Bible Study Moment: Shepherds

Thinking about the shepherds, many people looked down on shepherds as Genesis 46:34 points out. Egyptians thought all shepherds were beneath their dignity. Even within Jewish society, there were those who also saw shepherds as beneath their dignity. We might miss this since Samuel, led by God, chose David the shepherd boy to become king, the most beloved psalm begins with “The Lord is my shepherd” and Jesus refers to himself as being the good shepherd.

Anyway, angels appear to shepherds near Bethlehem to announce the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:8-20. After verifying the news by going to Bethlehem and finding everything just as the angel had said, they go and tell everyone they meet, glorifying and praising God.

Once again we can see God lifting up the lowly.

Mark Phillips

Bible Study Moment: Mary

Historically one of the issues that Protestants have had with the Roman Catholic Church has been in regards to Mary. Protestants believe that the Catholic Church places too much emphasis on Mary, maybe to the point of worshipping her, so those Protestants have over compensated and talked too little about her.

Looking at Luke 1:46-55, what is referred to as The Magnificat, I’ve written before that some scholars compare it to Hannah’s Song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. I see her words being very similar to the Jewish prophets, especially in verse 52; God has pulled down the powerful and lifted up the lowly.


Mark Phillips

Bible Study Moment: Joseph

I’m going to focus on Joseph this time. Matthew 1:20 says that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream saying to go ahead and marry Mary. I imagine Joseph pondering what to do, sleeping on the decision, with this dream happening multiple nights.

Luke 2 states that there was an enrollment to be taxed by the Roman Empire. I’ve read that historians cannot find any other records of this enrollment decree. Could this be the story that Joseph and/or Mary told others to explain their journey to Bethlehem?

Then in Matthew 2, it seems that Joseph has decided to leave Nazareth and move to Bethlehem. They are still in Bethlehem and living in a house when the wise men arrive which may have been more than 2 years later, since King Herod decides to kill all the boys 2 and under. (I’m taking 2 to mean they haven’t turned 3 yet.) And when they return from Egypt, they come back to Judea, where Bethlehem is, and after Joseph starts worrying that Herod’s son, who is now king, might also want to kill Jesus, then that is when the family goes to Nazareth in Galilee.

Here’s a little lesson about geography: Galilee, where Nazareth is, is in the north; south of Galilee is Samaria; and south of Samaria is Judea, where Bethlehem is.


Mark Phillips

Bible Study Moment: Mary & Joseph

When did Mary tell Joseph that she was pregnant? Was it before she visited Elizabeth, very shortly after the visit from the angel Gabriel? Or was it after she came back about 3 months later?

Luke 1:56 and 57 seem to indicate that Mary left Elizabeth right before the baby is born. I’m a little surprised that Mary didn’t stay to help care for the baby.

Mark Phillips

Bible Study Moment

As we approach Advent I’ll look at the birth stories in Luke and Matthew. I’ll bring out some different details that may not be all that important, like this one.

In Luke 1 when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will become pregnant with Jesus, Gabriel also says that her relative Elizabeth is also pregnant although she has been called barren (verse 36). From this many Christians speak of John the Baptist and Jesus as being cousins, probably something like third cousins once removed.

I don’t see that as being possible since in Luke 1:5 Elizabeth is introduced as being a decedent of Aaron, which means that she is in the tribe of Levi, while Hebrews 7:14 states that it is clear that the Lord Jesus is from the tribe of Judah.

Maybe Gabriel meant that Mary and Elizabeth are both Jewish and, therefore relatives. Or maybe Luke is a little confused.


Mark Phillips

Bible Study Moment: Philemon

The short book of Philemon is a letter from Paul to Philemon concerning a runaway slave of Philemon’s, Onesimus. In the years before the U.S. Civil War, both sides argued that the book supported their position on slavery. The abolitionists saw Paul appealing to Christ’s law of love to encourage Philemon to accept Onesimus as a Christian brother and no longer as a slave. Those defending slavery pointed out that Paul did not command Philemon to free Onesimus.

While this can be seen as people being able to use the Bible to support any position, I think it also can show us two different ways people interpret the Bible. There are those who demand a crystal clear statement to challenge their view, while others see God at work in the Bible to encourage us to think issues through, asking God’s Spirit to guide us.


Mark Phillips

Bible Study Moment: Deuteronomy 28

Recently a Facebook friend shared a post that highlighted Deuteronomy 28:43-44. I’m not printing it here because I want to avoid as much as possible of being political with what I share here. I’m familiar enough with Deuteronomy to know that the last part of it is Moses addressing the people, including telling them of blessings and curses based on how well the people follow God’s laws. So this passage sounded like one of the curses for not acting like God wants us to act.

If you read Deuteronomy 27 & 28, especially 27:19, then the position on the subject in 28:43-44 is very different than looking at only those two verses. And this is why I get a little leery when only a verse or two is quoted and no context of that passage has been given.


Mark Phillips


Bible Study Moment – 1 Timothy 4:10

1 Timothy 4:10 reads “That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” (NIV)

Is this saying that God (Christ) saves all with an emphasis for some reason on believers?

Compare with scriptures like Acts 4 11-12 – “Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

And John 14:6 – “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Discuss and “show your work”.

Mark Phillips

Bible Study Moment: Elijah

In 1 Kings 18 Elijah has perhaps his greatest victory; he has challenged the prophets of Baal and shown that Baal is not a god but the Lord that Elijah serves is.

Then in chapter 19 Queen Jezebel threatens him because of what has happened in chapter 18 and Elijah is afraid and runs away, crying out to God to take his life.

(Remember Elijah is one of the people that Peter, James, and John see with Jesus at the transfiguration (Mark 9), along with Moses. Elijah represents the Prophets while Moses represents the Law.)

My reaction is “Elijah, What is wrong with you? You’ve just put yourself at risk against 450 prophets of Baal and triumphed, and now you’re afraid of Jezebel! Where’s your faith in God now?” This may be an OK reaction given that Elijah has been gone for more than 2,500 years and therefore is not likely to hear me. Speaking to someone personally maybe I should keep in mind what the author of Hebrews said in Hebrews 10:24 – “Let us consider how we may encourage one another to love and to do good deeds” and be more kind in what I might say.


Mark Phillips


Bible Study Moment: Jacob-Isreal

In Genesis 32, Jacob is returning to his homeland where he will see his brother Esau, whom he cheated out of his birthright and the elder son’s share of the inheritance many, many years before. He has a sleepless night, where he wrestles with a “man” who Jacob believes is God. Jacob demands a blessing and receives a new name – Israel.

The new name doesn’t seem to “take”. Jacob is still called Jacob after this, like in the Joseph story that begins shortly after this. And God is often identified as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.

The main place Israel is used is to identify the descendants as the nation of Israel. Among those who study ancient texts, this indicates a very strong likelihood that the stories of two different individuals have been merged into one. But this story does offer an explanation as to how the people came to be known as Israelites.


Mark Phillips