Bible Q&A – Answers

“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:

  1. The Bible is the authoritative, inerrant, plenary Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Psalm 119:160).
  2. There are some things that are matters of faith, and others that are matters of opinion (Romans 14).
  3. Matters of faith are clearly taught in the Bible, and the fate of our souls depends upon these matters.
  4. Matters of opinion are less clear, and we have freedom to believe them or not without fear for our souls.
  5. Some of the questions that are answered below are matters of faith, and we strive to be very clear on those issues.
  6. When it comes to matters of opinion, further reasoning is required.
  7. When quoting and linking passages of Scripture, we will be using the New King James Version unless otherwise stated.
  8. This page is to archive and supplement our articles in the Rutherford Weekly.
  9. 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.
  10. 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
     disciples’ feet?
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?

 

 

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

This is a great question! It should be noted that it is impossible to talk about His love properly without also talking about judgment.

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.

Part 2

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.

“There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a).

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

Before we begin answering this question, we must establish some definitions and a brief timeline of things to come.

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.

Where do we go when we die?

Special thanks to World Video Bible School for this graphic.

 
 

Do our loved ones come back to visit us as angels?     table of contents

When I was in my 20s, my mother passed away from cancer. Not long after her death, I had several dreams that she was speaking to me, comforting me. They allowed me to better cope with her passing. How I wish that she had really visited me and talked with me! But the Bible gives us several clues that inform us that she could not or would not visit me after death.
 
Some of those clues are in the Old Testament. One of King David’s sons died not long after he was born, and David said, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). If his son could visit him, likely David would not have made this remark.
 
After the prophet Samuel died, King Saul desired to speak with him. So, contrary to God’s Law, he consulted a medium to conduct a séance to speak with Samuel’s spirit. It is clear by the medium’s surprise that Samuel’s return was a unique event for which God was responsible. Regardless, when Samuel returned, he said, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” (1 Sam. 28:15). This leaves the clue that those who are in Paradise have no real desire to return, but would be disturbed if they did.
 
The New Testament, however, offers the best answer to this question. As Luke records Jesus’ words in Luke 16:19-31, this passage gives us a few more clues that can help us best answer the above question.
 
If you recall, an unrighteous rich man died and ended up in Torments while a poor man named Lazarus also died but went to Abraham’s bosom, also called Paradise. The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers of this place, but Abraham refused, saying “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). The rich man said his brothers would be convinced if someone rose from the dead. Abraham said, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). The clue we have here is that those in Torments cannot return, and that it would be useless for those in Paradise to return.
 
Additional: So do the righteous even become angels when they die? The only clue in Scripture that might suggest that they do is in Acts 12 when the disciples supposed that Peter had been killed. Peter had miraculously escaped from prison and arrived at the house of Mary, John Mark’s mother. Initially no one believed the girl who answered the door and said she was beside herself, that she had seen his angel (Acts 12:15). This, however, only expresses the belief at the time, not the reality of things.
 
As comforting as the thought of our loved ones visiting us is, it is not a concept we have any evidence for in Scriptures. In fact, all the evidence strongly suggests that they do not.
 
 

What about Heaven?     table of contents

There is so much that can be said on the topic of Heaven. What is it going to be like? Who will be there? How can I get there? Entire books have been written about the splendor and glory of Heaven, so there is no way this topic can be done justice with the space available. Whatever the case, here are a few thoughts on this grand topic.
 
One of the most commonly read passages at funerals include the comforting words of Jesus quoted below:
 
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  John 14:2-3 NKJV
 
Jesus describes Heaven as His Father’s house. Paul wrote that “while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord” and the corollary “to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6, 8). Heaven is where God lives, and for the Christian, this is where we will be after we leave this earth.
 
Jesus also describes this house as having many mansions. Other translations suggest that there are many rooms rather than mansions. Whatever the case, I will be happy to secure my place there.
 
Jesus then tells us that He is leaving to prepare a place for us there. He left when He ascended into Heaven after His crucifixion and resurrection (Acts 1:9). While He is speaking to His Apostles in this passage, we can also take comfort in these words for the promises of Heaven are found elsewhere (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:6, 8; 1 Pet. 1:3-5).
 
Such a home, however, is reserved for Jesus’ friends. Jesus later said,
 
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” John 15:13-14
 
The condition we are given so that we can be counted among His friends is to do as He commands. The Apostles certainly qualified, and I pray you do, too (Heb. 5:9). This leads us to the oft-quoted phrase: “Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people.”
 
