Monthly Study Articles

Here we offer many articles to help your study of the Bible from its cultural
context.
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Index of Articles:

Reflecting on the First Advent - Why were Simeon and Zechariah longing for a great redeemer? Some historical data sheds new light on the world that Jesus entered two thousand years ago. By Lois Tverberg. December 2007.

The Bible Is Like Star Trek - Just like a good TV series, the Bible has an intricate plot that weaves from story to story. Knowing Ruth's story in light of her peoples' unseemly history shows us God's grace. By Lois Tverberg. November 2007.

Say Little, Do Much - According to the rabbis, we can learn a lot about living according to our words from the story of Abraham. By Lois Tverberg at OurRabbiJesus.com.

Emunah & Nephesh - What does it mean to have "faith" like Abraham? And what does it mean to "love God with all your soul?". Two essays from our new book, Listening to the Language of the Bible. August, 2007 & July, 2004

What Does it Mean to Hallow God's Name? Jewish thinking about the phrase we use in the Lord's Prayer gives us insight into how to make God's name holy. By Okkema & Tverberg; July 2007; May, 2004

First-Century Discipleship - by David Bivin. The call to be a sage’s disciple in first-century Israel often meant leaving relatives and friends and traveling the country under austere conditions. It also meant total commitment. A prospective disciple first had to be sure his priorities were in order.  ... read the entire article. - June, 2007

The Richness of Jewish Prayer - We know from history what prayer style Jesus would have used. Christians will find that some of these traditions that Jews still practice today will greatly enrich their prayer life. April 2007, January 2007, April, 2002

What Did Jesus Mean by "Do Not Judge"?  A cultural study of this teaching of Jesus. Practical suggested are offered that can transform our lives. April 2007 (reworked from February '02)

Where is the Juice? A comparison of a person's life to that of the Arara plant. The fruit looks attractive from the outside, but there is no substance inside. March, 2007 (and August, 2001)

The Richness of Jewish Prayer - We know from history what prayer style Jesus would have used. Christians will find that some of these traditions that Jews still practice today will greatly enrich their prayer life.  April, 2002, January 2007

Gifts for a King! What is the Magi Story all About? One of the stories of Christmas that seems to be most cryptic is that of the wise men. Who were they? Why did they give Jesus the gifts they did? Why are they called magi and what does the word magi mean? What is the significance of this story, and what does it say about Jesus? Dec '06, Jan '02, Dec '01

Thinking Biblically Takes Both Hands - The habit of contrasting two viewpoints is distinctly Jewish, but very useful for understanding the Scriptures. - November, 2006

What does It Mean to "Fulfill the Law"? - Both Jesus and Paul used the phrase "fulfill the law," and knowing its idiomatic meaning is critical for grasping their message. - October, 2006

Hasidut - Righteousness That Goes Beyond the Law - What does it mean to have "righteousness that surpasses the scribes and Pharisees"? - September, 2006

To Be the Image of God - Many profound ideas about humankind are revealed when we study the Genesis accounts Hebraically. - August, 2006

Looking at the Creation Account Hebraically - A look at the first two chapters of Genesis as they would have been understood by one of its original listeners. - July, 2006

The Universal Language of Sacrifice - Why did ancient people find this form of worship meaningful, and how is it relevant today? - May, 2006

Jesus, the True Lamb of Passover - Seeing how Jesus used the Passover to explain his mission yields many deep insights. - April, 2006

Being A Part of Abraham's Family - Not only is family critical in the Old Testament, it is key to some very important controversies in the New Testament, such as including Gentiles among the growing movement of Jewish believers in Jesus. - March, 2006

Measure for Measure - Jesus used a classic rabbinic form of reasoning called midah keneged midah - meaning, "measure corresponding to measure." This expression gives us insight on Jesus' words, with implications for how we should live. - February, 2006

God’s Illogical Logic of Mercy - The illogical idea that the sins of one person can be forgiven because of another person’s sacrifice is fundamental to Christianity. Jewish sources show, however, that it has much precedent in the Old Testament.  - January, 2006

Which Type are You?  The parable of the sower is very familiar to us, but understanding it in its rabbinic context will give it new depth. - December, 2005

