“The entirety of Your word is truth.” Psalm 119:160a
There are so many questions that people might have about the Bible that are left unanswered. Here we seek to answer them citing Scripture and showing reasoning where applicable. Before we begin, there are some things to consider that we will state plainly here:
- The Bible is the authoritative, inerrant, plenary Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Psalm 119:160).
- There are some things that are matters of faith, and others that are matters of opinion (Romans 14).
- Matters of faith are clearly taught in the Bible, and the fate of our souls depends upon these matters.
- Matters of opinion are less clear, and we have freedom to believe them or not without fear for our souls.
- Some of the questions that are answered below are matters of faith, and we strive to be very clear on those issues.
- When it comes to matters of opinion, further reasoning is required.
- When quoting and linking passages of Scripture, we will be using the New King James Version unless otherwise stated.
- This page is to archive and supplement our articles in the Rutherford Weekly.
- Some of these answers might anger you — we simply ask that you pursue truth with an open mind and consider all of what the Bible has to say.
- The order of the contents below does not reflect the order in which the questions will be answered.
Table of Contents:
What is the significance of the number of fish caught in John 21?
God is love, but what about judgment?
Where is the spirit after death before the resurrection?
Do our loved ones come back to visit us as angels?
What about heaven?
Why did Jesus wait until the end of the Last Supper to wash the
What is God’s name?
What did God do before Creation?
Did God command genocide? If so, why?
Why are there mosquitoes?
Why are some healed and others not?
What about the mistreatment of animals?
What about separation and divorce?
What does the Bible say about homosexuality?
If we were born in Christ’s image, why aren’t we invisible?
What about “once saved always saved”?
What should our response be to COVID-19?
What about denominations?
What about Freemasonry?
What about communism?
What about cremation?
Is God in control of everything?
How should we interpret the Bible? Part 1: Genre.
How should we interpret the Bible? Part 2: Context.
How should we interpret the Bible? Part 3: The Whole Truth.
How should we interpret the Bible? Part 4: Testaments.
How should we interpret the Bible? Part 5: Authority.
On what day of the week should we gather to worship?
What about women preachers?
How should we govern the church? Part 1: Organization
How should we govern the church? Part 2: Pastors
How should we govern the church? Part 3: Evangelists
How should we govern the church? Part 4: Deacons
How should we govern the church? Part 5: Teachers
What is the significance of the number of fish caught in John 21? table of contents
There are some things in Scripture that are just not stated, and this is among them. By way of summary, let us look at the passage. This takes place right after the resurrection of our Lord, and the disciples decide to go fishing on a boat in the Sea of Galilee. They fish all night and catch nothing. Jesus arrives at the beach and tells them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. They comply and catch so many fish that they need help hauling all of them to shore.
“Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish,
one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.”
~John 21:11 NKJV
So why 153 fish? What significance does this number hold? Various theologians and thinkers have tried to come up with a symbolic, numerological answer to this question, from Augustine to Jerome, and even some modern scholars. But really, the most likely explanation is that this is evidence that what we read in John 21 is an eye-witness account. This lends further credence to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus and the validity of the Gospel of John. It shows that our faith is rooted in evidence, showing that Jesus is who the Bible says He is: the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world (Matthew 16:16; John 1:29; 20:31).
Additional: Augustine of Hippo, subject to the trend of his time of treating everything in Scripture as allegory, decided that, since 153 was the 17th triangular number (the sum of the first 17 integers), then it represented divine grace (7) and law (10). Seven represented the number of the fruits of the Spirit, and ten represented the Ten Commandments. Jerome believed it was the number of species of fish in the Sea of Galilee. Other scholars think it foreshadowed that they would be great “fishers of men,” along with several other increasingly unlikely interpretations. Generally speaking, however, the simplest answer is the more likely one — that it is evidence of John’s eye-witness account.
God is love, but what about judgment? table of contents
God is, without a doubt, love.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
1 John 4:7-8 NKJV
There are two clarification questions we must ask now that we have established that God is love: How should we define love? In what way(s) does He show His love toward us?
Before we answer these, there are a few other traits God possesses that we should also establish.
God is faithful. This means that God keeps His promises (1 Corinthians 1:9).
God is holy. Holiness is not something we understand very well today. It is a state of being pure, free of sin, righteous. It is a separation for a specific purpose. God partially defines it when He said this to the Israelites, “And you shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26).
God also demands to be treated as holy, which means He gets to decide what the standards of holiness are. He has this right because He is the Creator of us all (Genesis 1:1). He gets to set those standards—they are not up to us. Since God is righteous (Psalm 36:6), it would be unfair for Him to expect us to meet these standards without letting us know what they are. Thankfully, He has given us the Bible wherein these standards are written (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
These things explain the nature of God, things about Himself that He cannot change. I am grateful He has given us His Scriptures to tell us how to please Him.
God is just. If a judge were to try a case and set free a clearly guilty man, would you ever trust that judge to bring you justice? Did he show any love toward the plaintiff? No and no. While the judge uses the civil law code to bring people to justice, our Lord uses His standards of holiness codified in His Word. Jesus tells us that it will be His words that will judge us on the last day (John 12:48).
The problem is, since we are all guilty of not meeting His standards, we are all deserving of death, we are all deserving of judgment (Romans 3:23; 6:23a). Next time, we will see how all of God’s perfect traits work together through His Son Jesus.
Whenever someone tells me they have good news and bad news, I usually want to hear the bad news first so the bad doesn’t seem so bad when I hear the good. In order to understand God’s love—the good news—we must first understand God’s judgment—the bad news.
In our last article, we established several characteristics concerning the nature of God: loving, faithful, holy, and just. His holiness and justice demand judgment upon those who do not meet God’s standard of righteousness. This is the bad news. Why? Because no one meets these strict standards. The inspired writer makes this very plain in the letter to the Romans.
If this were the end of the story, it would mean there is no hope for any of us. We are all deserving of the terrible fate of eternal torment in hell where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). Most people think that they are good, but the Bible tells a different story. If we can set aside our pride for a moment, we can see that we really aren’t as good as we think we are. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
This is not something God delights in or relishes. In fact, He wants everyone to be saved. “[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4; cf. Ezekiel 18:32; 2 Peter 3:9).
So what is that truth He wants us to know? Jesus. This is how we ought to define love, and this is how God shows His love toward us, through His Son. How does God’s perfect justice work together with His perfect love? Through Jesus. It was His sacrifice on the cross on which He took on all the sins of the whole world. On Him God’s perfect justice was carried out. Sending Him showed God’s perfect love toward us, allowing Jesus’ perfect, sinless blood to be shed for each one of us. All we have to do is take full advantage of this sacrifice. And God gives us our entire lives to repent and make things right with Him. Please contact us to find out how!
“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [atoning sacrifice – NIV] for our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10 NKJV
Where is the spirit after death before the resurrection? table of contents
Death is defined as the separation of spirit and body (James 2:26).
Man is a threefold creature, with body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23).
In the Bible, sometimes the words “soul” and “spirit” are used interchangeably since they are so closely related (Heb. 4:12), but for the purposes of this article, we will define spirit as that which brings life, and the soul as the immortal component of our being. At death, both components leave the body.
That being said, we will assume the one who asked this question is referring to one’s soul, since the spirit always returns to God (Eccl. 12:7).
The resurrection will occur at the Last Day, the Day of Judgment (John 5:28-29; 11:24). This is when our raised and glorified bodies will be reunited with our souls (1 Cor. 15:35-58). Peter writes that “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). So where are we delivered or reserved until Judgment Day?
The main answer to this question can be found in Luke 16:19-31. In this passage Jesus describes two men: one rich and one poor. The rich man is not named, but the poor man is called Lazarus.
