If you’ve ever wondered about some of the strange passages in the Bible that talk about the Nephilim (Gen. 6:1-4; Num. 13:33), the disobedient “spirits in prison” (1 Pet. 3:18-22; 2 Pet. 2:4-5), or the cosmic battle we face against the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” (Eph. 6:12), then Michael Heiser’s book, “The Unseen Realm,” or his more popular version of this same topic, “Supernatural,” is a must read. However, for those who would rather watch a movie than read, Faithlife has now produced a movie version of The Unseen Realm.
The Unseen Realm is narrated by well-known TV and film actor Corbin Bernsen (L.A. Law and many others). There is also a cast of Who’s Who among evangelical scholars including Michael Heiser, Darrell Bock, Eric Mason, Ben Witherington III, and Gary Yates.
The Unseen Realm: What to Expect
If you’ve read Heiser’s book by the same name, or his book “Supernatural,” then you will be familiar with the content of this film. The film is done in a documentary style moving between the insights shared by the various participants. Like Heiser’s book, it begins with a brief look at the beginning of Psalm 82 which introduces a discussion about the Divine Council. It then moves to the meaning of the word “Elohim” (God, gods) and a discussion about its significance in the Old Testament.
Heiser and his companions then explore the entire content of revelation from Genesis through Revelation demonstrating the pervasive theme of cosmic warfare that is revealed in Scripture. One of the benefits of this fascinating journey is an explanation of obscure passages that many of us have tended to avoid, or at least, found confusing.
Strengths of the Movie
Besides providing an explanation for hard-to-understand passages, Heiser and friends explain the significance of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. They also offer an interesting interpretation of the Conquest of Canaan. In Heiser’s view, the Conquest is aimed at the giant clans who were descended from the Nephilim. The death of the Canaanites was a result of the intermixture of populations. Heiser also contends that this helps explain why the Bible sometimes says to “utterly destroy” the inhabitants and, in other cases, to “drive out.”
Other insights include the Rabbinic teaching of the two Yahwehs (an interpretation of the Son of Man passage in Daniel). This, along with passages about the Angel of the Lord, demonstrates that the OT provides support for the One God being manifested in different persons (a precursor to the concept of the Trinity).
I have read for years about the connection between Babel and the events of the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. While Babel divided the nations through different tongues, Pentecost made it possible to reunite nations through the speaking in tongues. Heiser and friends, however, demonstrate that the connection between these two events goes even deeper. I found this very enlightening.
The biggest strength of The Unseen Realm is the way it ties all of Scripture together. In the process of showing how the Bible describes the cosmic spiritual conflict from beginning to end, it also does a superb job of preaching the gospel and showing why Jesus had to die and rise again.
Weaknesses of the Movie
In my opinion, the biggest weakness of the movie is that it presents a lot of important, but theologically dense, material in a short amount of time. The movie is one hour and eleven minutes long. My familiarity with the book made understanding the movie a lot easier. However, I asked several people (my wife, my brother, and 2 friends) to watch the movie with me who had never read either of Heiser’s books. Each found the movie interesting, but were a little overwhelmed with all of the information presented. Some of the information is new, or offers a different interpretation of passages that some have never heard before. My viewers suggested that they would want to go back through the movie, pausing it and looking up the relevant passages of Scripture in order to check out Heiser’s arguments more carefully.
I am aware that Heiser’s views originally expressed in his book The Unseen Realm caused quite a stir among evangelicals. Some excited, some confused, some afraid that heresy was being advocated. The reaction of my viewers to the film was surprisingly open. They had either heard similar ideas before or found the explanations offered very intriguing. If the movie opens peoples’ minds and leaves them wanting to investigate the teaching at a deeper level, then it must be considered successful, even if it presents a lot of information. To be honest, I don’t know how the film could have covered less. It’s important to see the whole picture presented by Scripture.
The other weakness depends on one’s point of view. Throughout the film different artists are shown creating works of art that relate to the themes beings discussed. I and some of my viewers found this perplexing at times. Not always seeing how the art connected to the message. However, there was agreement that the time spent on showing the creation of the artwork allowed the viewer time to absorb what was being discussed. Those who are artistic may have a more positive response to the use of the artwork in the movie.
My overall response to the film, and that of my viewers, is a positive one. I believe this film is an effective way of communicating these truths of Scripture. If one is patient and follows the presenters and their presentation all the way through to the end, the film delivers a wonderful sense of the depth and beauty of God’s plan. Of course, not everyone will agree with everything in the film (or book). However, anyone who takes the time to view it will definitely find spiritual nourishment and be prodded to search out the topics presented in greater detail. I heartily recommend The Unseen Realm (movie and book) to all who are interested in better understanding the cosmic battle we are in and the wisdom of God’s unfolding plan.
Favorite Logos Commentary: The Geographic Commentary
Those who frequent this blog may be aware that I’ve become enamored lately with a geographical approach to Bible Study (see posts here, here, and here). A favorite Logos commentary of mine is the Lexham Geographic Commentary. Last year, I did a review of volume 1 which focused on the Gospels (see review here). Lexham Press has recently published the second volume on Acts through Revelation. Since I’ve already done an overview of this series, I’d like to focus on one particular chapter of volume 2 that points out how valuable this commentary is in Logos. As noted in my previous review, although these volumes are available in hardback from Lexham Press, the Logos version offers many superior advantages.
Like volume 1, volume 2 has chapters authored by various experts on biblical geography and the ancient world. I’ve chosen chapter 41 entitled, “The Social and Geographical World of Ephesus,” by David A. DeSilva. If you want an in-depth sensory learning experience regarding Ephesus then this is the commentary for you! This chapter on Ephesus is chalk-full of maps, diagrams, photos, and videos to enhance one’s learning experience about ancient Ephesus. The screenshot below is an example of one of the great features available in the Logos edition. It is called “before and after.” The picture on the right is taken from the book and shows the way the Odeon in Ephesus might have looked. By clicking on the picture, a screen appears on the left hand side with a little slider allowing you to see the way it looks today, as well as how it looked then. I have left the slider in the middle of the picture so that you can see both the before and after. By using the cursor, you can move the slider in either direction.
Another superior feature of the Logos edition can be seen in the next screenshot. When DeSilva describes the various deities worshipped in the city of Ephesus, one may wonder who some of these deities are. In the Logos edition, all of the deities are highlighted. By clicking on the highlighted name (in this case I have clicked on Cybele), the lefthand side of the screen produces what is known in Logos as “The Factbook.” This resource provides an enormous amount of information at one’s fingertips to learn more about who Cybele was. Using a hardback copy one would obviously not have this information available, and at best, might put the book down to look up “Cybele” in a Bible Dictionary. Logos not only lists various articles available on Cybele, but also offers photos and a video about this goddess. Here’s the screenshot.
The next two screen shots show an example of a video embedded within the text of the book. The first screenshot shows the book itself. By clicking on the link in the book, Logos takes you to a “Media” page where you are able to then watch the video. See the second screenshot below.
These are just a few of the advantages available in Logos. Photos can also be imported into the media page and transferred to PowerPoint, Keynote, or Logos’s own “Proclaim” for use in a slide presentation. The final screenshot is found at the end of the chapter listing still other resources available in the Logos version.
David A. DeSilva, himself, is an extremely knowledgeable scholar on the ancient Roman world. This chapter on Ephesus is a gold mine of information and is greatly enhanced by all of the features available in Logos. This is why the Lexham Geographic Commentary is a favorite Logos commentary of mine. Check it out and the other resources available at Logos by following the link here.
Logos has announced that one of the best evangelical commentary sets available is on sale until July 15, 2020. The entire series of the NICOT/NICNT is on sale for a whopping 43% off! If you can’t afford the whole series, you may want to purchase the volumes of your choice for $29.99 (excluding the two newest volumes). A majority of volumes in this series run between $45.00 – $80.00, so it is worth your while to get in on the sale. If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about you can check out my review of the NICOT/NICNT Commentary series that I posted this past December. I’ve reproduced it below for your convenience. Click here or any of the links on this page to go to the sale page at Logos.
The New International Commentary Series on the Old and New Testaments (My Review)
If I could only own one full set of commentaries, the New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (abbreviated as NICOT/NICNT) would be my choice. In fact, when the folks at Logos/Faithlife offered me the opportunity to own and write a review on a commentary series, the NICOT/NICNT was my choice! Beginning with the initial publication of the NICNT in the late 1940s, the New International Commentary series has been a staple in the lives of pastors, rabbis, students, seminary libraries, and those who are serious about plumbing the depths of the Bible. Like a fine wine, it as continued to improve with age. Many of its volumes are listed as the first or second top commentary on bestcommentaries.com.
