Whoa, Wait a Minute Here

As we are counseling, we may discover that people do not have a good understanding of the Bible. They may need help with (a) a broad understanding of Bible structure (OT vs. NT; structure of the NT – Gospels – Acts – Pauline Epistles – General Epistles – Revelation; and so forth). In addition, they may need help understanding in-depth Bible study. There are numerous resources to help with Bible study: on 4/9/2021 a Google search of the Internet for the terms “how” “study” “Bible” returned 364,000,000 results while a search of Amazon books for the same terms found  20,000 results.

What I want to present are two specific words that can help us understand the Bible text. When we encounter these words in our reading/study it’s time to stop and contemplate what is written. I call it “Whoa, pull up the reins” or “Step on the brakes.”  The first word I am going to use as an example is “therefore.” The second word we will dig into is “but,” especially looking at the phrase “but God.”

To do an extensive study of these two words, I will examine how eight different English Bibles translate these words. The Bibles are English Standard Version (ESV), New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT), King James Version (KJV),  New King James Version (NKJV), Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and Common English Bible (CEB). (Appendix 1)

Example #1: “Therefore”

In this section, I want to show how one of these words should cause you to “Whoa, pull up the reins” or “Step on the brakes.” The word is “therefore.” It’s a word to watch for when you are reading/studying. It should jump off the page as you read. You might want to highlight it.

“Therefore” is defined as: 1.a. for that reason: consequently; b. because of that; c. on that ground; 2. To that end (Meriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, 2003).

The word “therefore” occurs many times in the Bible (Appendix 2). It occurs most frequently in the New King James Version (NKJV).

I’ve heard it described this way, “What is that “therefore,” “there-for?” When we come upon the word “therefore” we should stop and ask some questions, such as “what just happened before the word?”, “what is happening after the word?”, “What connects before to after?”. If its “for that reason” or “because of that” what is the connection?  One general form we see in the Pauline Epistles (Romans to Philemon) is: <theology> therefore <application>. Theology is who God is and what he has done for us. Application is what we should do as a result of what He did for me. You may have heard the terms Indicatives and Imperatives. Indicatives are gospel truths, and Imperatives are gospel commands.

For example, in Ephesians chapter 1-3 we see theology/indicatives. Chapter 4 verse 1 starts with “therefore” – a place to stop and reflect– what did we just learn about God?  Then as we proceed through Chapters 4-6, we see the application/imperatives.

Let’s break this down so we see more clearly how this works.

Book of Ephesians Outline 

<Theology/Indicative portion>

I. The believer’s position in Christ. 1:1-3:21.

A. Salutation. 1:1,2.
B. All spiritual blessings. 1:3-14.

    • Chosen by the Father. 1:3-6.
    • Redeemed by the Son. 1:7-12.
    • Sealed by the Holy Spirit. 1:13,14.

C. Paul’s first prayer. 1:15-23.
D. Salvation by grace. 2:1-10.

    • What we were in the past. 2:1-3.
    • What we are in the present. 2:4-6.
    • What we shall be in the future. 2:7-10.

E. Oneness of Jews and Gentiles in Christ. 2:11-22.

    • What the Gentiles were without Christ. 2:11,12.
    • The one body. 2:13-18.
    • The one building. 2:19-22.

F. The revelation of the mystery. 3:1-13.

    • The dispensation of the grace of God. 3:1-6.
    • The fellowship of the mystery. 3:7-13.

G. Paul’s second prayer. 3:14-21.

<”therefore” transition> 4:1

<application/imperative section>

II. The believer’s conduct in the world. 4:1-6:24.

A. The worthy walk. 4:1-16.

    • The unity of the Spirit. 4:1-6.
    • The gift of Christ. 4:7-12.
    • The unity of faith and knowledge. 4:13-16.

B. The different walk. 4:17-32.

    • Description of the Gentiles’ walk. 4:17-19.
    • Putting off the old and putting on the new. 4:20-24.
    • Practical application. 4:25-32.

C. The loving walk. 5:1-14.

    • Walking in love. 5:1-7.
    • Walking in the light. 5:8-14.

D. The wise walk. 5:15-6:9.

    • Being circumspect. 5:15-17.
    • Being filled with the Holy Spirit. 5:18-6:9.
    • Rejoicing and thanksgiving. 5:19,20.
    • Submission in practical relationships. 5:21-6:9.
    • Wives and husbands. 5:21-33.
    • Children and parents. 6:1-4.
    • Servants and masters. 6:5-9.