“So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” Luke 16:22-23
Since those who are in torments can peer into the other realm, this is likely not Heaven or Hell, but a holding place called Hades where we will be prior to the resurrection and Final Judgment. Hades, called Sheol in the Old Testament (cf. Acts 2:27; Psa. 16:10), is the place of the dead and consists of two sections divided by a deep chasm that cannot be crossed. Jesus has a way of expressing spiritual things in ways we can understand physically, so what this actually looks like, I cannot say. Regardless, Abraham’s bosom, as the father of the faithful (Rom 4:16), is where we want to be.
While Jesus was on the cross, He promised the thief on the cross next to Him that, “today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Paradise, then, is another name for where Lazarus and other righteous people go.
After the resurrection and the Last Day, our final home will be either in Heaven or in Hell. Before you die, you must choose where you want to go. Let us know which you choose. If you choose Heaven, we can help you get there! Please choose wisely.
Do our loved ones come back to visit us as angels? table of contents
What about Heaven? table of contents
Why did Jesus wait until the end of the Last Supper to wash the disciples’ feet? table of contents
What is God’s name? table of contents
And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.‘”
Exodus 3:13-14 NKJV
Exodus 3:15 NKJV
John 8:58 NKJV
John 8:58 NKJV
What did God do before Creation? table of contents
John 17:24 NKJV
Ephesians 1:3-6 NKJV
1 Peter 1:20 NKJV
Did God command genocide? If so, why? table of contents
Why are there mosquitoes? table of contents
- Suffering teaches us that we need to pray (2 Cor. 12:7-8).
- Suffering takes away the love of this world (John 14:1-3; 1 John 2:15).
- Suffering allows Christians’ light to shine (Matt. 5:16).
- Suffering helps you find a proper perspective on this physical world (Matt. 19:23-24).
- Suffering brings out the best in people (John 13:35).
- Suffering humbles us (1 Pet. 5:6-7; James 4:6, 10).
- Suffering helps us to sympathize with others (Rom. 12:15).
- Suffering purifies us (2 Cor. 13:5; Psa. 119:67, 71).
Much can be said about each of these individual points. We often do not pray unless we are in need, and prayer helps us get closer to God. Sometimes we get too attached to the pleasures of this world, both sinful and benign. When we help others who suffer, that shows the love of Christ to them which can motivate them to seek Him. Pride is a dangerous yet common thing to possess, and suffering can help us be humble realizing who is really in control, that is God.
The Bible has much to say on suffering, far more than can be presented here. But I will leave you with the following thought.
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4 NKJV
For we were saved in this hope … Romans 8:24a NKJV
So tribulation and suffering come to help build a hope that saves!
Why are some healed and others not? table of contents
What about the mistreatment of animals? table of contents
But the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
Proverbs 12:10 NKJV
What about separation and divorce? table of contents
The Pharisees also came to [Jesus], testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces His wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”
Matthew 19:3-12 NKJV
To answer this question, Jesus goes all the way back to the very beginning (Gen. 1:27; 2:24). This was God’s original intent for marriage, though through time it had been corrupted with polygamy and divorce (and now same-sex marriage).
There were two main schools of thought in Jesus’ time on marriage. One school believed that marriage could only be dissolved if fornication were involved. Another held that one could divorce over trivial matters, both citing Moses’ words (Deut. 24:1). Jesus then correctly interprets what Moses meant, agreeing with the first school. It was only due to their own stubbornness that God permitted something He did not approve of. Under Jesus, we are called to a higher standard.
In the passage quoted above, Matthew 19:9 is emphasized to show the key to this discussion. In our society, often the form that sexual immorality takes is adultery. The disciples recognized how hard this was, but this is the standard to which we are called. We are not to divorce for any cause except fornication—marriage is for life!
The prophet Malachi records, “For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence” (Mal. 2:16). Next time, we will consider separation and what the Apostle Paul wrote on this issue.
Last time, the two main texts we looked at were Matthew 19:3-12 and Malachi 2:16. We noted that God hates divorce and that marriage was originally meant to last a lifetime. There was only one exception to the rule: fornication. We will see later that, while one may be free to divorce, he may not remarry unless it was for fornication.
The Apostle Paul also wrote on this issue and even touched on the idea of separation. Let us consider his inspired words.
Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband …. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
1 Corinthians 7:3, 5 NKJV
Here we note that separations were permitted “with consent for a time.” The purpose here was for pious devotion, not a really legal separation due to marriage difficulties. However, marriage difficulties might be helped by such devotion, hence a separation. But it was only to be “for a time,” where a short period of time is implied. It should not last for too long, otherwise the couple might be tempted to commit adultery.
There are three classes of people who can get married. Jesus mentioned those who divorce for sexual immorality (Matt. 19:9). Paul refers to the other two here.
But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry.
1 Corinthians 7:8-9a NKJV
Here he mentions the unmarried, that is those who have never been married, and widows. Then Paul focuses his attention on those who are married.
Now to the married, I command, yet not I but the the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.
But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. … But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.
1 Corinthians 7:10-13, 15 NKJV
In the first part, Paul is reiterating what Jesus said in Matthew 19. If a spouse is to divorce you for something other than fornication, you are to remain unmarried unless you can be reconciled. Then the Holy Spirit through Paul adds to the Lord’s words concerning the case of an unbelieving spouse. He encourages them to stay married, but if the unbeliever departs, let him or her go. When Paul says you are not under bondage, however, he is not saying you are free to remarry—Jesus’ words still apply. He is saying you are not bound to your spouse’s potential ultimatum to leave Christ.
Additional: All of this may seem extreme, but it simply emphasizes the importance of marriage and that we should not take such decisions lightly. They have lifelong consequences. Marriage is a commitment for life, a responsibility that must not be shirked. The first marriage commitment you made is still valid while you both live, assuming fornication is not involved. A second commitment does not invalidate the first; the first invalidates the second. Again, this may seem harsh in this day and age, but I turn your attention to the Jews who were in marriages they were not supposed to be in (Ezra 10:2-4, 44). While the situations are not exactly the same, it lets us know that some of the excuses we make for not obeying the Lord in this matter are not good enough.
Heaven is worth sacrificing some temporary happiness we might have in our short time on this Earth.
What does the Bible say about homosexuality? table of contents
Of all the things that we have covered thus far, this may be the most controversial issue among religious circles today. Please note that hatred for our fellow man has no place in Christianity. After all, Jesus loved us so much that He died for us all. That said, there are certain behaviors that are clearly sinful and wrong. If we continue in such behaviors our souls will be lost. In fact, the Apostle Paul makes this very clear.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11a NKJV
Fornication is defined as all manner of sexual immorality, ranging from premarital relations to bestiality. Included in that is adultery, homosexuality, and sodomy, but these receive greater attention here because these were particular problems in Corinth. The words translated in the NKJV as homosexuals and sodomites are translated as “men who practice homosexuality” in the ESV with the footnote, “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.”
It should be noted that the beginning of verse 11 states that some of the Corinthian Christians had once in their former lives practiced homosexual behavior. But like all unrighteous acts listed in the previous verses, this sinful behavior was caused by an active choice to give in to temptation. The passage clearly teaches that to continue practicing such behavior excludes one from the kingdom of God.
Even though these words refer to men who practice homosexuality, we should not think that women who practice it are acceptable to God. Paul also comments on this.
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
Romans 1:26-27 NKJV
Note that Paul calls these vile passions, plainly describing both male and female homosexual behavior, declaring them against nature. The word translated as use is a reference to sexual intercourse, both men and women abandoning God’s original purpose. Jesus said, “But from the beginning of creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’” (Mark 10:6-8a; cf. Gen. 1:27; 2:24).