Begun by a team of international scholars, the New International Commentary is a series in the evangelical Protestant tradition. Joel Green, the current editor of the New Testament series, writes that the NICNT was written “. . . to provide earnest students of the New Testament with an exposition that is thorough and abreast of modern scholarship and at the same time loyal to the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God.”
Each commentary begins with an introduction to the selected book(s) and looks at matters of authorship, date, background, purpose, structure, and theology (see screenshot above). This is followed by the author’s own translation of the Hebrew or Greek text and then a verse-by-verse commentary. Each commentary focuses on exposition of the text with theological and devotional insight, while not ignoring important critical matters dealing with the text.
Likes Regarding the New International Commentary Series
One of the features of this long-running commentary series that I value is its commitment to stay abreast with the latest in scholarship. As the decades have passed, the New International Commentary series has grown along with contemporary methods of investigating the text of Scripture. As a result, older, outdated volumes, have been replaced, while volumes that retain their usefulness are in the process of being updated. For example, just this year (2018) Eerdmans (the publisher of the New International Commentary) has published a new commentary on Galatians by David A. deSilva. DeSilva’s commentary replaces the Galatians commentary by Ronald Y. K. Fung published in 1988, which, in turn, replaced the commentary on Galatians by Herman N. Ridderbos from 1953! These three commentaries on Galatians illustrate another feature I like. In older editions of the New International Commentary authors were much more brief in their treatment of the text. Whether that was by design (an editorial decision) or by author choice I do not know. While some may appreciate a brief commentary, and they do have an important contribution to make, I like the fact that the newer publications in the New International Commentary series allow the author freedom regarding page length. Looking again at the three editions of the Galatians commentary, Ridderbos’s original treatment of Galatians was 240 pages. Fung’s version was 375 pages. The latest contribution by deSilva is 622 pages. This example is characteristic of the entire commentary series. The new volumes coming out, whether replacements or brand new products are longer than the older volumes. Obviously this is only a plus if the author of a given commentary is providing good information, but this does not seem to be a problem in this series.
Dislikes Regarding the New International Commentary Series
The New International Commentary series currently consists of 48 volumes (26 OT and 22 NT). The New Testament series is nearly complete, only lacking commentaries on 2 Peter and Jude. The Old Testament series still lacks volumes on Exodus, 2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles, Esther, Lamentations, Daniel, and Amos. This is one of the drawbacks of this series. There is not yet a commentary on every book of the Bible. One would hope that the editors would encourage scholars assigned a certain book to meet a reasonable deadline so that the rest of these commentaries can be made available. One case in point is David Toshio Tsumura’s commentary on First Samuel which came out in 2007. Eleven years later, readers continue to wait for his commentary on Second Samuel.
The New International Commentary Series in Logos
I am a person who still enjoys grabbing an actual book and reading through it. I also have to admit that I enjoy the sight of bookshelves full of books. However, I am gradually being won over by the new technological revolution which is spearheaded in the realm of Bible software by Logos/Faithlife. As great as it would be to have the entire NICOT/NICNT series lining my bookshelves (and I do have a number of volumes), I am in love with the idea of being able to take this entire series with me on my laptop, IPad, or IPhone! Granted, a person usually only needs one commentary at a time, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that Logos puts a whole library of commentaries at your disposal.
Users of Logos are also well aware of the powerful search tools available in Logos. Every word in the New International Commentary series is tagged so that anything can be looked up in a matter of moments. If you’ve forgotten where that quote is that you liked, or a particular insight, it can be easily found by typing a word or phrase into Logos. This beats thumbing through a 1,000 page commentary trying to find that special quote or insight. Given the choice of having this commentary series on my shelves or on my computer is a no-brainer. I’d choose my computer every time.
If you have an older version of Logos and you’re wondering if you can buy this commentary series and still have it available when you update, the answer is “Yes.” You never lose any books that you purchase in Logos. They will always transfer when you update to a newer version. Of course, this series isn’t cheap, but if you’re looking for a commentary series that provides in-depth treatment of the Bible with great theological insights this one is definitely worth saving up for.
Base Package Sale: Logos is offering anadditional$100 off the launch discount for first-time base package purchasers. That means new customers can get Logos 8 Starter for only $165.49 (the regular price is $265.49). Also, anyone who purchases a base package will be able to gift Logos 7 Fundamentals to a friend. this is a great deal for you and for a friend, but it is only available till the end of the year. Just click on this link.
Zondervan Flash Sale: Logos is offering 40% off popular Zondervan resources, including various commentary series such as the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, the Word Biblical Commentary, the NIV Application Commentary, and the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary. Buy now, the sale ends December 28th. Participating products can be seen by clicking this link.
If you’re serious about Bible study, Logos 8 will greatly enhance your ability to get deeper into the Word. Logos 8 provides great resources, along with powerful search capabilities and many other features. For more information on the various features offered in Logos 8, see my post here. If you don’t have Logos yet, don’t miss this great Christmas deal. The price has never been lower, and don’t forget that you can also gift a friend Logos 7 and help them on their way to a deeper study the Bible!
This article has two purposes. First to introduce you to Logos, the best Bible study software in the world (that’s no exaggeration), and to help you evaluate whether Logos is for you. Secondly, I’ll be evaluating Logos 8, the latest version. If you are already familiar with Logos (and using it) you may want to skip to the second section of this post. If you are interested in getting the update at a discount, you can click on the link here. The discount is 25% for those who are upgrading and 10% for those who are purchasing Logos for the first time (After November 2018 the discount for those upgrading is 10%). It also includes a selection of 5 free books if you type in the coupon code Randy8 at checkout.
How Will Logos Help Me With Bible Study?
If you’re unfamiliar with Logos, then this section is for you. Because Logos is an in-depth Bible study program it comes with a financial investment. The first question to ask yourself is, “Will I utilize the program enough to justify the cost?” You might be asking, “How much are we talking about?” If you begin with the most basic package of Logos 8 called the Starter Package you’ll get the basic Logos 8 upgrade along with a library of 315 books. The cost (before any discount) is $295.00 (However using this link you will save 10% -25% plus receive 5 free books). If that seems steep to you, then Logos isn’t for you. To be perfectly honest, anyone getting into Logos probably wants a little better package than this. Most begin with either the Bronze or the Silver packages which will run $630.00 to $999.00 (click on the “Starter Package” link above to compare packages). As you can see, Logos requires an investment and so it’s important that you’re confidant that it will become a part of your Bible study routine.
Some may be wondering, “Do I have to be a preacher, teacher, or professional to use Logos Bible Software?” The answer is a qualified “No.” Logos software is for anyone who wants to study the Bible in greater depth, but it will involve a bit of a learning curve. While the developers at Faithlife (Logos’s company) have sought to simplify and streamline things in Logos 8 (see below), you will still need to spend some time learning how to use the software. Logos doesn’t just leave you to sink or swim, however, as there are a number of excellent tutorials available to help. I should also point out that it’s not necessary to learn the entire program in order to begin having some productive Bible study. In fact, I’m sure very few people are knowledgeable enough to use all of Logos’s capabilities. Two of the greatest benefits of using Logos is the time you will save and the resources that it will put at your fingertips. If the price and the learning curve hasn’t scared you off, then continue to read how studying the Bible with Logos 8 can benefit you.
Some of the New Features in Logos 8
My purpose here is to share a couple of features in Logos 8 that I am finding to be very helpful. But before I do that, I want to mention two improvements that are immediately obvious to anyone who has used Logos before. The first is speed. Logos 8 loads in seconds! I had the Gold package in Logos 7 and I used to be able to start it up and then go cook, eat breakfast and do the dishes before it was finished loading! OK, I am exaggerating, but everyone will testify that Logos used to take a long time to load (sometimes up to 2 minutes). I now have the Platinum package in Logos 8 (a larger package than Gold) and it loads in about 15 seconds. What a difference! I can actually get some Bible study done before the Lord’s return! (lol).
As the above screenshot demonstrates, there is a new look to the Logos 8 homepage. Everything is simplified. The homepage now consists of two parts. The first, at the very top of the screen, is the dashboard. This section contains ready-made cards (quick start layouts) that with one click can get you right into Bible study or morning devotions, or your prayer list, etc. When you buy Logos 8 your dashboard will already have some layouts in place, based on previous things you’ve done (if you have a previous version). However, you can delete any or all and you can make new cards (quick start layouts) to your liking. In the example above you can see the six index cards that I have created. By clicking on any one of them, I jump right into Bible study. Directly below the dashboard is the explore section which includes the latest videos, blogs, and other resources from Logos, as well as samples that come from books in your own library. The homepage is customizable into 3,4, or 5 columns. OK, so much for some of the obvious changes. Below I will take a look at 2 of the new features (there are many others!) I really like in Logos 8, as well as talk about a few things I don’t care for.
