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Down the Home Stretch toward Christmas!


Jan van Eyck.  “Singing Angels,” Ghent Altarpiece, detail (oil on panel), c. 1427.  Bavo Cathedral, Ghent. 

Advent season reaches a milestone today, December 17, the beginning of the octave of Christmas, eight days leading to the birth of Christ, with the eighth day, December 24, being Christmas Eve. In Roman Catholic, Anglican and many Lutheran churches, the “O” Antiphons introduce and conclude the Magnificat at Vespers, or Evening Prayer, on December 17-23.

The seven “O” Antiphons begin:

O Sapientia (O Wisdom . . .)

O Adonai (O Lord . . .)

O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse . . .)

O Clavis David (O Key of David . . .)

O Oriens (O Radiant Dawn . . .)

O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations . . .)

O Emmanuel (O God Is with Us . . .)

The “O” Antiphons have a two-fold meaning. First, each one highlights a title of the Messiah: Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Radiant Dawn, King of Nations and God with Us. Second, each one refers to a prophecy in the Book of Isaiah regarding the Messiah.

Look at them in turn:

O Sapientia      “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of Wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of Knowledge and of te fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11: 2-3).

O Adonai      “. . . but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist” (Isaiah 11: 4-5).  “For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; it is he will save us” (Isaiah 33: 22).

O Radix Jesse      “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11: 1).

O Clavis David      “I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (Isaiah 22: 22).

O Oriens      “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9: 2).

O Rex Gentium      “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9: 6).

O Emmanuel      “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7: 14).

No one knows the origins of the “O” Antiphons. Some note that Boethius (c. 480-524) mentions them briefly, although I have not been able personally to confirm where or when he does so. For certain, however, the antiphons date back to the reign of Charlemagne (771-814), for the 439 lines of the English poem, “Christ” (Part 1, “Advent”) by Cynewulf (c. 800), are a loose translation and elaboration of the antiphons.

In any case, the “O” Antiphons became a staple of monastic spirituality during the Middle Ages. At the Saint Benedict Abbey of Fleury the abbot and other abbey leaders recited the antiphons in descending order, and then a gift was given to each member of the community, usually a sweet treat. By the eighth century, they were used in liturgical celebrations in Rome.   The “O” Antiphons became so ingrained in monastic liturgy that the phrases, “Keep your “O” and “The Great O Antiphons,” became commonplace.

According to music historian Robert Greenberg, the monks arranged the antiphons with a definite purpose. The first letter of each word, read in reverse order, is an acronym: Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavix, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia. The resulting phrase is: Ero Cras, Latin for “Tomorrow, I will come.”

How cool is that as a lead-up to Christmas Eve!

To hear the “O” Andiphons chanted, click the photo below.

O Antiphons

Bible Teaching Sequence


Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton MS Nero D. IV), c. A.D. 700.

London: British Library.

Over the last few days I’ve had several posts and emails asking about the order in which I teach the books of the Bible.

As we progress verse-by-verse through the Bible, I alternate between the Old and New Testaments. I do this for two reasons: 1) most people are more familiar with the New Testament than they are with the Old, so I need to get to the New Testament quickly, and 2) alternating between the Old and New Testaments allows me to “weave” the fabric of Scripture, highlighting how the Old Testament prefigures the New and how the New Testament fulfills the Old.