Additional: Some argue that Jesus never spoke anything about this issue, ignoring the God-inspired words of the Apostle Paul. First, Jesus was speaking primarily to Jews who knew that homosexuality was sinful (Lev. 18:22; 20:13). Second, Jesus did speak on marriage as being heterosexual, as we discussed recently on the topic of divorce (Matt. 19:4-6).
The Bible is clear: homosexual behavior is sinful. All sin separates us from God, and all of us commit sin and need the gospel. Knowing this, we would all do well to treat each other with greater humility, and show the love and compassion that Christ showed an adulterous woman, saying, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:2-11).
If we are born in Christ’s image, why aren’t we invisible? table of contents
This is clearly a question that is less than serious. But it gives us an opportunity to talk about what it means to be in the image of Christ. First there are some things to set forth. God is, indeed, invisible, though He has the ability to manifest Himself in this world (e.g. Exo. 33:17-23). Humans are made in the image of God. When we become a Christian, we have been born again. Finally, this means we are to be “conformed to the image of His Son,” that is Christ (Rom. 8:29). We will discuss each of these points, and then consider what it means to be conformed to His image.
Invisible God. The Apostle John, while imploring his readers to love one another, points out that no one has seen God at any time (1 John 4:12, 20). Paul writes of the invisible God and His invisible attributes (1 Tim. 1:17; Rom. 1:20). Jesus, however, was flesh and blood and most definitely visible while He walked this earth (1 John 1:1-3). As God, He was made manifest on earth in bodily form (John 1:1-3, 14; Col. 2:9).
Additional: When Paul wrote of God’s invisible attributes, he said some other interesting things there, too. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). While God Himself is invisible, He has certain characteristics that are quite visible and even understandable. These characteristics mean that a lack of belief in Him is inexcusable. After all, Creation itself is visible and shouts out that it was Created, in particular concerning the amazing wisdom and complexity that has it possesses. The obvious design in Creation demands a Creator, a Designer. As the writer of Hebrews states, “For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God” (Heb. 3:4).
Made in God’s image. When God created man and woman, He created them in His own image, in His likeness (Gen. 1:26-27). In order to see what that means, let us see what separates us from other living beings. Aside from the fact that we have a soul, we are also self-aware and have a sense of right and wrong (Eccl. 3:21). Animals do not possess these traits.
Born again. Nicodemus was very confused by Jesus’ words about what it means to be born again. We must be born again in order to be saved, so it is a very important concept for us to understand. We are to be born of water and the Spirit (John 3:3-6) which is done through God’s word, by His will (1 Pet. 1:23; John 1:12-13). When one is born again, he is made a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). This is a spiritual and internal change that must be reflected by our actions.
Conformed to His image. Later in his letter to the Roman Christians, Paul states that we are not to be conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2). That means we are not meant to be indistinguishable from others in the world. One desire many of us have is to blend in, not to stand out. But being a Christian requires us to live like one, to “imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). By doing this, we will naturally stand out. He showed us how we can live without sin since He was without sin Himself (Heb. 4:14-15). While we all have weaknesses, the point is to strive, to grow, to be more like Christ every day. That’s what it means to be conformed to His image—no easy task!
We had no say in our first birth, our natural one. But we do have say in our second birth, one that is spiritual. Jesus said that to be born again, one must be born of water and the Spirit. That is a reference to baptism in water done in faith. Then we must live a life worthy of Christ because we have died to sin (Rom. 6:1-2). If we have believed and have been baptized into Christ, we have been baptized into His death and become a new man in Christ (Rom. 6:3-6, 17). Let us live like it, being conformed to His image, the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
What about “once saved, always saved”? table of contents
Additional: It has its origins in the teachings of John Calvin, the theologian who systematized a doctrine on how God saves man, commonly called Calvinism. There are five major points to this teaching, with something similar to OSAS (once saved always saved) being the last one. Ironically, those who typically hold to OSAS will deny the other four points.
Some use this as a license to sin, while others believe it is impossible to sin too much after becoming a Christian. Does the Bible really teach this doctrine of “once saved, always saved”?
There is no way to address every passage used for and against this teaching in the space provided, so we will look at one prominent passage on either side. One of the most prominent passages that is used to defend OSAS is from Romans 8.
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come , nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 NKJV
Let us now consider the context in which Paul is writing. Paul refers to “us” in this passage, so the question is who is “us”? He is addressing those who walk/live according to the Spirit—in other words those who live faithfully (Rom. 8:1, 13; cf. Gal. 3:16-26). Then he pivots and talks about those who are undergoing suffering and persecution due to their faith (Rom. 8:16-17). So Paul is encouraging his readers that if they remain faithful, then persecution will not be able to separate them from God’s love.
Some subscribers to OSAS will agree with this, saying that those who fall away from the faith were never really saved to begin with. While there may be some who worship alongside us week after week that were never saved (cf. 1 John 2:19), it is folly to think this applies to all who fall away.
The theme of Peter’s second letter is a warning concerning false teachers. Why have such warnings if one cannot lose their salvation? Regardless, he states:
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.
2 Peter 2:20 NKJV
If you have escaped the pollutions of this world by knowing Jesus, are you not saved? If you are entangled again in those pollutions and overcome with your end being worse, are you not lost again? I do not relish this thought, but Peter is very plain that one’s salvation could be lost.
One final point is concerning an example of one who was in danger of losing his salvation: Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9-24). Simon truly believed and became a Christian (Acts 8:9-13; cf. Mark 16:16). After seeing the Apostles transfer gifts of the Holy Spirit, he tried to purchase this power with money. Peter told him his heart was not right in the sight of God, and that he was bound by iniquity (Acts 8:18-24). Can one be saved if they are not right with God and bound by iniquity? No, instead he was told how he could return to God: repent and pray (Acts 8:22).
Additional: That is not to say that every time someone sins, he has lost his salvation. Our salvation is secure if we walk in the light as Christ is in the light (1 John 1:7). There are still things we can do to lose our salvation. The key commonality that we see in Scripture is if we continue in sin that we have not repented of. Simon was in danger of losing his salvation as was the man caught in sexual sin in 1 Cor. 5. He was named a brother (1 Cor. 5:9-11) but was to be delivered to Satan (1 Cor. 5:5). Can one be a brother and not be saved? Can one be delivered to Satan and continue to be saved? The purpose of being delivered to Satan was so that his soul could be saved, that is, so that he might repent, just as Simon was to do.
As we can see, the doctrine of OSAS does not have a leg to stand on. If you are a Christian, live faithfully so that you might receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). These examples remain for us if we have lived unfaithfully and wish to get right with God again.
What should our response be to COVID-19? table of contents
This was, of course, not a question that we received at last year’s MayFest, but this is a question that is on a lot of people’s minds. There are two extremes that I see on how people are reacting to this crisis. One led by the TV media is one of panic, and the other is an attitude of complete dismissal. While I agree that the TV media tend to sensationalize things, that does not mean we should completely ignore it. Here are three things for us to remember.
Pray, don’t panic. The Apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7; cf. Psa. 56:3-4). Panic is worry coupled with fear. While Paul dealt with fear, Jesus dealt with worry, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit [about 18 inches] to his stature?” (Matt. 6:27). In other words, worrying does us no good, and as Jack Exum once said, “Worry is a prayer to the wrong god.” If we trust in God, what have we to fear? Instead of panic, let us pray. Recall Paul’s words:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV
Live your life, cautiously. So should we live our lives, pretending like this virus doesn’t exist? No, certainly not. It is real and that’s a fact we all must face. Our government is making recommendations and issuing executive orders to help us better get a handle on this virus. There will be changes in how we do things. Jesus wants us to be “wise as serpents, but as harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16). One of the greatest commandments is to love one another, and one way for us to do that is to limit the risk of others catching it, even if we’re not at risk ourselves. For this reason many of our places of worship have temporarily canceled public gatherings. It is not ideal, but we are live streaming our worship on Facebook for our members and for all those who are interested in joining us remotely. Go to our Facebook page and follow us for the most up-to-date information.