E. The Christian Walk as warfare. 6:10-20.

    • Being strong in the Lord-the whole armor of God. 6:10-17.
    • Prayer for all saints and Paul. 6:18-20.

F. Closing greetings. 6:21-24.

Your turn:  As an exercise, using the example above as a guide, try to do the same study on your own in Romans. Note the “therefore” in Romans 12:1. Romans 1-11 will be theology and 12-16 application.

Example #2: “But”

Now that we’ve seen how a word can help us understand Scripture, let’s move on and consider another word ‘“but” that can help us understand sentences better. The word “but” is a conjunction that joins two thoughts together in a way that contrasts.  “But” is used extensively to show the contrast between sentence fragments or adjacent sentences.

Frequently occurring words that would not be of practical use in locating a reference are not included in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (King James Version). These words include “but” along with 35 other words which are mostly conjunctions and personal pronouns. However, I believe the word “but” does provide structural guidance as we study the Bible. It is another one of those “Whoa, pull up the reins” or “Step on the brakes” points where we can learn by studying the sentence structure.

BUT is a conjunction, defined as:

On the contrary; yet; Except; save; Unless; if not; except that; Without the circumstance that; Otherwise then; That (used especially after doubt deny, etc. where negative); Who not; that not; (used as an intensifier to introduce an exclamatory expression); and Informal, then (www.dictionary.com/brouse/but accesses 4/17/2021).

Synonyms for BUT include:

Instead, Although, Nevertheless, Still, Yet, However, Though, and On the Other Hand (Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, 3rd Ed © Philip Lief Group).

“But” occurs many times in every one of the 66 Books of the Bible (Appendix 3). The word occurs most frequently in the New Living Translation (NLT) so we will look at some samples from that Bible. In the NLT “but” occurs 4,331 times throughout the Bible.

A. Old Testament

“But” occurs 2,861 times in the 39 books of the Old Testament.  The word occurs most frequently in Genesis – a total of 216 times.

The first occurrence is in Genesis 2:15-17 where God establishes the Edenic Covenant with Adam.  Here we see God gives Adam and Eve everything in the garden, BUT one thing they are to avoid.  On that one thing, “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” hangs all of eternal life or eternal death for all people for all time.

Genesis 2:15-17 15 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16 But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”

A brief outline of the Genesis in the Old Testament with a count of references to “but” follows:

Section Birth Reference Death Reference Count
Creation of Heaven and Earth 1:1 0
Adam 2:7 5:5 7
Noah lineage 5:28 9:29 5
Abram/Abraham 11:29 25:8 46
Isaac 21:2 35:29 16
Esau 25:25 Unknown 6
Jacob’s lineage 25:26 49:33 63
Joseph’s lineage 30:24 50:26 72
Other 1

Since quite a few references to “but” occur during the period of Jacob, let’s look at a few of those occurrences.

Genesis 25:22 But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked.

Observation: Rebekah was barren. Isaac pleaded with the Lord for Rebekah to have children. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer. Rebekah was given twins. But even in Rebekah’s pregnancy, the two boys Jacob and Esau struggle with each other. Foretelling future trouble between the boys. Rebekah asked the Lord about it. He told her the two boys would become two nations that will be rivals.

Genesis 25:27-28 27As the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter. He was an outdoorsman, but Jacob had a quiet temperament, preferring to stay at home. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Observation: We can expect that the parents’ favoritism is going to cause further trouble for the whole family. The “but” here demonstrates the difference in the boy’s interests, and the difference in the parent’s affections for the boys.

Genesis 25:31-33 31 “All right,” Jacob replied, “but trade me your rights as the firstborn son.” 32 “Look, I’m dying of starvation!” said Esau. “What good is my birthright to me now?” 33 But Jacob said, “First you must swear that your birthright is mine.” So Esau swore an oath, thereby selling all his rights as the firstborn to his brother, Jacob.

Observation: Esau was not interested in spiritual matters; He was more interested in material things such as his appetite and food. Consequently, he freely gave up his inheritance of the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob, his brother.  To assure Esau would not later claim his birthright, Jacob insisted Esau take an oath that he was giving up the birthright to Jacob.

