Biblical Studies

Biblical Studies

The Bagby Family Arielle, Mikaela, Michael, Laura, Lukas, and Moselle
Jerusalem 2000

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 In these past decades since Laura and I became followers of Jesus, we have been fortunate to have very good teachers helping us understand the Word of God- the Bible. In it He tells us what He thinks about us, our lives, our future and how he desires a deeply personal relationship with each of us. The Bible shows us how women and men throughout history have interacted with Him, and gives us a guide to optimal living in this life, and what is to come in the next.

A great theme of the Bible is What Went Wrong, How God Fixed It, What's Coming Up Next, and What We Are to Do In The Meantime. This is often the focus of our studies, especially the 'What We Are To Do In The Meantime,' with an emphasis on cultivating the presence of God in our lives and experiencing the grace of God.

Some of those who have influenced our understanding of this most unique book in human history are Dr. J. Vernon McGee, Chuck Smith, Ralph Moore, Craig Englert, Jason Spence, Francis Schaeffer, Cal Chinen, Timothy Keller, J. Sidlow Baxter, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Kenneth Wuest, and Dr. Randall Smith, among others. Rarely do I have any original thoughts, but a conglomeration of the excellent teaching I have been privileged to receive.

We have been privileged to live among a Christian community in one of the most remote regions of Central America, the lower Coco River in Northeastern Nicaragua and Honduras. Christianity is relatively new there, being introduced by Moravian pastors in the 1920's. To experience church life through the lens of an indigenous culture has been a rich and broadening experience.

Michael w/ Truman and Daniel 1984 Kruta River Honduras

Laura interviewing students 1989  Srumlaya Honduras

Pastors Conference 2002 Sawa Nicaragua w/ Craig Englert

With Project Ezra Teachers in Sihran Rio Coco Nicaragua 2004

In 1997 we made our first trip to Israel, where we met Randy Smith, a graduate of Hebrew University with a doctorate in Rabbinical Literature & Comparative Religion, as well as a masters in Archeology.

Dr Randall Smith with Onofre Zamora, Truman Cunningham, Kathy & Craig Englert, Jerusalem Old City 1997

At that time, Randy was training all the Israeli Ministry of Tourism guides as well as leading Biblical study tours through his company Christian Travel Study Programs. We suddenly became aware that it was important to understand the Bible not only through our 20th/21st Century North American eyes, but also to see with through the eyes and experience of those walking through the desert with Moses, sitting beside the Sea of Galilee with Jesus, and listening in Corinth to a letter written to us by Paul. Culture, geography, politics, and history provide valuable context to understanding the message of the Bible. As Randy has often said to our study tour groups, "The Bible was not written to you, but for you."

Now it up to us to understand their thinking, their culture, their story and even their language so we don't get off the track of historical Biblical Christianity.

 Kandi, Mikaela, Craig, Arielle, Michael, Carlie & Lucas

Israel Study Tour Capernaum 2006

We became friends with Randy during that fall of 1997, and Randy invited to come to Jerusalem in 1999 to help him on a few projects. That began a long professional association with Randy and his wife Dottie, which has resulted in numerous study tours to Israel, Greece, Turkey, and Italy.

Three Day Camel Trip into the Negev Desert Israel 2006

We also helped Randy begin a relief ministry out of his garage to Palestinian and Jewish families during the 2000-2003 Intifada.  In addition, Randy, Laura & I co-authored the  book Living In The Spiritual World and Randy travelled to the Rio Coco in Nicaragua to conduct pastoral training conferences in our communities where our Project Ezra schools educate Miskito Indian children and adults.

It has been a very fun and profitable relationship over these years!

 Photo: Celebrating Randy's birthday in Jerusalem 1997

Dottie, Laura, Larissa, Aaron, Michael & Randy  Istanbul 2021

Michael sharing the Psalms of Ascent, Haas Promenade, Jerusalem 2006

The Dear Sea Scrolls at Qumran

Benjamin Franklin once said that we should be a “Jack of all trades and a master of one.” Unfortunately that has often been misquoted to say “master of none”.