Heaven’s hope. The reality is, despite all our precautions, we may still catch this disease. The good news is, the vast majority of people who catch it will survive, particularly with adequate medical attention. The better news is, even if one were to die from this and is a faithful Christian, heaven is his home. There is no death or sickness there, and he’ll get to see our Lord face to face, knowing that “heaven will surely be worth it all” (Rev. 21:4; 2 Cor. 5:6-8). We never know what tomorrow holds, so we must always be ready (James 4:13-16). Are you ready? The only way we can know is if we know the gospel and obey it. Contact us to learn more!
What about denominations? table of contents
Before we can answer this, we must answer the question: what is a denomination? To denominate something is to divide something up and to name the divisions. A denomination is a part of a whole. This suggests that Catholics and Baptists and Methodists are all part of the same religion divided up and named.
This leads many to the idea that you should attend the church of your choice. Why? Because it doesn’t matter, as long as they are Christian. Except some denominations have different definitions of Christian. Mormons insist they are Christian, but most other denominations disagree. Some say you must believe in the Trinity. Others say all you have to do is believe that Jesus rose from the dead. This speaks nothing of the various views on baptism.
Where should we draw that line? What does the Bible say about such religious division? Many of us pretend to be united, but if we disagree on such fundamental doctrines, how united can we really be?
Jesus prayed for unity among all believers.
“I do not pray for these [the Apostles] alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
John 17:20-21 NKJV
Our lack of unity is clearly seen by having a different kind of church next door or just down the street. This harms our influence for Christ in the world. Having so many denominations breeds so much religious confusion that it discourages people from converting. The Lord is clearly not pleased with this state of religious division.
The Apostle Paul has something to say about this, too.
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. … Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
1 Corinthians 1:10,12-13 NKJV
How can we possibly do what Paul says here when we are so divided religiously? Our creeds and our denominations divide us so that it is impossible for us to be perfectly joined together in the same mind or the same judgment. On top of that, we end up naming ourselves after people: Lutheran, Calvinist, Wesleyan. How is this any different than saying, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos”? In fact, Paul calls such an attitude carnal, the exact opposite of holy (1 Cor. 3:4).
We need a common basis for unity and then have the courage to act upon it. Next time, we will look into the best way to fulfill Jesus’ desire for Christian unity.
Last time we looked at the lack of unity among believers in Christ. In the current religious climate, we cannot all be truly obedient to Jesus’ and Paul’s prayers and commands for unity (John 17:20-21; 1 Cor. 1:10, 12-13; 3:1-4). In fact, you will not find a single denomination in Scriptures as the cited Scriptures above condemn such sectarianism. So how can we be united in the way Scripture demands? First we must
reject the things that divide us and then embrace the one creed that unites us.
Reject Denominational Creeds. Time and again I have been asked, “Church of Christ? What kind of church is that?” People are asking for a denominational identity, a label that helps them better understand us. It is an understandable question, but it’s not the right question. They should ask, “Can I read about your church in the Bible?”
The church in the Bible pre-dates all denominations and man-made creeds. You cannot read of any Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist in Scripture. The only legitimate religious name you can find is Christian (Acts 11:26). This is the only unifying name by which we should identify. Moreover, the name of the church should also honor the One who purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28), the One who sanctified and cleansed the church (Eph. 5:25-27), the One who built His church (Matt. 16:18), the One and only Christ Jesus (Rom. 16:16). If we can abandon such man-made traditions, we will be so much closer to being the church in the Bible.
Embrace the Creed We Can All Agree On. Some say that creeds merely state beliefs in a succinct and easy-to-read way, clarifying certain doctrines. Might I suggest that if your creed says more than the Bible, it says too much. If it says less than the Bible, it says too little. If it only says what the Bible says, it is unnecessary.
Can I read the Bible to find out how to be a Catholic, a Methodist, or a Baptist? No, for that I would need the Catholic Catechism, the Methodist Book of Discipline, or the Baptist Manual. So what do I need to become a Christian only? The Bible and the Bible alone. The beautiful thing is, people from every denomination already believe that the Bible is God’s Word, but many have been misguided by their traditions. The Bible is the thing we can all agree on, so it should be our only creed, the only authoritative source for our faith. We are not all going to agree on our man-made traditions or creeds. So let us abandon all of these things, and embrace the only thing that is truly reliable: the God-breathed Scriptures! After all, that is all we need to be thoroughly equipped for every good work, isn’t it?
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof,
for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete,
thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV
If you are interested in rejecting these man-made names and creeds and being the type of Christian we can read about in Scripture, please let us know. Just as Philip taught the Ethiopian eunuch, we will show you from the Scriptures what that means for you! (cf. Acts 8:30-35).
What about Freemasonry? table of contents
Due to the secrecy of this organization, it is difficult for the average person to understand what they are truly about without joining them. On the surface, they seem like a harmless and benevolent men’s club, no different than Kiwanis or the Lions, though with a few secrets. And if that’s all they were, there would be no real conflict between them and the Bible. Sadly, they are far more.
Is Freemasonry a religion? This is an important question due to the exclusivity found in Scriptures. The only way to heaven is through Christ (John 14:1-6). We are to have no other gods before the Lord (Exo. 20:3). If we are in a religion that isn’t Christian, we do not have Christ. Masons will often insist that they are not a religion, despite what many of their own documents say (e.g. Mackey’s Encyclopedia — Entry: Religion of Freemasonry).
The Iowa Handbook for Masonic Memorial Services states, “Even though Freemasonry is not a religion, and has no plan of salvation, it offers eternal truths of friendship, morality, and brotherly love” (pg. 5). Later, however, it says, “As the embers of mortal life are feebly glimmering in the socket of existence, our religion removes the dark shroud, draws aside the sable curtains and bids hope and joy to rouse up, sustain and cheer the departing spirit” (pg. 15). Is it a religion or isn’t it?
There is one religious requirement that all Freemasons are to believe: that there is a god whom they identify as the Grand Architect of the Universe (G.A.O.T.U.). It does not matter what god that is. It could be Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, Odin, or Zeus. In and of itself, that’s no big deal—other clubs accept people of all manner of religions. But let us consider some of the things spoken at their funerals. This will give us insight into what they actually teach and what sets them apart from these other clubs.
The Iowa Handbook states that this should be said at a Masonic funeral: “There, … we, as faithful Masons, cherish the fond and immortal hope that we shall meet again—meet to part no more” (pg. 15). The Bible, on the other hand, states that only faithful Christians will go to heaven (Rev. 2:10; 2 Tim. 4:8).
Faithful Masons are required, then, to lie for any man who died as a faithful Mason regardless of religious affiliation. One can be a faithful Mason without being a faithful Christian, or even a Christian at all. It depends only on your faithfulness to the G.A.O.T.U., and not to Christ who died for you. Yet they claim to have a heavenly hope that the Bible says is reserved only for those who are faithful to Christ Jesus.
Can a Christian truthfully say such things at a funeral for a Muslim? What about for someone who has a vague belief in a god, but no faith in Jesus? They must if they are all faithful Masons, but they won’t be speaking truthfully as faithful Christians. Remember, “all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).
If Freemasonry only took good men and made them better, that would be fine. But it requires men to deny that Christ is the only way to heaven. Therefore one must choose to be either a faithful Mason or a faithful Christian—one cannot be both!