The Aleinu - The main theme of Jesus’ ministry was to preach about the coming of the Kingdom of God. An ancient Jewish prayer Jesus himself may have prayed is still recited today and focuses entirely on God’s kingdom. - November, 2005

Miracle on the Sea of Galilee - This month’s Director’s Article is an excerpt from En-Gedi’s new book, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus by David Bivin. Understanding the practice of fishing in Jesus' day greatly illuminates the gospel stories. (A pdf of the book chapter.) - October, 2005

Jesus' View of Pacifism - Understood in their context, Jesus' words about "not resisting evil" more likely meant to not seek revenge rather than to not defend one's self. A chapter from En-Gedi's new book by David Bivin, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus. September, 2005

Jesus' Most Radical Teaching - The command to "love your enemies" went beyond any other teaching of his time, but yet characterized his life and Messianic Kingdom. July/August, 2005

Jesus' Messianic Surprise: A Kingdom of Mercy - The Jews of Jesus' time were longing for a messiah, but Jesus didn't fit their expectations. What were they looking for? A look at Jesus' radical message in light of his Eastern culture. June, 2005

Thinking Hebraically About God's Creation - How would the Bible tell us in its own culture how we should relate to the natural world?  May, 2005

Learning from Our Rabbi Jesus - Much of the difficulty in understanding the words of Jesus comes from not seeing the nuances of their Jewish style and context. April, 2005

New Light on Jesus' Last Week - A few pieces of historical data can shed a lot of light on the Passion story. Understanding who was accusing Jesus can help answer our questions and link together events that seem unrelated. March, 2005

Who Are You Going to Work For? - "He who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave." The themes of freedom and slavery in the Bible teach us about our relationship to God. February, 2005

The Tsunami: Thoughts From Job and Jesus - How does God look at human suffering? Jesus's words and the story of Job can give us some insight. January, 2005

Acts of Loving Kindness at Christmas - How can we celebrate Christmas to truly honor our Jewish Messiah, Jesus? December, 2004

Lessons in Faithfulness - We can learn about God's amazing ways from our life experiences, as well as from the Bible. Here, Bruce Okkema recounts some incidents from his recent mission trip to Africa that showed God's hand powerfully at work. November, 2004

Eternal Life, Here and Now - We think of eternal life as life after death in heaven. But Jesus and Paul realized that eternal life begins here in this world, and it has implications for how we live our lives. October, 2004

The Flood's Deeper Message of Mercy -The account of the flood is often read as if it is a story for children, or with a focus on its physical effects.  We miss its profound answers to difficult theological questions. September, 2004

A True Knowledge of the Lord - The Bible often speaks of the "knowledge of the Lord", but rather than information about God, this is intimacy with God. August, 2004

Emunah & Nephesh - What does it mean to have "faith" like Abraham? And what does it mean to "love God with all your soul?". Two essays from our new book, Listening to the Language of the Bible. July, 2004

What's the Good News? Some kinds of news have the power to change our lives overnight — the birth of a baby, the diagnosis of cancer ... This is an essay from our new book, Listening to the Language of the Bible, June, 2004.

What Does it Mean to Hallow God's Name? Jewish thinking about the phrase we use in the Lord's Prayer gives us insight into how to make God's name holy. By Okkema & Tverberg May, 2004

Has Da Vinci Painted Our Picture of Jesus? - "... unfortunately, nearly every detail in the picture is culturally inaccurate ... " By Bruce Okkema, Executive Director. April, 2004

Esther: The Rest of the Story - The book of Esther is actually the culmination of a conflict that has gone on throughout the history of Israel. March, 2004

Does God Want Us To Fear Him? - An explanation of how the difficult phrase "fear of the Lord" in the Bible can be very rich in our lives. February, 2004

Does God Forget Sin? - Understanding the biblical ideas of "remembering" and "forgetting" helps us understand about forgiveness of sin. January, 2004

Jesus' Strange Teaching About a 'Single Eye' - Jesus' words are much more clear when we understand the cultural idioms that He was using. December, 2003

Jesus' Surprising Answer - When a man discussed with Jesus how he could have eternal life, why did Jesus accept what seems to be a wrong answer? Insights from the Jewish context of their conversation. November, 2003