Genesis 27:8-13  Now, my son, listen to me. Do exactly as I tell you. Go out to the flocks, and bring me two fine young goats. I’ll use them to prepare your father’s favorite dish. 10 Then take the food to your father so he can eat it and bless you before he dies.” 11 But look,” Jacob replied to Rebekah, “my brother, Esau, is a hairy man, and my skin is smooth. 12 What if my father touches me? He’ll see that I’m trying to trick him, and then he’ll curse me instead of blessing me.” 13 But his mother replied, “Then let the curse fall on me, my son! Just do what I tell you. Go out and get the goats for me!”

Observation: Rebekah becomes the trickster, showing her favoritism to Jacob. She’s willing to lie to Isaac so that Isaac will give the Abrahamic Covenant blessing to Jacob rather than Esau who was the rightful owner.  We saw how Jacob had already tricked his brother to give up the birthright.  Now we see the official “stealing” of the birthright by Rebekah’s deceit against her husband, helping her favorite son, Jacob, deceive his father, Isaac. Note Jacob’s concern that he won’t be able to trick his father.  But mom makes a coverup for him. We see doubts being raised by the “but” here. Jacob is not sure this trick will work.  But mother replied, “blame me” if it fails – just do it. Overcoming his objection.

Genesis 27:22-25  22 So Jacob went closer to his father, and Isaac touched him. “The voice is Jacob’s, but the hands are Esau’s,” Isaac said. 23 But he did not recognize Jacob, because Jacob’s hands felt hairy just like Esau’s. So Isaac prepared to bless Jacob. 24 But are you really my son Esau?” he asked. “Yes, I am,” Jacob replied.

Observation: Isaac does notice the different voices.  Isaac looked further and did feel Jacob’s hands and they were hairy (with goatskin, not his skin).  So, Isaac was tricked into giving Jacob the blessing. Now Jacob officially inherits the Abrahamic Covenant that should have been Esau’s. Notice the cautiousness of Jacob – three times he questioned Jacob. Note also that Jacob had to lie to Isaac when directly challenged.

After some time passes, Jacob travels to another relative’s house. He is looking for a wife.  Here we see the trickster Jacob gets out tricked by his future father-in-law.  See the many contrasts here through the word “but”.

Genesis 29:14-31  14 Laban exclaimed, “You really are my own flesh and blood!” After Jacob had stayed with Laban for about a month, 15 Laban said to him, “You shouldn’t work for me without pay just because we are relatives. Tell me how much your wages should be.” 16 Now Laban had two daughters. The older daughter was named Leah, and the younger one was Rachel. 17 There was no sparkle in Leah’s eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face. 18 Since Jacob was in love with Rachel, he told her father, “I’ll work for you for seven years if you’ll give me Rachel, your younger daughter, as my wife.” 19 “Agreed!” Laban replied. “I’d rather give her to you than to anyone else. Stay and work with me.” 20 So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days. 21 Finally, the time came for him to marry her. “I have fulfilled my agreement,” Jacob said to Laban. “Now give me my wife so I can sleep with her.” 22 So Laban invited everyone in the neighborhood and prepared a wedding feast. 23 But that night, when it was dark, Laban took Leah to Jacob, and he slept with her. 24 (Laban had given Leah a servant, Zilpah, to be her maid.) 25 But when Jacob woke up in the morning—it was Leah! “What have you done to me?” Jacob raged at Laban. “I worked seven years for Rachel! Why have you tricked me?” 26 “It’s not our custom here to marry off a younger daughter ahead of the firstborn,” Laban replied. 27 But wait until the bridal week is over; then we’ll give you Rachel, too—provided you promise to work another seven years for me.” 28 So Jacob agreed to work seven more years. A week after Jacob had married Leah, Laban gave him Rachel, too. 29 (Laban gave Rachel a servant, Bilhah, to be her maid.) 30 So Jacob slept with Rachel, too, and he loved her much more than Leah. He then stayed and worked for Laban for an additional seven years.

Observation: The first “but” contrasts the beauty of Laban’s two daughters. Jacob loved Rachel and wanted to marry her. Laban takes advantage of Jacob. They agree, but Laban reneges. On the wedding night, he substitutes Leah for Rachel. Jacob wakes up to find he has been tricked.  Label agrees to give him Rachel in a week if he will stay another 7 years and work.  Jacob loves Rachel so much that he agrees. The contrast of what should have happened and what did happen was highlighted by the contrasts in this phrase – accented by the use of “but”.

