauty of the Psalm, it is helpful to understand some of the major types.

  • Psalms of Lament
    • Psalms of Lament make up the majority of the Psalter. This is a powerful reminder for us to express depression, sorrow, and anger through prayer to our Father. The authors of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth mention hearing Psalm 88 read within hours of 9/11. The Psalms of Lament unite us in a common humanity and allows to speak to God in our misery.
  • Psalms of Thanksgiving
    • On the opposite end of human emotions are the Psalms of Thanksgiving. These Psalms were used to celebrate God’s favor and provision in the lives of His people. There are both individuals Psalms of Thanksgiving and corporate Psalms of Thanksgiving which are helpful in expressing gratefulness for God’s faithfulness in our lives.
  • Psalms of Praise
    • Psalms of praise often have no reference to a specific joy or sorrow in the life of the writer. Rather, the focus is on the beauty, glory, and majesty of God. These Psalms teach us that God deserves praise and He is the center of the Psalter – not human beings. These Psalms are helpful when they are read or sung during corporate worship.

Many artists have re-created the Psalms to contemporary music. This helps restore the Psalms to their original purpose – helping God’s people express emotion through music and poetry. I recommend checking out the Psalm Project on YouTube! 

What is your favorite Psalm and why? Let me know by leaving a comment, I would love to hear from you!

How to Read: Prophetic Books

This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narrative

How to Read: The Gospels
How to Read: Parables
How to Read: Jewish Law

The Prophets are an excellent example of holding fast to God’s Word in the midst of a corrupt society. Virtually all of the prophets faced intense persecution for their proclamation of God’s Word. Keeping this in mind, each of the prophets is relevant for us today. We also live in the midst of a society and even a church culture that is consistently rejecting the authoritative Word of God. We also face persecution if we refuse to glorify the post-modern worldview that many around us hold.

We need a fresh understanding of the Prophets.

Unfortunately, many Christians neglect reading the Prophets…. Probably due to the strange names!

Below are a list of the Prophetic books in the Old Testament:
Major Prophets 

Minor Prophets

As you can see, the prophetic books make up a considerable chunk of the Bible. As you study and meditate upon these incredible books, there are a few concepts to keep in mind.

1. Understand what Biblical Prophecy is (and what it isn’t). 

When you hear the word “prophecy” what is the first thing that comes to your mind? If you are like most people, there are probably images of Armageddon and predictions of the future. Although this is definitely a part of prophecy, foretelling the future was NOT the primary role of the Prophets.

Each one of the prophets literally proclaims God’s Word. God would speak, the prophet would listen, and then they would proclaim this Word to the people of Israel. The vast majority of the prophetic books are a teaching and application of the Law we studied a few days ago.

In essence, God promised Israel blessings if they obeyed him and judgments if they disobeyed him. Through the prophet spokesmen, God pronounce specific judgments against His people due to their disobedience. As you read through the Prophets, you need a general understanding of God’s Law for Israel in order to understand why the prophets are proclaiming certain messages.

Rather than creating new revelation, the prophets are applying the Law to God’s people.

2. Interpret the Prophetic Books in Light of History.

Many doomsday cults separate individuals oracles throughout the prophets from the contextual and historical background. This results in both false teaching and a heretical understanding of God. Rather than proof-texting your specific end-time beliefs through the use of the Prophets, allow your interpretation of the Prophets to be informed by the context!

As the authors state in the book, “God spoke in history and about history. To understand God’s Word we must know something of that history.” Although the Bible is timeless and relevant for today, we need to study it in its proper context.

Practically, this means utilizing a solid Bible Dictionary or commentary to understand the background of the Prophet you are studying. Rather than causing the Prophetic book to become dry and boring, your study will actually help bring the words to life. You will notice many parallels between the prophet’s context and your own life. It will also prevent you from twisting Scripture and forming a wrong belief system based on bad hermeneutics.

3. Understand the Different Types of Prophecy.

Depending on the type of literature you are reading, you will understand it differently. For example, you do not read a history textbook the same way you read the Lord of the Rings. You also do not read music the same as you read the news. Different types of literature demand different types of reading.