This is the order in which I teach the books of the Bible in my current “NEW Revised 3rd Edition,” which includes the Deuterocanonical books of the larger Septuagint canon:




Mark [I completed Mark this week]

Leviticus [I’ll be starting Leviticus on January 19, 2015]





[Torah & Gospels completed]




1 & 2 Samuel

1 & 2 Corinthians/ Galatians

1 & 2 Kings/Ezra/Nehemiah/Tobit/Judith/Esther

1 & 2 Maccabees/ 1 & 2 Chronicles

[OT historical books completed]


[Paul’s “prison epistles”]

Job/Psalms/Proverbs/Ecclesiastes/Song of Songs

Wisdom/Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)

[Poetic books completed]

1 & 2 Thessalonians/1 & 2 Timothy/Titus

[Paul’s epistles & letters completed]

Isaiah/Jeremiah/Lamentations/Baruch (both associated with Jeremiah)/Ezekiel/Daniel

[Major Prophets completed]

Hebrews/James/1 & 2 Peter/1, 2, & 3 John/Jude

[General, or catholic, letters completed]




[Minor Prophets completed]



Gaudete Sunday

Gaudete Sunday

Gaudete Sunday marks the third Sunday of Advent. As I mentioned in my blog on Advent, “gaudéte” is the first word of the Introit in this Sunday’s Mass: Gaudéte in Dómino semper (“Rejoice in the Lord always”). Today, vestments change from the purple of Advent to Rose, indicating a shift from penitence to celebration; thus the advent wreath’s single rose-colored candle, which was lit today. The custom dates back to the 9th century when the Advent season was shortened from forty days (paralleling Lent) to four weeks, noted by St. Nicholas I (A.D. 858-867).

Gaudete Sunday also starts the three Ember Days of Advent: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the third week of Advent. “Ember Days” are observed four times each year: 1) Winter, after the Feast of St. Lucy (December 13); Spring, the week after Ash Wednesday; Summer, after Pentecost Sunday; and Autumn, after Holy Cross Day (September 14). Ember Days are known in Latin as quattuor anni tempora (the “four seasons of the year”). The custom of celebrating the four seasons predates Christianity, perhaps reflecting the Celtic feasts of Imboic, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain, agricultural festivals celebrated at three-month intervals. The early Church often co-opted pagan feasts and reoriented them to Christian purposes.   This seems to be the case with Ember Days. Pope Calixtus I (A.D. 217-222) first mentions them, although Leo the Great (A.D. 440-461) considered them of Apostolic origin.

Ember Days were observed from the start as days of fasting, a time of preparation for coming events. Thus, the Ember Days of winter are preparation for the coming of the Lord, celebrated on Christmas. In recent times, Ember Days have been observed by the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, and the liturgical Protestant Churches. The Eastern Orthodox Church has never observed them. Today, however, the practice has fallen by the wayside for the most part, with few churches actively celebrating them.

That’s too bad. The major and minor movements of the liturgical calendar link us to the ebb and flow of the seasons and to the rhythm of the liturgical year, the very heartbeat of the Church. Of course, one can make an argument for doing away with such “trappings” of Christianity, dismissing them as mere “traditions of men,” but I think we do so at a high price. Liturgy links us to our past, anchors us in our present and moves us toward our future. Every family has its customs and traditions, and so does the Church. Properly understood, liturgy adds color, tone and texture to our life in Christ, drawing us into a deeper relationship with Christ, a deeper understanding of God, and an appreciation of our story as the family of God.

Welcome to Advent!


Sunday, November 23, marked the end of the Church’s liturgical year with the feast of “Christ the King.” This past Sunday, November 30, the liturgical cycle began anew with Advent. For the rest of the liturgical year the Sunday Gospel reading will be from the Gospel according to Mark. I’m about to finish teaching Mark, and you can download my 20 lectures on the Gospel from my web site , along with the complete 40-page syllabus and all of my Power Point presentations.  They are FREE!

In the Western Church, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and it can occur anytime between November 28 and December 3. “Advent” is from the Latin, adventus, which means, “coming.” It launches four weeks of anticipation, waiting for Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

In most churches the color purple sets the Advent tone. Purple is the color of royalty, welcoming the coming into the world of Jesus Christ, the King. It is also the color of fasting, penitence and suffering used during Lent and Holy Week. The dual association is not accidental: Jesus’ birth cannot be separated from his death, burial and resurrection. The purpose of Jesus’ incarnation is to reveal God’s love and grace through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through his passion. Hence, the same color for the two seasons. In fact, in the early church Advent was a time of fasting and penitence, much as during Lent.