Our preparation is best depicted in Jesus’ parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. These virgins are all about to participate in a great wedding. Five were wise and had prepared their lamps ahead of time. The other five were foolish and ran out of oil for their lamps. While they went to get some, the bridegroom came. These virgins were too late and missed out on the wedding. The lesson is that we must be prepared for eternity in death or in Christ’s second coming, whichever comes first (James 4:14; 1 Thess. 5:1-11).
 
Jesus lets us know that He will return and gather those who are prepared, bringing them to Heaven to be with Him (Acts 1:11; 1 Cor. 15:24). If you want to be prepared so that you will be in that number, please contact us and we will show you how from the Scriptures!
 
 

Why did Jesus wait until the end of the Last Supper to wash the disciples’ feet?     table of contents

Of the four gospel accounts, John is the only one that records Jesus’ washing His disciples’ feet, and the only one that does not record the Last Supper. Let us consider that passage now.
 
“And supper being ended, … Jesus, … rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” John 13:2-5 NKJV
 
This seems rather odd for several reasons. In terms of the question above, why would they wash after they ate? Does this mean they had dirty feet the whole time while they were eating their supper?
 
First, we note that there were only thirteen people present during this supper: Jesus and His twelve disciples. There was no one there who was considered lowly enough to wash feet, so they simply went without.
 
The answer to why He chose that moment can be found in Luke’s account of the Last Supper. The verse quoted below occurs right after the supper.
 
“Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And [Jesus] said to them, ‘ … he who is greater among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.’” Luke 22:24-26 NKJV
 
This suggests that the reason for Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet was to use this as an object lesson concerning service. In fact, later in John 13, Jesus, in explaining what He had done, said, “A servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him” (John 13:16). This is similar to the message recorded in Luke 22:26, so the two events are related.
 
When we connect John 13:2-17 and Luke 22:24-30, it seems evident that Jesus waited until after the supper to wash His disciples’ feet because of the dispute about greatness that had arisen among them. He simply wanted to show them how one can truly be great—through service.
 
 

What is God’s name?     table of contents

Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”
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
 
That answers the question, doesn’t it? Yes, but it requires some explanation. The next verse sheds a little more light.
 
Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’”
Exodus 3:15 NKJV
 
The KJV and NKJV, and perhaps some others, rarely ever use the name of God in the Old Testament, but replace it with words in small capitals such as LORD in the passage above or GOD in many places in Ezekiel (e.g. Eze. 2:4) and others.
 
One thing to note is that Hebrew, the original language of most of the Old Testament, does not have vowels. In the 6th – 10th centuries, the Masoretic scribes famously added vowel markings in the Hebrew Bible so that pronunciations would be standardized, particularly for those whose first language is not Hebrew. They did not, however, add any vowel markings to the name of God out of deep respect and honor. The name was not said for fear of violating the command not to use His name in vain (Exodus 20:7). So all we have is what’s called the tetragrammaton. These are four Hebrew letters that, when transliterated, are YHWH. All we can do is guess as to the correct pronunciation. Many people today call Him Yahweh.
 
The Hebrew Y often turns into a J in English, and the Hebrew W can also be pronounced like a V, depending on dialect. So we could express this as JHVH. In order to make it pronounceable, some have mixed in vowels from the Hebrew words for “God” (elohim), and “Lord,” (adonai), making the pronunciation Jehovah. Since we are all ignorant as to the true pronunciation, either way is fine.
 
In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, this can be expressed as ego eimi, or “I AM.” Jesus identified Himself in no uncertain terms as the I AM.
 
Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
John 8:58 NKJV
 
Next time, we will see how this Jesus can seemingly be called by another name, and yet still be Yahweh, the great I AM.
 
Part 2
Last time, we discovered the name of God is YHWH, often pronounced as Yahweh or Jehovah. In English, that can be expressed as I AM, as we saw in Exodus 3:13-15. In New Testament times, this name was not spoken out of great respect for God. It would have been unusual for Jesus to use His name YHWH, let alone refer to Himself as the I AM.
 
Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
John 8:58 NKJV
 
In fact, it was so unusual, that it was considered blasphemous, as we can see the reaction of those around Him: “Then they took up stones to throw at Him” (John 8:59a). The penalty for blasphemy was death. Thankfully, He managed to escape.
 
Some might object and say this is a common phrase in Greek, so Jesus could have just meant simply, “I am.” In context, however, that does not make sense. He would have mixed two tenses in a way that would be incomprehensible. He is stating that He was in existence long before Abraham was about 2000 years prior, yet His physical body was only just over 30 years old! He was stating that He is YHWH!
 
So yes, Jesus is the I AM, from everlasting to everlasting (Psa. 90:2). But how can His name be Jesus and YHWH? Some might point to Psalm 83:18, which says, “That they may know that You, whose name alone is the LORD [YHWH], are the Most High over all the earth.”
 