The Prophetic books are full of literary styles. It is helpful to have a general understanding of what you are reading so you experience the full impact of the prophetic word. Below are some of the major types of prophetic words and why it matters:

  • The Lawsuit (see Isaiah 3:13-26)
    • In essence, the prophet writes in such a way that God is bringing a lawsuit against His people. Often this form of prophecy contains a summons, a charge, evidence, and a verdict.
  • The Woe (see Habakkuk 2:6-8)
    • The word “Woe” is one which the people of God would use during mourning or disaster. The prophets use “woes” in order to pronounce imminent judgment and danger on God’s people if they did not repent of their sin.
  • The Promise (see Amos 9:11-15)
    • God is faithful and continually promises to restore His people when they turn to Him. This type of prophetic word brings hope; often when God’s people are exiled or being persecuted. It is a prophecy which looks to the future in eager expectation of God’s redeeming work and deliverance.
  • The Messenger Speech (see Amos 1:3-2:16)
    • This is the most common type of speech throughout the prophetic books. It usually occurs alongside of one of the other types of prophetic speeches. It is signaled by wording such as, “This is what the LORD says”. It cements the understanding that “no prophecy ever had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21

Have you ever read through one of the prophetic books? What was the hardest thing for you to understand? Let me know by leaving a comment!

How to Read: Jewish Law

This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narrative

How to Read: The Gospels
How to Read: Parables

“The Law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.” – Psalm 19:7

Unfortunately, the Law stipulations found in the first five books of the Bible tend to cause modern readers’ eyes to gloss over. It is the infamous graveyard for many who determine to read through the whole Bible in a year from Genesis to Revelation. This is detrimental not only to the effectiveness of the Old Testament but to a proper understanding of the Gospel. Those that skip through the seemingly irrelevant details in the Law have a nearly impossible time understanding the glory and beauty of Jesus’ death and Resurrection.

In order to glean the fruit from studying Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, you need to keep a few concepts in mind:

1. The Role of the Law in Israel’s History

Unfortunately, Christians tend to view the Law in a rather negative light due to a misunderstanding when they read the Apostle Paul’s writings. The Law was a tremendous gift for the nation of Israel. When the Law was given to Israel, they were a people only recently delivered from slavery with no national identity or cultural standards. The Law not only helped form community life for this young nation but also allowed them to be in relationship with the Living God.

Even for the nation of Israel, the Law was never a means to salvation. In other words, Israel was not expected to keep the entire Law in order to be delivered from God’s judgment. On the contrary, much of the Law was specifically for the times that Israel disobeyed God’s righteous commands.

If you look at other ancient cultures you will also find a variety of law codes similar to the Law we know from the Old Testament. Rather than these other law codes weakening the status of the Law, it is actually strengthened. The Law of Israel was unique in many ways. One of the most powerful is that there is hardly any class distinction in Israel’s Law. All the other cultures had a variety of different punishments for people based on their wealth and standing in society. If you study the law codes of other ancient societies, you will learn that women and slaves were simply viewed as property rather than people. If you were a male and of noble standing, you were virtually immune to any type of real punishment for breaking the law. On the contrary, the Old Testament Law displays the fact that God does not show favoritism based on human standards.

2. The Role of the Law for Christians

As Christians, we need to understand that the Law IS the Word of God. It is just as inspired as the Gospels we looked at a few days ago. With that being said, the Law is NOT God’s direct command to us. As is apparent by looking at modern society, we do not follow many of the specific commands laid out for Israel. This does not mean we are disobedient to God as we are under a new covenant (or promise) ushered in by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

With all of that being said, there are certain parts of the Old Testament Law that are binding on Christians today. These aspects of the Law are repeated for us through the writings of the New Testament. Many would be surprised to learn that Jesus’ famous statement to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind was originally stated in Deuteronomy 6:5. You may also be surprised to know the second greatest commandment Jesus speaks about – loving your neighbor as yourself – is also a direct quote from Leviticus 19:18.

A good rule to remember is that if a concept or teaching is not directly support by the New Testament, it is no longer binding for Christians today. On the other hand, if a teaching IS directly supported, it is a sin for us to disobey it.

3. The Gospel is Revealed Through the Law 

The purpose of the Law is to ultimately point us to Jesus. As we read through the many regulations and rituals that God required Israel to perform in order to approach Him, we should be in awe of our privilege as Christians. As you read about the Passover lamb being sacrificed on behalf of the nation, your heart should be moved into worship as you consider the final Passover Lamb sacrificed on behalf of all nations in the person and work of Jesus. As you study the role of the priest and his connection between God and man, you should be reminded of the final high priest who intercedes on behalf of His people (see Romans 8:34).

The Law was a shadow of things to come. As you read the Law, allow your heart and mind to worship King Jesus. He is our merciful high priest and perfect atoning sacrifice. He is the one through whom we approach God. It is only by a foreign righteousness – that of Christ Jesus – that we can come before God with boldness and confidence.