During Advent, many churches bedeck their sanctuaries in evergreen boughs, evergreen trees and wreaths, symbolizing new and everlasting life brought through Jesus Christ. The Advent wreath takes a prominent place in many churches. It consists of a circular evergreen wreath with five candles, four around the wreath and one in the center. The circular wreath symbolizes God himself who is without beginning or end and who is everlasting. The white center candle represents Christ, the light who has come into the world, while the four outer candles represent the four weeks anticipating his coming. Of the four outer candles, three are purple and one is rose. The purple candles represent the royalty of Christ the King, and they link that royalty to his death, burial and resurrection, celebrated during Lent and Easter. The first purple candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent and the first and second purple candles are lit on the second Sunday of Advent. On the third Sunday, the Rose candle is added to them. The third Sunday—traditionally called Gaudete Sunday (from the Latin gaude, “rejoice,” the first word of the introit of this Sunday’s Mass: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say, rejoice . . .”), represents an easing of fasting and penitence and segues into rejoicing and celebration. The fourth purple candle rounds out the season.

Today, the idea of fasting and penitence during Advent has virtually disappeared, and the entire season has taken on a tone of anticipation and celebration. Many churches today teach that the five candles represent the light of Christ coming into the world, the white center candle being Christ himself, while the four surrounding candles are organized around themes or characters leading to Christ’s incarnation: the first outer candle symbolizes expectation or hope, and the remaining three candles—love, joy and peace; annunciation, proclamation and fulfillment; Bethlehem, shepherds and angels; or John the Baptist, Mary and the Magi. Alternatively, the white center candle may represent Christ, while the four outer candles may represent the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Regardless of one’s denomination, liturgical symbols and traditions, such as those used during Advent, add color, tone and texture to our Christian lives, linking us to our past, celebrating our present and anticipating our future in God’s kingdom. As Christians we have a rich heritage, and if we embrace it with understanding and clarity it will deepen our memories, enrich our lives and create a lasting legacy for future generations.

Don’t forget to download my new mobile app, the “One Year Bible”!

Logos Mobile App Launches!


Scripture leaves us with the command to “take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”  Last week, after a great deal of work, we launched the Logos Bible Study mobile app!

The app operates on Apple, Android and Microsoft devices, smart phones and pads, featuring the “One Year Bible,” 80 lessons covering the entire Bible, Genesis through Revelation.  It also serves as a portal to the in-depth series that I’m currently teaching, as well as offering links to Logos teaching tours, my blog and a variety of social media.

This is truly a great opportunity to take world-class Bible teaching to the entire world in a convenient, inexpensive and engaging format, a remarkable opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission.

Join me in this extraordinary adventure by downloading the app to your smart phone or pad at the Apple App Store, Google Play or Windows Phone.

Please forward this to your friends, fellow church members, pastors and Christian media.


We’re in Israel!

Capernaum, Morning

Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee, Israel.

We arrived on Monday November 3rd for my 55th teaching tour of Israel. After landing in Tel Aviv about 3:00 in the afternoon, my group of 39 Logos students traveled directly to Galilee in time for dinner at 7:00—breakfast in California; dinner on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Amazing!

The climate in Israel is very much like the climate in southern California, so on Tuesday morning after a good night’s sleep, we made a 15-minute drive to the Mount of Beatitudes under clear blue skies and crisp weather. The Mount of Beatitudes is where Jesus taught the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7), and a place that he often went to spend time alone. On such a clear morning the Sea of Galilee sparkled in the morning sunlight, flecks of light dancing on the surface of the water. I always start a teaching tour here, speaking about Jesus’ masterful teaching and his 3-year public ministry in Galilee. It’s the beginning of a narrative that will build with each passing day, ending in Jerusalem at the empty Garden Tomb. After a half-hour or so of teaching we have an hour of free time to find a quite place for prayer, contemplation and appreciation, fully realizing the significance of the place we’re visiting.