The Quick Start Layouts in Logos 8
One of my favorite things to do in Logos is original word study. If you’re new to Logos and don’t know the original languages, there’s no need to be intimidated here. Logos makes Bible Word Study easier. The screenshot below shows a sample of my quick start layout entitled “Hebrew Word Study.” All I did to create the quick start layout card was make a few simple clicks using the plus (+) button found on the dashboard. Now anytime I want to do a Hebrew Word Study, all I need to do is click on this card and my screen will open with a number of tools already in place.
So let me point out to you what we have on the screenshot above. I am studying 1 Samuel and I was interested in finding out what the Hebrew word is that the ESV translates as “double,” found in the expression “double portion” in 1 Samuel 1:5. Notice that the word study page opens with several tools available to me. In the upper right hand corner is my preferred English translation. In the lower right hand corner is my preferred Hebrew lexicon which will give a list of the passages where this word occurs and what it means. On the left side is a fantastic tool created by Logos which gives me the Hebrew word followed by a color wheel chart showing the various ways this word is translated in the ESV. If I scroll further down on the left side (not shown in the screenshot) I can find, among other things, how frequently this word occurs in the Bible and some of the various phrases it is used in. You might say, “But I don’t know Hebrew, so I don’t know how to find the word.” That’s the beauty of Logos. You don’t have to. If you notice in the upper right corner, the word “double” is highlighted in purple. All I did was click on this word and it automatically gave me the Hebrew word in the left column along with the color wheel and other items I’ve mentioned. At the same time it looked up the Hebrew word in my Hebrew lexicon. All this information was given to me as fast as it took me to click on the word “double.” This is what I meant above when I said Logos 8 will save you time and put a lot of resources at your fingertips. I won’t go into a lot of detail here about what I learned in my word study, however, I want to use this example as a way of demonstrating how Logos can teach you things you might not otherwise learn from a regular Bible study. The word translated “double” actually is the Hebrew word for “nose.” On many occasions, this Hebrew word refers to anger. The context here may suggest that the portion of meat that Elkanah gives to Hannah may be an attempt on his part to appease her. (If you’re interested in learning more, read my short article entitled, “Anger: The Bible Says The Nose Knows.”).
The New “Guides” and “Workflows” Section in Logos 8
There are a number of features about the Guides section in Logos 8 that I really like. First, there are more guides than ever. Where older versions of Logos came with three guides, Logos 8 gives you 8 prebuilt guides. However, Logos 8 also gives a new feature called Workflows. The workflows are prebuilt layouts that provide step by step instructions on studying a passage or topic. You can even create your own custom workflows. So there is no limit to the number of workflows you can have. Below is an example of the Basic Bible Study Workflow. I have requested it to provide a study plan for Acts 15 simply by opening the Basic Bible Study Workflow and typing in Acts 15. I also selected my preferred Bible and moved it to the right hand side of the page.
Notice on the left hand side that the workflow provides step-by-step instructions to help you in your study of the passage. Besides the 5 suggestions that are viewable in the screenshot, it also has the following categories: Review Commentary Discussions; Determine Your Passage’s Theological Principles; Apply the Passages Principles to Yourself; and Share the Insights From Your Bible Study. Each of these sections provide additional guidance and material simply by clicking the arrow on the left. For example, if you click on “Review Commentary Discussions,” the section will expand and look similar to the screenshot below.
Unfortunately, the screenshot does not show everything available in this section, but you can see that by clicking on the arrow to the left Logos will provide a list of commentaries available in your library. You can open a commentary to your passage (in this case Acts 15) simply by clicking on the commentary. It will appear in the right hand screen. After reading the commentary on Acts 15, Logos 8 provides you with a box where you can record any insights you’ve gained from your reading. This box is located directly below the commentaries section (You can see it at the bottom of the screenshot on the lefthand side).
What I Don’t Like About Logos 8
One of the things I don’t like about the Quick Start Layouts is it can be difficult to change a particular resource. If you’re not yet familiar with this new feature, what I’m about to describe may be a little confusing, but I’ll do my best not to lose you. The Quick Start Layouts draw resources from the preferred resources in your library. This is something you must set up (You can watch a video on how to do this). If you don’t, Logos will choose a resource for you. For example, if I have chosen the ESV as my preferred Bible, then Logos will always pull it up when I open a Quick Start Layout. Normally, that’s fine. But if I want to switch to the NKJV, I can’t simply change the Bible in the layout if I want it to change permanently. I have to go and change my preferences and make the NKJV my preferred Bible. In other words, let’s say I’ve been doing my Bible reading in the ESV and I open my Quick Start Bible Reading Layout. One day I decide I’d like to start reading the NKJV instead of the ESV. I can change the Bible in the layout, but the next time I go back to the layout it will have reverted to the ESV, unless I have gone in and changed my preferred Bible. My point is that if I change something in the layout, I’d like for it to stay that way rather than having to go somewhere else in Logos and make the change. It’s true I can save the layout and give it another name, but I’m not interested in saving tons of layouts. I just want to have a simple way of changing the one I’m using. This is especially frustrating when I’m using different layouts and want different commentaries or Bible dictionaries available in that particular layout. Logos always draws from my preferred commentary or dictionary. If I want a different commentary/dictonary I have to make it my new preferred one, but then it also changes the commentary/dictionary in another Quick Start Layout. Sorry if all of that is confusing. But if you’ve stuck with me this far, I’m sure there’s a special reward for you in heaven!
I’ll just note one more thing about Logos 8 that I don’t care for and then bring this post to a close. In older versions of Logos when you were downloading new books or updates, there was a “resources” button at the top of the page you could click on to see what had been downloaded. I’ve been unable to find that feature in Logos 8 and it bugs me. I happen to like knowing what updates are being downloaded or knowing that I’ve gotten all the resources I’ve paid for. So Logos, please add that button back!
Overall I’m very pleased and excited about the improvements in Logos 8 and I highly recommend it. Like anything new, it takes awhile to get your head around all the changes. Technology doesn’t come naturally to me. So if I can use Logos and benefit from it, I know that others can as well. Thank heaven for the video tutorials provided by Logos, they are a great resource for teaching many of the basics! If you have any questions about Logos 8 I will do my best to answer them so please feel free to ask them in the comments below. I’ll get back to you with an answer, or an “I don’t know!” After using the new Logos 8 for a few months I will provide another update about some of the features and what I like or don’t like. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in Logos 8 click on the link below.
Get Logos 8 using my link and special code (Randy8) and save 10% discount if you are a new user and a 25% discount if you are upgrading from an older version of Logos. Plus receive 5 books free!
Many thanks to FaithLife/Logos for a free review copy of Logos 8. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.
The New Age movement of the 90s saw a resurgence in the interest of angels. The popular TV show Touched by an Angel, was evidence of this upsurge of interest. I even knew a lady who held “angel seminars,” which was especially interesting in light of her lack of belief in the Bible and holding no theology degree or any special qualifications! A combination of mythology, misinformation, and misunderstanding of the Bible has led to many faulty notions about angels. In his latest book, Angels: What the Bible Really Says About God’s Heavenly Host,” Michael Heiser (resident scholar at FaithLife/Logos), sets the record straight. As Heiser states in his Introduction, “What you’ll read here isn’t guided by Christian tradition, stories, speculations, or well-meaning myths about angels. Instead our study is rooted in the biblical terminology for the members of God’s heavenly host, informed by the wider context of the ancient Near Eastern world and close attention to the biblical text” (p. xiii).
This book is a follow-up to Heiser’s ground-breaking book The Unseen Realm (or it’s less technical, more popular version entitled Supernatural). One can certainly benefit from Angels without having read one of the previous volumes, but this book will make you want to pick up one of the aforementioned volumes if you are not acquainted with them.
Content of Angels
Heiser’s introduction begins by asking the question “Why Bother?” Although some may find the subject of angels intriguing, isn’t it really a periphery topic in Scripture? Heiser provides four answers: 1) The simplest explanation is, “…if God moved the biblical writers to take care when talking about the unseen realm, then it matters” (p. xiv); 2) Like us, heavenly beings are created in God’s image and through a study of them we become more aware of what it means to be God’s imagers; 3) Since God’s plan is ultimately to unite all things in heaven and earth, a study of angels helps us to better understand and appreciate that plan; and 4) it helps us to anticipate the great plan that is in store for us as we reign eternally with Christ.