Have you ever read through the entire Old Testament Law? What do YOU find most beneficial about it? Let me know by leaving a comment!

How to Read: Parables


This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narrative

How to Read: The Gospels

One of the concepts that frustrated me about English class was the way teachers push meaning into irrelevant parts of books. Even if what the teacher says is true, I leave puzzled and with a migraine. For example, often a character in a book is described as wearing a certain color of clothing. I remember having to answer questions such as, “What is the significance of Peter wearing a blue shirt to the grocery store”. My answer: He put on a blue shirt and went to the grocery store. The teacher’s answer: Peter’s blue shirt is the author expressing his sorrow over having to work at a grocery store in his early years in order to financially support his family.

Uh.. What?

1. You do not need secret interpretive keys to understand parables.

Parables seem to be the type of literature that we over-complicate the most. We have a tendency to think we are wise by attaching significant spiritual truth to irrelevant details in Jesus’ parables – much like my frustration with English class. Simply put, Parables are simple stories that illustrate some type of spiritual truth. Jesus was a master of teaching through parables and they were one of the primary ways he spoke about Kingdom realities.

Almost every parable has one main point. Jesus is teaching in such a way that people understand the concepts in the parables. For example, the parable about the Good Samaritan teaches that all people are considered your neighbor, regardless of race or religion. The parable of the Prodigal Son is that the heavenly Father rejoices when lost people return to him. It is bad Bible reading to attach significant spiritual truths to small details in the parables.

Even those we consider spiritual giants have misread parables in this way. Many people rightly look to Saint Augustine as a hero of the Christian faith. Unfortunately, he would have done an excellent job in my English class according to his interpretation of the Good Samaritan.

2. Find the points of references.

In order to understand the parables, you need to identify what the points of references are in the story. As we discussed above, the parables are stories which illustrate a greater spiritual truth. This is done by telling a short story with multiple characters and a plot. Each of these things, when rightly understood, are points of references which illustrate the main point Jesus is trying to express.

Keeping with parable of the Good Samaritan, the points of references would be the following:
The man who was robbed
The priest and the Levite (religious leaders)
The “good” Samaritan (a people group hated by the Jewish people for apostasy and mixed race)

As indicated by Jesus’ question in Luke 10:36, Jesus is illustrating the duty of all mankind to help those who are hurting and in distress – regardless of race, religion, or vocation. We come to this conclusion by studying the points of references and bringing ourselves into Jesus’ question that closes out the parable.

3. Who is the Audience?

As stated above, Jesus often taught through the use of Parables. As an excellent teacher, Jesus would form his parables around the people he is speaking with. Having a proper understanding of the audience of Jesus’ parables, you will begin to see the reason for each parable’s use. For this example, let’s look at the popular parable known as the Prodigal Son. In essence, Jesus tells the story of a son who forsakes his father, spends all of his money, and then returns to his father. His father then throws a celebration and the rebellious son’s older brother is both jealous and angry that the father is celebrating the prodigal son.

This story takes on significant meaning when you understand that Jesus was speaking to an audience made up of two types of people:
1. Tax Collectors and “sinners”
2. Scribes and Pharisees

The first group of people were those that disregarded much of Judaism through their sinful lifestyles. The second group of people were those that tried tediously to follow the commands of the Law. Combining both the audience and the points of references, we can come to the following understanding of the Prodigal Son:

  • The son who forsook his father and squandered his inheritance can be identified with the tax collectors and sinners who each forsook their Heavenly Father for the things of this world.
  • The older brother who is mad at the father for accepting the prodigal son back into the family can be identified with the Scribes and Pharisees whose obedience to dead religion had turned their hearts cold to the rest of mankind.

Both learn a significant truth through the parable: that God forgives and accepts sinners who return to him; regardless of how “religious” people feel about it.

What is your favorite parable? Who is the audience and what are some points of references that would help you understand the main teaching of the story? Let me know by leaving a comment!



