Reformation Study Bible (2015 Edition): It’s Big

There must be quite a market for study Bibles, because they keep making more of them. And some older ones are being updated and revised. Like The Reformation Study Bible.

It was published in 1995 as The New Geneva Study Bible, using the New King James translation. 1998 saw the name changed to The Reformation Study Bible. In 2005, a second edition emerged, switching translations from NKJV to ESV. Now in 2015, a third edition hit the market with a long list of new features. It’s already out in ESV, and an NKJV version is on its way.

Study notes multiplied from 760,000 to 1.1 million words. Ten more maps, fourteen theological articles, ten creeds and confessions, almost 600 pages, and an extra 3/8 of an inch in thickness expand the contents. In addition, purchasers of this Bible gain access to over $400 worth of e-books, subscriptions, and online teaching series.

There’s a lot here. Is it worth it?

First Impressions

This study Bible is beautiful. I’ve been reading the leather-like light gray version, but cheaper hardbacks are also available. I’m tempted to judge this book by its cover, with its soft leather-like substance and three marvelous, protruding ribbon bookmarks.

Upon opening and flipping, I find the page layout pleasing. The font of the biblical text is easy to read and in single-column format. Theological notes in shaded gray boxes pepper the volume. The back matter (articles, creeds, and maps) draws my attention.

This study Bible is a delight to handle and to read.

Reformation Study Bible

Diving In

The Reformation Study Bible (RSB) will appeal to some and not to others. I trust it will help many; I fear it will hinder some. The difference depends on how it is used.

If you know how to determine the main points and trains of thought of Bible passages, you will find some real help here. The RSB will clarify the meanings of words. It will connect many passages to each other. It will tie things nicely with larger theological issues. But if you look to the RSB to give you the main points and trains of thought of Bible books, I think you’ll be disappointed. The RSB is heavy on correlation and observation of words, but it is light on main points, trains of thought, and application.

In addition, if you’re already familiar with the significance and teachings of the Reformation, you’ll be at home with the RSB. It explains the Reformation and Reformed theology (the covenants, Christ-centered interpretation, doctrines of grace, etc.) with plain language and clarity. It makes lofty concepts understandable and accessible. But if you’re not sure about Reformed theology, or if you’d like to understand how these teachings are drawn out of careful literary analysis of the Scripture, you’ll be disappointed. While I wouldn’t say this study Bible imposes its teaching on the Scripture, I must admit it often doesn’t show its work by drawing its teaching from the Scripture.

Study Bibles serve well as reference works, but sometimes they distract people from studying the text itself. Therefore, if we think of study Bibles as commentaries, we can be on guard against detrimental addictions. If you can resist the addiction, I’m happy to recommend The Reformation Study Bible. You can buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books.

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Study note: DisclaimerAmazon and WTS links are affiliate links, so this blog gets a small commission if you click and buy anything. The Greek word for disclaimer is “disklaemeros.” Pliny the Younger used this word in his famous work Natural History.

How to Decide Which Parts of the Bible to Follow and Which to Ignore

How do you decide which aspects of the Bible to follow, and which to ignore?

Justin Taylor posted a video of a young woman posing this question to Dr. John Stackhouse, Religious Studies Professor at Crandall University, New Brunswick. Stackhouse turns the question around to suggest that we should study the Bible closely enough to understand it before attempting to claim there are parts we should ignore.

The two-minute video is well worth your time. Check it out!

40 Application Questions From Isaiah 40

Angell Williams (2008), Creative Commons License

Angell Williams (2008), Creative Commons License

Isaiah 40 is rich with imagery, promises, and soaring truths about God. If you’ve spent time worshiping with Christians, you’ve probably sung a hymn or song which draws on this chapter.

And though we’ve sung from Isaiah 40, I suspect far fewer of us have studied it or dug deeply into the application of this passage. After all, application is hard—we’re usually satisfied if we can find one token application before we move on to the nachos.

Not today, my friends. We’re going deep with application today.

The Main Point

The main point1 of Isaiah 40 can be stated succinctly.