We all should be good at the business we are in, good at relating to others, good at managing our family and civic affairs, and good at creative expressions.  Yet behind all this is the discipline that we should master: Biblical Studies.  It is from an accurate understanding of the Bible and the principles therein that we achieve excellence at everything else that we do.  Knowing God’s Word is the prerequisite to all successful human endeavors.


Things They Thought You Knew

A virtual study tour of many Biblical sites

Go to Things They Thought You Knew Home Page

The writers of the Bible wrote to their current audience, who shared the same historical, cultural, geographical, and political knowledge base. We are reading an historical document written over 3500 to 2000 years ago in three foreign languages on three different continents. Sometimes our North American, European, Central & South American, and African cultural mindset misses elements of the story that can be very significant to our understanding of the meaning and application for our lives in the 21st  century.

This became very evident on our first trip to Israel in 1997, the day we met Dr Randall Smith, who was our teacher (and driver) for that first study tour. Randy took us to our first stop- a recently discovered Fifth Century church on the Bethlehem road. Randy was one of the archeologists involved in the dig, so he got us into the site long before it was open to the public. 

There he asked us this question: "What did Jesus' disciples think when they heard him say 'You are the salt of the earth?'

"How interesting!" I thought. I've never considered that aspect of Biblical exegesis. I always interpret the Bible through my 20th century North American eyes.

He looked at us four Americans and said "You have salt on your table and you use it to flavor your food. Maybe you think that Jesus is say to be the flavor element of your culture." We all nodded in agreement.

Turning to our Miskito Indian friends from the Coco River in Nicaragua, Randy said "Where you live you have no electricity and you use salt to preserve your fish and meat. So you probably think that Jesus is telling you to be the preservatives of your cultural values." The three nodded also in agreement.

Two cultures with two different understandings of what Jesus was telling his disciples.

Mikaela collecting salt at the Dead Sea 1999

Then Randy said "Let me tell you what salt means to Biblical people. Salt is something that you can dissolve into water and then evaporate, and it returns to the same crystalline structure. It doesn't change. You can try to burn it but it doesn't change. God made a 'salt covenant' with the Levites in Numbers 18, saying it is forever- it doesn't change. He told Moses to sprinkle salt on the offerings in Leviticus 2, because His relationship with His people doesn't change. Salt to the Biblical mind means friendship that doesn't change; loyalty, non-negotiable relationships. If I am talking to a Middle Easterner and wanted to let him know that we are friends, I could say 'There is salt between us.' Even today, in modern Bedouin weddings in the Negev, a piece of salt is placed between the hands of the bride and groom."

I have never considered the relationship aspect of the 'You are the salt of the earth" statement. now I understood that Jesus was telling His disciples (and me) that we are to be known as friendly people, loyal friends, who serve the people around us.

"You are the light of the world... Let your good deed shine before men so that they will see your Heavenly Father." 

 Salt & Light: Friendly followers of Jesus who are serving others through random acts of kindness. It seems like Jesus is saying that this is the very first step in our evangelistic efforts.

As I absorbed that, I wondered "What else have I missed by reading the Bible through my own cultural eyes.'

A few years later I notice a detail in a well known painting by Leonardo da Vinci- The Last Supper. Here Leonardo is depicting the moment when Jesus tells his friends that one of them is going to betray him. All the disciples are reacting, asking "Who?" Notice the man in blue, third on the left of Jesus, holding the money bag. It is Judas. 

Leonardo has included a very important detail: Judas has knocked over the salt dish with his right wrist, spilling the salt out on the table.

There is nor more salt between him and Jesus.

 Thus began a journey which I invite you all to join us through these episodes of our time spent on the Biblical sites in Israel, Greece and Turkey.

Part 1  A Visit to a Judean Vineyard

A walk through a traditional Judean vineyard helped me better understand Jesus' teaching in John 15:

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser." John 15:1

 Read: A Visit to a Judean Vineyard


How We Cultivate Our World

How does God want to use us to impact our world?

Do we have to travel to a far off place to do missionary work?

No. It can all happen in the places that God has already placed you.

Read how God want to use you in the vocation that you find yourself.