Jacob served Laban for many years, but at some point in time, he decided he needed to leave and establish his household.  Their separation went about as well as their meeting. The tricksters were tricked once again.  Rachel even gets involved this time.  Here’s the story:

Genesis 31:29-35 29 I could destroy you, but the God of your father appeared to me last night and warned me, ‘Leave Jacob alone!’ 30 I can understand your feeling that you must go, and your intense longing for your father’s home. But why have you stolen my gods?” 31 “I rushed away because I was afraid,” Jacob answered. “I thought you would take your daughters from me by force. 32 But as for your gods, see if you can find them, and let the person who has taken them die! And if you find anything else that belongs to you, identify it before all these relatives of ours, and I will give it back!” But Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the household idols. 33 Laban went first into Jacob’s tent to search there, then into Leah’s, and then the tents of the two servant wives—but he found nothing. Finally, he went into Rachel’s tent. 34 But Rachel had taken the household idols and hidden them in her camel saddle, and now she was sitting on them. When Laban had thoroughly searched her tent without finding them, 35 she said to her father, “Please, sir, forgive me if I don’t get up for you. I’m having my monthly period.” So, Laban continued his search, but he could not find the household idols.

Observation: Who tricked whom the most?  We see why there are so many “but” phrases in this section – there are so many twists and turns as the tricksters trick the tricksters trick the tricksters…

Though there are many twists and turns in Jacob’s story, we must remember that God used him and his family as a part of the line of families from Adam to Christ in the Bible story.  This can be seen in Matthew 1:1 to 1:17.

B. New Testament

“But” occurs 1,470 times in the 27 books of the New Testament.  The word occurs most frequently in Luke – a total of 213 times.

The last occurrence is in Revelation 10:3-4 God tells John to keep secret what the seven thunders said and to not write it down.

Revelation 10:3-4 3And he gave a great shout like the roar of a lion. And when he shouted, the seven thunders answered.4When the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write. But I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Keep secret what the seven thunders said, and do not write it down.”

Observation: Thunder represents the voice of God (Psalms 18:13 “The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded amid the hail and burning coals.”). What is said is so fearful that John is told to not write it down. This is in contrast to the times he is told to “write’ (Revelation 1:11, 1:19, 2:1, 2:8, 212, 2:18, 3:1, 3:7, 3:12, 3:14, 14:13, 19:19, 21:5)

A brief outline of Luke in the New Testament with a count of references to “but” follows7:

Section References Count
Introduction 1:1-4 0
The Birth of John the Baptist and Jesus 1:5-2:52 13
The Preparation of Jesus for His Public Ministry 3:1-4:13 3
Jesus Ministry in Galilee 4:14-9:9 41
Jesus Withdrawal to Regions around Galilee 9:10-50 13
Jesus Ministry in Judea 9:51-13:21 44
Jesus Ministry in and around Perea 13:22-19:27 41
Jesus Last Days: Sacrifice and Triumph 19:28-24:53 58

Jesus had many run-ins with the Pharisees in the New Testament, so it is no surprise that we see many occurrences of “but” in the New Testament.  The first occurrence of the Pharisees occurs in Luke 5:20. This builds throughout the Gospels and culminates in the last part of the Gospel books where the Pharisees and religious leaders hold a mock trial for Jesus and crucify him. Of course, he is raised on the third day and appears to others for 40 days before his final ascension.

Since quite a few references to “but” occur during the period of Jesus’s Last Days, let’s look at a few of those occurrences (within an outline of this section of Scripture).

1. The Triumphal Entry (19:28-44)

2. The Cleansing of the Temple (19:45-48)

Luke 19:46-48 46 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

47 After that, he taught daily in the Temple, but the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people began planning how to kill him. 48 But they could think of nothing, because all the people hung on every word he said.

Observation: Three contrasts appear in this short dialogue.  Jesus’s Temple was to be holy.  The money changers were charging usury prices for sacrifices.  Jesus upset their business.  Jesus was teaching about God. Yet the religious leaders were plotting to kill him.  The religious leaders could find no reason to have Jesus killed.  This conflict between Jesus’s teaching and the Pharisees’ teaching carries on throughout the New Testament. The Pharisees constantly try to trap Jesus but, in every case, they fail.

3. The Last Controversies with the Jewish Leaders (20:1-47)

Luke 20:10-19 10 At the time of the grape harvest, he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers attacked the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed. 11 So the owner sent another servant, but they also insulted him, beat him up, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 A third man was sent, and they wounded him and chased him away.

