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Christian Living

The Five Most Overlooked Books in the New Testament

Discover These Significant Epistles of the Bible

The New Testament of the Bible opens with the historic books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts. It ends with the prophetic book of Revelation. Between them are twenty-one letters, also called epistles.

Five of them, which seem tacked onto the end of the section, are the five most overlooked books in the New Testament. They are also significant.

These books are James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1 John, and Jude.

When it comes to the epistles in the Bible, all the ones written by Paul come first. His letters to churches make up the first group. They appear in order of their length, going from longest to shortest.

Though we know what Paul wrote to them, we don’t know what triggered his words. Did they have specific questions they asked? Did someone report on problems they were having?

We don’t know the answers to these questions. We just know Paul’s response. As we read these letters, it’s like hearing half a conversation.

Without knowing the context, it’s hard to rightly apply what he wrote. We’re left to struggle wondering if what he told them to do—or not do—applied just to them or to everyone.

Next are Paul’s letters to individuals, also listed from longest to shortest. Again, we don’t know to what extent his words apply just to the recipients and which apply to us today. After that we have the book of Hebrews, whose author is unknown.

After these many letters come everyone else’s, again listed by length: James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude. We treat these others, which are mired at the end of the New Testament almost as afterthoughts, as trivial or even inconsequential. This is unfortunate.

James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1 John, and Jude

Aside from 2 and 3 John, which are personal letters, the other five are general correspondences written to all Christians.

Of all the epistles in the New Testament, these are the ones most readily applicable to us and our situation today—and they comprise the most overlooked books in the New Testament. As such we need to pay much more attention to them than we have been.

Again, these letters are James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1 John, and Jude. When is the last time you read them? Or heard a minister preach from them? Are any of them your go-to books? I suspect not. And this is unfortunate.

I’ll focus on these oft-overlooked books in the New Testament in upcoming books in my Dear Theophilus series of devotional Bible studies. One devotional Bible study will cover 1 and 2 Peter, and another will address James and Jude.

But first up is Love One Another, which focuses on 1 John (and wraps up with 2 and 3 John).

One John is a most amazing book. The themes and content of 1 John closely follow the gospel of John, both written by the apostle John. If you connect with the book of John, you’re sure to resonate with John’s first letter too.

I encourage everyone to delve into these five most overlooked books in the New Testament, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1 John, and Jude.

You can start with 1 John.

Discover practical, insightful, and encouraging truths in Love One Another, a devotional Bible study to foster a deeper appreciation for the two greatest commandments: To love God and to love others.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

What Does God’s Grace Mean?

Jesus Offers Us the Gift Of Salvation; All We Need to Do Is Accept It

We read in scripture that we are saved by God’s grace through faith. There’s nothing else we must do. It is God’s gift to us. We can’t earn it. All we need to do is receive it (Ephesians 2:8-9). He doesn’t want any of us to die, to perish—no not one.

God’s Grace is a Gift

Grace means to receive something good that we don’t deserve. We don’t deserve to be saved, but God offers salvation to us anyway. He does this because he loves us, and he loves us unconditionally.

All we need to do to receive salvation through God’s grace is to follow Jesus. That’s what he told the people to do: “Follow me.” We do this when we believe in him. This is what it means to be born again.

It’s that simple.

There are no steps to take, no hoops to jump through, and no requirements to meet. Easy peasy. And don’t believe anyone who tells you anything different. If someone insists you must do something first or follow a bunch of rules, they’re a modern-day Pharisee or a slave to the Old Testament law that Jesus fulfilled.

Not Your Ordinary Religion

Christianity is unique compared to all other religions. This is because we don’t need to do things to earn our salvation, our right standing with the Almighty. Jesus offers it to us as a present, and all we need to do is accept his free gift.

We don’t need to change our behavior. We don’t need to take a class. And we don’t need to make sacrifices to become right with him. We just need to say “yes” and except the gift of God’s grace.

Contrary to what most people think and to how many Christians behave, Christianity is not a performance-based religion. It is grace based. Never lose sight of that.

Changed Behavior Is a Response

Once we receive Jesus’s gift of salvation, through God’s grace, our response may be to change our behavior. But this isn’t a requirement. It’s optional. And it comes later.

Changing how we act, what we say, and what we think is something we do to say “thank you” to Jesus. This shouldn’t be a burden, something we do out of guilt, or an obligation. It’s a choice we freely make for him with no strings attached.