What about communism? table of contents
The American Heritage Dictionary defines communism as, “A system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and a single, often authoritarian party holds power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people.” As Americans in a capitalist nation, we tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of communism, but what does the Bible say about this?
First, the New Testament was written during a time of government oppression and callousness. Despite this, both Peter and Paul command us that we are to obey our civil authorities, paying our taxes (Rom. 13:1-7; Acts 23:5; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). Realizing that such authorities, be they communist or not, can be abusive and ungodly, Paul tells us to pray for such men (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Peter further states, however, that “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). At that time, the governing authorities told Peter not to preach Christ. This is something the government has no right to prohibit despite many communist regimes trying.
Some claim that Jesus was supportive of communist ideals when he spoke to the rich young ruler, saying, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Luke 18:22). The man went away sorrowful, and there is no indication that he followed Jesus’ advice. This shows he was not forced into giving up his wealth to the poor, as communism demands. Jesus helps us to see that this young man had placed his trust in his riches rather than in God. In order to prove where his true faith lay, he needed to remove whatever was holding him back.
When the church began, some think the believers must have set up a communist system. “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44-45). The first thing we note is that they distributed to anyone who had need—not to everyone equally. This was not communism.
We see Barnabas and many others participated in this great work of benevolence (Acts 4:32, 34-37), but the main difference between communism and what we see here is that this is completely and totally voluntary. This is especially evident after Ananias and Sapphira lied to God about what they gave. Peter states, “While [your property] remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?” (Acts 5:4). They were not required to sell their possession, nor were they required to give all the proceeds to the church to feed the poor. Their sin was that they lied about what they were giving, not that they didn’t give it all.
Finally, consider God’s requirements for faithful giving: “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). We are to pay our taxes regardless (Mark 12:17), but our benevolence is meant to be given voluntarily and cheerfully, and only to those in need.
What about cremation? table of contents
When a loved one passes away, the family has a few options on how to deal with the remains. Throughout Scripture, when approved death rituals are mentioned, burial was the most common. Since there are no commands on what should ultimately be done with the remains, it is evident that burial was a cultural custom of the time. This is true for both the Old and New Testaments.
The main reason people often give for believing that cremation is sinful is because of what we read concerning the resurrection on the last day.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NKJV
Some believe that we cannot be raised in this fashion if our remains are nothing but ashes. Some even claim that Jesus could not have been raised from the dead if He were cremated.
There are a few things God cannot do. For instance, though omnipotent, He cannot lie (Titus 1:2). But I serve a God who is powerful enough to restore a cremated body if that is what He wishes to do.
Those who believe that cremation is wrong fail to consider the natural decomposition that bodies undergo after death. In ancient times, embalming was not an Israelite practice, but an Egyptian one. Without it, it would not take long for one to become unrecognizable. It was prophesied that Jesus “whom God raised up saw no corruption,” referring to the decomposition that occurs after death (Acts 13:35-37; cf. Psalm 16:10). Cremation simply speeds up a natural process that would have occurred anyway.
At the resurrection, if my God can restore a buried body after thousands of years, then He can certainly restore a cremated one after only a few days. This is the hope of the resurrection that faithful Christians have. I leave you with the encouraging words Paul writes to the church in Corinth on this matter.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.”
1 Corinthians 15:20-27a NKJV
Is God in control of everything? table of contents
Short answer: yes. But this question does not have so simple an answer when one considers the concept of free will. Do we have free will, or does God control all that we do? This is a question that has been debated back and forth for centuries, so we will not be able to cover it adequately here. That said, here are some passages and thoughts that may be helpful in understanding this complicated topic.
If there is no free will at all, then we are not responsible for our actions, including our sins. If we are not responsible, then this makes God responsible for them. So if “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) and God is our judge (James 4:12), then God is unjust for punishing us for something we had no control over. Worse, He becomes hypocritical since He is the one responsible for our sin. We know this to be untrue because “God is a just judge” (Psa. 7:11), and He decries hypocrisy (Matt. 23).
So, from this we conclude that some measure of free will must exist, enough for us to be held accountable for our actions. Some will contend that we have free will to choose the wrong, but not the right—which is nonsensical. In Moses’ final address to the Israelites, he urged them to “choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19). What sense is there in offering a choice one cannot make?
If we have free will, how then can God be in control? First, let us acknowledge God’s great power as Job did: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You” (Job 42:2). What is even more amazing is that, despite the free will He has granted us, His purposes still get accomplished!
This is shown in the life of the prophet Jonah who had plans other than what God desired (Jonah 1:1-3). When he refused to go to Nineveh, God exercised His control to direct the prophet where He wanted him to go by sending a storm and preparing a great fish (Jonah 1:4, 17). Nineveh was going to hear the word of the Lord somehow.
Similarly, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon was exceedingly prideful, but God showed him he wasn’t as powerful as he thought he was. Daniel had previously told him that God “removes kings and raises up kings” (Dan. 2:21). The king exercised his free will to be prideful, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). But God drove him mad for a period of time, which ended with the king stating: “Those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Dan. 4:37).
While we have free will, God still has a way of controlling certain outcomes for His ends. Even in our democratic style of government, “the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Rom. 13:1). Certainly some of our choices make more of a difference than others, but those that make the most difference concern the destiny of our immortal souls. I urge you as Moses urged the Israelites, “choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” Obey the gospel today!
How should we interpret the Bible? Part 1: Genre. table of contents
In previous entries, we have established that we should follow the Bible and the Bible alone in matters of faith and practice. The problem is many people believe that they do, but this cannot be true since we are still so divided along denominational lines (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10-13). Whenever I ask people why we are so divided, they will often say that it’s because we interpret the Bible differently. Then they shrug their shoulders as if to say, “There’s nothing we can do.” Is there really nothing we can do? In the next few articles, we will be discussing a common sense way to interpret Scriptures so that we all might agree on what it says and apply it. Does that mean we will agree on everything? No. But it means we will agree on what’s important, particularly on matters of faith and practice.
The first thing we must do is consider the genre. As music has various genres (e.g. country, pop), so does literature. The Bible is a library of books, 66 to be exact, and not all of them are of the same genre—and many books are not even the same genre all the way through. The biblical literary genres are: historical/narrative, poetry/wisdom, prophetic/apocalyptic, and letters/teaching. Knowing this will help us to determine what the original authors of each book meant.
Generally speaking, we can categorize each book into various categories, though there may be elements found in each. The books of the historical/narrative genre are telling a true story, meant to be taken literally. This includes Genesis through Esther in the Old Testament, and Matthew through Acts in the New. There are certainly elements of poetry and prophecy in all of these books, but generally speaking, they are historical. Much of Exodus through Deuteronomy also contain many laws that the Israelites were to keep. Typically in modern Bibles, this genre is shown in block text (e.g. Gen. 1).
Additional: Some consider the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) to be a separate genre altogether. They will say it is because the authors had a particular purpose in mind while writing them, to teach and to persuade. Though they certainly contain wisdom, prophecy, and teaching especially in parables, it is all under the backdrop of history. So I place them in the historical genre.
The books of poetry/wisdom are in the middle of Scripture, from Job to the Song of Solomon (AKA Song of Songs). These books express strong emotion with flowery language and imagery. As a result, they cannot always be taken literally. Interpretations taken from these texts must be compared to more literal passages before gleaning any doctrine. For instance, a word fitly spoken is not literally apples of gold in settings of silver, but such words are still so valuable (Prov. 25:11). Such poetry is often depicted in verse (e.g. Psa. 1).