Thoughts for Yom Kippur - An explanation of the holiest day in the Jewish year, and a liturgy for Christians who want to take part in it. October, 2003

The Powerful Imagery of Blood - Through the Bible's imagery of blood, it teaches many profound ideas including the sanctity of life, the seriousness of sin, the possibility of atonement and the work of Christ. September, 2003

Taming the Tongue - Gossip ... The Bible has much to say about it, and rabbinic thinkers have some excellent wisdom about how to purify our speech. August, 2003

Seeing God From a New Perspective - This is a personal story of how understanding God from a Hebraic perspective has brought the author closer to Him. July, 2003

Letting our Tassels Show - God challenged the people of Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a light to the world through the command to wear tassels. We have a similar call. June, 2003

Living Water - From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible uses an image of God's Spirit as "living water". Understanding the cultural picture is important for understanding Jesus' message. April/May, 2003

Listening Through Jesus' Ears - The Bible often speaks in odd-sounding, poetic phrases that come from its Hebraic culture. Hearing its words as they were originally meant gives us new insights into God's word. March, 2003

Living Out Jesus' Words on Judging - More thoughts, a year after we wrote about how life-changing Jesus' words about judging can be in their rabbinic context. February, 2003

The Kingdom of Heaven is Good News! - Why did Jesus say that "I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven, because it was for this reason I was sent?" January, 2003

Loving Your Neighbor, Who is Like You - The rabbis of Jesus' day emphasized a slightly different message in the commandment to "love your neighbor" that can give us insight on Jesus' teaching. December, 2002

How to Love the Lord - The greatest commandment is "Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and strength". This is part of the Shema, the prayer that is said by Jews every morning and evening. November, 2002

Eating at the Lord's Table - From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is full of pictures of a covenantal meal of peace, which sheds light on the Lord's Supper. September/October, 2002

Salvation in this Life - In its Hebraic context, the Bible often uses another picture of salvation that we rarely emphasize - salvation as restoring a relationship with God. August, 2002

What does the name Jesus "Christ" mean? - What does it mean to call Jesus, "Jesus Christ"? Or, what implications does it have for us to say that Jesus is the "Christ"? July, 2002

Raise Up Many Disciples! - Jesus' Great Commission was to "make disciples of the all the nations". Understanding Jesus' ancient, Hebraic model of raising up disciples can give us fresh insight into how to carry out His command. June, 2002

The Gospel as a Year of Jubilee - God gave Israel a command that every 50 years they should forgive all debts and let their slaves go free. Jesus uses images from the year of jubilee to explain His mission on earth. May, 2002

The Richness of Jewish Prayer - We know from history what prayer style Jesus would have used. Christians will find that some of these traditions that Jews still practice today will greatly enrich their prayer life. April, 2002

The Imagery of Leaven - What does the the ancient tradition of leavening bread show us about sin in our lives? Jesus and Paul also both use leaven and the Feast of Unleavened Bread to explain Jesus' perfect sacrifice and how it allows us to live clean, new lives. March, 2002

What Did Jesus Mean by "Do Not Judge"? Some thoughts that shed light on Jesus' command that come from other sayings from his culture. And practical ways that this saying of Jesus' can transform our lives. February, 2002.

Are We Just Dust? A little bit of a change of pace - the text of a chapel talk I gave in 1995 at Luther College on the implications of scientific naturalism and a Christian's response to it.

Terror's Temptation - The horrific events of September 11, 2001 have caused all those aware of them to wonder how long God will allow demonic forces and their human manifestation to continue to plague his creation, but God is in control. By Bruce Okkema, Executive Director. October, 2001

Faith in Doubtful Times - Learning from the Fall Festivals " ... I'm convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, of the goodness of God, even when it is hidden in difficult times or terrible events or even hard texts. His very own sacrifice for us finally answer that question once and for all."  September, 2001

Where is the Juice? A comparison of a person's life to that of the Arara plant. The fruit looks attractive from the outside, but there is no substance inside. August, 2001

Shalom From Israel! A brief account of some experiences while studying Hebrew in Israel during the summer of 2001. July, 2001