Changing our lifestyle for Jesus once we follow him should be a natural response for receiving the greatest present anyone could receive: the gift of eternal life.

Does God Owe Us Anything?

I acknowledge that I’m saved through Jesus and by God’s grace. I don’t need to earn it—I can’t. As a result of receiving Jesus’s salvation, my response is to change my life so that it more aligns with Jesus. This is an ongoing, lifelong process which I gladly pursue day by day.

And this is also the area I once struggled with. I used to think my good behavior, right living, and efforts to grow closer to God somehow earned me his favor. That he owed me because I studied Scripture, prayed, and fasted.

The fact that I gave money to advance his Kingdom and made sacrifices for him somehow must mean I’d earned his attention and deserved his good will. I expected I should receive his blessings because I had earned them.

This, of course, was wrong thinking on my part. Though I relied on God’s grace to save me, I forgot about his grace as I moved forward in my life.

Receive God’s Grace

Remember what we covered earlier: God’s grace is to receive something good that we don’t deserve. I don’t deserve God’s favor, blessings, or protection. I can’t earn it, and he doesn’t owe it to me. But by God’s grace he does all these things for me and more.

Following Jesus and living for him is all about God’s grace. Never forget that.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Christians and the Bible

Most Christians Already Know More About the Bible Than What They Put into Practice

I’ve already written that most Christians don’t let the Bible get in the way of what they believe. In short, they believe things that aren’t biblical. It’s true. A related thought is that most Christians already know more about the Bible than what they put into practice.

I’ll say it again, most Christians already know more about the Bible than what they put into practice.

Does the Bible Matter?

Many people dismiss what the Bible says, even Christians. They don’t care what it reveals, not really. They assume it’s out of date or think it’s irrelevant in today’s world. Depending on what they want, they may be right. Yet, if someone wants to know the God of the Bible, the Bible is the best way to get there.

Too many people make up their own religion, doing what feels good to them or what makes sense, but a man-made religion won’t save them. It may make them feel self-satisfied, but that temporal pursuit has no eternal value.

To discover truth, they need to look beyond themselves. They need a greater authority. For me, it’s the Bible.

If you want a relationship with the God of Scripture, then Scripture is the means to get there. Nothing else will do; nothing else matters. Then we need to put into practice what the Bible says and not just stuff more knowledge into our brain.

Should We Not Study the Bible?

If we already know more about the Bible than what we put into practice, does that mean we should stop studying it? No. On the contrary.

We need to continue to read, study, and meditate on the Bible. But there’s one more step. We then need to add action. We need to put into practice what we read about in the Bible.

That’s why what the Bible says is so important. Without Scripture, we wouldn’t know what we should do, what’s important, and what matters.

Amassing knowledge about the Bible isn’t the goal of Bible study. Learning how to live, such as to love one another, is. The Bible teaches us that, saying eleven times that we’re to love one another.

Bible study for the sake of learning isn’t the goal. Bible study to reform our thinking and inform our lives should be our intent. Otherwise, our heads will be full of knowledge, but that will be all.

Paul writes that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1). Too many people who read the Bible are puffed up, but they don’t build up anyone.

As James writes, faith without action is dead (James 2:14-26). Therefore, as we study the Bible, it can—and should—spur us to action, making our lives come alive in tangible ways.

We shouldn’t read the Bible to learn as much as we should read the Bible to let its words produce action. Then we won’t be a Christian that knows more about the Bible than we put into practice.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Go and Prepare a Place

How Engagement and Marriage Worked in the New Testament

In Bible times, when a couple became engaged, the groom-to-be with go home and prepare a place for them to live by adding a room to his parents’ house. As soon as he finished the construction, he would go to his fiancée, the marriage ceremony would take place, and they’d go live in the room he built for the two of them.

Though the Bible doesn’t detail this practice, history does. I’d heard this before, so it was nothing new to me to hear it again in the minister’s sermon.

Joseph and Mary

The message was about Joseph and Mary in the book of Matthew (Matthew 1:18-25). At this point in the narrative, Joseph and Mary are engaged. This means Joseph is building a room for them, adding on to his parents’ house. Once the room is complete, they’ll marry and begin their life has husband and wife.

This is the point at which the Virgin Mary becomes pregnant under Holy Spirit power. Joseph doesn’t break their engagement, and he continues building their home. Once it’s done, they get married. But they don’t consummate their marriage until after Jesus is born.