In a prophecy concerning Jesus, Isaiah wrote, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). This was fulfilled in Jesus (Matt. 1:23-25). In fact, Matthew translates Immanuel as, “God with us,” and later says that Joseph “called His name Jesus.” Jesus is in fact an English transliteration of the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name for Joshua. This name means “YHWH Saves.” What an appropriate name for Him! While Immanuel is not a name as we think of it, it certainly describes Him: God is with us!
 
Additional: Since Immanuel is not so much a name as we think of it but a description, we see this in other places as well. Isaiah, foretelling of the the church Jesus would build (cf. Matt. 16:18), said that we “shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD will name,” and later, “You shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah” (Isa. 62:2, 4). The new name by which we are literally called is not Hephzibah or Beulah, but Christian (Acts 11:26). These words merely give a description of the Christian. Hephzibah means “My Delight is in Her” and describes how God delights in those who follow Him. Beulah means “Married” and describes how the land, i.e. the church, is His bride.
 
Now that we have established that Jesus is indeed YHWH, we must also emphasize Peter’s words after having healed a lame man:
 
“Let it be known to you all … that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. … Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:10, 12 NKJV
 
We can only be saved in Christ. Recall, “whoever calls on the name of the LORD [YHWH] shall be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; cf. Acts 22:16). This same LORD that we call on is the same Jesus in whom is salvation, for salvation is only in Christ (2 Tim. 2:10). We can only get into Christ by faith through baptism (Gal. 3:26-27).
 
 

What did God do before Creation?     table of contents

The very first verse in the Bible tells us that, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). After this, for six days God worked to create this world and all that is in it. Since this all happened in the beginning, we note that God had to have created time for there to be a beginning. Therefore the notion that there was even a “before” shows how difficult it is for us to think outside of linear time. There is no such thing as before the beginning.
 
Time did not exist before the Creation as we understand it. God was not sitting there in heaven twiddling His thumbs when He decided to create everything. There are some things we read about, however, that were accomplished “before the foundation of the world.”
 
In Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was betrayed, He said:
 
“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
John 17:24 NKJV
 
Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, saying:
 
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, … having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
Ephesians 1:3-6 NKJV
 
Peter used this phrase as well, saying:
 
[Christ] indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.
1 Peter 1:20 NKJV
 
So what God did before Creation was 1) love Christ, 2) choose us in Him, and 3) plan for Christ’s coming. All of these things are related. We do know that He revealed the “manifold wisdom of God … according to the eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10-11). It was God’s purpose and has always been God’s purpose to send His Son to earth to die for our sins. God planned our redemption in Christ before He ever said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). This implies He planned to create us, too, and knew we would need a Savior. God loved His Son, and He wanted to show His love for His Creation, too.
 
What this does not teach is that we were all individually chosen for salvation or destruction, but that all who are in Christ were collectively chosen for salvation before time began. Recall, “He chose us in Him.” For us to be in Him, we must be part of His body, His church (Eph. 1:22-23). Salvation can only be found there (Acts 2:38, 41, 47).
 
 

Did God command genocide? If so, why?     table of contents

This question was originally worded differently, but it was presented as a logical fallacy known as a loaded question. A loaded question is one that contains unjustified assumptions, for example: When did you stop beating your wife? The original question suggested that God currently allows and approves of genocide. He does not. So the question is reworded to make it more appropriate.
 
There are some instances in the Old Testament, however, that could be described as genocide that were commanded by God, though it was not always carried out. First we will look at some of those commands, why they were issued, and what that means for us today.
 
A few months ago, we discussed the idea of judgment. While God does judge us individually, He also judges groups of people such as cities or nations. We first see an example of His judgment on a massive scale in the Flood of Noah (Gen. 6). Later we see His judgment on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19). These particular judgments were carried out by God Himself, but He also uses people such as the Israelites to carry out His judgment upon others.
 
Additional: The Israelites, for example, were judged by God through the kingdoms of Assyria and Babylon. Before that, they were judged through the nations around them for their idolatry. And before that, the Israelites were commanded to carry out God’s judgments upon the wicked peoples who dwelt in Canaan.
 
In Leviticus 20, we read about many of the terrible sins God wanted the Israelites to keep away from. In the process, we read that the Canaanites were guilty of all these things God forbade (Lev. 20:22-23). They were guilty of infanticide and idolatry (Lev. 20:1-5), witchcraft and prostitution (Lev. 20:6-7), cursing parents (Lev. 20:8-9), adultery, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality (Lev. 20:10-21). Not only this, but He had given them 400 years to repent! (Gen. 15:13-16).
 