Mount of Beatitudes Church

Chapel of the Beatitudes, Mount of Beatitudes, Israel

We then moved on to Capernaum, where Jesus lived with Peter and his family. Capernaum was an important fishing village at the time of Jesus, with a population of around 1,500 people. Peter and his brother Andrew, along with James, his brother John and the father of James and John, Zebedee, were partners in a commercial fishing business. All of them were from Bethsaida, another village a few miles northeast of Capernaum. James and John were Jesus’ cousins; James and John’s mother, Salome, was Mary’s sister (or sister-in-law), so when Jesus relocated from Nazareth to Capernaum he had friends and relatives there who became his first disciples.

Capernaum is the Next StopThe Synagogue Where Jesus Taught

Entrance to Capernaum and the 4th-century synagogue at Capernaum,

built over the 1st-century synagogue where Jesus taught.

Capernaum today is an archaeological site, first excavated by the Franciscans in the 1930s. They’ve done a great job presenting their finds and bringing the village alive for visitors. The 4th-century A.D. synagogue, built over the remains of the 1st-century synagogue where Jesus taught sits at the center of the site, and a mere 37 yards away are the archaeological remains of Peter’s house. Today a church perches over the remains, and from inside the church you can look through its glass floor to see the remains clearly. It’s a lovely site, clean, orderly and blooming with flowers.

The Remains of Peter's House

Looking down at the remains of St. Peter’s house from inside the “glass-bottom” Church.

After lunch we headed to Bethsaida, the original hometown of Peter, Andrew, James and John, Jesus’ “inner circle.” The University of Nebraska has excavated the site and it is one of my favorites. Archaeology is an expensive, time-consuming task, and the Bethsaida site is “in progress,” so it is a good teaching opportunity to explain how such primary research is conducted in biblical studies. It also dramatically illustrates the massive amount of work involved in the excavation process and the final results that work achieves.


The city gate of Bethsaida, home of Peter, Andrew, James & John.

Later in the afternoon we continued on to Migdal, the town of Mary Magdalene. This is a fabulous site, and it too is in the process of being excavated. A few years ago the Roman Catholic Church bought property on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee to build a retreat center for Catholic pilgrims. The first few weeks of construction revealed the remains of a 1st-century synagogue, a synagogue that Jesus would certainly have visited. Construction work stopped immediately, and excavation began. The site is not yet opened to the public, but thanks to my friend Fr. Eamon Kelly, Vice Charge of the Pontifical Institute, Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, we were able to snag a private tour that included seeing the stunning church that was only recently completed.

Magdala Church

The newly dedicated Church at Migdal, home of Mary Magdalene.

The Church is dedicated to the women of the Bible.  The altar is stunning, with the Sea of Galilee in the background.

Our day ended with a wine and cheese reception at Nof Ginosar, our home on the Sea of Galilee, and an excellent dinner in the dining room that evening.

. . . more to come, as our adventure continues!

All photography by Ana Maria Vargas

The Exodus Course is Complete!


As most of you know, I’m teaching verse-by-verse through the entire Bible, Genesis through Revelation, one last time.  This is the “NEW Revised 3rd Edition” of The Bible, my flagship course for the past 20 years.  The previous edition of The Bible met all the standards for undergraduate academic credit at both UCLA and the University of San Diego; it is available on Amazon and Audible.

For the new edition, I’ve upped the bar to a graduate-school level course.

I finished teaching Exodus last quarter, and the course is now available online.  It includes 20 audio lectures of 50-60 minutes each; 20 Power Point presentations, one for each lecture; a 40+ page syllabus; an “Introduction to Exodus”; Outline; and Bibliography.

Have a look . . . and join me as I’m teaching Mark this quarter!


February 2016
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