This explanation helps us better understand the story of Joseph and Mary. But then my mind took off and found other situations where the practice applies as well:

Peter and His Wife

It’s always bothered me that Peter, a married man, would leave his wife alone while he traveled with Jesus. How could she provide for herself while he was gone?

But realizing this ancient practice—where a young married couple would live in a room attached to the house of the man’s family—gave me a better understanding. Yes, Peter’s wife would stay home as he travelled with Jesus, but she wasn’t by herself. She was with her in laws, since the room she lived in was attached to their house.

She wasn’t alone when her husband traveled. She was with family. Knowing this lessens my concerns over Peter’s wife.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

In Jesus’s parable of the ten virgins, these young ladies wait for a wedding ceremony to take place, but they don’t know when it will be. Though this seems strange to us now, it makes sense when we understand the custom of the day.

Their friend is engaged. Her wedding will take place once her fiancé completes the room for them to live in. Since no one knows for sure when this will happen, the wedding ceremony guests wait in expectation.

We can imagine the groom working late into the evening putting the last touches on the room. He finishes at last and in eager expectation he goes to get his bride-to-be, even though it’s the middle of the night.

The virgins hear he’s on his way. Five of them are ready to join the happy couple in their wedding feast and marriage celebration. The other five aren’t ready, and they’re left out (Matthew 25:1-13).

The lesson here is to be ready for Jesus to return. This leads us to the next observation.

Jesus and His Church

Jesus tells his followers that his father lives in a big house. He’s going there to prepare a place for them, to build a room for them to live. Once he completes the construction, he’ll come back to get them. Then he’ll take them to live with him so they can be where he is (John 14:2-3).

Though this may perplex modern day readers, two thousand years ago, the inference made sense to Jesus’s audience. They saw it as an allusion to marriage, to a spiritual wedding.

Jesus will build a bridal suite for his church. When it’s complete, we—collectively as his church—will marry him (Revelation 21:1-4). We will be the bride of Christ.

One day Jesus will come back to earth to get us. Then our wedding ceremony with him will take place, and we’ll live with him forever.

But right now, he has gone to prepare a place for us. And we wait for him to come back. We must be ready, for he could return at any moment—even in the middle of the night.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

Each Day We Must Seek God for the Provisions We Need

Asking God to supply us with our daily bread at one time mystified me. It seemed like a vain repetition (Matthew 6:7) for something that didn’t matter to me. Yet when I learned the context of this request, it made sense.

Two thousand years ago many people struggled with food scarcity. Having enough to eat was a daily concern.

Asking God to provide us with the bread we need each day is, therefore, a request for what we need to live. And it’s a reminder to depend on him to take care of us.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray in this way (Matthew 6:9-13). It’s a model for us to guide our daily prayers. One of my daily practices is to recite this passage and then pray it in my own words.

To keep this prayer from becoming a rote exercise, I strive to vary my wording and to contemplate each phrase as I make my request.

My version of “give us today our daily bread” became something like “God, give us today what we need to live.”

As I begin thinking about praying for our daily bread in this way, I developed an image of what that request meant. It evolved over time and eventually became an incorrect perspective of seeking God’s daily provisions for our lives.

Though this took place over several years, I got to a point where when I asked God to give us today our daily bread, I envisioned an old stingy man, wearing a dingy gray robe, handing me one small piece of bread and a tiny cup of water.

This was the basic provision I needed to stay alive. And that was what he was giving me.

Yet God is not stingy.

He wants to supply us extravagantly with what we need, with what we ask for. James reminds us that we have not because we ask not (James 4:2).

I desperately needed to change my perspective of what it meant when it came to God supplying me with my daily bread.

My Daily Bread

To reform my view, I begin to envision God in a grand storehouse of provisions, one heaped high with every possible thing I could need. He stands in this vast warehouse of supplies he’s prepared for me and my family.

Wearing a royal robe and impressive gold crown, he sports a broad smile. He stretches his arms wide in a grand display of generosity. It’s all there for me. He’s already prepared what I need for my day, and it’s in stock, ready for me in a moment. All I need to do is ask.

“God, give us today what we need to live, to thrive, and to accomplish your call on our lives.” Click To Tweet

So instead of saying something like “God, give us today what we need to live,” I updated my wording.

Envisioning his grand stockpile of what he’s prepared for me, I expectantly say something like “God, give us today what we need to live . . . and to thrive . . . and to accomplish your call on our lives.”

That’s what I ask for, and that’s what I receive.