Chapter 1: “Old Testament Terminology for the Heavenly Host”–Heiser points out that not all heavenly beings are angels. This chapter also has a very helpful breakdown of OT terminology of divine beings into three categories: 1) Terms that describe nature; 2) terms that describe status; 3) terms that describe function. This three-fold breakdown is very illuminating and worth the price of the book alone.
Chapter 2: “The Heavenly Host in Service to God”–While the previous chapter discussed some of the functions of divine beings, this chapter delves into three other areas that include: 1) Participation in God’s heavenly council; 2) Obedience to God’s decisions; and 3) Praise of the Most High.
Chapter 3: “Important Angels”–includes discussions of the Angel of Yahweh (Heiser musters evidence to argue that this being should be identified with the Second Person of the Trinity), the commander of Yahweh’s army (see Josh. 5:13-15), the destroying angel of the passover, and the two angels named in Scripture, Gabriel and Michael, along with the heavenly being known as the Prince of the Host.
Chapter 4–“The Language of the Heavenly Host in Second Temple Judaism”–This chapter, and the next, as the title suggests moves beyond Old Testament descriptions of the divine world and looks at the Jewish writings of the intertestamental period to understand what Jews thought and taught about the heavenly realm. For those who want a breakdown of the usage of the terms used to describe heavenly beings, Heiser has presented some very helpful charts with references to Second Temple texts and the LXX (Septuagint). While Second Temple Judaism did at times conflate some of the OT language by using the term “angels,” to refer to various divine beings, Heiser provides an important study of the LXX to demonstrate that angels didn’t become the only term used. The reason this is important is because scholarly dogma asserts that the Jews of the Second Temple period moved from the earlier polytheism of the ancient Israelites to a strict monotheism. Thus a term such as “gods” found in the OT came to be translated as “angels” in the LXX (e.g., Ps. 8:5). Heiser disputes this by demonstrating that the change in terminology of the LXX is not as widespread as previously asserted. The point in all of this is to show that the diverse language of the OT regarding the heavenly realm never was evidence of a more primitive polytheism. The Jews of the Second Temple period continued to use this same language, demonstrating that they understood the language to communicate truths about the divine realm and not language that compromises a monotheistic outlook. Admittedly for some lay people, this discussion may be more than what they bargained for. However, in scholarly circles, this is a very important issue and Heiser’s research is invaluable in demonstrating that the OT does not teach a form of polytheism.
Chapter 5: “Second Temple Jewish Angelology”–This may be another chapter that the lay person either briefly skims or skips altogether. Yet, like the previous chapter, it is an important one and one that would have left this book incomplete had it not been included. In this chapter Heiser surveys what Second Temple Literature has in common with the OT and how it diverges from the OT. The reason the contents of this chapter are important is that it helps in painting the backdrop to what Jews in the New Testament thought and believed about angels and the divine world.
Chapter 6: “The Heavenly Host in the New Testament”–No doubt this chapter is what many Christians will want to rush to read. But, I would caution that, just as there was a biblical history before the NT documents were written with particular language about heavenly beings, so Heiser’s treatment follows that same route and it is important to get the background knowledge before plunging into this chapter on the NT. One of the important observations made by Heiser in this chapter is his statement that, “For New Testament authors, angelos [angel] is a catchall term for the supernatural agents who faithfully attend God. The varied vocabulary of the Old Testament and Second [Temple] Jewish literature is therefore largely conflated into angelos” (p. 120). This observation explains why many Christians are unfamiliar with Old Testament terminology (and therefore suspicious of books and teachers who seek to explain that terminology) and why we use the word angels to describe all creatures in the divine realm.
Chapter 7: “Special Topics in New Testament Angelology”–This chapter and the last one (Chapter 8) are catchall chapters and include interesting topics and questions that didn’t fit into the discussion of the previous chapters. The questions discussed in this chapter include, “Who are the ‘angels of the seven churches’ in Revelation 1-3?”, “Can ‘fallen angels’ be redeemed?”, “Are fallen angels included in reconciling ‘all things’?”, and several more.
Chapter 8: “Myths and Questions about Angels,”–This chapter includes questions about angels submitted to Heiser that he solicited from readers of his former books in preparation for this book. Again, I will not present an exhaustive list, but here are a few: “Angels have wings…and they’re women too?”, “Angels exist outside time and space”, and “Angels can read minds and manipulate the material world.”
Evaluation of Angels
Heiser continues to perform a great service to the Church and to all who are interested in what the Bible teaches about the heavenly realm and the beings that dwell there. This book may not be for the novice. Heiser refers to the Hebrew and Greek words and the footnotes at times take the discussion deeper, as well as refer to other scholarly literature on the subject. Along these lines, it is more akin to Heiser’s previous book The Unseen Realm, as opposed to Supernatural which was written in a more popular and less technical format. Perhaps in the future, Heiser will do a similar thing with his Angels book? This warning is not to discourage anyone from reading this book, however. It’s not a bad thing to challenge oneself to reading something that goes a little deeper than what is comfortable. Such reading stretches a person. I often find that Christians challenge themselves to read or study other very technical subjects but when it comes to the Bible they are content to read only what comes easy. For anyone who takes the time, this book is well worth the effort. Having said that, the people who will probably benefit the most from it are pastors, teachers, and students. Hopefully this book will gain a wide reading, dispelling popular myths about angels as well as providing a solid biblical foundation for understanding them.
The 1&2 Samuel Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC) is the final work of beloved and renowned scholar Harry A. Hoffner Jr. Hoffner, before his recent death in March 2015, was John A. Wilson Professor of Hittitology Emeritus at the University of Chicago. He was an expert on the ancient Near East and, as the above title suggests, specialized in the language, history and civilization of the Hittite empire. One of his greatest achievements was co-editing The Hittite Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Hoffner’s ancient Near Eastern expertise is one of the great strengths of the Evangelical Exegetical Commenatry on 1&2 Samuel. Nearly every page offers some parallel or insight from his extensive knowledge of Hittite, and ancient Mesopotamian literature. Such a statement might frighten off those less experienced in the study of the Old Testament, and indeed, it is not a commentary for beginners. However, the pastor, the graduate student, the professor, and the more advanced learner will benefit greatly from Hoffner’s exposition. Knowledge of Hebrew is presupposed as the commentary utilizes Hebrew in both its normal alphabetic and transliterated forms.
Before commenting further on Hoffner’s commentary on 1&2 Samuel, let me share the purpose behind the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series in the words of its creators. “The Evangelical Exegetical Commentary is a brand new, 44-volume commentary series which incorporates the latest critical biblical scholarship and is written from a distinctly evangelical perspective. Published by Lexham Press, the EEC is the next standard commentary on the entire Bible for evangelicals. . . .The publication of the EEC by Lexham Press marks the first time a major Bible commentary series has been published in digital form before its print counterpart—and the first time it has been published with a digital format in mind.” The purpose behind the creation of a digital commentary, in the words of one of the editors of the series H. Wayne House, is so that a commentary can be easily updated. If a new understanding of a word is discovered or some new archaeological information comes to light, it can be added immediately. This is indeed an extremely attractive feature of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series! (For a short video explaining the nature and purpose of the series click HERE).
The Introduction to the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1&2 Samuel
The editors of the ECC have apparently put no restrictions on commentary length (another plus of a digital edition!) and Hoffner takes advantage of this by producing a voluminous commentary. Logos has yet to add page numbers to this particular volume (which makes citation challenging!) and so I can only hazard a guess on its size. It is certainly well over 1,000 pages, but how far over I can not tell. With no space limitations, Hoffner begins the commentary by launching into a thorough and lengthy Introduction. The Introduction includes the usual topics of title, authorship, date, historical context and scope, and structure, but it includes much more. Some of the other areas addressed (and there are too many to name them all) include genre, theme, sources, literary analysis (including a lengthy section that summarizes and evaluates many of the characters of 1&2 Samuel), and extrabiblical parallels (which, given Hoffner’s expertise, comes as no surprise).