Take comfort: the incomparable God will come and care for his people.

Preparing for Application

When beginning to apply a passage, remember that there are two directions of application (inward and outward). We are confronted with these questions: How do I need to change? How can I influence others to change?

There are also three spheres of application: the head, the heart, and the hands. The author’s main point in a Bible passage should affect what I think/believe, what I desire, and what I do (respectively).

Finally, the best applications are specific and keep Jesus and his saving work in mind.

Application Questions for Isaiah 40

Instead of providing my own application of Isaiah 40, I’ve written questions to guide your application of the passage. I worked hard to get forty questions, just to show that the Bible reaches far deeper into our lives than we usually allow.

Head Application, Inward

  1. Do you believe that God is the creator of everything (Is 40:12, 22)? Do you believe that God is the ruler over the nations (Is 40:15–17)? Do you believe that God directs and names the stars in the sky (Is 40:26)?
  2. When are you likely to forget that God is the creator and ruler?
  3. How can you remind yourself that God is the creator and ruler?
  4. Do you believe that God is wise (Is 40:14)? Do you believe that God is unique, unlike any idol (Is 40:18–20)? Do you believe that God is able to strengthen the weak (Is 40:29–31) and protect the vulnerable (Is 40:11)?
  5. When are you likely to forget that God is wise and unique, the source of protection and strength?
  6. How can you remind yourself that God is wise and unique, the source of protection and strength?
  7. Do you believe that God wants comfort for (and not vengeance upon) his people?
  8. Do you believe that God is devoted to his people? When are you likely to forget this? Why?

Heart Application, Inward

  1. In times of distress or uncertainty, what brings you comfort? Do you find comfort in hearing truth about God?
  2. What do you rely on for strength or energy? Do you depend on caffeine, sleep, “comfort food,” or something else?
  3. Do you know the burden of exhaustion and discouragement shouldered by God’s people? Do you want God to comfort his people?
  4. Do you want to be comforted by God, or would you prefer to find comfort in something (or someone) else?
  5. Do you rejoice that God has come to be near/with you in the person of Jesus? What specifically about Jesus’s presence brings you joy?
  6. Do you rejoice that God is eager to give you His strength? What difference does God’s provision of his strength make in your life?
  7. Do you fear the nations? How can you pray so that you will not fear them?
  8. Do you fear the government? How can you pray so that you will not fear it?

Hands Application, Inward

  1. With what actions do you seek comfort? When do you desire comfort? How can you train yourself to seek Biblical comfort?
  2. How can you turn God’s creation into reminders about God’s character for yourself? (Witness the way Isaiah uses these images to teach about God: a shepherd with lambs (Is 40:11), stars (Is 40:26), nations (Is 40:15–17), grass and flowers (Is 40:6–8), scales and measurements (Is 40:12), grasshoppers (Is 40:22), craftsmen (Is 40:19–20), eagles (Is 40:31), youth (Is 40:30).)
  3. When do you find yourself needing strength? How can you seek/receive the strength that God promises?
  4. How can you seek God’s strength through his word?
  5. How can you seek God’s strength through worshiping him?
  6. How can you seek God’s strength through fellowship with his people?
  7. How can you seek strength from God through the means he provides (sleep, recreation, etc.) and still acknowledge God as the source?
  8. What does it look like for you to “wait for the Lord” (Is 40:31)? In what circumstances is it difficult for you to wait for the Lord? Why?
  9. How will the truths from this passage affect the way you celebrate Advent/Christmas this year?

Head Application, Outward

  1. What are some false/inadequate comforts you have given to other people? How can you replace these imitations with Biblical comfort?
  2. When do you have opportunities to remind other Christians what God is like? How can you plan to be ready in these situations?
  3. What questions can you ask your neighbors or friends to lead to a discussion about God?
  4. What questions can you ask your children to lead to a discussion about God?