So the Lord gives the Israelites commands for how to deal with these Canaanites.
 
“But of the cities of these peoples which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them … just as the LORD your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 20:16-18 NKJV
 
In this passage, we also note the reason for this destruction. These evil people would influence the people of God to do evil. If they fell for such evil, it would endanger God’s plan to redeem mankind through One born as an Israelite—Jesus. Additional: In fact, we do see that they eventually did fall for such evil, but God was able to bring His plans to fruition through it all!
 
It does not take long to see that they did not carry out the commands as completely as the LORD desired (Judges 12), though there were some instances that they did (Josh. 6:21; 10:40). They had on-going issues with all of these peoples for over 400 years, up until the time of King Solomon who made them slaves (2 Chron. 8:7-8).
 
Additional: Furthermore, there are many who look to similar ancient Near Eastern war texts and point out similar figures of speech. When they would use language that suggests to us total destruction, it was meant as hyperbole similar to a sports headline saying that one team “totally annihilated” another. In truth, we see another instance of apparent genocide commanded to King Saul against the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:1-3). We see that Saul apparently carried out this directive, except for a few animals and their king (1 Sam. 15:7-9). Yet we see later that there were still Amalekites around causing trouble (1 Sam. 30:1-3). This is not a contradiction, but an example of the hyperbolic wartime narrative.
 
Additional: Another question one might ask in relation to this is concerning the civilians such as women and children. It should be noted that whenever the women are mentioned, they are described as just as immoral as the men and just as worthy of judgment (e.g. Num. 25). As for the children, consider that they would be considered orphans by this point, and the amount of orphans would have been a huge drain on the Israelites’ resources. At the same time, there is some evidence that God will take the innocent as punishment for the wickedness of their parents (2 Sam. 12:13-23), or because He sees some good in them and does not want them to be corrupted (1 Kings 14:12-13). Do keep in mind, however, that due to the hyperbolic nature of these war texts, we cannot be sure how complete the destruction was even concerning women and children.
 
So what does this mean for us today? Should we engage in such genocidal warfare? No. The Israelites had direct commands from God to destroy certain peoples; we do not. On top of that, in prophesying about the Christian age (today), Isaiah wrote, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isa. 2:4). While there is certainly warfare and genocide that have occurred since Christ, none of it has been commanded by God. We are to learn peace from the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). That does not necessary mean we ought to be pacifists, but that’s a topic for another day.
 
Additional: What we learn from these accounts is the severity of sin, and that we will not be spared on the Last Day if we are found in sin. Such evil and wickedness must be totally eradicated from our lives! This can only be done through Christ.
 
 

Why are there mosquitoes?     table of contents

For a greater discussion on this go here.
 
At first I thought this was a silly question, but it actually lends to a more serious and deeper question: If God loves us, why would He create something that hurts us?
 
First, I must point out that mosquitoes are not mentioned in our English Bibles. That said, there is some linguistic evidence that the flies involved in the fourth plague of Egypt were actually mosquitoes since the sucking of blood is indicated (Exo. 8:20-24). This was judgment from God for not allowing the Israelites to go free.
 
That is not to say that every time you are bitten by a mosquito God is judging you, but there is a purpose to our suffering. I could point out all the benefits that mosquitoes bring to our ecosystem, but God could have easily created a creature that did all those things without the aggravation and the carrying of diseases. In fact, He very likely did until sin and suffering entered into the world (Gen. 3). The truth is, there is a greater reason for suffering.
 
An acquaintance and faithful gospel preacher, Don Blackwell, sheds some light on his own experiences on suffering in the embedded video below. Earlier this year, he had an accident that robbed him of the use of his legs. He makes the following points concerning the benefits of suffering:
  1. Suffering teaches us that we need to pray (2 Cor. 12:7-8).
  2. Suffering takes away the love of this world (John 14:1-3; 1 John 2:15).
  3. Suffering allows Christians’ light to shine (Matt. 5:16).
  4. Suffering helps you find a proper perspective on this physical world (Matt. 19:23-24).
  5. Suffering brings out the best in people (John 13:35).
  6. Suffering humbles us (1 Pet. 5:6-7; James 4:6, 10).
  7. Suffering helps us to sympathize with others (Rom. 12:15).
  8. 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

When we are suffering from illness and disease, and we see others being healed, it is heartbreaking when we are not. The topic this week is closely related to the topic that we covered last time on suffering. I encourage you to read the previous entry about the benefits of suffering (cf. Romans 5:3-4; 8:24).
 