13 “‘What will I do?’ the owner asked himself. ‘I know! I’ll send my cherished son. Surely they will respect him.’

14 But when the tenant farmers saw his son, they said to each other, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 15 So they dragged him out of the vineyard and murdered him.

“What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do to them?” Jesus asked. 16 “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others.”

Observation: Here again we see the conflict between two parties.  The owner sent a steward to collect the crop (a believer). The farmers (Pharisees) severely harm the steward and send him back empty-handed. The situation repeats two more times. Finally, the owner sends his son (Jesus). The farmers (Pharisees) kill him.  In the end, the farmers (Pharisees) are killed, and the land is leased to new farmers.  What we see here is the foreshadowing of the Crucifixion. Christ came to save the lost. Those who refuse his offer are given eternal punishment. Those who accept his offer live forever with him. The Pharisees had Christ killed without reason. But this was all a part of God’s plan from creation (Genesis 3:15).

3. The Olivet Discourse (21:1-38)

Luke 21:4 For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”

Observation: Jesus here contrasts giving.  Those with little who sacrifice a lot are more blessed than those with a lot who give a little. Giving to the Lord’s work is a demonstration of trusting the Lord.

Luke 21:8-13 He replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’[a] and saying, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t believe them. And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place first, but the end won’t follow immediately.” 10 Then he added, “Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.

12 But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. 13 But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.

Observation: Jesus is warming the disciples of false teachers.  He instructs them on how to detect false teaching.  The things that will occur listed here are explained in more detail in the Book of Revelation. His emphasis here is to use the end times to proclaim the gospel. People will be more inclined to hear when times are hard.

4. The Last Supper (22:1-38)

Luke 22:21-27 21 But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. 22 For it has been determined that the Son of Man[a] must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him.” 23 The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing.

24 Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. 25 Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26 But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. 27 Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.

Observation: Jesus tells his closest followers that his time has come, that he must die.  He goes on to tell them that one of the men at the table will betray him.  Without specifying who, they begin to speculate.  Their speculation then turns to try to figure out who will take over when Jesus is gone (as if any of them could). Jesus calls them back to reality by telling them that a true leader is a servant leader – as Jesus is.

5. Jesus Praying in Gethsemane (22:39-46)

6. Jesus Arrest (22:47-65)

7. Jesus on Trial (22:66-23:25)

Luke 22:66-69 66 At daybreak all the elders of the people assembled, including the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. Jesus was led before this high council,[a]67 and they said, “Tell us, are you the Messiah?”

But he replied, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. 68 And if I ask you a question, you won’t answer. 69 But from now on the Son of Man will be seated in the place of power at God’s right hand.

Observation: The Pharisees try to corner Jesus once again.  Jesus, being much wiser than the men, would not fall for the trap. He knows it doesn’t matter what he says, their minds are already made up.  Instead of answering them, he tells them the truth – no matter what I say you won’t believe the truth.  He then turns their question into a statement that they still will not believe.

Luke 23:8-9 Herod was delighted at the opportunity to see Jesus, because he had heard about him and had been hoping for a long time to see him perform a miracle. He asked Jesus question after question, but Jesus refused to answer.

Observation: Jesus had already observed the Pharisees would not listen to his answers. Once Herod starts questioning him, he goes silent.  There is no use to tell them the truth, they will not believe him.  This avoids further disagreements with the elders and priests and religious leaders.

8. The Crucifixion (23:26-56)

Luke 23:39-43 39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”  42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Observation: Notice the contrast between the two thieves. One rejects/mocks Jesus and is bound for hell.  The other believes in Jesus and is bound for eternity with Christ.

9. The Resurrection (24:1-12)

Luke 24:1-3 1But very early on Sunday morning[a] the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.

Observation: The women from Galilee prepared to anoint Jesus’s body, but the Sabbath started, so they had to wait for the next day – Sunday. As early as they could on Sunday they went to the tomb.  They went in expecting to find Jesus’s body, but it was gone.  The stone closing the tomb and securing it had been rolled away. The guards were gone. Not what they expected, even though it was just as Jesus had told them.

Luke 24:10-12 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. 11 But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. 12 However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.

Observation: Relying on human senses and normal life events, those with Jesus did not even believe what he had told them about rising on the third day. When told the facts, they did not believe them. However, Peter decided to check it out anyway. Even after seeing with his own eyes, he still did not understand that this was the fulfillment of Jesus’s teaching to them.