Heart Application, Outward

  1. Do you desire that all of God’s children know his comfort? Are there some you would rather not be comforted?
  2. How can we help each other discover what brings us comfort?
  3. How can we help each other discover where we turn for strength?
  4. How will you build friendships so that these are natural/welcome topics of conversation?
  5. Are you hesitant to reveal your own misdirected comfort-seeking to others? If Jesus has died for you and welcomed you into God’s family, why are you hesitant?

Hands Application, Outward

  1. How can you extend God’s shepherdly comfort to his flock?
  2. Identify at least two people within your sphere of concern who are especially vulnerable. How can you care for them?
  3. How can you encourage others to seek God for strength?
  4. How could you involve others in a Christmas celebration that focuses on God’s comfort and care for his people in Jesus?
  5. How can you use creation to discuss God with your children?
  6. How can you use creation to discuss God with your neighbors?

Back to Jesus

How do these application questions specifically remember Jesus? I haven’t made that explicit, but consider this. In the beginning of the chapter (Is 40:2), when God calls for comfort for his people, the basis of the message is this: “her warfare has ended, her iniquity has been removed, she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” The foundation of the message is reconciliation with God, initiated by God. Jesus has come near and provided comfort and care for us; therefore, we can exhort ourselves and others to seek out our merciful God.


  1. Here’s a brief outline of the passage to support this claim. (But you should study the passage yourself to check my work!) The theme of comfort is introduced in Is 40:1, and the three “voices” that respond to this command introduce their own sections in Is 40:3, Is 40:6, and Is 40:9. Isaiah discusses God’s unmatched actions and abilities in Is 40:12-14 (his creation and wisdom), Is 40:15-17 (the nations are insignificant before God), Is 40:18-20 (God is unlike any human idol), Is 40:21-24 (God dwells in the heavens and brings earth’s rulers to nothing), and Is 40:25-26 (the Holy One directs the stars by his power). We also read of God’s coming to his people in both Is 40:3-5 and Is 40:9-11, and his concern for his people is evident in Is 40:9-11 (his ruling arm provides tender care, especially for the most vulnerable) and Is 40:27-31 (God gives his own strength to his people).

Too Busy to Blog: Little League is On

I’m not able to write this week because I’ve taken my family to see some early games of the Little League World series tournament in Williamsport, PA. If you’d like to see one reason why we love attending, check out “What the Little League World Series Taught Me About Bible Study.”

We’re so excited to see another Pennsylvania team back in the tournament this year. Go Red Land! And we couldn’t be more thrilled to see another team from Uganda back in the series (my sons were born in Uganda).

Infographic: Kings of Israel and Judah

If you’re studying Kings, Chronicles, or one of the Prophets, the Good Book Company has an infographic you might want to check out. They list all the kings of Israel and Judah, color-coded to represent the text’s evaluation of their obedience to God. The infographic also shows the Hebrew prophets and where their prophecies fit into the timeline. It’s clean, attractive, and very helpful.

Check it out!

Identifying Behemoth and Leviathan in the Book of Job

Kevin (2007), Creative Commons

Kevin (2007), Creative Commons

In Job 40-41, God introduces Job to two new characters. Behemoth is a powerful beast with strong legs (Job 40:16), a stiff tail (Job 40:17), and a carefree riverside existence (Job 40:20-23). Leviathan dwells in the sea (Job 41:1, 7), breathes fire (Job 41:18-21), and crushes hunters (Job 41:25-29). Who are these two creatures?

  • I grew up hearing that these chapters prove both 1) the existence of dinosaurs, and 2) the co-habitation of humans with them. The Bible shows that archaeology and paleontology are worthwhile pursuits. Hurrah!
  • Later I discovered that many interpreters in church history have considered Behemoth and Leviathan to be poetic exaggerations of the hippopotamus and the crocodile. Some translations even footnote the titles as such (for example, NASB, NRSV).

Both identifications miss the point of the text. Take note of God’s train of thought over both of his speeches:

Job, you’ll never understand the behavior of mountain goats or ostriches. And you will never domesticate the lion, the wild ox, or the war-horse. Stop justifying yourself…And by the way, you can’t control the hippo or crocodile, either. But I can.