How to Read: The Gospels


This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narrative
How to Read: Acts of the Apostles

It is essential to have a proper understanding on how to read the Gospels for that is where the majority of people begin reading the Bible. The Gospels record the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Through beautiful literary features and powerful speeches, one is introduced to the God-man. Jesus is by far the most influential person who has ever lived. Not only did he live thousands of years ago – he currently reigns above all other rulers as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Below is a list of the Gospels:

  • Gospel of Matthew
  • Gospel of Mark
  • Gospel of Luke
  • Gospel of John

As you meditate upon the powerful truths illustrated throughout the Gospels, there are a few things you will want to keep in mind in order to properly understand how God is speaking through the authors:

1. The Gospels are not biographies. 

Many critics automatically assume that Christianity is not true because there are four different books about what Jesus said and did. People tend to look at the four Gospels, judge them according to the 21st century’s understanding of biographies, and conclude that the Gospels are mostly false. This approach shows both ignorance and arrogance in the person making the judgment call.

Although the Gospels DO include biographical details about Jesus, that is not the primary goal. We have no description of what Jesus looked like or even what specific year he was born. There is very little reference to his extended family or many of the other details that would be included in a modern biography. Rather than reading the Gospels as a biography about Jesus, they are better understood as memoirs about Him. Although many people, myself included, would like more specific details on Jesus’ life, we need to understand that we have none. God, through the use of human authors, inspired what to include and what not to include in the Gospels.

We need to trust that everything that is there is what we need to know – if it’s not recorded then we do not need to know about it.

The four Gospels all hold equal authority in the life of the believer. One Gospel is not “more inspired” than the others. Each Gospel is living and active; if you take the time to study the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, you will witness His power afresh today.

2. Learn the historical context.

Similar to our discussion on reading the letters of the New Testament, it is vital to understand the historical context of Jesus and 1st century Judaism. As you read through the Gospels you will encounter many different groups of people: Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Tax Collectors, and various others. To truly understand the genius of Jesus in relating to such a vast group of people, you need to have a basic understanding of the culture. This is best done through a solid Bible dictionary which will provide vital information on the historical context.

For example, when you begin to understand the corruption of the tax collectors then the calling of Matthew becomes much more profound. You will also have an understanding of why Jesus was so repulsive to the religious elite. Rather than condemning Jewish people who had betrayed their brothers, Jesus welcomes them with open arms.

As you gain a grasp on the 1st century context, you will be given a fresh vantage point on familiar stories throughout the four Gospels.

3. Understand Jesus’ concept of the Kingdom of God.

In your first read through the Gospels, the Kingdom of God will seem like an elusive concept. You will continually hear Jesus and others refer to this Kingdom but in seemingly strange ways. In some cases it will seem as if the Kingdom of God had already arrived (see Mark 1:15); other times it seems as if it is in the distant future (see Acts 1:7). Without understanding this kingdom concept, you will leave your study in the Gospels puzzled by the language. Jesus speaks as if the Kingdom of God is already here and yet sickness and death still seem to reign in our world.

This begs the question: Is the Kingdom of God something that has already arrived or it is something we are looking forward to?

The answer is YES!

This is a concept that is known as “already but not yet.” The Kingdom of God is ALREADY here to a certain extent (eternal life, forgiveness, healing) but it is not yet here in is entirety as we still face death and sickness every day. Evil still runs rampant in our world just as it did in the 1st century. If anything, it seems as if evil is becoming more prevalent as death tolls rise throughout the world. The Kingdom of God arrived at Jesus’ death and resurrection. It will be fully consummated at Jesus’ Second Coming.

See below for a helpful chart from the book:

Already……………………………Not Yet
righteousness…………………..completed righteousness
peace………………………………full peace
health…………………………….no sickness or death
Spirit…………………………… complete fullness

As you study the Gospels and the Spirit of God speaks to you through Jesus’ ministry, remember that the Gospels are not biographies, learn the historical context, and understand Jesus’ concept of the Kingdom of God.

How to Read: Acts of the Apostles


This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narratives 

The Book of Acts is unique in the Bible. It is the story of the early church; its birth, conflicts, and expansions. The Book of Acts is a very readable book and seemingly easy to understand. While this is true for most of the book, there are still principles you must keep in mind.

First, the guidelines I shared on reading the Old Testament Narratives also hold true for the book of Acts:
1. You are not the hero of the story, God is.
2. The narratives to not explicitly teach moral truth.
3. The narratives to do not directly teach doctrine.

Keeping those three guidelines in mind, let’s see how they uniquely apply to the book of Acts.