And just like the Israelites gathering their manna—their daily bread—each day (Exodus 16:14-31), I, too, make this request of God each morning.

It would be foolish for me not to.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

May This Year Be Your Best Year Yet

Celebrating the New Year

Just as I often make a post for Christmas, I do the same for New Year’s Day. These posts usually address making New Year’s resolutions. But instead of resolutions, why not work to make this year your best year yet. With God’s help, you can.

Here are some of my past posts about New Year’s Day. Note the recurring theme on making resolutions—a practice I don’t follow and don’t encourage.

Check out these posts to see why:

Let’s not resolve to make this coming year better. Though we could strive on our own power to make it happen, we can’t ensure the outcome. The future is outside our control.

Yes, we can take steps to best position ourselves to make the most of whatever happens, but that doesn’t guarantee success.

What should we do then, give up and accept fate? Of course not.

We should do what we can now to establish the best possible foundation for our future—and trust God with the rest.

May you have a happy new year, and may this year be your best year yet. Click To Tweet

We can ask him to bless us—not because we deserve it or have earned it, but because he loves us. We can pray that he will guide us into making good decisions. We can seek him for strength to replace unhealthy habits with good practices.

When we do that, we’re poised to make this our best year yet. That’s what I’m going to do. It’s my approach every year.

 As we move into the days, weeks, and months ahead, may God bless us, guide us, and keep us safe. May it be our best year ever.

From me to you, I’ll end with this blessing: May you have a happy new year, and may this year be your best year yet.

Amen!

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

May You and Your Family Have a Blessed Christmas

Make Jesus the Focus of Your Celebration

With Christmas falling on Sunday this year, I planned to wish you a blessed Christmas on my weekly Sunday post. Alas, I’ve already wished you a merry Christmas in the past—three times.

So, instead of repeating what I’ve already written or reprising an old post, I’ll give you a round-up of some of my top Christmas posts from the past.

May you have a blessed Christmas. Click To Tweet

May you receive them as my Christmas gift to you and carry them with you throughout the day—and the year. May you have a blessed Christmas.

Not surprisingly, I write about Christmas a lot. Over the years, I’ve mentioned it in 62 posts.

As you celebrate Jesus this year, may you have a safe, happy, and blessed Christmas.

Discover more about celebrating Jesus and his birth in Peter’s new book, The Advent of Jesus.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Are You Reading the Bible or a Secondary Source?

Be Careful When You Study Books about the Bible

I recently heard about a minister who said that none of his seminary classes studied the Bible. Instead, each professor had students study books about the Bible. Though this minister learned theology, he knew the Bible from a distance in a sterile, formal manner. He didn’t know Scripture in an up close and personal way.

I wonder how widespread this is. I fear that it may be. Thinking back to the thousands of sermons I’ve heard, I’d call some of these messages Bible lite or Bible basic. A few didn’t even mention Scripture. It’s a sad reflection on seminary degrees, on the overall failure of advanced education to produce practical application.

This is why I don’t study theology as an intellectual pursuit.

My College Experience

Yet I get this practice. In college I took an elective class on C S Lewis. I was most excited about what I’d learn—until I read the syllabus.

During the semester, we only read one book by Lewis. The rest of our time—most of the class—we spent reading about Lewis. These scholarly tomes—authored by academics who had spent their career studying Lewis—left me bored and “none the richer” when it came to Lewis’s writing and his wisdom.

Aside from reading Mere Christianity, that class did little else to enhance my appreciation for the work of C S Lewis. (I’d already read The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and several other of his books.)

Books about the Bible

Am I saying we shouldn’t read books about the Bible? No.

But we must be careful in how many we read. If we only read books about the Bible and never actually read the Bible itself, something is out of balance.

Books about Scripture that help us to better read, study, and understand the Bible are ideal resources. This is the goal of every book I write about the Bible, including me Dear Theophilus Bible studies, Christian devotionals, and Bible resources. My books are not the end but the means to move into a deeper understanding of Scripture.

When we study the Bible, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to teach us and help us better understand the text. Click To Tweet

Though I occasionally consult resources as I study Scripture, it’s not often. But I’m grateful for those books and the authors who wrote them. Mostly, however, I rely on the Holy Spirit to teach me and help me better understand a text.

As I move forward in studying Scripture, I find I use books less and the Holy Spirit more. This is as it should be.

Scripture Points Us to God

The point of the Bible, of course, is to point us to God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and deepen our connection with him. Learning about Scripture for the sake of learning is a shallow pursuit that offers no eternal value. Yet too many fall into this trap, including, I fear, some seminaries.