10. The Post-Resurrection Ministry (24:13-49)

Luke 24:13-37 13That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

22 “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat,[b] he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.[c]

35 Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread. 36 And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 37 But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!

Observation: Four times “but” occurs in this section of Scripture.  First, as the 2 followers were walking to Emmaus, Jesus joined up with them. He hid his identity by asking them what they were discussing as they walked along, not revealing that he knew all (vs. 16). Next, the 2 followers were telling Jesus all that had happened. They were saying that Jesus was a prophet, a mighty teacher, did miracles, and in the end, the priests and leaders crucified him 3 days ago. (vs 20). Third, Jesus acted like he was going to walk past Emmaus. The 2 followers begged him to stay overnight with them. As they ate, Jesus’ identity was revealed – and he immediately disappeared (vs. 29). Last, the 2 followers were telling all of the others what happened. Jesus suddenly appears among them. The whole group was startled and frightened, they thought they were seeing a ghost (vs. 37).

11. The Ascension (24:50-53)

Example #3: “But God”

Our God is self-existent, transcendent, immanent, immutable, eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, incorporeal (immaterial), one (revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), Creator, Incomprehensible, and morally perfect. As such, his words are most important to us. Especially where he has spoken clearly to us through his word – Holy Scripture.

“Just two words, understand their use in Scripture and you’ll never be the same” (Casey Lute, “But God: The two words at the heart of the gospel”, Cruciform Press, 2011).

Casey Lute’s Introduction to “But God:…” starts this way:

“James Montgomery Boice – ‘may I put it quite simply? If you understand those two words – “but God” – they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.’

To the left of “But God” in Scripture appear some of the worst human atrocities, characterized by disobedience and rebellion. To the left of “But God” is hopelessness, darkness, and death. But to the right, following “But God” readers of Scripture will find hope, light, and life. Following God’s intervention, the story of Scripture becomes one of grace, righteousness, and justice.

“But God” marks God’s relentless, merciful intervention in human history …

Truer words have never been spoken.

Appendix 6 shows the frequency of the phrase “But God” in the eight English Bibles studied. As you may notice. The term “But God” occurs most frequently in the New International Version (NIV). We will focus on this translation for our study of “But God”.

Appendix 7 contains a list of all 66 verses containing “But God” in the New International Version (NIV).

When God speaks, we should intentionally and intently listen. Sixty-three times we find “But God” in the NIV Bible. Let’s look at six of these verses now.

The first reference to “But God” in the Old Testament occurs in Genesis 8:1 where it says, “But God remembered Noah…” God doesn’t forget! The “remembered” here indicates God initiated actions to help Noah and all the other occupants get off the ark. God brought about wind to dry the ground so the occupants could depart the ark and reestablish created order on the land.

The last reference to “but God” in the New Testament occurs in 1 John 5:9 where it says, “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.” Believers have this testimony in their hearts. Unbelievers make God out to be a liar because he has not believed the testimony God had given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”

In Genesis 50:20 we see Joseph’s forgiveness of his brother’s intent to harm him, and how God has Joseph’s heart when Joseph says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph’s position as second in command in Pharoah’s house allowed him to manage grain production and distribution. This provided food for Joseph’s family as well as others in Egypt and Canaan during the great famine.

The leadership transition between King Saul and King David did not go well. Saul was jealous and tried to kill David several times. Under God’s protection, David was protected. One particular incident is described in 1 Samuel 23:14 which says, “David stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Dad after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands.”

Several times the Pharisees and Jesus had contradictory views on life issues. The Pharisees loved money. Jesus said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” In Luke 16:15.

And several other times we see the term “But God” used in the NIV Bible. See Appendix 7 for all these references.


There are a variety of Bible Study methods. All of them drill down to look at words and word meanings. What I’ve done in this paper is point out there is one word that might cause you to stop and consider the surrounding sentence structures – because the structure presents two contrasts. What is God trying to tell you about himself and/or man? We know God’s ways are not our ways (Isiah 55:8,9). The “but” in a sentence structure may highlight the contrasts.

I have intended for the ideas presented to help the Counselee become a better student of the Bible. Sometimes our Counselees come in with no or little knowledge of the Bible. We can help them become better students of the Bible by helping them see the structure of the Bible, Books of the Bible, Paragraphs, Chapters, and sentences.