The prophetic books, generally speaking are from Isaiah to Malachi in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New. Sometimes it is in block text, other times in verse. These prophecies are allegorical or symbolic descriptions of events to come. These can be difficult to interpret because much is left to opinion, but it is clear that the vast majority of biblical prophecies have been fulfilled by the end of the first century. These prophecies cannot always be taken literally. For instance there will not be nor was there ever a literal woman sitting on a literal seven-headed beast (Rev. 17:4). [The trick is trying to interpret it to find out what it is talking about.] This type of language is called apocalyptic, and can be found in other places in Scripture, too (e.g. Matt. 24).
Lastly we have letters and teaching. These make up the majority of the New Testament books, from Romans to Jude. They teach us truths about the Christian faith and practice. [In order to interpret them properly, we must always consider the context of a verse or passage before coming to any conclusions.] Next time we will consider the importance of such context.
How should we interpret the Bible? Part 2: Context. table of contents
In our on-going series on how to interpret the Bible, last time we considered the genre of the text. This time we will consider the context. Before we go on, it should be noted that the genre of the text is often seen as part of the context, but I felt it deserved its own article.
Ignoring context, one can defend just about anything from the Bible. We are not to defend our beliefs with the Bible for that very reason. No, we need to derive our beliefs from the Bible. The former reads our thoughts into the text; the latter takes our doctrines from the text. There are three types of context we need to consider: textual, immediate, and global. Textual looks at the area directly around the text. Immediate looks at the information on the book in question. Global considers the Bible as a whole. There are also several questions we need to ask ourselves concerning each type of context.
Who wrote/spoke it? We know that the Scriptures are directly inspired by the Holy Spirit, so the ultimate Author of the Bible is God. But “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). So God used each writer’s language, vocabulary, and personality while composing Scripture, but we do not always know who the author is. While knowing the author can be helpful, it is not always necessary. We should also consider the individuals who are speaking in any given text. For example, Satan makes several statements in Scripture, but they cannot be trusted (e.g. Luke 4:7).
Who is listening or who is the primary audience? The people in the primary audience are those to whom the writer originally wrote. This can be an important consideration when understanding the text. When Paul is speaking to the Athenians, he cites “some of [their] own poets” (Acts 17:28). This does not make sense unless we realize Paul is speaking to Greeks and about Greek poets.
When was this book written? This can help to answer what issues each writer is addressing in his book. For instance, 1 Peter was likely written in the early 60s A.D. and addresses the coming persecution that the Christians of that time would soon face under Emperor Nero.
Another important question is: What is the theme or purpose of this book or section? For instance, Ecclesiastes says a lot of distressing things, such as, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind” (Eccl. 1:14). In other words, he writes that everything in this life is pointless. Looking at the overall theme of the book, however, proves that the author is considering a perspective apart from God. In other words, everything is pointless without God in our lives (Eccl. 12:13-14).
In order to answer some of these questions, many Bibles have an introduction to each book that helps. Keep in mind, of course, that such introductions are not inspired by God, but they are often a good starting place for understanding a book or passage. Reliable commentaries may help with this as well. Next time, we will look at the differences between the Old and New Testaments.
Additional: Truth be told, most of these questions are not absolutely necessary in understanding the text, but they certainly help. We do not always know who wrote a book, who they originally wrote it to, or when it was written. But we can always learn the theme and purpose of the book. That is extremely valuable in understanding it.
Additional: Commentaries can be rather tricky. There needs to be a way to get the “meat from the bones,” as it were. Some more liberal scholars will claim Isaiah had two to three authors, for instance. But the main reason they make this claim is because they don’t believe in Bible prophecy. So it’s always important to consider the authors of your commentaries and what bias they might bring to the discussion. One that I might recommend that is free and online is by J. Burton Coffman. Click here to take a look.
How should we interpret the Bible? Part 3: The Whole Truth. table of contents
This principle is shown in the verse quoted at the top of every one of these articles: “The entirety of Your word is truth” (Psa. 119:160a). Unless we have considered all the passages that address a particular matter, we do not have the whole truth on that matter.
There are some resources that can help us find out everywhere a particular word is used in the Bible. First, there is a concordance. An exhaustive concordance contains every word found in the Bible and where each is located. If you do not have one, there are plenty of online resources where you can search for particular words. I use Bible Gateway to help me search for various words in English. If you are interested in the words from the original languages of the Bible (primarily Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament), then I recommend Blue Letter Better (BLB). This resource can be used as a concordance for the original words. BLB also has many other study resources that are very useful for your understanding of God’s Word.
Let us consider baptism as an example. First, the Greek word for baptism means “immersion, submersion” (BLB). This is evident in passages like Acts 8:38-39 where Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch by taking him down into the water.
Now would be a good time for you to scan and jot down all the Bible references made after this point, read them, and see what the Bible teaches about baptism yourself before reading further. You may even look up passages that are not referenced below.
Looking at all the examples of those who were baptized in the Bible, we note that only people capable of belief are baptized (e.g. Acts 16:30-33). We also see that baptism is the “answer of a good conscience” (1 Pet. 3:21). This rules out infants because they cannot understand enough to believe nor do they know right from wrong in order to possess a conscience, let alone one that needs to be repaired.
Now let us consider the purpose of baptism. It is necessary for the “forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38 ESV) and for salvation (Mark 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). It is the point at which your sins are washed away (Acts 22:16). It puts you into Christ where every spiritual blessing including salvation can be found (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:10). It mirrors the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and is the point at which we have buried the old man of sin and God raises up a new man in us (Rom. 6:3-6).
What about being baptized again? Twelve people did this in Acts 19:1-5. They were initially baptized “into John’s baptism.” They were not baptized into Christ as we are told we must be. They were baptized into the wrong name for the wrong reason. If you failed to be baptized in the way the Bible tells us for the reasons the Bible tells us, you may need to be baptized or baptized again.
Surely we cannot cover every passage in such a short space, but the basics of the whole truth are here. For a fuller discussion, consider the sermon linked here. Let us know if you would like to obey this gospel command to be saved!
How should we interpret the Bible? Part 4: Testaments. table of contents
The next in our series on Bible interpretation considers the differences between the Old and New Testaments. Today we will apply some concepts we discussed earlier such as context. Since there exists a New Testament (NT), what should we do with the Old Testament (OT) today?
This is where we might consider who the primary audience of a particular book is. Recall in a past issue, we discussed who wrote a book and who he was writing to. The primary audience is the first group of people that would have read the book. For instance, Moses wrote Genesis through Deuteronomy to the Israelites who had recently fled Egypt. Deuteronomy specifically was written to the generation that came after the group who had originally escaped Egyptian slavery. In fact, we can see this just before the Ten Commandments had been repeated.
And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn and be careful to observe them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive.”
Deuteronomy 5:1-3 NKJV
What we have underlined above shows who these things, including the Ten Commandments, were originally written and applied to. This is, in fact, true of the entire OT, since the vast majority of it was written to the Israelites. Consider also how the NT writers viewed the OT Law (cf. Heb. 8:6-13; Jer. 31:31-34).
Therefore the [OT] law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
Galatians 3:24-25 NKJV
We no longer need the tutor whose primary job was to bring us to Christ because now we have Christ. We can look at the NT as Jesus’ Last Will and Testament which supersedes the one that came before (OT – Heb. 9:15-17).
Since the OT is now “obsolete” (Heb. 8:13), does this mean the OT does not apply to us at all? In fact, it does apply to us in principle, if not in particulars. There is much to be learned by what happened in the OT, especially in OT Laws that are repeated in the NT (e.g. Rom. 13:8-10).
