5 Disputed Books in the Old Testament

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The church hasn’t always agreed on the value of certain canonized books. Martin Luther famously wanted Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation removed from the Christian canon. He believed they undermined Christian doctrines of sola fide (by faith alone) and sola gratia (by grace alone).

When it comes to the Old Testament, there have been some disputes about specific books that the Hebrew religious community had already accepted as authoritative. These books presented specific interpretive, theological, and contextual challenges.

The issue of disputed books is addressed in our Old Testament Survey course, and we’ve adapted the course material for the following article.

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Who Were the Minor Prophets?

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Who were the Minor Prophets?

The Minor Prophets is a collection of twelve Old Testament books, known simply as “the Twelve” or “the Book of the Twelve” in the Hebrew Bible. The title “minor” refers to length, not significance. Roughly in chronological order, each of these short books gives a glimpse into the spiritual landscape and history of Israel, challenging the status quo through prophets called to speak on God’s behalf.

But who were these people?

In their Old Testament Survey online course, Andrew Hill and John Walton provide a scholarly overview of the entire Old Testament, answering questions like this along the way. The following post is adapted from their unit on the Minor Prophets.

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How to study the books of James, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude

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How to study the books of James, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude

You probably already know that the books of James, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude are some of the most read—and mis-read—books of the New Testament. They include passages on dealing with temptation, the holiness of God, and the famous doxology at the end of Jude.

But they also include passages on slaves and masters, wives and husbands, and faith and works—passages that don’t line up with many modern norms, or even other parts of the canon.

What can we learn from these books?

A great deal, it turns out.

The challenge, however, is knowing where to start—or even…

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7 Tips for Understanding Revelation

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The Book of Revelation is notoriously difficult to understand. Over the centuries, the church has presented countless interpretations and theories about the meaning and significance of this enigmatic work.

Even modern scholars approach Revelation in several different ways.

Whether you find that intimidating or enticing, we need some guardrails to keep us from getting lost in Revelation’s prophecies, metaphors, and apocalyptic imagery. Here are some tips for studying Revelation from Scott Duvall, who, along with J. Daniel Hays, teaches the Biblical Interpretation online course.

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What Are the Gospels, and Why Are There Four of Them?

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Historical Jesus

When people talk about “the gospel,” there’s only one thing they mean: the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the four books of the Bible that record almost everything we know about Jesus. If we want to learn about the things Jesus said and did, we have to turn to these ancient texts, believed to have been written by eyewitnesses or people who spoke with them during the first century.

So why are there four separate versions of the story of Jesus? Or maybe you’re wondering, why are there only four, if he was such an influential figure?

Those are valid questions, but before we can answer them we have to know what constitutes a “gospel” and how they differ from other written works.

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The 3 “Quests” for the Historical Jesus

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Historical Jesus

The gospels give us the most detailed descriptions of Jesus’ life and ministry we have. They’re believed to have been written by eyewitnesses (or at least based on eyewitness accounts), and they all clearly claim that Jesus Christ is the son of God.

If you believe the gospels are historically accurate accounts of the things Jesus said and did, there’s little room for interpretation about who he really was. C.S. Lewis made famous the Lord, liar, lunatic trilemma to explain the challenge of dismissing Jesus’ divinity.

But those aren’t the only three options. The fourth option is much more appealing to skeptics: the gospels are unreliable, non-historical representations of a man known as Jesus.

The quests for the “historical Jesus”

Over the centuries, numerous Bible scholars have suggested that the gospel accounts can’t be trusted. These scholars argue…

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Who Wrote the Gospels, and How Do We Know for Sure?

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Historical Jesus

The Bible gives us four accounts of Christ’s life. Each records a unique perspective of the most significant event in history—the crucifixion and resurrection. All four gospels are named after men who lived during or shortly after Christ’s early ministry. Tradition considers these men the authors, but there’s one problem: not one of these books names its author.

The gospels are anonymous—so how do we know who wrote them?

None of the gospels came with an “about the author” section. The closest we get to a claim of authorship is at the very end of the Book of John, where the author implies that the book was written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:24 NIV).

Are there other context clues we can use to determine the authors? Can we trust tradition’s assumptions about who wrote the gospels? Did…

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Bible Contradictions Explained: 4 Reasons the Gospels “Disagree”

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Historical Jesus

The story of Jesus stands or falls on the trustworthiness of the Gospels. That’s why skeptics pay so much attention to the Gospels’ apparent contradictions. Christianity’s critics cast doubt on the New Testament’s reliability by pointing out disparities in the Gospels. This puts well-meaning—but often unprepared—Christians in a difficult position of trying to reconcile these potential inconsistencies.

So how do we account for the apparent discrepancies in the Gospel accounts? A lot of the problem stems from our expectations. If we expect a level of historical precision that the Gospels didn’t intend to provide, we’re going to run into problems. The truth is that it’s completely normal for ancient (and modern) historical accounts to summarize, paraphrase, omit details, and explain events in a way that highlights their specific points and perspectives.

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What Are the Synoptic Gospels, and Where Do They Come From?

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Historical Jesus

The Bible’s four gospels paint four portraits of Jesus. While each gospel follows him on the same journey, they recount it a little differently. They had their own methods, styles, purposes, audiences, and (probably) sources—making each portrait of Jesus uniquely valuable.

Despite their unique qualities, the first three gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—share many of the same accounts of Christ, often shared in the same order and with the same wording. Because of their similar perspectives on Jesus’ ministry, together they’re known as the synoptic gospels. (The word “synoptic” comes from the Greek word synoptikos, meaning “able to be seen together.”)

While the differences between the gospels can be a challenge for us, these similarities can be problematic, too. The parallel passages between the synoptic gospels have left scholars with pressing questions about their origins. If Matthew, Mark, and Luke…

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Who wrote Jude?

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Who wrote Jude

The book of Jude itself tells us that it was written by “Jude, slave of Jesus the Anointed One, and brother of James.”

There is a consensus that the “brother of James” identifies the author as the brother of that James who led the community of Jesus-followers in Jerusalem from at least 40 CE until his execution in 62 CE—in other words the same person who wrote the book of James.

That would make Jude the younger brother of Jesus. In lists of Jesus’ brothers James is always listed first and Jude is listed last (Matthew 13:55) or next to last (Mark 6:3).

But note that neither Jude nor James mentions a family relationship…

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Who wrote the book of James?

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Who wrote the book of James?

According to James 1:1, the letter is written by James himself. He was the son of Joseph, a construction worker who originally lived in Nazareth in Galilee.

He is always named next after Jesus in lists of Jesus’ brothers, so he was presumably considered to be Jesus’ next younger brother.

It’s also possible that James was the oldest of Jesus’ cousins if one follows Jerome’s interpretation that adelphos means “cousin,” the children of Mary wife of Clopas, also identified as “the mother of James and Joses.”

James was a prominent figure among the communities of the followers of Jesus living in Palestine in the first century. Paul names him, along with Cephas (Peter) and John, an acknowledged “pillar” of the Jerusalem community (Galatians 2:9);…

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What James means by “Faith without works is dead”

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What James means by faith without works is dead

This post is adapted from material found in A Theology of Peter, James, and Jude, an online course taught by Peter H. Davids. Sign up for the course.

Paul famously writes that “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”

But James writes that “a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone” and that “faith without works is dead.”

Which is correct? How are we to read Paul and James together?

Does James really mean that our works save us?

Before we talk about how to read Paul and James together, let’s take a close look at what James really says.

James tells us that if someone claims to have a commitment—faith—and assumes that on this basis they will be saved or delivered in the final judgment,…

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