There are two things that I would like to note from this introductory material that bear on a commentator’s interpretation of 1&2 Samuel. First, Hoffner is not a fan of using the term “Deuteronomistic History,” to describe the books of Joshua-Kings, noting that such language overlooks the many parallels and allusions to the other books of the Torah (Genesis-Numbers) found throughout Joshua-Kings. While he believes that much of the material regarding David and Saul could have been written and preserved in the palace archives, he has no difficulty in seeing a final author or editor putting 1&2 Samuel in its final form during the exilic period. Rather than state firm conclusions on this matter, Hoffner is content to make general observations. Second, Hoffner is not a fan of “the hermeneutic of suspicion.” In his comments on the characterization of Abner and how scholars frequently conclude that David was responsible for Abner’s death, Hoffner remarks, “Typical of this “Damned if you do—damned if you don’t” hermeneutic of suspicion is Paul Ash’s statement: “Although the text does not implicate David in Abner’s murder, some scholars believe that he may have ordered it since 2 Samuel tries so hard to say otherwise.” Obviously, the narrator denies David’s complicity in order to dispel rumors to the contrary—rumors spread by David’s Saulide opponents. Should not the text record this?” (Hoffner, H. A., Jr., 2015. 1 & 2 Samuel. H. W. House & W. Barrick, Eds. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press). Later on in his exposition of 2 Samuel 12:22-23, he takes another stab at the skeptics when he writes, “In the end, as is often the case, the scenarios of skeptics require more leaps of faith than belief in the tooth fairy. If one is permitted to simply ignore large chunks of the tradition and make up others, one can “prove” anything! . . . .We are wise not to second-guess the text.” Any who have read my reviews on 1&2 Samuel commentaries are aware of my own disdain for the hermeneutic of suspicion. I couldn’t be more pleased with these comments by Hoffner because they demonstrate that he takes the text seriously.
The Layout of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1&2 Samuel
Hoffner breaks the commentary down into literary sections. Each section begins with an overall summary and introduction. This is followed by a more detailed outline of the section which provides the basis for the verse-by-verse commentary. A bibliography accompanies the detailed outline and is then followed by the Hebrew text itself with Hoffner’s accompanying notes on the text. Since the Hebrew text is noticeably absent from the Esther volume in this series (although there are notes on the text), it appears that it is up to the authors to determine the format of their commentary, at least to some extent. Hoffner’s english translation follows the textual notes which then leads to the verse-by-verse exposition. There is always a short summary of the portion of the text under examination followed by a discussion of the verses themselves. The commentary is frequently punctuated with other features such as sections entitled: “Exegetical note,” or charts comparing features of the text, gray panels that set apart a special discussion (e.g., one on siege warfare at the beginning of 1 Sam. 11), and from time to time a concluding section entitled, “Application and Devotional Implications.” Following each smaller section of exposition is yet another bibliography. One of the strengths of this commentary is its prolific bibliography, which of course can be updated as new works appear. The screen shot above shows a sample page of the commentary in which you can see the selected bibliography, Hebrew text, and textual notes features.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Among the many strengths of this commentary, I have already noted Hoffner’s knowledge of the ancient Near East (besides the many parallels he introduces, I would also include his fresh translation of the Hebrew text), the bibliographic resources, the comprehensive nature of the commentary, and its update-ability. Although the commentary may not suit a novice, I am also impressed with the attention that Hoffner pays to character development in 1&2 Samuel and his attempts at sharing application and devotional thoughts. Some examples of his devotional application include his comment on 1 Samuel 24:7-8 (David’s men are encouraging him to kill Saul), where he notes that we should not interpret things in our favor when they violate God’s law. Another timely example (considering the upcoming US election) are Hoffner’s introductory comments on 2 Samuel 13:39-14:33. He states, “As readers, we are invited to consider the full weight of sin, to see the social and public consequences of David’s personal adultery and murder.” This dimension is often lost sight of when media arguments are made against considering the personal sins of leaders in political debates. It is unwise to keep the personal and the public lives of leaders separate” (Hoffner, H. A., Jr., 1 & 2 Samuel, 2 Sa 13:39–14:33). These types of applicational interpretation will certainly be welcome material for a pastor or Bible-study leader. The fact that this commentary series is published by Lexham Press and is available on Logos is yet another bonus. The ability to quickly read Scripture references, or footnotes by simply hovering over them with the mouse, or to pull up other commentaries or Bible Dictionary articles referred to by the author which are automatically linked to the resources in your Logos library, are just some of the wonderful benefits available to Logos users. As with any book, you can highlight important comments, take notes, or paste quotes into a folder for future use. Logos users will be familiar with all of these advantages, and many others, which make study easier and more profitable.
As with any commentary, there are going to be questions over particular interpretations. Some of my disagreements include the significance of Eli’s chair, which Hoffner sees as a sign of Eli’s old age, rather than (what I would interpret as) a clear allusion to royalty. At times I quibble with his estimation of a character. For example, like many scholars Hoffner is aware of Joab’s brutality, but insists on his complete loyalty to David. I have written extensively elsewhere on my disagreement with this assessment of Joab (see Family Portraits, pp. 258-300). One shortcoming I note is that Hoffner sometimes seems reluctant to let the reader know where he stands on ambiguous or difficult passages. For example, he states that the longer text of 1 Samuel 11 (found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and LXX) suggests “a long period of brutal oppression.” But his only comment is “if we accept the longer text.” There is no further discussion as to whether he accepts or rejects the longer text or what his reasons might be. The story of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17) introduces an even more thorny textual issue (the LXX version is much shorter than MT) which Hoffner dismisses by stating that Chisholm has convinced him that the MT makes sense as it stands and is not hopelessly contradictory. Granted, not every textual issue can be discussed ad nauseam, but given the length of this commentary, and Hoffner’s expertise, it is surprising how frequently he opts for no discussion. Furthermore, he does not offer anything new on the interpretive difficulties of 1 Samuel 17:51-53, 55-58 and, in fact, dismisses these difficulties by simply stating, “There is no lack of competing explanations for what appears to be a jarring contradiction between this present passage and what has preceded” (Hoffner, H. A., Jr., 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 Sa 17:55–58). Finally, once in awhile, Hoffner appears to contradict himself. For example, in 1 Samuel 13:3-4 Hoffner states that it is unlikely that Saul is stealing the glory from Jonathan by claiming victory over the Philistines. Yet in 1 Samuel 17:38 he states, “Previously, Saul had claimed some of the glory due to his son Jonathan’s courageous attack on the Philistine outpost.” Another example may be found in the commentary on 1 Samuel 25. In his introductory comments Hoffner disagrees with the theory of some that the Abigail mentioned here may be his sister by the same name. However, later (in the commentary on 25:3) he notes others who hold this view and quotes Youngblood at length. By not restating his disagreement with this view, one could get the impression he is agreeing.
The above may seem like quite a laundry list of “weaknesses” and yet, given the size of this volume, they are not serious threats to the value of this commentary. In fact, I have to admit I am being quite picky. For those desiring an in-depth look at the books of Samuel, Hoffner’s commentary offers plenty to chew on. The Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1&2 Samuel will be an indispensable resource for years to come for those who desire to delve deeply into the message of these books. I heartily recommend it for your library.
Purchase the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary on 1&2 Samuel at Logos/FaithLife
(Thanks to Logos for supplying a copy of this commentary in exchange for an unbiased review)
The more I study Genesis, the more I am convinced that we often come to the Creation story (and other biblical texts) with the wrong questions. How one answers the question, “Are the seven days of Creation literal?”, can determine in some people’s minds whether a person is orthodox or not. To some it is a question of believing or not believing in the authority of the Bible. Perhaps “wrong” is too strong a word in my above statement. Given our 21st century mindset, and the Creation-Science debate, the question of whether Creation took place in seven days seems to be perfectly logical. My point is that we often fail to examine the presuppositions that lie behind some of the questions we ask. If we fail to examine the presuppositions behind our questions, we are in danger of bringing our own agenda to the biblical text and expecting answers that the text may not be addressing. In other words, since the age of Enlightenment we are predisposed to ask questions about the material origins of things. Where did this come from and how did it happen? These are perfectly good questions but we mustn’t assume that they are the same questions people in the ancient world would ask. I am of the mindset that we should first seek to understand what the Bible means in its ancient context. I have written elsewhere on the importance of biblical backgrounds and understanding the culture of the ancient world (see here. You can also click on “Bible backgrounds” for other articles). Just as most people need the ancient Hebrew translated into a modern language they can understand, so it is important to translate (as much as is possible based on our current state of knowledge) an understanding of ancient Near Eastern culture (the culture in which the Bible was birthed). Once we can determine the ancient context and what a story would have meant to the original audience, it becomes an easier task to see what it is saying to us today. After all, if we come with our own agenda and seek to place an artificial grid over the text through which it must be interpreted, we can make the Bible say anything we like. My purpose in this article is to first examine what Genesis 1 meant in its ancient Israelite (Near Eastern) context, and then to return to the question of whether Genesis is teaching that Creation took place in a literal 7-day period.