1. Keep in mind Luke’s purpose for writing Acts.

Luke, the author of the book of Acts, was a highly educated Gentile who had a keen interest in recording history. For those specifically interested in history, the book of Acts is an excellent Hellenistic historiography. For those of you who are terrified of words with more than three syllables, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Luke wrote the book of Acts in order to
– encourage Christians in their faith
– be entertaining
– inform readers about the early church
– offer an apologetic for this new ‘sect’ of Judaism

In other words, Acts is not a theological treatise that addresses baptism, tongues, or other theological disputes that tend to divide Christians today. Although Luke speaks into these issues through narrative, they are not the main goal of his book.

2. Understand the ‘movement’ of the Book of Acts.

Through Acts, Luke shows the abundant power of the Holy Spirit in the early church. Specifically, he shows the expansion of Christianity from a religious sect to a movement that encompasses multiple continents and people groups.

One of the best ways to understand specific passages in Acts is to note where it is in the overall movement of the book. There are six different parts to this movement contained in Acts:

1. The primitive church in Jerusalem: Acts 1:1-6:7
2. Movement carried out by Greek speaking Jews: Acts 6:8-9:31
3. Movement that includes the Gentile people: Acts 9:32-12:24
4. Movement into the Gentile world led by Paul: Acts 12:24-16:5
5. Movement into Europe led by Paul: Acts 16:6-19:20
6. Movement into Rome via trials in Paul’s life: Acts 19:21-28:30

3. The narratives in Acts do not bind us to a certain form of ‘doing’ church. 

Many people have read about the “house churches” in the book of Acts and wrongly concluded that house churches should be the norm of the 21st century. Many zealous Christians have built entire organizations on a restoration mentality based on the book of Acts (oddly enough, these same people use microphones and sound systems in their gatherings..).

The principles illustrated, rather than the specific church models, are normative for us.

  • Today the Church is to be a movement that cannot be crushed by persecution, racism, death, or martyrdom.
  • The Church is to encompass multiple people groups by tearing down the dividing wall of hostility between them.
  • The Church is to be a fellowship of people devoted to the teachings of the Bible and to one another.

Rather than trying to restore specific models from the early church (such as house churches and feeding programs), we need to keep in mind the timeless principles of Scripture. The narratives written in Acts are to encourage and inform God’s people; not lay unrealistic burdens on us from the 1st century.

I am only able to cover these principles very briefly in a blog post. For further reading and greater explanation, I highly recommend purchasing the book!


How to Read: Old Testament Narrative


This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters

Narrative is the most popular literary style in the Old Testament. Roughly 40% of the entire Old Testament is narrative. Below are some narratives that you may be familiar with (and ones we often interpret wrongly):

  • Noah and the Flood
  • Abraham’s Migration
  • Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
  • The Exodus of Israel out of Egypt
  • Joshua conquering Jericho
  • Samson deceived by Delilah
  • David defeating Goliath
  • Daniel in the Lion’s Den

A narrative is simply a story. There are characters, plots, conflicts, and resolutions. The narratives of the Old Testament are about real people that lived real lives. As you are brought from scene to scene in the different narratives, there are three important concepts to keep in mind.

1. You are not the hero of the story, God is.

Unfortunately, many people read the Old Testament narratives from a man-centered perspective. What I mean is people try to place themselves into the story as the hero. One example of this is concluding that you are David and the problems you face are Goliath.

Let’s be real – You are not a hero. If you want to place yourself in the story, you would probably be the Israelite army who cowered behind the shepherd boy.

As you read the different narratives, keep in mind that the stories are meant to highlight the greatness of God – not the greatness of man. This is also true for the actual characters in the story.

Moses is not the hero of the Exodus, God is.
Joshua is not the hero in his conquest, God is.
Daniel is not the hero in the lion’s den, God is.
You are not the hero in your own story, God is.

2. Narratives simply record what happened – not what should have happened. In other words, they do not explicitly teach moral truths.

One of the reasons I treasure the Old Testament is how realistic each of the stories are. Rather than showing a highlight reel of each person’s life, God has inspired people to record all of it- especially the bad. From rape to murder, all of it is included throughout the narratives. This shows that we live in the same fallen world that David and Noah inhabited; one in which people do what is right in their own eyes and thus disregard God’s commands.

The problem is when people read a certain narrative in the Old Testament and conclude that is what God is calling them to do. There are some cases where a moral principal is explicitly taught but the majority of the narratives require you to have an understanding of the Law (the first five books of the Bible) in order to decide whether or not a certain action is moral.

One narrative that is often taken out of context in this regard is Gideon and his fleece. If you do not know the story, Gideon lays out a fleece in order to test God to see if God is really calling him. Many well-meaning Christians have concluded from this narrative that is is morally right to set out a “fleece” of our own and test God. When the narrative is read in its proper context and compared to the explicit moral teachings in the rest of Scripture, you will be able to understand that God honored Gideon’s fleece not because Gideon was righteous by doing so but because God is gracious.