Further, we Counselors must have this understanding so we can be a help as we disciple our Counselees. Consider for example marriage in trouble. You advise the husband to love his wife (Ephesians 5:25). He stares at you with that blank look on his face. So, you ask him how he will do this. He shrugs his shoulders and continues to stare at you. What’s missing?  How to love as Christ loves is covered in Ephesians chapter 1-3 (just before the “therefore”). You rob God and leave the Counselee confused if you fail to teach theology along with the application.

If Biblical forgiveness is also required to restore broken relationships (vertical and horizontal), then the words must be chosen carefully. For example, the following words are guaranteed to ruin an attempt at forgiveness:

  • Sorry, but _____
  • No offense
  • You _______
  • Blame it on the devil.
  • Sorry, not sorry.

Words are important to God. His Word contains exactly the words we need to live in harmony with him and with others.

Application Questions

    1. Are you a good student of God’s Word? (2 Timothy 2:15)
    2. Are you a good teacher/discipler of God’s children? (Matthew 28:18-20)
    3. What philosophies of the world may have crept into your study or teaching of God’s Word? (Romans 12:2)
    4. Are you robbing God by giving applications without the theology that goes with it? (Ephesians 4:1)
    5. When you teach to correct bad theology (apologetics) are you helping Counselees understand applications? Do you ask them how they will make changes? (Ephesians 4:22-24)



Appendix 1 – Eight English Bibles in Our Study

Top 8 English Bible Translations in the United States based on churchanswers.org website from data from Christian Booksellers Association 2012 data. The top 8 bible sales based on dollar sales are the same top 8 bible sales based on unit sales, though the orders are different.

ESV – English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers

NIV – New International Version (NIV)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

NLT – New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

KJV – Holy Bible, King James Version (KJV)

Public Domain

NKJV – New King James Version (NKJV)

Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

HCSB – Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers,   Nashville Tennessee. All rights reserved.

NASB – New American Standard Bible (NASB)

New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1995, 2002 by       The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.

CEB – Common English Bible (CEB)

Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible


Appendix 2 – Frequency of “therefore” in the Eight English Bibles

Therefore                  785                  442                  171              1,220              1,339                  611                  740                  380


Appendix 3 – Frequency of “but” in the Eight English Bibles

but              4,205              3,783              4,312              3,751              4,075              3,695              4,108              3,651
instead                    59                    94                  267                    29                    43                  167                    63                  325
although                    42                    60                    21                    14                    36                    49                    53                    69
nevertheless                    53                    40                    15                    97                  118                    21                    75                    28
still                  212                  297                  349                    98                  220                  248                    25                  380
yet                  434                  395                  269                  655                  448                  341                  515                  256
however                    22                  144                  100                       –                    71                  180                  181                  167
though                  256                  442                  476                  344                  335                  365                  320                  532
on the other hand                      3                       –                      4                       –                      1                      3                    10                      6


Appendix 4 – Frequency of “but” by Book in the Old Testament of the New Living Translation (NLT)

(Frequency in parenthesis)

Old Testament (2861)

Genesis (216)

Exodus (137)

Leviticus (77)

Numbers (124)

Deuteronomy (136)

Joshua (55)

Judges (103)

Ruth (14)

1 Samuel (148)

2 Samuel (97)

1 Kings (110)

2 Kings (122)

1 Chronicles (45)

2 Chronicles (93)

Ezra (16)

Nehemiah (32)

Esther (19)

Job (114)

Psalm (223)

Proverbs (193)

Ecclesiastes (42)

Song of Solomon (8)

Isaiah (173)

Jeremiah (205)

Lamentations (17)

Ezekiel (109)

Daniel (79)

Hosea (42)

Joel (7)

Amos (19)

Obadiah (4)

Jonah (8)

Micah (14)

Nahum (8)

Habakkuk (10)

Zephaniah (6)

Haggai (5)

Zechariah (15)

Malachi (16)


Appendix 5 – Frequency of “but” in the New Testament of the New Living Translation (NLT)

(Frequency in parenthesis)

New Testament (1470)

Matthew (198)

Mark (125)

Luke (213)

John (195)

Acts (148)

Romans (97)

1 Corinthians (119)

2 Corinthians (57)

Galatians (31)

Ephesians (12)

Philippians (17)

Colossians (6)

1 Thessalonians (13)

2 Thessalonians (6)

1 Timothy (16)

2 Timothy (17)

Titus (5)

Philemon (3)