One of the sayings of an old teacher of mine was, “You never get out of this world alive.” This saying is true. The question is not if we will pass from this life, but when and how—assuming the Lord does not return first. All the prayers in the world will not countermand this natural reality. They may delay it, they may ease it, but in the end, it will happen because it is God’s will. I pray that you have prepared your soul for that inevitability. So for some, they are not healed because it is their time.
 
It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.  Hebrews 9:27 NKJV
 
Even Jesus, when He walked this earth, did not heal everyone. When He went to His hometown of Nazareth, the people there were interested in His peforming miracles as He did elsewhere. Jesus’ response angered the Nazarenes.
 
“But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, … but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
 
Jesus alludes to two prophets of the Old Testament who did not help everyone in Israel, either. This shows that we should trust and accept the decisions of our Lord concerning who is healed and who is not, even if we are among those not healed.
 
No one knew that better than the Apostle Paul. The Holy Spirit allowed him to heal many people (cf. Acts 19:11-12), but he himself was not afforded this luxury.
 
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
 
What exactly Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, it is not stated. Whatever it was, Paul was afflicted by it and prayed that it be removed. The purpose, at least for Paul, was to humble him. For us, whatever the purpose, let us take comfort that His grace is enough for us if, indeed, we have access to that grace. Remember, we are “saved by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8). What comfort and strength His grace affords us if we have obeyed the gospel by believing and being baptized! (Mark 16:16; Gal. 3:26-27).
 
 

What about the mistreatment of animals?     table of contents

First, we should define what it means to mistreat animals. Slaughtering them for the purposes of food or sacrifice is not mistreatment (e.g. Gen. 9:2-3; Lev. 1), neither is killing them for defense of person or property (e.g. Judges 14:5-6; 1 Sam. 17:34-36). Causing them to suffer needlessly, however, would qualify as mistreatment.
 
In the beginning, God gave mankind dominion over the earth, including the animals that it contains (Gen. 1:26-28). In the Flood, God wanted to preserve every kind of animal by placing them on the ark (Gen. 6:19-21).
 
There are several principles that we note in the Old Testament concerning how animals are to be treated. One of the laws stated, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain” (Deut. 25:4). Treading grain is a process by which the grain is separated into the wheat and the worthless chaff. Oxen were used to aid in this process. If they were muzzled, they could not eat anything they were treading and would not benefit from their labor. This showed a concern for their welfare.
 
Below is another law concerning the animal of a neighbor.
 
You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray, and hide yourself from them; you shall certainly bring them back to your brother. And if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until your brother seeks it; then you shall restore it to him. You shall do the same with his donkey … You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fall down along the road, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely help him lift them up again.
 
While this is dealing with animals as property belonging to another, it is interesting to note how well these animals were to be treated when in trouble (cf. Exodus 23:4-5).
 
Consider also the treatment of birds a few verses later (Deut. 22:6-7). The law here stated that when one encountered a bird’s nest, that he should not take the mother with her young or her eggs. This preserved the mother to lay again.
 
Additional: There were also some additional laws that covered damages done by someone’s animals. If an ox, for instance, were to gore someone and kill them, it was to be stoned to death. If the ox showed no earlier signs of aggression, then its owner was not to be held responsible. If, however, it did, and the owner knew about it and did nothing about it, then he either has to pay whatever the family of the deceased required or be killed with his animal (Exo. 21:28-32).
 
Additional: Other laws are concerning what happens if you dig a pit and an animal falls into it (Exo. 21:33-34), if your ox gores another animal (Exo. 21:35-36), if your animal grazes in someone else’s field (Exo. 22:5), or if you were to kill another man’s animal (Lev. 24:18).
 
King Solomon points something out about how one treats his animals as well.
 
A righteous man regards the life of his animal,
But the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
Proverbs 12:10 NKJV
 
Cruelty to animals, particularly one’s own, was discouraged. It also revealed much about the person. It revealed that the one who mistreated his animals was lacking in righteousness.
 
While we are not bound by these Old Testament laws (cf. Gal. 3:24-25), they do show us certain principles on how animals are to be treated. Always keep in mind, however, of how much more value we are as human beings to our heavenly Father (Matt. 6:26; cf. 1 Cor. 9:9).
 
 

What about separation and divorce?     table of contents

Jesus Himself was asked about the question of divorce. It is certainly important to consider what He has to say.

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.

Part 2

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

This is a popular doctrine among certain denominations. It teaches that, after one is saved he can never lose his salvation.

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.

Part 2

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

In our on-going series on how to interpret the Bible, we have previously considered the genre of the text and also the overall context.  This time we will consider the concept of “the whole truth.”

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.