The Connection Between Creation Stories and Building Temples
Ancient Mesopotamian, Canaanite, and Egyptian literature all share the common trait of viewing the temples of their various gods as being the hub of the cosmos (the world as they knew it). John Walton states, “Throughout the ancient world, the temple was a significant part of the cosmic landscape. It was considered to be at the center of the cosmos, the place from which the cosmos was controlled, and a small model of the cosmos—a microcosm” (Walton, J. H. (2011). Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology (p. 100). Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns). The building of ancient temples are described in cosmic terms with their tops in the heavens and their roots in the world below (the netherworld). Temples were viewed as the foundation of the cosmos and the bond that held everything together. Temples were pictured as sources of life-giving water and thus were providers of the fertility of the land. From the temple the god controlled the fertility of the land. Most importantly for our purposes here Walton notes that, “The interrelationship between cosmos and temple is also evidenced by the fact that accounts of origins often include accounts of temple building, with temple building at times being at the climax of the origin account or even serving as the purpose for creation” (Walton, J. H., Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology p. 107). Walton not only makes these observations, but gives plenty of evidence by quoting from ancient sources. Check out his book if you’re interested in reading the actual sources. Another way of summing up the importance of the connection between creation and temple building is the quote cited by Walton from Coote and Ord which states, “The temple is the focal point of creation in nearly every account available to us“(p. 107, emphasis mine).
Temples, Resting, and 7 Days
Two other features are significant regarding the temples in the ancient world. First a temple is the resting place of the god. Although rest can imply different things since ancient gods had many human qualities, most importantly rest communicates the concept of rule. As when a god rests on his throne in the temple. This is not for the purpose of taking a nap, but for ruling. The other significant feature is that several accounts of ancient temple building relate it to a seven day inauguration period at the end of which the god comes to dwell in the temple.
To this point we have noted connections between Creation and temple building and the concepts of rest (meaning rule) and seven days. However, all of this has been in reference to literature of the ancient Near East. The evidence referred to is not to say that the Bible has borrowed from the Creation myths or temple building stories of the nations around them, as much as it is to note that these things are part of the culture of the times. These ideas are in the “atmosphere” of the ancient world and as such Israel partakes of similar ideas (though distinct in other ways). This is where some, especially those who think of themselves as Bible fundamentalists, become uncomfortable. Before moving to the biblical evidence (which will hopefully satisfy those who are skeptical), I think it’s important to take a short rabbit trail and talk about the importance of understanding another culture.
Although people today have different beliefs about various things, they share certain cultural language and understandings. If I say I have taken a flight from Paris to Atlanta, everyone knows that I booked a flight on an airline and flew in a plane to Atlanta. I don’t have to explain myself in detail. I don’t have to mention that I had to go through a security check. Everyone knows that is part of the procedure. If I talk about my laptop or texting someone, or say I have taken a “selfie,” everyone knows what I mean without further explanation. However, if someone from the past could come and visit our 21st century culture (even from as short a time as 150 years ago), they would have no idea what I meant by any of these things. Our culture, our history, our language, would all need explaining. If I told someone from the past that I flew from Paris to Atlanta they might think I’m lying or claiming to be a god (because who can fly?), and they may not have any idea what Paris and Atlanta are. The same is true of the ancient world as we try and understand their culture and language. There are many concepts taken for granted because they were understood and didn’t need further explanation. Ancients understood the connection between Creation accounts and building temples. It was as much a part of their culture as selfies and laptops are a part of ours…no additional explanations were needed. This is why when we read Genesis 1:1-2:3 we do not automatically see that the Creation story is talking about God taking up residence in His temple. And if we preoccupy ourselves with questions from our own cultural standpoint (Are the seven days of Creation literal?), we will never hear the original message. We need “ears to hear” and it begins with understanding the culture and the signals that are in the language of the text that communicates its meaning.
Before presenting the biblical side of this argument I’d like to illustrate what I have just stated above. God authorized Moses to build a tabernacle, a dwelling place that would symbolize His presence with His people (Exod. 25-27). We are told that the plans were given to Moses on the mount and he was to see that everything was made according to that pattern (Exod. 25:40; Heb. 8:5). Therefore the plan of the tabernacle came from God. When Solomon’s temple was constructed, it was built by following the plan of the tabernacle, except that it was twice as large. However, we know from Scripture that Solomon was aided by Hiram, King of Phoenecia, and his craftsmen (1 Kgs. 5:18; 1 Chron. 2:7). We also have evidence of temples built before the time of Solomon that resemble the plan of Solomon’s temple (see the picture at the left from Ain Dara). An article from Bible History Daily entitled “Searching for the Temple of King Solomon,” states, “the closest known parallel to the Temple of King Solomon is the ’Ain Dara temple in northern Syria. Nearly every aspect of the ’Ain Dara temple—its age, its size, its plan, its decoration—parallels the vivid description of the Temple of King Solomon in the Bible. In fact, Monson identified more than 30 architectural and decorative elements shared by the ’Ain Dara structure and the Jerusalem Temple described by the Biblical writers.” My point is that in some important ways, the Temple of Solomon was unique. However, in many other ways it resembled other temples that were part of the cultural heritage of the ancient Near East. Similarly, the Creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:3 is unique (and it certainly proclaims a very unique theology), however, it also shares commonalities with the culture of its time in the way the story is told.
The Bible and Creation, Temple Building, 7 Days, and Rest
Although I admittedly went on a bit of a rabbit trail above, I hope I have demonstrated that it is important to consider evidence presented to us from the ancient Near East when seeking to understand the culture in which the Bible was written. What I would now like to demonstrate is that the Bible makes the same equation between Creation, temple building, seven days and rest. Isaiah 66:1 connects several of these ideas. In this verse, Heaven is said to be God’s throne, while the earth is His footstool. The next question concerns building God a temple: “Where is the house that you will build for Me?” In other words, if the heavens and the earth are God’s temple, how can He be contained in a building? The final question in this verse connects the idea of rest with a temple when God asks: “And where is the place of My rest?” The image of throne mentioned earlier in this verse helps us to understand that God’s rest involves his rule over Creation (the heavens and the earth). Psalm 132:7-8 speaks about God’s tabernacle, which is referred to as His “footstool” (just as the earth was called God’s footstool in Isa. 66:1). The psalm goes on to picture the ark of the covenant being taken up to be put in the tabernacle with the words, “Arise O Lord, to Your resting place.” Later in the psalm we learn that “The Lord has chosen Zion.” Zion is His dwelling place and God declares, “This is my resting place forever” (Ps. 132:13-14). These passages from Isaiah and Psalms clearly connect the ideas of God’s temple being His creation (heaven and earth), along with the tabernacle and temple which are only copies of the reality. These passages also assert that God rules from his Temple (that’s where His throne is) and it is His resting place.
We have still not mentioned how the idea of seven days fits in. Above, we noted that in other ancient Near Eastern accounts of temple building the time period of 7 days was significant for the inauguration of the temple and its occupation by deity. The same understanding can be found in the account of the building and consecrating of Solomon’s Temple in 1 Kings 6-8. In 1 Kings 6:38 were are told that it took Solomon seven years to build the Temple. In chapter 8, the Temple is inaugurated during the Feast of Booths which occurs in the seventh month. This feast, according to Deuteronomy 16:13-15 lasts seven days. Solomon actually extends the seven day feast for an additional seven days (1 Kgs. 8:65). Note the emphasis on temple building and the number seven in this passage: 7 years, the 7th month, a 7 day feast, followed by another 7 days.
When Genesis 1:1-2:3 relates that God created the world in seven days and then rested, what it is seeking to communicate is that God created the earth as His Temple. God’s desire is to dwell with human beings. That’s what a temple or tabernacle is all about. God’s rest on the seventh day means that He has taken up the task of ruling over what He has created. This truth is communicated very effectively by John Walton and N.T. Wright in a couple of short videos. Here are the links: John Walton: Interpreting the Creation Story; and NT Wright and Peter Enns: What Do You Mean By Literal?
Conclusion: So Are the Seven Days of Creation Literal?