Hebrews (43)

James (20)

1 Peter (23)

2 Peter (11)

1 John (33)

2 John (3)

3 John (2)

Jude (8)

Revelation (49)


Appendix 6 – Frequency of “but God” in the Eight English Bibles

Bible Total References Old Testament References New Testament References
ESV 48 25 23
NIV 65 32 33
NLT 64 31 33
KJV 46 19 27
NKJV 47 20 27
HCSB 46 23 23
NASB 44 24 20
CEB 52 33 19


Appendix 7 – List of Verses Containing “but God” in the New International Version (NIV)

63 Bible results for “but God” from New International Version. (NIV)

  1. Genesis 8:1

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.

  1. Genesis 20:3

But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”

  1. Genesis 21:12

But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.

  1. Genesis 31:42

If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.”

  1. Genesis 41:16

“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”

  1. Genesis 45:7

But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

  1. Genesis 45:8

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.

  1. Genesis 48:21

Then Israel said to Joseph, “I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers.

  1. Genesis 50:20

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

  1. Genesis 50:24

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

  1. Exodus 21:13

However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate.

  1. Exodus 24:11

But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.

  1. Numbers 22:12

But God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.”

  1. Numbers 22:22

But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.

  1. 1 Samuel 6:19

But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they looked into the ark of the Lord. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the Lord had dealt them.

  1. 1 Samuel 14:37

So Saul asked God, “Shall I go down and pursue the Philistines? Will you give them into Israel’s hand?” But God did not answer him that day.

  1. 1 Samuel 23:14

David stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands.

  1. 1 Chronicles 28:3

But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.’

  1. 2 Chronicles 20:15

He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.

  1. Job 24:12

The groans of the dying rise from the city, and the souls of the wounded cry out for help. But God charges no one with wrongdoing.

  1. Job 24:22

But God drags away the mighty by his power; though they become established, they have no assurance of life.

  1. Job 34:5

“Job says, ‘I am innocent, but God denies me justice.

  1. Psalm 9:18

But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

  1. Psalm 49:15

But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.

  1. Psalm 64:7

But God will shoot them with his arrows; they will suddenly be struck down.

  1. Psalm 66:19

but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.

  1. Psalm 73:26

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

  1. Psalm 74:12

But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth.

  1. Ecclesiastes 6:2

God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.

  1. Jeremiah 10:12

But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.

  1. Jonah 4:9

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

  1. Mark 2:7

“Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

  1. Luke 5:21

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

  1. Luke 12:20

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

  1. Luke 16:15

He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.

  1. Acts 2:24

But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

  1. Acts 3:15

You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

  1. Acts 7:5

He gave him no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set his foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child.

  1. Acts 7:9

“Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him

  1. Acts 7:42

But God turned away from them and gave them over to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets: “‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?

  1. Acts 10:28

He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.

  1. Acts 10:40

but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.

  1. Acts 13:30

But God raised him from the dead,

  1. Acts 26:22

But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—

  1. Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

  1. 1 Corinthians 1:27

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

  1. 1 Corinthians 3:6

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

  1. 1 Corinthians 12:24

while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,

  1. 1 Corinthians 15:38

But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.

  1. 2 Corinthians 7:6

But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,

  1. 2 Corinthians 12:3

And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—

  1. Galatians 3:18

For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

  1. Galatians 3:20

A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

  1. Galatians 4:7

So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

  1. Philippians 2:27

Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.

  1. 1 Thessalonians 2:4

On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.

  1. 1 Thessalonians 4:8

Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

  1. 2 Timothy 2:9

for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.

  1. Hebrews 3:4

For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.

  1. Hebrews 5:5

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”

  1. Hebrews 8:8

But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.

  1. Hebrews 12:10

They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.

  1. 1 John 5:9

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.

Michael Hines
Mike Hines is retired from Purdue University. He is an ACBC Certified counselor in the Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. Mike co-teaches in the Berean Adult Bible Fellowship, is the Treasurer for Faith Community Development Corporation, leads a Point Man Bible Study group, and serves as the initial point of contact for new guests in our Food Pantry/Clothing Closet. Mike has served as Deacon at Faith. Mike has served in the community on the Purdue Employees Federal Credit Union Board of Directors and the United Way Allocations Committee. Mike and his wife, Marilyn, have been members of the Lafayette community since 1969 and a member of Faith since 1978. Mike and Marilyn have two children and four grandchildren.