 Read More

Download the PDF by clicking the link below:

 How We Cultivate Our Earth pdf


The Perfect Footwear

 On a family trip to Las Vegas for a wedding, Michael purchased a pair of Ariat boots, and discovered that these boots are the perfect footwear for his profession.


Keeping Your Cistern Clean


 On a trip to the Wilderness of Zinn, Michael revisited a local watering hole, and discovered some personal application.


A Cultural View of the Beatitudes

What was Jesus really saying when He said

“Blessed are the. . . “?

A look with Biblical cultural eyes provides us a more appropriate “listen” to these powerful words.” 

Instead of the 'high bar' that we often think God wants us to jump over, the Beatitudes describe a gradual process of transformation that many of us have experienced.

A solid source of the Greek language understanding is Dr Spiro Zodhiates, who provides us with this perspective of what Jesus may have really been saying. This may change the way you think about your relationship with our Lord.



 Why No Cheeseburgers at the Jerusalem McDonalds?

 Why are their no cheeseburgers on the main menu at the McDonalds in downtown Jerusalem? The answer may surprise you, and perhaps help us understand more about the Laws that were given through Moses to the Hebrew people.

Are these laws old and out of date, or are they life giving and very relevant to the 21st Century follower of Jesus?

 Read More Here


A Lifestyle of Making Disciples      

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.               Matt 28:18-20 NAS















 This is the passage of Scripture called "The Great Commission" where missionaries have traditionally gotten their “marching orders” to go to other countries and evangelize unreached people. I first heard this message at a concert on Maui by a famous Christian singer, who’s latest album was titled “Jesus Commands Us To Go!”.  I was so excited afterward that I told my cousin Kean that I was ready to go to any place and tell the people about Jesus. 

He looked at me, and with a smile asked me: How would you like to go to an island in the Pacific where less than five percent of the people attend church on Sunday?” 

I responded excitedly: “Let’s go!”. 

He calmly said: “You are standing on it!

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The Bible: Could I Trust It?

Since Johannes Gutenburg invented the printing press in 1439, the most printed book in history has been the Bible, with 2.6 billion copies printed since that time. If you took all the copies and stacked them end to end, the stack would reach one third the distance to the Moon (I did the calculations myself!)


 Photo: A copy of the Gutenberg Press on display at

the Museum of the Bible Washington DC.       GMB 2019

The Bible declares itself to be “living” and “active”, as well as the standard for our morality.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.                                                      Hebrews 4:12 NAS

Paul told his disciple Timothy that:

   All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.    2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible was written by more than 40 different authors, who came from all walks of life- kings, farmers, priests, shepherds, fishermen, a tax collector, a physician, a fig tree pincher, all apparently under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It was written over a 1500 year period on three different continents (Europe, Asia and Africa), and in three languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic). Amazingly, all the authors agree on the basic message.

 But could I trust it? All Scripture? Every word?

 That was the question that I had to decide. I guess it’s the question that we all have to address at some point in our lives. Did God speak to mankind through this book? Is there a Divine Authority to its contents? Does God lay out His opinions on how we are to live our lives here on Earth? Can we believe what the Bible says about the origin of life; how we humans think and feel; life after death; who God is, and the great love that God has for us all?

 Or is it just another book filled with men’s opinions, mythology, and another philosophy of life?

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When Problems Arise, So Do We!

“Comfort” is a state of being that is naturally desired by all humans. We all strive to reach this state of “relief from pain or anxiety” and be “physically relaxed.” In a sense, the goal of all societies is to reach this state of comfort, or at least allow someone to be comfortable, often at the expense of many others.

When you are comfortable, you are content.  Contentment often is a state of being that keeps us where we are at.  When there are no problems, there is no reason to search for solutions. We naturally fall into a state of ‘couch-potatoing’ and ‘business as usual’. There is very little reason to do more than what is required. Comfortable & Content people are not the ones who change their worlds. They are often the spectators to those who are not content and not comfortable. This second group is those innovative, energetic, dynamic, and hardworking members of our society who actually accomplish great things in their lifetimes.  We call them ‘movers & shakers’.