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4 NKJV
Now all these things happened to them [Israelites] as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
1 Corinthians 10:11 NKJV
We also need to read and study the OT to understand many references to OT events and people (e.g. James 5:11, 17-18). The greatest need is to learn about the origin of sin and why we need a Savior (Gen. 3). But we do not need to go to the OT to find out how to be saved—we need to go to Jesus (John 3:16; Luke 13:3; Matt. 10:32; Mark 16:16). This NT gospel applies to all men everywhere today (Rom. 1:16; Acts 17:30). Contact us if you want to know more! Next time we will consider the concept of authority in the NT.
How should we interpret the Bible? Part 5: Authority. table of contents
In our series on interpreting the Bible, we have considered genre, context, the whole truth, and the difference between the testaments. This time we will answer the question on authority and how the Bible tells us what to do. There are three primary ways in which the Bible does this: direct command, approved example, and necessary implication.
Direct command. When we read the Bible, we are, in effect, reading someone else’s mail. This means that technically there are no direct commands to us today. But there are statements that directly state things that do apply to us. A great example is found in Galatians 5:19-23 concerning the “works of the flesh” and “fruit of the Spirit.”
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you … that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Galatians 5:19-23 NKJV
We may need to define some of these things, but it is clear here what is forbidden and what is commanded.
Approved example. There are many examples of actions in the Bible, some of which are good but many that are bad. As we discussed last time, we are meant to use the Old Testament to give us examples to follow or to avoid (1 Cor. 10:11). But this is also true for all of Scriptures. The day on which we are to gather together to worship is authorized by example, something we will go into more detail on next time.
Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.
Acts 20:7 NKJV
Here we see them partaking of the Lord’s Supper (“break bread”) and listening to the preaching of Paul on the first day of the week. We call this day Sunday. They likely sang and took up a collection, too (cf. 1 Cor. 14:26; 16:2).
Necessary implication. This is perhaps one of the least understood methods, but it is vitally important. It relies on the principle that if a specific command is given, it excludes all others. For instance, in the Lord’s Supper, only two elements are mentioned: the bread and the fruit of the vine (Matt. 26:26-29). Specific elements are mentioned, but we are never told not to include anything else. So why not add something tasty like ice cream to it? Because two things are mentioned—all else is excluded. When we consider general commands, however, it is left to our judgment how to carry it out. In partaking of the Lord’s Supper, do we use individual cups or one cup for the fruit of the vine? Do we pass a tray around with the elements, or do we line up to partake at the front? These are not specified, so we have the freedom to choose what works best for us.
Next time, we will use all of these methods to help us discover on what day of the week we ought to assemble together to worship.
On what day of the week should we gather to worship? table of contents
It is evident from the Old Testament that there is a command to honor God on a specific day: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exo. 20:8-11). This is, after all, one of the Ten Commandments where God issues a day on which to worship, the seventh day of the week. This was called the Sabbath Day (cf. Lev. 23:3). We call this day Saturday. So why do Christians worship on Sunday, the first day of the week? To answer this, we will employ some of the methods we have detailed in the last five issues.
Testaments. The command to remember the seventh day of the week is found in the Old Testament (OT). None of the particular laws in the OT are applicable today, not even the Ten Commandments (Gal. 3:24-25; Heb. 8:6-13). This does not mean we are free to murder and steal. Every one of the Ten Commandments is found in the New Testament (NT)—all except one. There is no command in the NT to remember the Sabbath Day.
Additional: There is the common idea that the Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday, so any OT Laws that applied to the last day of the week now apply to the first. The truth is, there is no Scriptural evidence for this change. This means there is no command in the NT to cease from working, traveling, or doing any leisure activity on the first day of the week insofar as it does not interfere with the time we are to gather to worship. The Sabbath was and always has been a day of rest for the people of Israel on the last day of the week. The Christian does not have a specific day where he must rest, but he rests in a Person: Jesus Christ (Col. 2:16-17).
It is true that Jesus worshiped on the Sabbath Day (Mark 1:21). Do keep in mind, however, that He also lived under the OT Law (Gal. 4:4). The NT Law did not go into effect until the Holy Spirit came down to guide the Apostles into all truth (John 16:13; Acts 2). Additional: Paul also went into the synagogues on the Sabbath Day to preach the gospel to the Jews who had gathered to worship there. Paul took the opportunity to preach to all the devout Jews in the area at once so they may all hear the gospel. This was not a time for Christians to gather to worship, but for a Christian to evangelize to the Jews.
So the question we must ask ourselves is: when did these first century Christians gather together to worship? There are two NT passages that most clearly answer this question.
Authority. There are three primary ways in which authority is established in the NT: command, example, implication. There is a command on what day to take up a collection, there is an example on what day to take the Lord’s Supper, and there is an implication that these aspects of worship were only done on that day.
• Command: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches in Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.”
~1 Corinthians 16:1-2
Earlier in this letter, we read that the Corinthian Christians were supposed to be gathering together to worship by partaking of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34). It is here that Paul mentions when they were to gather together. It was also a convenient time for them to take up a collection, on the first day of the week.
• Example and Implication: “But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days. Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.” ~Acts 20:6-7
The Apostle Paul and his companions stayed a week in Troas before gathering with the Christians there to worship. They did this on no other day than on the first day of the week. The purpose was to break bread or partake of the Lord’s Supper. Preaching was also involved. This was a worship service! So by example, we see they worshiped on the first day of the week, and by implication we find that the Lord’s Supper and the collection—acts of worship—need only be done on this day, too. We call this day Sunday.
Additional: There are many objections to this conclusion given by Sabbatarians (those who believe Christians ought to worship on the Sabbath). There is no way we can address them all, but the biblical evidence is clear: Christians ought to worship together on the first day of the week, Sunday.
What about women preachers? table of contents
There are many women in the Scriptures who are apparently in leadership roles, both in the Old and New Testaments. We find several prophetesses (Exo. 15:20; 2 Kings 22:14; Neh. 6:14; Isa. 8:3; Luke 2:36; Acts 21:9), a servant or “deaconess” (Rom. 16:1), and a judge (Judges 4–5). On top of that, we find that in Christ, there is “neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). Yet we find other passages that say, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says” (1 Cor. 14:34). So how can we reconcile these apparently disparate ideas where examples seem to contradict commands?
One argument for women preachers is based on the idea that cultural norms at the time the Bible was written would not permit women preachers, but our culture is more egalitarian today. What is forgotten is our own cultural lens through which we read these things. In our society, it is assumed that if men and women are equal, then they should be allowed the opportunity to do the same things. If they cannot, then they are somehow diminished. On the contrary, being equal in value, as Galatians 3:28 teaches, does not mean being equal in duty. At the same time, being a prophetess, a servant, or even a judge does not necessarily imply such activities are conducted during worship, as is the context of 1 Corinthians 14.
Let us consider this appropriate passage below:
Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
1 Timothy 2:11-14 NKJV
The context of 1 Timothy 2 is, again, a worship setting. Paul is writing to young Timothy about proper conduct in the church (1 Tim. 3:15). Paul states that a woman is not to have authority over a man in the church. Does a preacher hold a position of authority? Indeed he does, particularly while he is preaching (i.e. Titus 2:15).
So why does Paul give this command? Is it because of cultural concerns or is it something deeper? Well, Paul goes all the way back to Adam and Eve and the first sin in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3). Because of the events that occurred there that day, God pronounced several curses. Upon the woman, He said, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). While not every woman is married, what we find is a principle of male leadership. This does not make women any less capable or less spiritual than men, but it does indicate a divine order that we should not defy.