That one certainly doesn’t work. The dinosaur interpretation does a little better:

Job, you’ll never understand the behavior of mountain goats or ostriches. And you will never domesticate the lion, the wild ox, or the war-horse. Stop justifying yourself…And by the way, you can’t control these two dinosaurs, either. But I can.

Both interpretations, however, miss a few key facts:

  1. God’s first speech covers the entire natural creation (Job 38:4). Reading from the beginning, you’ll notice a remarkable similarity to the order of things in Genesis 1. The resemblance is complete enough not to warrant revisiting the created order in the second speech.
  2. The main question in God’s second speech is whether Job can not merely be angry at his suffering but actually bring it to an end (Job 40:9-13). If so, that would justify Job’s putting God in the wrong and saving himself from his own situation (Job 40:8, 14). Of course, Behemoth and Leviathan show this idea to be ludicrous.
  3. Job’s final response comes from a completely blown mind. “You can do all things…No purpose of yours can be thwarted…I have uttered what I did not understand…Now my eye sees you…I despise myself…” (Job 42:1-6).

The second speech advances the first, giving Job (and us) a picture of God’s supreme control, not only over the natural creation, but even over supernatural suffering and evil. Behemoth and Leviathan represent these things in Job’s life. Unlike Job, God can, in fact, bring suffering and evil to an end. Satan could not snap a thread of Job’s garment without God’s explicit permission (Job 1:12, 2:6). And Satan cannot resist the snapping of his own neck if God wills it.

Let him who made [Behemoth] bring near his sword! (Job 40:19)

Who then is he who can stand before me? Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine. (Job 41:10-11)

God gives Job a taste of this power when he brings Job’s earthly suffering to an end (Job 42:12-17). And when God gives Job exactly twice what he lost (compare with Job 1:2-3), he plays the part of a thief who must repay double (Ex 22:7-9). Not that God is a thief, mind you; but he takes the place of a thief along with his blame.

Sort of like another divine warrior who had power to bind Satan (Mark 3:27) and triumph over the rulers and authorities through the cross (Col 2:13-15). And he did it, playing the part of a thief (Mark 15:27). He will one day destroy every ferocious beast (Rev 19:20-21), Satan (Rev 20:9-10), and death itself (Rev 20:14).

When Paul runs out of words to describe God’s unsearchable justice and unfathomable wisdom, he turns to the speech about Leviathan in Job 41 (Romans 11:33-36). Paul must have realized there was something there bigger than hippos and crocodiles.

Job, you’ll never understand the behavior of mountain goats or ostriches. And you will never domesticate the lion, the wild ox, or the war-horse. Stop justifying yourself…And by the way, you can’t ever bring your suffering to an end. But I can.

 

Even the Bible Needed Upgrading

Though God’s Holy Spirit breathed out the very words of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17), he did so through the skills and creativity of human authors (2 Pet 1:21). And as the generations passed, and the original readers of a Bible book had come and gone, scribes would update the text to make sense for a new era.

This fact is not something Bible-believing Christians should fear or cover up. It does not threaten the doctrines of inspiration or inerrancy. If God can speak through human authors, he can also speak through human editors. Some alleged errors or inconsistencies in the Bible can be reasonably explained through this editorial process.

We understand the practice today. It often takes as few as 10 years for a publisher to release a “revised and updated” second edition of a successful book. This doesn’t necessarily mean the first edition was in error, but that when times change, some things need updating. Important ancient literature worked the same way.

Writing for Bible Study Magazine, Michael Heiser speaks of such evidence of “upgrading” in Genesis 14 and Psalm 51. We could find many further examples where terminology, people or place names, or turns of phrase must have been updated for later generations. God wants people to know him through his word. His word will last forever, and his main points don’t change, but the text must always be translated and explained for each new generation and culture.

Heiser gives two reasons why details may have been updated over time:

  1. To make the stories more familiar to new readers (by avoiding archaic names and terminology they wouldn’t understand).
  2. To re-purpose something already written to “make it preach” to a new community.

Heiser’s brief article gives a few examples and much worth considering. Check it out!

