NLT Study Bible – Update

A few weeks ago I was asked to fill in at a Bible study on Philippians. At the time I didn’t have access to my normal library at home. But the NLT Study Bible was still handy. So I thought this might be an appropriate “test” of the Study Bible, to see whether I could get enough information on the one section to feed my thinking process about how to teach it.

Sadly, the NLT Study Bible just didn’t make the cut for this purpose. I was looking at 2:19-30. At least the general footnote for 2:19-24 included the references to Paul’s first missionary journey. But the three of the next four footnotes were not all that helpful:

2:23 What is going to happen to me here possibly refers to the outcome of Paul’s trial.

2:24 Paul had confidence that he would soon be freed from prison and be able to visit the Philippians (see 1:19, 25-26).

2:27 Epaphroditus’s recovery from a nearly fatal illness is attributed to God’s mercy, both on Epaphroditus and on Paul, who was already suffering in prison.

None of these footnotes add anything to what a cursory reading of the text itself would provide.

So, this is disappointing to find almost no additional insights through the study helps in the NLT Study Bible.

An invitation and faulty memory

John 6:24-35

This text begins the great slide from the pinnacle of Jesus’ popularity to the pits, from the acclamation of the crowds who were fed (6:24) and wanted to make him king (6:14) to the disciples who refused to be fed with true bread (6:66). A little bread filled their stomachs, but the true bread from heaven was not welcomed.

Like the Israelites of old (Exodus 16), they couldn’t see what God was doing in their midst. Those Israelites complained for centuries about the oppression in Egypt, yet wanted to go back there as soon as they had to depend on God for food. While they complained against Moses and Aaron, their real complaint was against God.

So, in John 6, the people idolized Moses but only in their patch work memory. Had they lived during Moses’ time, they would have joined the complainers. Instead, now with Jesus they wanted someone like Moses to appear who could give them bread once again, just like the good old days. God would once again succumb to their demands, or so they thought.

In the process these followers in John 6 could not accept the gift (“the Son of Man will give to you”) of food, but were piqued in their interest in “working the works of God.” Now that was something they could handle. “Just tell us how to work the works of God, Jesus!” So Jesus said: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Notice how that invitation is ignored. Instead, they demand (another!) sign from Jesus, different than the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-13).

How often have we followed that path? Jesus invites us to believe him, yet we want something more, more for us to do, and more for Jesus to prove that he is worth it. Am I more willing to live in light of the past, and rest on my laurels as a Christian? Or is God speaking through his word today, to me? Is he inviting me once again “to labor for the food that endures to eternal life” (6:27)?

When Jesus responds to the demands for a sign, like the sign of bread in the wilderness, he opens for them the understanding that it wasn’t Moses, but God who provided. And if they open their eyes now, it is Jesus himself who is the true bread who gives of himself so that they might have eternal life. It seems they get the invitation, for in 6:34 they respond: “Lord, give us this bread always.” But as noted in 6:36, they do not believe in Jesus, therefore they cannot have the gift of eternal life. But Jesus continues to extend the invitation, “will you also go away (or will you believe in me)” 6:67.