So what can women do in the church if not preach? Plenty! Far too much to be listed here. Phoebe worked hard as a servant (Rom. 16:1-2), Priscilla worked with her husband in evangelism and hosted the church in Rome (Acts 18:24-26; Rom. 16:3-5), Lydia hosted the church in Philippi (Acts 16:40), Tabitha made clothing (Acts 9:39), older women taught younger women (Titus 2:3-5), and so much more. Women are valued and invaluable! Next time we will consider such duties for men and women in the church.
How should we govern the church? Part 1: Organization table of contents
Looking at all the different churches that are out there, you will find almost as many ways to govern a church as there are denominations. So what does the Bible have to say about this? How is the church organized in the New Testament?
First and foremost, Christ is her head. The Scriptures reveal no earthly head of the church. The Bible clearly states, “And He [Christ] is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). Despite this, many denominations have an earthly head, sometimes called an archbishop, a patriarch, a general overseer, or even a pope. Some have a legislative body that acts as a head for the whole denomination, such as a general conference or a council of bishops. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see anything like this. Some try to find authority for these things from Acts 15—the Jerusalem Council.
In Acts 15, the apostles and the elders gathered together to discuss the issue of Jewish Christians trying to enforce certain aspects of the Old Testament Law on the new Gentile converts. There is one major difference between what we see in Acts 15 and what we have today. The ones who made the decision were the Apostles, people who were given a great deal of authority by Jesus Himself (Matt. 16:18-19; John 16:13). No one alive today has that kind of authority.
One key passage provides a list of the officers and positions found within a church: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). Paul wrote a little earlier in the book that the first two of these, apostles and prophets, make up the foundation of the church, with Christ being the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). Foundations are not meant to budge or change. That foundation was laid as “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). These are the Scriptures that we have today. The apostles and prophets guide the church through the Bible that they wrote.
So what we have left are evangelists, pastors, and teachers. We might also include deacons in this list since they are found elsewhere (1 Tim. 3:8). This leads us to the conclusion that there is no authority over the local congregation outside that of Christ, the Apostles, and the Scriptures. We call this congregational autonomy. While we are free to cooperate with other congregations on various matters, none ought to have authority over another. There should also be no individual or body outside of the local congregation that has any authority over a local congregation.
I have heard people complain that this is a recipe for false teaching to flourish in the local churches. In fact, according to history, it seems this was the reason why certain authority structures were set up. But this biblical structure actually insulates other churches from heresy. If a strong, central, earthly authority were to go astray, then the whole church goes astray. This must not be allowed to occur, yet it has many times.
We have considered the biblical basis for congregational autonomy. In this series, we will consider the roles of evangelist, pastor, teacher, and deacon as presented in Ephesians 4:11. Next time we will examine the role of the pastor.
How should we govern the church? Part 2: Pastors table of contents
The pastor is one of the more visible roles in a congregation, so it is vitally important that we understand what the Bible has to say about them. Amazingly, the word “pastor” is only used once in the King James Version of the New Testament, and it is found in a list: “And he gave some, apostles; some, prophets; some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11 KJV). It is only found here in other popular translations as well (e.g. NKJV, NIV, NASB).
The English Standard Version, however, translates this word as “shepherd,” and with good reason: that’s what the Greek word literally means. In fact, “pastor” is also a transliteration of a Latin word that means “shepherd.” Searching for “shepherd” in the NKJV, we find it in two very pertinent passages: Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-2. In both passages, we see the verb form of “shepherd,” which the KJV translates as “feed.”
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God ….
Acts 20:28 NKJV
The elders who are among you I exhort, … Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers ….
1 Peter 5:1-2 NKJV
Both passages are addressed to elders, Paul speaking to them in Acts (cf. Acts 20:17) and Peter writing to them in his letter. They are told to be shepherds and overseers. The Greek word for “elder” is presbuteros and for “overseer” it is episkopos, where we get the English words presbyter and episcopal. The word “priest” is actually derived from the word “presbyter,” and episkopos is often translated as “bishop” in the KJV and NKJV.
Therefore all these words refer to the same office: pastor, shepherd, elder, presbyter, priest, overseer, and bishop. The term “preacher,” however, is not included in this list. Though many people use “pastor” and “preacher” interchangeably, the Bible does not support that. A preacher can also be a pastor and vice versa (cf. 1 Tim. 5:17), but that does not mean the terms are synonymous.
The qualifications for this office are found in several passages (e.g. 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Among these qualifications, we find that elders are to be “the husband of one wife, having faithful children” (Titus 1:6). This rules out women, along with single and childless men. This means those who take oaths of celibacy before marriage and having children are unqualified to be priests or bishops. The very fact that these are elders rules out young men as well. You cannot have a 19-year-old, single, childless, or female pastor and do things biblically. It is better to have no elders than to have unqualified ones. [Additional: If a congregation lacks qualified men to act as elders, then they ought to work to train men to be qualified and appointed as soon as possible.]
You also cannot have just one pastor and do things biblically. Paul wrote his letter to the church in Philippi, addressing the “bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). On Paul’s first missionary journey, he and Barnabas went back through the churches they planted earlier, and “appointed elders in every church” (Acts 14:23). Paul talks of the “elders who rule well” in the church in Ephesus (1 Tim. 5:17). In every instance, there is more than one, and their jurisdiction does not extend beyond their local congregation.
This is the way in which the Lord, the Chief Shepherd, has set up His church, with a plurality of pastors shepherding a congregation, leading them all toward heaven—a grave responsibility! (Heb. 13:17). Next time, we will look at the role of the evangelist.
How should we govern the church? Part 3: Evangelists table of contents
Last time we considered the office of the elder which the Bible also calls a pastor. In the list of many terms that the Bible uses to describe that office, one that is conspicuously absent is “preacher.” While many use the terms “pastor” and “preacher” interchangeably, the Bible does not. Today we will look at the next office mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, the evangelist. This term, we will find, is another word referring to the preacher.
The term “evangelist” is a transliteration of the Greek word euangelistēs, and refers to someone who shares good news, also known as the gospel. There are two people in Scripture who are referred to directly as an evangelist: Philip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (2 Tim. 4:5). We will consider Philip more next time when we look at the office of deacon.
In a sense, any Christian can be an evangelist by sharing the gospel with others, but there is a difference between that and the position of an evangelist. The Apostle Paul told Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5), implying that he held that position. By its very nature, one who shares the gospel will preach that gospel, just as Paul told him a few verses earlier: “Preach the word!” (2 Tim. 4:2).
One who preaches is a preacher. The Greek word is defined as a herald who conveys the official message of those in authority. In this case, a preacher of the gospel is one who declares the official message of the Lord, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, in a sense, anyone can declare that message, but there is a difference between that and the position of a preacher. Paul was appointed as a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher (2 Tim. 1:11). This does not imply all three offices are the same, but they can overlap.
There is another word that we might use for this office. Timothy, called both a preacher and an evangelist, is also called a “good minister of Jesus Christ” if he instructs the brethren in what is right (1 Tim. 4:6). The word translated as “minister” is also translated as “servant,” but it can also be transliterated as “deacon.” In fact, that’s where the word deacon comes from. Anyone can be a servant, but there is a difference between that and the office of deacon and the position of minister.
“Minister” is actually the most used word to describe this position. Context informs us of whether or not this should be understood as a servant, a deacon, or a minister as we typically think of them. Focusing on the topic at hand, this means that the evangelist shares the good news of Jesus, acting as a herald and a servant. Duties and qualifications are detailed in the entirety of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, but here is a highlight:
Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. … give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine …. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.
1 Timothy 4:12-16 NKJV
So, preachers may be young, unlike elders/pastors. They lead the congregation in worship with a morally upright conduct, setting an example for the congregation. They may be unmarried (as Paul) or married (as Philip), but they cannot be female as we discussed a few weeks ago (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12). Next time we will consider the deacon.