Ten Characteristics of a Great Small Group Member

Both inside and outside of the church, we talk a lot about the characteristics of leaders. And rightly so. For any organization, leaders cast the vision, set the goals, and model the actions.

We hear far less about followers. This, despite the fact followers far outnumber leaders!

What Makes a Good Follower?

cassandra (2012), Creative Commons License

cassandra (2012), Creative Commons License

We have lots of resources devoted to leading small group Bible studies. But what if you’re not the leader? What if you’re eager to glorify God by attending a Bible study?

Here are ten traits found in a great small group member. If you are attending a small group, make these qualities your target and the subject of your prayers.

What is a great small group member like?

  • He is a servant. The ideal small group member knows that he has an important role within his group. While he expects to be blessed by attending his small group, he sees the opportunity to bless others through his actions, words, and prayers. He relishes his opportunity to bear the burdens of his brothers and sisters in the Lord.
  • He is committed to the Bible. He values his friends and their contributions, but his highest authority is the Bible. He knows that cursory and thoughtless readings don’t honor God, so he pushes himself and his friends to dig again and again into the Scriptures. He works hard to keep his Bible study skills sharp.
  • He is open-minded. He is willing to change his mind when presented with compelling Biblical evidence. His convictions are shaped by God’s unchangeable word.
  • He listens. He values what others say. He knows that the Holy Spirit gives wisdom about the Bible through the insights of fellow believers. Because he cares for his friends, he is eager to hear how God is at work in their lives.
  • He is compassionate. He prays for his friends and follows up on those requests. He sends notes of encouragement to those who are fighting for joy in God.
  • He engages. He answers questions from the leader, and he poses questions himself. When the discussion drifts, he points the group back to the text. He gently draws out those who are shy, and he asks the bold to justify their claims from the Bible.
  • He is prepared. He labors before his group gathers so the meeting will have maximum impact.
  • He is vulnerable. He bares his heart to his friends, knowing that honesty is a crucial weapon in the battle against sin.
  • He perseveres. He is committed to his group despite the imperfections of both the leader and the other group members. He knows that all sinners (including himself) can be difficult to love, and he extends to others the forgiveness and grace he wants for himself.
  • He is growing. While spiritual growth may be difficult to spot from one day to the next, when he looks back over the course of a year, he can see more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. (See Gal 5:22–23.) This growth is no cause for pride, but he rejoices in God’s faithful love for him. This growth is inspirational and infectious within his small group.

If you measure yourself against this list and come up short, don’t lose heart. Jesus is the only one who followed any list of good behavior perfectly. If you are God’s child, you don’t earn his smile; rather, his smile never departs from you! This provides both the motivation and the power to work toward blessing your small group.

I’m sure this list is not complete. What characteristics would you add?

Why God Speaks to Job Twice

Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further. (Job 40:4-5)

With these famous words and a pregnant hand-to-mouth gesture, Job begins backing away from the God of all creation. In severe suffering, Job has accused God of doing wrong and of remaining silent. But God arrives, speaking out of the whirlwind, to put Job in his place. Job 38:1-39:30 records God’s first speech, recounting the wildness, inscrutability, and uncontrollable power of God’s creation. Duly humbled, Job tries to slink away like an amateur diver whose loosely tied trunks slipped off at surface impact.

But God will have nothing of the sort. “Oh no, you don’t. I’m not done with you yet”:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” (Job 40:6-7)

Thus begins a second tirade from the LORD against his servant Job (Job 40:6-41:34), whom God will coerce into speaking one last time (Job 42:1-6).

Why? Why the second speech from God? Why isn’t God willing to let it go when Job humbles himself?

Comparing Job’s Responses

Undoubtedly, Job’s first response (Job 40:3-5) is one of humility and self-degradation. “I am small…I’m shutting up now…” But Christopher Ash observes that Job says nothing about God. While God’s first speech properly demotes Job’s self-esteem, it does not yet promote God’s gargantuan superiority.

In other words, Job has justified himself (Job 31:1-40) and not God (Job 16:7-17); this is Elihu’s chief critique (Job 32:2). And God must get Job not only to stop justifying himself but also to begin justifying God.