After looking at the above argument and watching the video by NT Wright and Peter Enns, my hope is that we might rethink our question. My question would be, “Why does the inspired author structure the Creation story according to seven days?” One answer could be, “Because it really happened in seven days.” But based on the evidence presented here, we might say that a more important observation is what those seven days communicate. If the Creation story is seeking to tell us something about God’s desire to dwell and rule among his creation, that seems like a far more important truth than simply saying seven days means He created the world in seven days. The modern question and answer doesn’t leave us much to chew on. But the intent of the story in its original context gives us a lot to think about! The debate about whether the days of Creation in Genesis 1 are 24 hour days has good arguments both for and against. For example, the sun, moon, and stars are not created until Day 4 (Gen. 1:14-19). Since we are told they were created “for signs and seasons, and for days and years,” we might conclude that it is impossible to tell how long the first three days were. We measure days, months, and years by the sun and moon, so how do we know that days 1-3 were literal 24 hour days if there was no sun or moon? Another unusual feature of the Creation story is that every day ends with the statement, “And there was evening and there was morning.” Every day, that is, except day 7 which has no ending whatsoever. Now that’s a long day! This clearly suggests that the focus is not on a 24 hour period. However, the 24-hour-side might come back and point out that Israel is commanded to keep the Sabbath because, “In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth…and rested on the seventh” (Exod. 20:11). This now sounds like literal 24 hour days. More arguments can be mounted in favor of both positions. To me the sad point in all of this is while we argue which position is the correct one, or the most orthodox one, we are missing the true beauty of the Creation narrative and the real significance behind the meaning of the seven days! In the end, it doesn’t really matter to me whether God created the world in 7 literal 24 hour days or in a longer (or even shorter!) span of time. I want to know why He created this world, and what Genesis 1:1-2:3 has to say to my life.
For anyone who desires to investigate the cross and resurrection of Christ, there are a number of solid evidences for its reality. In this article I will seek to demonstrate that there are several facts inherent in the preaching of the early Christians that, based on the society in which they lived, could not and would not have been fabricated. These facts include items that are so counter-cultural that it is not only unlikely that they would be made up, but impossible to believe that such a proclamation would be accepted by the Jewish, and Graeco-Roman society of the first century, unless there was demonstrable truth behind them. As Bible scholar Ben Witherington III remarks, “When you know the context of the New Testament texts—the world and cultures in and to which these stories were written—you quickly realize that sometimes the incongruities and unusual aspects in the story testify to their historical veracity and authenticity” (Biblical Views: Making Sense of the Unlikely Easter Story, BAR Mar/Apr 2011).
Honor & Shame and the Cross
The number one reason why the message of the cross could not be fabricated is because of the basic foundational values of honor and shame that pervaded all first century Mediterranean culture. I have written about the significance of this briefly elsewhere (Cross Examination: The Cross of Christ in the Roman World), and so I will only note a few important points here. Being connected with honorable people was important on every level of ancient Mediterranean culture. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that maintaining one’s honor was critical for any kind of quality of life (see the recent podcast on honor and shame by myself and Lindsay Kennedy at Beyond Reading the Bible). The cross was not only intended to torture its victim, but to shame them so that no one would want to be affiliated with them. This is why a person was crucified naked, was beaten, mocked, and spit upon and exposed publicly (e.g., Matt. 27:29-30). The shame of the cross is the backdrop for all of the passion narratives in the gospels and for passages such as 1 Corinthians 1:18 and Hebrews 12:2. Witherington states, “It was not seen as a noble martyrdom of any sort. People in that world believed that the manner of your death most revealed your character. On that basis, Jesus was a scoundrel, a man who committed treason against the state, a man who deserved the punishment used for slave revolts. The Romans called it ‘the extreme punishment,’ and no Roman citizen would be subjected to it” (Making Sense, cited above). The fact is, Roman crucifixion was so effective that it quelled every rebellion in the ancient world. Whether we are talking about the slave rebellion under Spartacus, which saw the crucifixion of 6000 men, or the uprisings of would-be deliverers and messiahs, every movement was put down and silenced by the use of the cross. Every movement that is…except for one! The fact that the early disciples went about preaching “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) is an astonishing fact, given the cultural dynamics of honor and shame. No one in this society would think, “I believe I’ll start a new religion and base it on a man who was crucified.” Again Witherington states, “It wouldn’t make sense to create a story about a crucified and risen man being the savior of the world—unless you really believe it is historically true.” Teaching about the cross offered a life of rejection and persecution for those who proclaimed it, and the New Testament bears eloquent witness to this fact. Why would anyone make this teaching a part of their new religion unless it was true? To summarize: In a society of honor and shame, with crucifixion expressing the deepest kind of shame possible, the message of the cross and the resurrection was counter-cultural to the utmost and would never have been considered viable, and would never have been preached, if it were not true.
The Resurrection On the Third Day
The rest of the information in this article is taken from Dr. Darrell Bock’s Mobile Ed Course entitled: “Introducing the Gospels and Acts: Their Background, Nature, and Purpose,” from Logos/Faithlife Corporation. The quotations which follow will come from this source (unless otherwise noted). Dr. Bock points out that while the Jews (or at least some of them) believed in a physical resurrection at the end of time, the idea that some would be resurrected in the midst of history was a novelty. He states, “So what causes the mutation in the normal Jewish view? One could have defended Jesus and His future and His identity by simply saying, “Well, when the resurrection comes at the end of history, Jesus will run the judgment. He will be raised and exalted and run the judgment.” That would be how to do it on the basis of Jewish precedent and expectation. You wouldn’t need a resurrection in the midst of history. And yet, what we get is the resurrection in the midst of history. Something has put pressure on creating that mutation in Jewish expectation and Jewish thought.” In other words, the disciples of Jesus must have had a reason for changing normal Jewish understanding and expectation. It is much easier to accept a new religion if it falls in line with old beliefs. Why change this expectation of resurrection? Answer: Because it must have happened that way.
Graeco-Roman Philosophy and Resurrection
One of the challenges presented by taking the gospel to the Graeco-Roman world, was not only that the cross was considered a shameful way to die, but also that the Greeks and Romans did not believe in a physical resurrection. To them it was nonsense (e.g., Acts 17:32). Regarding this Dr. Bock states, “the bulk of the Graeco-Roman hope has no resurrection in it. You either died and your body decomposed and there was no hope whatsoever, or there was a belief in some type of immortality of the soul—a spiritual form of resurrection but no physical dimensions to it whatsoever. And so Graeco-Romans either had immortality of the soul or you died at death, so the resurrection would be a completely new concept . . . . a problematic concept for a lot of the Graeco-Romans. Once again we see that the gospel message of the cross and resurrection faced an uphill battle. Anyone seeking to appeal to both the Jews and Gentiles of the time would not have incorporated so many controversial ideas into a religion that they wanted to promote, unless there was some basis for them.
Women As Witnesses
With all deference to any women reading this post, the testimony of women in the ancient world was considered unreliable. Here is what Bock says on this subject: “It’s very important to appreciate how crucial this idea is, because in the culture of the time, women could not be witnesses and weren’t viewed as credible witnesses. The only time a woman could testify in a court case and be involved as a witness are in some cases of sexual abuse. But otherwise, she didn’t count as a witness, and we have numerous texts both in the Mishnah and in the Talmud that make the statement that a woman’s testimony is not to be taken or trusted.” How is this significant for the preaching of the resurrection? Each of the gospels testifies that it was women who first saw and proclaimed the resurrection to Jesus’ disciples (Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-10; John 20:1-2, 11-18). This is not the way anyone in the ancient world would seek to establish credibility for their teaching or new religion. Bock sums it up this way: “So you’re in a PR meeting, and this is going to be the case you’re going to make: ‘I’ll tell you how we keep hope alive. Let’s talk about a resurrection because Judaism expects a physical resurrection. Let’s talk about a resurrection in the midst of history. That’s a new idea. And let’s sell that idea, which is an unpopular idea. Graeco-Romans don’t have it. Let’s sell that idea by having our first witnesses be people who culturally don’t count as witnesses.’ You would never make up the story this way if it were made up. You would figure out a different way to do it. In other words, the women are in the resurrection story because the women were in the original resurrection story.”
Criterion of Embarrassment
The criterion of embarrassment is one of the standards used to determine whether something is historical or not. In other words, if you are making something up (i.e., a new religion) you want to put all the leaders and their actions in the best light. You do not want to tell stories that might discredit them. Yet this is exactly what the gospels do! For example, when the women return to declare to the disciples that Jesus has risen, they refuse to believe, according to Luke 24:11: “And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” You mean Peter’s initial reaction, along with the other apostles, was unbelief? We can understand this response. It actually has the ring of authenticity because you and I would react the same way. However, when you are trying to promote a new religion would you really want to put all of the leaders of the new movement in such a bad light? The gospels not only do it here, but in many other places! In fact, one of the statements that causes even skeptical scholars to accept that Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection is the account that immediately follows his prediction. After Jesus tells his disciples about his death, Peter takes him aside and rebukes him which causes Jesus to respond, “Get behind me Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God but the things of men” (Mark 8:33; also Matt. 16:23). Having the leader called “Satan” is certainly an embarrassing fact and would certainly never have been recorded unless it had really happened. Imagine the disciples making up Christianity and in this made up story they have Peter as the leader of the apostles preaching the first sermon on that Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2). The same Peter who denied Jesus and who Jesus also called Satan! This is not the way to begin a new religion if you want your leaders to have credibility! Therefore, the criterion of embarrassment has a ring of authenticity about it. Why would such stories be made up? Although the following quote refers to the historical nature of the Old Testament, it is applicable to our discussion here. In comparing the accounts of other ancient peoples, Hoffner states, “Part of what makes Israel’s historical records so distinctive when compared with those of Egypt, Babylon, Ugarit, and the Hittites is that the kings’ mistakes and sins are so clearly and openly described and rebuked by the prophets” (Hoffner, H. A., Jr., 1 & 2 Samuel, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, Lexham Press, 2015). In other words, it is the nature of biblical writing to be honest about its leaders and this is contrary to the written records of other peoples in the Ancient Near East.