This is why I encourage daily Bible reading and studying. It’s become a lifelong habit for me, and I pray that it becomes one for you too.

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Christian Living

Father, Son, or Holy Spirit?

Which Part of the Godhead Do You Focus On?

Though the Bible doesn’t use the word trinity, most followers understand God as a three-in-one deity, made up of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God is three persons in one. Though implicitly equal, most adherents more readily embrace one form over the other. But which is it, Father, Son, or Holy Spirit?

God the Father

Some traditions focus on God the Father as their primary view of God. Yes, they value Jesus, his son, and acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s existence, but in their practice, they venerate God the Father as their primary view of God.

Father God dominates the Old Testament and forms their understanding of him. Though the Old Testament alludes to the coming Savior and the Spirit does some work, the focus is on God the Father.

God the Son

Jesus arrives in person in the New Testament, with four biographies devoted to him: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He’s central in the Bible, central in faith, and even central in world history.

Therefore, other churches and their adherents place their focus on Jesus the Christ (the Messiah). They give him their attention, making him their priority. In the process, they downplay the other two parts of the trinity: Father and Holy Spirit.

God the Holy Spirit

When Jesus returns to heaven, his followers receive the Holy Spirit to guide them, teach them, and remind them of everything he said. The Holy Spirit stars in the book of Acts, leading Jesus’s church.

As a result, other faith practices place their primary emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Yes, Jesus is important because he makes the Holy Spirit’s arrival possible and Father God is the point of salvation, but these believers elevate the Holy Spirit.

Which Is It?

I’ve been to churches that fit all three camps. I understand where each comes from. But who is right? Should our focus rightly be on the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit?

Jesus provides the way to the Father; he is not the destination. Does that make the Father more important? Also consider that after his victory over death, Jesus must leave before the Holy Spirit can arrive. Does that make the Holy Spirit—who guides Jesus’s church today—more important?

If Jesus is the way to the Father and must leave before the Holy Spirit can arrive, does that make him less important than the other two?

Or is it the opposite, with Jesus as preeminent? After all, without Jesus to make the way to the Father or open the door for the Holy Spirit nothing else matters.

We must balance our view of God, equally esteeming Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Click To Tweet

We Need Balance

Though our various faith practices elevate one part of the godhead over the other two, we need not concern ourselves with the question of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit?

Instead, we must equally embrace all three, pursuing a holistic, trinitarian understanding of God.

The correct perspective is that we must balance our view of God, equally esteeming Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

May it be so.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

What Does the Bible Mean When It Says, “All Scripture?”

The Whole Bible Can Teach Us about God and Instruct Us in His Ways

One verse I heard often at a particular church I attended was 2 Timothy 3:16. It says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” (KJV).

This verse was cited to remind us of the holiness and practical applicability of the Bible to inform our daily lives. According to this preacher, “all scripture” referred to the KJV, the only version he accepted.

However, let’s consider the phrase all scripture. When Paul wrote these words to Timothy, the New Testament didn’t exist. So Paul couldn’t have been referring to that text.

Yes, there were various portions of what later became the New Testament being circulated among the followers of Jesus, but they also shared other texts that didn’t make it into today’s Bible. Therefore, Paul couldn’t have meant for all scripture to encompass the New Testament.

From Paul’s perspective, when he said, all scripture, he envisioned the texts that were available to the Jewish people at that time. This would certainly include the Old Testament) and may have included other supporting religious documents).

The version of the Bible in use in Paul’s time was the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Septuagint included the thirty-nine books Protestants have in their Old Testament, but it also included more.

The Septuagint used during the lifetime of Jesus and Paul, also included the books we now call the Apocrypha. So these books of the Apocrypha would fall under Paul’s umbrella term of all scripture.

When Paul writes that all scripture is profitable, I take him seriously. Click To Tweet

And for my preacher friend who insisted on reading the Bible in the KJV, I must point out that the original version of the KJV included the Apocrypha.

That’s something to think about.

If the Apocrypha is part of what Paul meant when he said, all scripture, then the Apocrypha is also “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

The Books of the Apocrypha Included in the Septuagint Are:

See why Christians Should Consider the Entire Bible.

When Paul writes that all scripture is profitable, I take him seriously. And I encourage you to as well.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 2 Timothy 1-4 and today’s post is on 2 Timothy 3:16.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.