 In the Kingdom of God, we are all called to be ‘world changers’.   

Us?     Change Our World?     Really?

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In The Search Mode

Are You Wandering Around in the Jungle?

Are You Looking for the Right Path?

“If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”   John 8:31-32

At some point in our lives,  we all come to a place where we begin to search for answers to some of the real issues of life.  Often, getting to this point is a laborious journey.

 We may travel

through fields of achievement,

across mountains of excitement,  along rivers of materialism,

through caverns of knowledge,

finally looking for the

oasis of spiritual fulfillment.

 One traveler on this journey is a dear friend from my days in the Navy named Dave.

I met Dave in 1976 at Whidbey Island Washington.  He flew in the EA-6B Prowler, the Navy’s electronic warfare jammer.  I flew the A-6 Intruder, the carrier based all weather attack jet. We journeyed together through our years of flying in the Navy.  In addition to flying, we spent many evenings eating cheeseburgers at Toby’s Tavern, rolling dice, playing pinball, throwing darts, and playing the Crown Avenue Frisbee Golf course.  Rarely did we discuss spiritual matters.  We were having too much fun!

Our paths separated in 1981 when I moved to Maui, where I began to experience the spiritual fulfillment of a true relationship with the Lord. After a few years, I went to Honduras on a two week trip to help Miskito Indian refugees from the war in Nicaragua.  That short trip has turned into a long term engagement– now over 14 years.

Dave continued on in the Navy,  finally retiring.  We re-established contact in 1995, when Dave sailed on a small sailboat from California to Florida via the Panama Canal.  After his journey of many months ended, we made contact through the internet.

What follows is a letter from Dave,

 and my response….


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 The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus as told by Matthew. Mark, Luke and John

The Mural of Jesus at the Chora Church Istanbul Turkiye

In preparation for the celebration of my favorite holiday, Easter, I spent some time today going through the four Gospel accounts of Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection. I have color coded the sources with Red for Matthew, Purple for Mark (which is really Peter's account as told later to Mark according the the Second Century Church fathers) and Blue for John.

For historians, these are eyewitness accounts which caused these witnesses to proclaim that they had seen and been with Jesus after his resurrection, even eating meals with him. Under penalty of death, they maintained their testimony. These two aspects of these account lend considerable credence to their historical accuracy.

As a Professor of Law at Harvard University, Simon Greenleaf, who wrote the textbook on evidence admissible in court used by all law schools in the 19th and 20th century said:

"There is more historical - legal evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus than any other event in history."

The Resurrection is the Hinge of Christianity.

If It happened, then all that Jesus claimed to be is true.

If not, it's just another pipe-dream philosophy of what human life could be.

Here is the combined history of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, beginning with John:

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The Real Christmas Story

Do you know the real Christmas story?

That’s not an absurd question in for this generation.

I suspect that many have a vague idea that this holiday is somehow connected to a fat white-bearded guy dressed in red and white, some reindeers (one with a red nose), a tall three-ball carrot-nosed top-hatted snowman, and a mother holding a baby with barn animals and shepherds standing around. Along with these characters, there is music to go along with the celebration: “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause”, “It’s Cold Outside”, “Jingle Bells”, “Jingle Bell Rock”, “Frosty the Snowman”, and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” are just a few of the many songs that have no historical or scriptural basis.

In addition, we bring evergreen trees into our homes, attach wreathes of evergreen branches to our doors and mantles, drink eggnog, and make Christmas cookies in the shape of Santa, Frosty, and Rudolph. We purchase gifts for our family and friends, and wrap them up and place them under the tree. This gift giving in American culture is often the centerpiece of the Christmas celebration.

We Americans spend millions during the holiday season.

This is the Cultural Christmas celebration that occurs in America and other parts of the world.

 A more traditional celebration includes many aspects of the cultural celebration with the addition of a reading of the Biblical Christmas story that is recorded in Matthew and in Luke. This story begins in Nazareth, a small community in Galilee where most lived in cave homes on a steep hillside.

Photo: Modern Nazareth viewed from Mt Carmel.

Read On...