Conclusion: The Validity of the Cross and Resurrection
When one considers the birth of the Christian message which centered around the cross and resurrection of Jesus, the deck was certainly stacked against the possibility of its success, given the social conditions of the Graeco-Roman world. The early Christians proclaimed that their Savior and God was a man who died on a Roman cross (“the emblem of suffering and shame” as one wonderful hymn puts it). This is strike one in a culture based on honor and shame–in fact, it’s really a knock-out punch all on its own. After being crucified, Christians proclaimed that this Jesus had risen from the dead, something that no Gentile in the Roman world believed in, and something that Jews only thought would happen at the end of time (for those who believed there was such a thing as resurrection!). This is strike two. “We can prove it,” say the early Christians, “because there were some women who told us it was true!” Strike number three. Your religion doesn’t have a prayer of being accepted by anyone with testimony like that. But after being down and out with three strikes, the Christians persist by saying that you should listen to Jesus’ disciples even though they all originally denied him, did not believe that he rose from the dead, and that their ring-leader was even called Satan by Jesus himself. Somebody surely needs to give these early Christians some suggestions on how to start a new religion because, clearly, they haven’t got a clue!
And yet history tells a very different story. In spite of the hundreds and thousands of other gods and religions that existed in the first century Roman empire, Christianity outlasted them all. In fact, people came to believe the message of the cross and resurrection so fervently that they stopped worshipping other gods and all of those religions, so much more palatable to the tastes of people at the time, disappeared. The cross, a symbol of shame and reproach, was even transformed into a symbol of victory and honor. Look at all of human history and understand that such things do not happen. The reason Christianity not only survived but thrived, was because it was true and was backed up by the power of God.
A question frequently asked of Christians is, “How do you know you can trust the Bible?” After all, isn’t it true that the copies of the New Testament that exist are hundreds of years later than the original New Testament manuscripts? Noted New Testament scholar, Dr. Craig A. Evans, seeks to answer these, and similar, questions in the Logos Mobile Ed course, The Reliability of New Testament Manuscripts. You can tell from the title that Dr. Evans certainly believes the New Testament manuscripts are reliable and he produces a lot of good evidence to prove his case in this one hour video course. Even though I had a similar course in seminary many years ago, Dr. Evans reveals some new evidence that strengthens the case for the reliability of New Testament manuscripts. I’ll share some of this interesting information in this post, so keep reading!
Outline and Contents of The Reliability of New Testament Manuscripts
The course is broken down into the following 11 sections:
1. The Basics of New Testament Manuscripts
2. Finding Manuscripts in Logos
3. Examples Demonstrating the Quality of New Testament Manuscripts
4. Adding Manuscript Images to Presentations or Documents
5. Exploring Ancient Manuscripts and Resources
6. The Comparative Strength of the New Testament Manuscript Record
7. The Longevity of the Autographs
8. Researching the Works of Tertullian
9. The Number of Autographs
10. Accessing and Navigating the Textual Apparatus
11. The Preservation of the New Testament in Translations
Each section is of varying lengths (anywhere from 3-10 minutes each) and includes, not only Dr. Evans’ lectures, but also instruction on how to utilize Logos in the study of New Testament manuscripts. One advantage of Logos is that users will find that the manuscripts Dr. Evans speaks about are readily available in the Logos library, along with some photographic examples. The sections above which provide instruction on how to use features in Logos include 2, 4, 5, 8, and 10.
One lecture compares the body of manuscripts available from classical sources, such as Caesar’s Gallic War or ancient histories by Livy or Tacitus with the body of manuscripts availlable for the New Testament. In the case of classic manuscripts, there are usually only a handful of a particular writing available, and these copies date hundreds of years, and at times over a thousand or more years, later than the originals. And yet the authenticity of these documents is never questioned (see photo above). By comparison, Dr. Evans notes that there are 5,800 manuscripts of the New Testament. These are not all complete copies, and many date from the Middle Ages. However, a few hundred “date back to ancient antiquity,” and about four dozen date to the year 300 A.D. or earlier (most of these are incomplete, and some are small fragments). This body of literature makes the New Testament the most well-preserved document of antiquity. For an excellent article on this topic which lists ancient classical documents, how many copies we have, and the length of time between the copies and original see Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability.
How Long Could an Original Manuscript Last?
One of the most interesting lectures to me was section 7, “The Longevity of the Autographs.” Dr. Evans notes that when he was in seminary he once asked his professor, “How long did the autographs (original copies) last?” His professor answered that it was probably about 10-20 years. Therefore, it used to be thought that there was a great distance (2 centuries or more) between the original writing of, say a gospel or letter, and the earliest copies that we possess. If copies only lasted for 10-20 years, this would mean in the space of 200 years as many as 10-20 copies would have been made, allowing greater opportunity for scribal errors to be introduced into the text.
The facts are actually quite different. Dr Evans notes a study in 2009 by George Houston (you can access that study here) where the remains of 53 ancient libraries were examined. These libraries ranged from a collection of 12 books to nearly 1,000. This study demonstrated that original documents were extremely well-preserved and lasted anywhere from 150-500 years! Manuscripts were written on papyrus, or animal skin (known as vellum), with durable ink. Books (or scrolls) were considered very valuable, and were thus well taken care of. The library of Qumran (known as the Dead Sea Scrolls) is an excellent example of how manuscripts were preserved. A number of the manuscripts from Qumran are anywhere from 100-300 years old. What this means for New Testament manuscripts is that the originals could easily have lasted for several centuries, overlapping some of the copies we have today.
Dr. Evans uses the Gospel of Matthew as an example (see the above photo). Matthew is thought to have composed his gospel around 75 A.D. One early collection of the gospels which we possess, known as P45 (which contains about half of the 4 gospels), was composed somewhere around 210-220 A.D. If Matthew’s original lasted for 225 years (a conservative guess by Dr. Evans), this means that Matthew’s original (as well as Mark, Luke, and John) could still have been available for comparison when P45 was composed. Dr. Evans states it this way, “So the idea that there was this was wide gap, this broken link between the originals, written in the first century, and our oldest extant copies that we now possess, that you and I can go see in museums and libraries around the world—instead of a wide, 150-year gap, where who knows what changes may have taken place, we may well have had the originals lasting right on into the third century itself.” (Evans, C. A. . NT308 The Reliability of New Testament Manuscripts. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)
Was There Only One Original of Each New Testament Manuscript?
Another interesting fact noted by Dr. Evans is that when an original manuscript was produced in ancient times, a copy was always made of it and checked against the original. In some cases 3 or 4 copies were produced. This means when we are speaking of the originals autographs of the New Testament, there wouldn’t simply be 27 (the number of New Testament books), but at least 54, and perhaps more! These extra copies of the original lend an even greater likelihood that the autographs survived for centuries.
Along these lines, Dr. Evans notes that there are at least two ancient references to New Testament autographs surviving for centuries. The Church Father, Tertullian, writing around 190 A.D. in a document entitled, Prescription Against the Heretics, “complains of the heretics who mutilate the text, and he says, ‘If you don’t believe me, then check out the autographs of Paul’s Letters,’ and he mentions a few letters by name, ‘which you can find in Hierapolis, in Asia Minor.’” In a writing of the early fourth century by Bishop Peter, the bishop mentions that the original of the Gospel of John can still be viewed in Ephesus. Above, I posted a photograph of a famous fragment of the Gospel of John which can be seen today in the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester, England. This fragment dates to about 140 A.D., not long after John’s Gospel was penned. If Bishop Peter’s statement is accurate, the original of John’s Gospel existed at least into the early 300s A.D. This means the Gospel of John fragment (known as P52) in the library at the University of Manchester was written well within the time that the original still circulated. There is absolutely nothing like this in classical literature. As noted above, hundreds, even thousands, of years separate the originals from their copies in classical literature, not so the New Testament.
In conclusion, this is a great course and provides some wonderful evidence for the reliability of New Testament manuscripts. Dr. Evans presentation is clear and compelling.