So Job releases his self-justification after God’s first speech. But it’s not until after the second speech that he confesses God “can do all things” (Job 42:2a), no purpose of his “can be thwarted” (Job 42:2b), and that “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5).

How does God get him there?

Comparing God’s Speeches

God’s first speech focuses on the natural creation. It begins with an obvious question: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4). It continues with a tour of the heavens and the earth (Job 38:5-38). And it ends with a litany of wild creatures beyond Job’s capacity either to understand or to domesticate: lion, raven, mountain goat, wild donkey, wild ox, ostrich, war-horse, hawk (Job 38:39-39:30). In conclusion, God identifies Job as a faultfinder and dares him to justify himself any further (Job 40:1-2).

Seeing his minuscule role in the natural creation, Job properly humbles himself and shuts up (Job 40:3-5).

But God’s second speech must blow Job’s mind even further, and to do so it focuses on the supernatural creation. If Job is to begin justifying God, he must clearly see that he’ll never see clearly. Though he knows how much it hurts to suffer, he’ll never know why God would appoint such suffering in the lives of his beloved people. In short, God must appear bigger, more powerful, and more mysterious than ever before.

So God’s second speech targets the heart of the matter:

Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? Adorn yourself with majesty…Pour out the overflowings of your anger…Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then will I acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you.” (Job 40:9-14)

In other words: “Can you do more than get angry at suffering and evil, Job? Can you actually bring them to an end?

jaci XIII (2010), Creative Commons

jaci XIII (2010), Creative Commons

He follows up with two case studies, Behemoth (Job 40:15-24) and Leviathan (Job 41:1-34). These ancient but legendary storybook creatures poetically embody all that is wrong with the world and with Job’s life. They seem tame (Job 40:20-23), but really are not (Job 40:24). They will not play nice (Job 41:1-9). They cannot be defeated (Job 41:12-34).

Such is the problem of evil. It will not go away, and Satan ever wanders to and fro looking for someone to devour (Job 1:6-12, 2:1-7). Job can do nothing about this. Not ever. “No one is so fierce that he dares to stir [Leviathan] up” (Job 41:10a).

But someone else can. God asks, “Who then is he who can stand before me?” (Job 41:10b).

And this God will send his Son to wage war on the beast from the land and the beast from the sea (Rev 13). He is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and wages war (Rev 19:11). He will finally capture these beasts and hurl them into the lake of fire (Rev 19:20-21), along with both Satan (Rev 20:10) and death itself (Rev 20:14).

Please remain steadfast in Christ and persevere to the end, Job (James 5:11). God will bring a day with no tears or death, no mourning, nor crying, nor pain (Rev 21:4). Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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Best Advice: Never Read a Bible Verse

Writing at the Stand to Reason blog, Greg Koukl explains what he believes to be the most important skill for Bible-believing Christians:

If there was one bit of wisdom, one rule of thumb, one single skill I could impart, one useful tip I could leave that would serve you well the rest of your life, what would it be? What is the single most important practical skill I’ve ever learned as a Christian?

Here it is: Never read a Bible verse. That’s right, never read a Bible verse. Instead, always read a paragraph at least.

Koukl goes on to explain a simple method for clarifying the meaning of any verse: paraphrase it in your own words, then read the surrounding paragraph with the inserted paraphrase. Demonstrating this method, Koukl debunks popular but false readings of quotable verses:

  • John 1:3 – “Apart from him” cannot mean “With the exception of Jesus.”
  • Colossians 3:15 – “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” cannot mean “Let feelings of peacefulness in your heart be the judge about God’s individual will for your life.”
  • John 12:32 – “If I be lifted up from the earth” cannot mean “If I be exalted before the people.”
  • John 10:27 – “My sheep hear my voice” cannot mean “Mature Christians have the ability to sense My personal direction for their lives and obey it.”

Koukl’s great article will challenge you never to read a Bible verse apart from the paragraph surrounding it. And I highly recommend this practice.

Check it out!

HT: Justin Taylor