This does NOT mean God will honor your “fleece” because you lack the faith to trust Him when He calls you.

3. Old Testament narratives do not directly teach doctrine.

The narratives in the Old Testament DO teach truths about God. Yet we need to keep in mind that these truths are illustrated rather than explicitly stated.

One example is regarding God’s faithfulness. As you study the rebellion of Israel in the Old Testament, many of the stories illustrate the doctrine that God is faithful. This is shown through the way he raises up Judges to deliver His people and the pattern of restoration given throughout the narratives.

On the other hand, if you are using a single Old Testament narrative in order to dogmatically believe in a certain truth, you are on extremely shaky ground.

I am only able to cover these principles very briefly in a blog post. For further reading and greater explanation, I highly recommend purchasing the book!



How to Read: New Testament Letters


This is the second post on a series based on the book “How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth“. Click below to read the first post. 
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?

The majority of the New Testament is made up of Epistles or letters. These letters were sent from a church leader(s) to a specific church (or churches) in the first century (with the exception of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon which were sent to individuals). While keeping this in mind, the challenge is to put each letter in its context in order to understand the broader meaning for our lives today.

Think for a minute about listening to a phone conversation. As you listen to another person’s conversation, you can only hear what they are saying and how they are responding to the person on the phone. By using some critical thinking, you can get a pretty good idea of what the conversation is about from the one side. This is the same goal when we read the Epistles. You are hearing one side of a conversation so the challenge is to reconstruct the situation to the best of our ability.

Below are a list of the Epistles (or letters) in the Bible:

  • Romans
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • Colossians
  • 1 Thessalonians
  • 2 Thessalonians
  • 1 Timothy
  • 2 Timothy
  • Titus
  • Philemon
  • Hebrews
  • James (could have also been a sermon)
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • 1 John
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude

As you can see, most of the books you are probably familiar with are Epistles. Although many of the passages are relatively simple to understand, there are also numerous verses people have taken out of context and built dogmatic beliefs around.

In order to properly understand each Epistle, you will need ask three specific questions. These same three questions apply to the rest of the Scriptures but in varying ways:

1. What is the historical context of the letter?

As stated in the previous post, each section of the Bible was written to a specific people (or person) at a specific time in history. Although the Bible itself is timeless, one needs to understand the historical nature in order to understand the timeless nature of Scripture.

You can learn the vast majority of the historical context by reading through the entire letter and taking note of what the author is addressing. As you are taking notes, I recommend trying to answer the following questions regarding the historical context:

1. Who is the author? What is their relationship to the church in question?

2. Where is the church located and what is its background (it would be best to consult a commentary or Bible Dictionary for this information)

3. What is the attitude of the author? Are they happy? Angry? Frustrated?

4. What do you notice about the church itself? Are there specific areas being addressed?

2. What is the literary context of the letter?

When it comes to understanding how to read the Epistles, I cannot emphasize enough that you need to THINK PARAGRAPHS!!! In other words, you need to consider the overall passage that each verse is located in. As a letter, the individual verses were not meant to be thought of outside of the sections they are in.

The best way to ‘think paragraphs’ is to read a section of Scripture and then ask yourself, “What is the big idea”? Once you figure out what the main point of the paragraph/section is, look for the supporting points. This will enable you to understand each verse as it was meant to be understood; as a logical part of a greater whole.

3. What did the passage mean to the original hearers of the letter?

Once you have a basic understanding of both the historical and literary context of the passage you are studying, you can start to figure out what the passage meant to the original hearers. Even if it is a passage that is relatively clear (such as Romans 1:16), understanding the context of the church in Rome will give you a greater appreciation of the text.

A rule of thumb is that the passage CANNOT mean something entirely different than what the author meant for it to mean.For example, the purpose of the Epistles is not to encourage your insane conspiracy theories about the government as the United States did not exist (this is a pet peeve of mine – rather than trying to justify your wacky beliefs with the Bible, go collect some canned food for the apocalypse).

Once you understand what it meant to the original hearers, you are able to accurately ascertain what the application is for today. For most passages it is easy; other passages are incredibly difficult (see 1 Corinthians 11:2-16).

Once again, I am only able to cover these concepts very briefly. For a more in-depth understanding that includes example from the Epistles themselves, go order How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth!