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Why Was Jesus Called the Christ? Part 3

With the overall theme of our 48th annual lectureship being “Rise of the Messianic Kingdom,” the question in the title of this article is very relevant. The short answer to the question is two-fold: (1) because Jesus was truly the Messiah, the God-chosen “anointed one,” which is what the Koine Greek term translated “Christ” means; and (2) because the term “Messiah” was so politically and militarily charged in the first century, to have called Jesus “Messiah” would have left the wrong impression upon most Jews and would have prematurely stirred up unnecessary worldly strife. As usual with short answers, a deeper understanding will bring better appreciation to the subject at hand. In Parts 1 and 2 of this study, consideration was given to the Old Testament background and intertestamental development of the term “Messiah” and the first century view of the Messiah. In the final part of this study, examination will be made of the early church’s value of the Messiah and some practical applications for people today.

The Early Church
And Jesus the “Christ”

The early church could “acclaim and proclaim Jesus as Messiah in an entirely new way, which transcended the OT understanding and the intertestamental development of the title” (Piper 334). Nothing in Jewish tradition would cause people to worship their view of the coming Messiah as deity. To the average Jew, He would be a political warrior who would set things straight. However, those who actually encountered Jesus considered Him worthy of worship because of whom He showed Himself to be (Mt. 14:33; 28:9, 17; Lk. 24:52; Jn. 9:38; 12:20). After the church was established (Acts 2), many people obeyed the Gospel, acknowledging Jesus as the Christ (Acts 2:41 cf. Acts 4:4; 5:14; 6:1, 7; 8:12; 9:42; 11:21; 14:1; 16:5; 17:12; 18:8). There are two major reasons why this was the case.

First and foremost, people followed Jesus because of His resurrection from the dead. Paul said Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). The resurrection was the “incontestible fact” upon which the church was built and why many became Jesus’ disciples (Piper 335). Some in the first century church actually witnessed the resurrection of Christ and others could confirm it (cf. 1 Cor. 15:4-8). Even Jesus’ own brothers did not believe He was the Messiah until after the resurrection (Jn. 7:4 cf. Acts 1:4; 15:13).

Second, in addition to His resurrection, the early church followed Jesus as the Christ, or Messiah, because it was clear He was the fulfillment of Old Testament scripture, from His birth in Bethlehem (Mt. 2:1-6; Lk. 2:4), His coming from the lineage of David (Rom. 1:3), and His mission to the Jews first (Gal. 4:4), then to the Gentiles (Acts 26:15-18). Paul’s summary of the Gospel confirms this:

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Cor. 15:1-4)

Where one stood in relation to accepting Jesus as the Christ, or Messiah, determined whether he or she was in fellowship. John wrote:

By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. (1 Jn. 4:2-3)

People need to acknowledge now that God’s Messiah has come in the flesh in the person of Jesus, and they need to live their lives according to this fact. To the early church, “Confessing Christ” meant that “a Christian was willing to make a public stand for the messianic dignity of Jesus regardless of hostile reactions” (Piper 335).

Concluding Applications

One day, “at the name of Jesus every knee” will “bow” and “every tongue” will “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). For some, however, their acknowledgment of Jesus as the Christ at that time will be too late to improve their eternal destination (cf. Mt. 7:21-22; 25:31-46). Jesus is called the Christ because He is the true Messiah sent from God to redeem humanity from sin (Rom. 3:24-26; Gal. 3:13), to keep the redeemed washed in His blood (1 Jn. 1:7; Rev. 1:5), and to give His followers an eternal home in the presence of God (1 Cor. 15:21-28 cf. Jn. 14:1-3).

What difference can Jesus being called the Christ make in a person’s life today? How should people respond to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah? First, all should recognize that Jesus has all authority (Mt. 28:18). Second, they should submit to that authority by obeying the Gospel (Mt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). Third, they should continue “walking in the light” of Jesus’ words and example (1 Jn. 1:7 cf. 1 Pet. 2:21). May everyone who learns of Jesus the Christ develop the attitude Paul expressed, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain … having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Phil. 1:21-23).

Works Cited

Piper, Otto A. “Messiah.” International Standard Bible En-
cyclopedia. Vol. 3. Ed. G. W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986. 330-338.

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Why Was Jesus Called the Christ? Part 3
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Why Was Jesus Called the Christ? Part 2

With the overall theme of our 48th annual lectureship being “Rise of the Messianic Kingdom,” the question in the title of this article is very relevant. The short answer to the question is two-fold: (1) because Jesus was truly the Messiah, the God-chosen “anointed one,” which is what the Koine Greek term translated “Christ” means; and (2) because the term “Messiah” was so politically and militarily charged in the first century, to have called Jesus “Messiah” would have left the wrong impression upon most Jews and would have prematurely stirred up unnecessary worldly strife. As usual with short answers, a deeper understanding will bring better appreciation to the subject at hand. In Part 1 of this study, consideration was given to the Old Testament background of the “Messiah” as well as the intertestamental development of the term. In Part 2, the New Testament consideration will be given.

First Century View of “Messiah”

By the time the “silent years” of the intertestamental period were broken by the “voice of one crying in the wilderness,” the Jewish expectation of who the Messiah would be and what He would accomplish was far from God’s intent. The typical Jews of the first century were expecting a mighty warrior-type Messiah with political power who would restore national Israel as the prominent kingdom they thought God intended (cf. Acts 1:6). Instead of a warrior-like restorer, though, Jesus came as a humble redeemer, with no political power. In the first century, “Judaism had become the slave of the letter of the OT law” (Jn. 5:46; Rom. 7:6; 2 Cor. 3:6 cf. Mt. 11:10; Mk. 14:27; Lk. 10:27-37), and thus failed to realize that Jesus was the “mighty agent and final revelation of God’s redemptive purpose” (Piper 338).

The Greek word messias (μεσσίας), translated “Messiah” occurs only twice in the New Testament. Both references are from John’s Gospel. In both, John immediately attached the translation “Christ” to Messias. First, John recorded Andrew saying, “We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated, the Christ)” (Jn. 1:41). By the time John’s Gospel was written, “Messiah” was a “Jewish eschatological term applied to the expected deliverer” (Borchert 143). John’s first readers were second generation Christians, mostly Gentiles, who would not be familiar with many Jewish concepts. The term “Christ,” which explained the meaning of “Messiah” without the political baggage, became one of the most familiar terms used of Jesus in the first century Greco-Roman world.

Second, John recorded the Samaritan woman’s response to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ)” (Jn. 4:25). The Samaritans did not regularly use the term “Messiah.” They preferred the term “Taheb,” which meant “restorer,” or possibly, “he who returns.” The strong political feature that the Jews attached to their “Messiah” seems to be absent from this term “Taheb.” Samaritans pictured this figure as “one who would reveal the truth, in line with the ultimate prophet [cf. Deut. 18:15-19]” (Carson 226). Thus, the Samaritan woman’s statement, “When He comes, He will tell us all things” is consistent with their view. Also of interest in this context, “Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He’” (Jn. 4:26). Usually, Jesus made it a point to keep His Messiahship low key (Lk. 9:20-22), even telling people not to say anything about His messianic doings (Mt. 8:4; 16:20 cf. Jn. 6:15). Yet, to “this obscure woman Jesus reveals point-blank what he had revealed to no one else” (Lenski 327). This was entirely appropriate on this occasion. In the region of Galilee, there were “many would-be Messiahs and a constant unrest based on the messianic hope,” which made the claim “Messiah” very dangerous; however, in Samaria, “the concept would probably have been regarded more as religious than political and would have elicited a ready hearing for his teaching rather than a subversive revolt” (Tenney 56).

Jesus as the “Messiah,”
Which Is Translated “Christ”

Nothing observable about Jesus before He was made known to Israel would clue the average Jew into thinking He was the long awaited Messiah (cf. Isa. 53:2). The birth narratives of Jesus make clear that He was not politically powerful royalty as most Jews would have imagined their Messiah. Rather, the place and circumstance of His birth identified Him with the common predicament of the populace (cf. Mt. 1:18-25; Lk. 2:1-24). Furthermore, throughout His life, the “Jews were confounded and irritated by Jesus’ humility and meekness, which contradicted their idea of a nationalistic liberator who would appear in royal splendor and power” (Piper 334).

However, Messianic-type descriptions of Jesus are found throughout the New Testament. In the Gospels, Matthew especially describes the work of Jesus in terms of the “kingship ideology of the OT” (Mt. 1:1, 6, 17, 20; 9:27; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9, 15) (Piper 335). Jesus was the personification of God’s kingdom and the executor of His redemptive will (cf. Mk. 8:38; 9:14-29; Lk. 10:22-24). Thus, Jesus had the right to demand obedience to His will (Mk. 1:16-20; Mt. 19:21). Whatever Jesus had, it came from His Father (Jn. 3:35; 5:22; 17:2). Jesus had authority because He was “sent” by His Father (Jn. 5:23, 30, 36-38; Acts 3:26; Rom. 8:3).

This is why Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16 was so significant. It was a crucial time in Jesus’ ministry when He “came into the region of Caesarea Philippi” and asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (Mt. 16:13). The answer they gave—“John the Baptist … Elijah … Jeremiah, or one of the prophets”—was no doubt meant as a compliment, for these were all great servants of God. However, these great servants of God fell far short of the significance Jesus was to God’s plan. When Jesus asked the Twelve, “But who do you say that I am?,” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:15-16). In this answer, the apostle acknowledged the Messianic nature of Jesus. As stated earlier, “Christ” (from Christos, Χριστός) is the Greek translation of messias, which means “Anointed One,” or “Messiah.” John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and all the faithful prophets were great servants of God, but they were not the Messiah! The term “Son of the living God” also acknowledged the Messiahship of Jesus. Referring to Jesus as “Son of God” in first century Jewish culture was equivalent to saying He was of the same nature as God. One reason the Jews wanted to kill Jesus was “because He … said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (Jn. 5:18 cf. Jn. 19:7). Not only did Jesus call Himself the “Son [of God]” (Mt. 11:27; 24:36; Mk. 13:32; Lk. 10:22), He also referred to God as “my Father” (Mt. 7:21; 10:33; Mk. 8:38; Lk. 22:29). For any other man in that culture to make such a claim for himself would have been blasphemy, but Jesus proved throughout His ministry that He was indeed God incarnate (cf. Jn. 3:1).

Because the term “Messiah” had so many worldly and political connotations, other, non-politically-charged terms were used to describe the Anointed One of God. “Son of Man” was the one Jesus used most often for Himself (Mt. 8:20; 9:6; Mk. 2:28; 8:31; Lk. 12:8; 18:8; Jn. 3:14; 13:31). This term expressed lowliness because it simply meant “a man,” or human, yet it represented greatness because it tied into the vision of Daniel 7:13-14. One commentator gives four reasons why Jesus possibly preferred this term: (1) it was a “rare term and one without nationalistic associations,” which would “lead to no political complications;” (2) it had “overtones of divinity” (cf. Dan. 7:13-14); (3) its “societary implications” because it implied “the redeemed people of God;” and (4) it had “undertones of humanity,” for Jesus took upon Himself human weakness (Morris 202). When Jesus used “Son of man,” He always used it in the third person, which is indicative of His humility.

Conclusion

Like “Messiah,” there are many biblical terms today that have been so abused and/or misunderstood that it is sometimes not wise to use them (cf. “pastor,” even if the preacher is also an elder). Jesus as “the Christ” conveyed in the first century the meaning that “Messiah” would have had it not been so twisted into human doctrine. Rest assured, however, that Jesus was (and is) that long awaited Messiah. In Part 3, consideration will be given to the meaning and importance of the Messiah to the first century church along with some practical applications.

Works Cited

Borchert, Gerald L. John 1–11. New American Commentary.
Vol. 25A. Ed. E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1996.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans, 1991.
Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel.
Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992.
Piper, Otto A. “Messiah.” International Standard Bible En-
cyclopedia. Vol. 3. Ed. G. W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986. 330-338.
Tenney, Merrill C. “The Gospel of John.” Expositor’s Bible
Commentary. Vol. 9. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981. 1-203.

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Why Was Jesus Called the Christ? Part 2
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Why Was Jesus Called the Christ? Part 1

With the overall theme of our 48th annual lectureship being “Rise of the Messianic Kingdom,” the question in the title of this article is very relevant. The short answer to the question is two-fold: (1) because Jesus was truly the Messiah, the God-chosen “anointed one,” which is what the Koine Greek term translated “Christ” means; and (2) because the term “Messiah” was so politically and militarily charged in the first century, to have called Jesus “Messiah” would have left the wrong impression upon most Jews and would have prematurely stirred up unnecessary worldly strife. As usual with short answers, a deeper understanding will bring better appreciation to the subject at hand. With that in mind, the remainder of this study will give a more detailed examination of why Jesus was called Christ.

Jesus was known by many descriptions, but “the Christ” was among the most common and significant (Mt. 16:16, 20). Judaism was rich in the expectation of a messiah who would come and set matters straight for the Jewish people, at least in their nationalistic minds. This expectation is seen throughout the New Testament. When John the Baptist came on the scene, those who heard him “reasoned in their hearts … whether he was the Christ or not” (Lk. 3:15). When priests and Levites were sent from Jerusalem to check out this rugged preacher with a distinct message, they asked, “Who are you?,” to which John confessed, “I am not the Christ” (Jn. 1:19-20). Later, when there arose a question among the Jews and John’s disciples about purification, John reminded them, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him … He must increase, but I must decrease’” (Jn. 3:28-30). After her encounter with Jesus, the Samaritan woman told her people, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (Jn. 4:29). After her people went out to hear Jesus, they told the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (Jn. 4:42). Even toward the end of Jesus’ earthly life, during His mockery of a trial, the high priest stood and asked Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mk. 14:61).

The word “Christ” is from the Greek word christos (χριστός), which is a translation of a Hebrew and Aramaic word that is transliterated in Greek as messias (μεσσίας). Messias meant to “touch lightly” or “rub with oil,” and thus “anoint.” The designation “anointed” was a description of honor given to the high priest (Ex. 30:30) and kings. This kingly aspect is brought out particularly in the Psalms (2:2; 18:50; 20:6; 28:8; 45:7; 84:9; 105:15). The term “anointed” (messias) was also occasionally used to refer to the patriarchs (Ps. 105:15), to a prophet (1 Kgs. 19:5), to a Servant of the Lord (Isa. 61:1), or to the cherub on the holy mountain appointed for protecting God’s people (Ezk. 28:14). To better appreciate the word “Christ” as it applied to Jesus, a background study of messias and its various connotations is necessary.

Old Testament
Background of “Messiah”

As mentioned above, the two primary Old Testament functions, or offices, that were associated with being anointed were that of priest and king. Later, the prophetic office sometimes involved anointing (1 Kgs. 19:16 cf. 1 Chr. 16:22; Ps. 105:15). Concerning the priests, upon inauguration of the Levitical system, both the high priest and the lesser priests were anointed (Ex. 40:15; Num. 3:3). Afterward, anointing seemed to be only for the high priest (Ex. 29:29; Lev. 16:32 cf. Lev. 4:3). Concerning kings, anointing was the primary and God-ordained ceremony instituting Jewish kings (1 Sam. 9:16; 10:1; 1 Kgs. 1:34, 39). The reason for the priests and kings being paired together with anointing is that:

[I]n both cases the anointing, corresponding to its character as a legal act, is as essential for the conferring of the authority connected with the office as it is for the resulting responsibility before God as the God of Israel. (Rengstorf 335)

Although Jesus would later serve as prophet, priest, and king, during this Old Testament period, only the role of king began to be associated with the idea of a Messiah. The connection was easily made due to the nature of the position of king as sovereign of his kingdom. God’s people would look for one to come who would exercise the “sovereign kingly rule of God on the basis of the OT revealed faith” (Rengstorf 335).

As Old Testament history unfolded, the “political institution of kingship” came to be understood as the “foretaste of the rule of a perfect king by whom peace and justice would be realized forever” (Piper 331). Until the time of Isaiah, “Israel’s hope was confined to the restoration of the splendor of David’s kingdom, whose glory increased in proportion to the deterioration of Israel’s political and social conditions” (Piper 331). Isaiah showed that God as creator of all was concerned for all mankind, not just His covenant people, Israel (Isa. 2:2-3; 27:13). Thus, the belief and expectation arose that a divinely appointed Messiah-Savior would come in the future. This Messiah would provide a sense of security and adequate power to protect, while at the same time, save God’s people from impending doom and disaster (Mic. 5:3 cf. Ezk. 21:27).

God has always worked through agents, and the coming of His Messiah-Savior would be no different. God’s anointed was identified through a prophet as one who would “preach good tidings” (Isa. 61:1-3) and as a special Servant (Isa. 42:1-7; 49:1-9; 50:4-9; 52:12-53:12). Perhaps the most significant Old Testament passage bringing to light the coming Messianic agent is given by the prophet Daniel:

I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. 14Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14)

In this passage, the agent of God’s authority is described as “one like the Son of man.” This reveals that He is human, but as the context reveals, He is more than a mere man. His humanity contrasts with the beasts designating the previous empires and the turmoil with which they were associated (Dan. 7:3-28). His coming with “the clouds of heaven” indicates His divinity. Clouds in the Old Testament were often associated with the presence of deity, such as when the glory of the Lord appeared in a cloud (Ex. 16:10), and in the inauguration of the Mosaic covenant (Ex. 19:9). In connection with Daniel 7:13, “the coming with clouds is an exclusively divine attribute” (Sabourin 304). This human figure came to the “Ancient of Days” and was given a universal kingdom, in which “all people, nations, and languages, should serve him.” This was also an eternal kingdom, in contrast to the worldly kingdoms Daniel just described that would be destroyed. Thus, this “one like the Son of man” would be “the heavenly Sovereign incarnate” (Archer 90). Daniel saw this vision on the brink of the post-exilic period (Dan. 7:1, “the first year of Belshazzar” was about 552 BC). Through the post-exilic times and into the intertestamental period, expectations of this Messianic Sovereign’s character and work would evolve.

Intertestamental
Background of “Messiah”

As the post-exilic period gave way to the intertestamental period, “anointing” began to designate a “status directly below God rather than a specific function” (Piper 333). For example, in the uninspired book, Psalm of Solomon, all the kings who were allied with Israel would be anointed (17:21-40). In other uninspired literature (some falsely ascribed), there was the coexistence of two Messiahs: one from the House of David and one from the House of Aaron, or Levi (Testament of Judah [T. Jud.] 21:2-5:24; Testament of Levi [T. Levi]18; Jubilees [Jub.] 31:12-20; Serek Hayahad [1QS] 9:11; Cairo Genizah copy of the Damascus Document [CD] 12:23; 14:19; 19:10; 20:1). This idea of dual Messiahs probably goes back to the words of the angel who told Zechariah concerning the meaning of the vision of the lampstand and the two olive trees: “These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zec. 4:14). Whether it was two or one Messiah, intertestamental expectation was of a “ruler who would be thoroughly familiar with the law and whose faithful observance of it would set an example to the whole nation” (Piper 333).

It was not clear in intertestamental literature, however, whether the Messiah was to establish God’s kingdom or only to prepare for its coming (2 Esdras [2 Esd.] 7:28; 12:34; 2 Baruch [2 Bar.] 40:3). As a general rule, the literature of this time “considers God rather than the Messiah the one who ushers in the cosmic transformation and salvation” (1 Enoch [1 En.] 90:37f; 2 Esdras [2 Esd.] 7:28f; 2 Baruch [2 Bar.] 72:1-5]) (Piper 333). The “saving agent” of God in the literature of this time had many titles, and “Messiah” is “by far the least frequent one” (Piper 333). All the different titles for this “saving agent” had specific meanings and expectations associated with them. During this time:

[The] whole Jewish literature agrees on only one feature of the Messiah: he will be a political ruler and national hero … to deliver Israel from its oppressors and restore the authority of the law. (Piper 333)

In the Maccabean age of the intertestamental period, a Jewish nationalism began to grow. The idea of a warrior and conqueror transferred from Yahweh to the Messiah (Sibylline Oracles [Sib. Or.] 5:108f, 414-431; 2 Baruch [2 Bar.] 70:9, 73; 1 Enoch [1 En.] 38:2f; 90:38; Jubilees [Jub.] 23:30; 2 Esdras [2 Esd.] 13:10f). Thus, the expectation of the Messiah became that of “rebel and political leader” (Piper 333). None of the literature depicts this Messiah as one who will suffer, not even the writings of Qumran (i.e., the Dead Sea Scrolls). Furthermore, the coming of the Messiah would be the sign that the final period of human history had begun (Piper 333).

Works Cited

Archer, Gleason L., Jr. “Daniel.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 7. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985. 1-157. Piper, O. “Messiah.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1986. 330-338. Rengstorf, Karl H. “Christos [Χριστός].” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986. 334-343.

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Why Was Jesus Called the Christ? Part 1
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Understanding Translation Essentials Should Reduce Controversy

When I was a student at the Florida School of Preaching (1989-1991), we were only allowed to use two Bible translations: the King James Version and the American Standard Version (1901). The reasoning was so that everyone’s Bible read the same. After all, we were told, we could not use valuable class time to discuss why everyone’s Bible read differently. When I came to work with the school in 1996 and wrote articles for the Harvester, I would occasionally compare translations, even the NIV, when explaining a passage. Some readers thought this was out of line and insisted I should not do it. Around 1999, Jackie M. Stearsman (FSOP’s second director, 1992-2009) allowed students another translation option, the New King James Version. He also received criticism from those outside FSOP. At the time, however, we had several Haitian students. Why should we force students who have recently learned English to read from a translation that would further confuse any uncertainty they might still have with English? Should not our goal be more to impart biblical knowledge (cf. 2 Tim. 2:2) than to be dogmatically loyal to a translation?

In some areas of the brotherhood, there are still those who insist on the KJV or ASV (1901) to the point of, at best, looking down on any one who uses another translation or, at worst, thinking any one who does is a false teacher. My view of “KJV only” changed several years ago when I attended the funeral of a church member’s relative. At the luncheon afterward, I was siting at a table with brethren while a denominational pastor was sitting behind me (back-to-back) with his church members. His voice carried while he was discussing how the KJV was the only Bible God recognized. He used the very same argumentation that brethren used (and continue to use)! I thought, “Wow! He uses the KJV only and preaches false doctrine from it. It cannot be the translation that makes the difference! It’s the doctrine he preaches, even though he’s holding and reading from the KJV! Furthermore,” I thought, “if it’s true that more people have been saved by learning from the KJV, it must also be true more people have been lost who heard preaching from the KJV!”

There is still a misconception about the KJV being the only God-approved translation. An obvious symptom of this is when, for example, in Bible class, when a translation reads differently from the KJV and someone appeals to Revelation 22:18-19, how no one is to add to or take away from God’s word. Using these verses to show a translation reading differently than the KJV is wrong implies that the KJV is a collection of the original, autographed texts! However, all passages teaching the inspired. inerrant, and infallible nature of the Scriptures (Jn. 16:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21) are affirming the original autographs, not copies of the original or translations based on those copies!

The remainder of this article will explain what is needed for any translation, including the Bible, in order to defuse any unnecessary disruption of fellowship that results from a lack of understanding. Much of Bible translation issues are not “liberal versus conservative,” but simply what does the evidence substantiate (cf. 1 Thes. 5:21)! There are three simple things all translation, biblical or otherwise, involve: (1) an original language; (2) a target (audience) language; and (3) knowledge of both languages.

An Original Language

Obviously, whether Spanish to French or Koine Greek to English, a language must exist in order to translate it. This may surprise some, but when it comes to the New Testament, there are no original, “autographed” documents extant (i.e., known to exist). Someone might respond, “Then how is it possible to know what an original contained?” The answer: there are around six thousand witnesses that attest to an original. “Witnesses” refer to ancient manuscripts, translations, art work, sermon notes, etc. that could not possibly exist if it were not for an original. The power of this testimony cannot be ignored! Which will stand in a court of law: a person who said he did something or six thousand witnesses who testify he did something? It would be impossible for manuscripts unknown to each other and found in different parts of the world to read the same without there having been, somewhere down the line, an original from which they all came. This is multiplied exponentially when considering the thousands of evidences backing up the New Testament. No other book in antiquity has more sufficient evidence to confirm its place historically!

It must be noted here that the original, autographed documents of the New Testament are the ones that are God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). As such, what the autographs contain are infallible, inerrant, and perfect in every way. Although we do not know the exact process God used to supernaturally inspire each writer, while still allowing his own education, cultural background, and experience to shape his writing, we do know the product is exactly as God intended (cf. not knowing the exact process but the final product of the virgin conception and birth of Jesus, Mt. 1:21-23).

However, humans working within the providence of God are strictly responsible for what is called the “transmission” of the text. Inspiration of the text is how the Bible came supernaturally from God to humans. Transmission of the text is how the Bible came providentially from its original documents to the translations we possess today. Because transmission involves humans all the way, there are obvious errors in some parts of the manuscript evidence. Amazingly, these flaws are very few and far between when compared to the huge body of evidence we have. In other words, as some have observed, the Greek manuscripts that form the basis of the KJV’s New Testament translation (comparatively few in number) are about 97-98% the same as those behind the non-KJV family of translations.

There is no denying that some ancient manuscripts read differently than others in certain places. These manuscript differences are called “variants.” There are a number of possible reasons for these variants, and most can be traced back to a scribe’s error. There are a number of mistakes that could be made while copying manuscripts, especially before Christianity was legal and copies were made in secret under difficult circumstances. Errors include such things as writing twice what should have been written once (cf. “deed” instead of “dead”), reversing letters or words (cf. writing “form” instead of “from”), substituting one similar sounding word for another (cf. writing “there” instead of “their”), and confusing one letter for another of similar shape (cf. writing “fold” instead of “told”). Every teacher who has taught for any length of time have seen every one of these errors from students!

When a variant occurs, there is nothing sinister about objectively researching the evidence to see which reading is more likely that of the original. This is the field of “textual criticism,” which is not the enemy of truth (when done objectively), but rather truth’s ally. Should we not want to know what was actually written in the original, God-breathed documents?

A Target (Audience) Language

Any translation has in mind a particular people the translators want to reach. Again, this is true of any translation, even appliance manuals! The KJV’s target language was, obviously, contemporary 1611 English. The English language has changed over the last four centuries. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) first appeared in the early 1970s. By its name, it targets American English, which is a bit different from United Kingdom English. The NASB underwent a major update in 1995 (abbreviated NASB95 or NASU). In 2020, the New American Standard was again updated. It appears translators plan to revise it every twenty-five years. These are just a few examples of target languages. Is it right to fault a translation merely because it targets a different audience language than Shakespearian era English! Yes, there is something poetically beautiful about the English of the KJV. However, beautiful poetic language is no more sacred than “Miami Spanish.” What is sacred is the written word of God, but unless we are fluent in the original languages of the Bible, its life-giving message will never reach us!

A Knowledge Of Both Languages

The original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek words used in the Bible have not changed. Those words have always meant what they meant, in the way they were intended, the moment they were written. The first, original readers knew those meanings and nuances and whether they were figurative or literal. However, our understanding of those words have changed over the years. More evidence has been found to shed light on how words and expressions were used in these ancient languages. This is clearly exemplified when comparing how translations handle animals. In Isaiah 34:11, the Hebrew words behind the KJV’s “cormorant and … bittern” are translated “pelican and … porcupine” (NKJ); “pelican and hedgehog” (NAS95); and “hawk and … porcupine” (ESV). Since the 1800s, much more evidence has come to light on what biblical words meant. Much of this evidence is from uninspired literature of the same period as biblical books that use the same or similar words in contexts where we can better understand the kinds of animals being referenced. Earlier translations did not have the advantage of this evidence because it had not yet surfaced. With the additional evidence, why would it be wrong to update a translation with English words that better convey the actual meaning of the original word?

Perhaps another, more modern example would also help. Suppose someone a thousand years from now discovered a document that mentioned a “hard drive,” and the world knew nothing about computers. How would that term be translated? Maybe the translation “difficult journey” would be the best that could be done. Then suppose fifty years after that translation, an IBM factory was unearthed, and all kinds of documents were discovered describing in great detail “hard drives.” Should that same, original term still be translated “difficult journey” with all this new evidence? Of course not! To really understand the original meaning of the word, incorporating the new evidence is a must! This necessity is vastly multiplied when it comes to the written word of God! We must know accurately what was written in order to make the proper, life giving application (Jn. 8:31-32; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17)!

Conclusion

Yes, there are some genuine problems with some translations (including the KJV), but those problems do not so much stem from the original languages behind them as they do from the English words within them. In many ways, though, the controversy over translations in the brotherhood stems from a lack of understanding as to what translations require, coupled with a bit of ethnocentrism (the belief that a person’s own culture is superior to other cultures to the point of thinking his culture is the standard to which all should rise — “The KJV was good enough for me and the generations before me. Thus it’s good enough for you!”). The word of God is too important to confine it to a translation some people are not going to read. As long as the original language is accurately translated in the target (audience) language, then people of that language can read God’s word accurately and know what they must do to be saved. I know very influential Christians who were ready to quit Christianity because when first converted, they were told the KJV was the only Bible they could use. Thankfully, they were pointed to newer translations from which they enjoyed reading and studying! Let us realize what is involved in translation and what is at stake when people can or cannot understand accurately what God teaches through His word!

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Understanding Translation Essentials Should Reduce Controversy
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“Rulers of the Gentiles” Are Not the Model for Local Churches

Not long ago, a preacher heard the brother leading opening prayer make a petition, “Please be with the elders as they run the church.” What the brother meant by “run the church” should probably not to be taken at face value, for those of us leading public prayers realize our wording does not always come out the way we intended (due to nervousness). Regardless of what that brother actually meant, there are some members of the church who have an inaccurate view of elders and their authority in the local church. Let us examine what the Bible teaches concerning these leaders in the church.

Misunderstanding of Leadership
Among the Apostles

A similar misunderstanding of authority was evident when the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus and requested, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom” (Mt. 20:21). As the discussion unfolded, Jesus told them to “sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father” (Mt. 20:23). Incidently, this shows that Jesus could do nothing independent of God, the Father’s will (cf. Jn. 5:19, 30). As the other ten apostles heard this discussion, they “were greatly displeased with the two brothers” (Mt. 20:24). These apostles also desired these perceived positions of authority in Jesus’ coming kingdom, perhaps due to a misunderstanding of an earlier discussion (cf. Mt. 19:28). The “right hand” and the “left” were the highest places of honor next to the ruler. It was at this point Jesus said:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Mt. 20:25-28)

The Local Church
Is Not a “Kingdom of the Gentiles”

Like the mother of Zebedee, her two sons, and the rest of the apostles, there are many members of the church of Christ who see its organization as if it were a mere business, or worldly endeavor. However, such ideas could not be further from the truth. The universal church (i.e., “one body” of Christ, 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Eph. 4:4) is headed by none other than Jesus the Christ (Eph. 1:22; 5:23; Col. 1:18). He has all authority (Mt. 28:18). Christ’s church is not a worldly realm, as Jesus plainly declared to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36). A local church is a particular group of New Testament Christians. The local church can be identified by the particular people of whom it consists (e.g., “the churches of the Gentiles,” Rom. 16:4) or where it is located (e.g., “the church in Smyrna,” Rev. 2:8). The different local “churches” in the New Testament were not denominations, but they were congregations of the same universal church over which Christ is the head!

Those who view the church as a mere worldly endeavor also view the eldership of a local church as a type of board of directors who only make business decisions, ensure the bills get paid, and otherwise “run” the church adequately. While there are some similarities between the local church and a business, the Lord’s instructions for elders of the church let Bible students know the church and its local leaders are spiritual in function, scope, and practicality. Take, for example, the God-breathed qualifications for the men who would serve as elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Those who view the church as a “kingdom of the Gentiles” focus primarily on two qualifications; namely, that a man is “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6) and that he has “faithful children” (Titus 1:6). Some even throw in another, man-made qualification that he be a successful business man. Many churches have been hindered or even split by appointing men who were Scripturally married with faithful children and successful in the business world but were highly lacking in true spirituality!

Descriptive Names Show The
Spiritual Nature of Church Leaders

There are three different descriptions God uses for local church leaders that shed light on the spiritual nature of their service. First, the most obvious is “elder” (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Pet. 5:1), which is translated from a Greek word (presbuteros, πρεσβύτερος) that generally means an elder, or older person. In the context of local church leaders, it is focusing on spiritual maturity, referring to “those who, being raised up and qualified by the work of the Holy Spirit, were appointed to have the spiritual oversight over the church” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words). Hence, an elder must not be a “novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6).

Second, the term “bishop” and “overseer, are used to describe the specially qualified leaders of the local church (Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-2; Titus 1:7). Both of these English terms come from the same Greek word (episkopos, ἐπίσκοπος), which means overseer, guardian, or bishop. Bauer, Ardnt, Gingrich, and Danker’s lexicon define this word as “an overseer, a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, a curator, guardian, or superintendent.” These are spiritual superintendents; overseers of a particular flock. These men cannot (and should not) do all the work of a given congregation, but all the work done by a congregation must be done under their oversight. They operate only within the framework of God’s word (cf. 1 Thes. 5:12-13).

“Bishops” do not have absolute authority in a local church. In fact, their authority is only in expedient matters (such as effective ways to evangelize, the best way under local circumstances to help those in need, how best to edify the local congregation, times and order of services, overseeing funds, etc.). Jesus Christ, the head of the church, has already determined doctrine and matters of obligation (Mt. 28:18; Heb. 1:2; 2 Jn. 9). No church leader has authority to require more or less than what God has already required through His word (Gal. 1:8-9 cf. Mt. 18:18)!

Third, the term “pastor” (which is more accurately translated, “shepherd”) is used to describe the leaders of the local church (Eph. 4:11). This term comes from a Greek word (poimen, ποιμήν) that simply refers to a shepherd. The translation “pastor” is quite unfortunate. It comes to English from the Latin translation pastour (which, incidently, shows the weakness of transliterating from a secondary language rather than translating from the original). The Greek word occurs eighteen times and is always translated by a form of “shepherd” (Mt. 9:36; Lk. 2:8; Jn. 10:11; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25), except in Ephesians 4:11, where it is translated “pastor,” a term hijacked by denominationalism to refer to the local preacher who calls all the shots. Shepherding is the encompassing work of the specially qualified local church leaders, or elders (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). The verb form of this word (poimaino, ποιμαίνω) is what is used in Acts 20:28, where Luke records Paul instructing the elders of the church in Ephesus “to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” The ESV translates this word, “to care for;” the KJV translates it, “to feed.” While feeding is part of the shepherd’s work, shepherding involves much more (such as leading, protecting, helping to heal wounds, seeking those who have gone astray, rescuing, etc.).

The best illustration for this shepherding aspect of their work is found in Jesus’ description of Himself as the “good shepherd” (Jn. 10:1-14). Shepherds in the local church must love the flock committed to their care (1 Pet. 5:2-4), protect them from harm (i.e., false teachers, Acts 20:29-32; Titus 1:9-14), and strengthen them with the bread and the water of life (Acts 20:28, KJV).

Conclusion

Too many local churches operate as if they were “kingdoms of the Gentiles.” It shows in their leadership, “business meetings,” and programs (or lack thereof). These dysfunctional local churches give fuel to opponents who claim, “The Church of Christ is just another denomination” (cf. 1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:5). Far from being a “kingdom of the Gentiles,” however, local churches of Christ need spiritual men, Scripturally qualified to serve as elders/overseers/shepherds. May we take seriously God’s desire for qualified leadership in each local church (cf. Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). May Christian men apply the doctrine of Christ to their lives so they may qualify to serve one day!

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
“Rulers of the Gentiles” Are Not the Model for Local Churches
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Conception, Culture, and Christ’s Church

V. P. Black, a favorite preacher from a few generations ago, would often say in sermons that the most powerful people in the United States were not the President and his cabinet nor any military personnel, but the United States Supreme Court. He would not always give specific examples of why he would say that, but having reflected over the years, it seems at least one major contributor to that assessment was the 1973, Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court decision that “unduly restrictive state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional.” The basis of that decision, according to the court, was that laws against abortion “violated a woman’s constitutional right of privacy,” which the court found “implicit in the liberty guarantee of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (‘…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law’)” (https://www.britannica.com/event/Roe-v-Wade). Obviously, not depriving “any person of life” did not take into account the person’s life inside the womb.

When news broke of the recent “leak” of a document that the United States Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade, the panic and mobilization of opposition against such overturning was obvious and instant. Of course, even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, it would not make abortion illegal. It would merely allow each State to determine its own abortion laws. Were you old enough in 1973 to remember national sentiment at the news of Roe v. Wade? Were you a member of the church in 1973, and if so, did you study Bible lessons or hear sermons on abortion related topics? Many today are not old enough to remember the sentiment in 1973. However, we may still remember how we felt in 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled (Obergefell v. Hodges) that same-sex marriages are legitimate and legally binding in the United States and its territories. No matter the feeling toward that, however, it is important to remember that civil law never has or ever will displace God’s law in Deity’s sovereign court.

Human Conception
Results In Human Children

Because legal abortion has been so ingrained in American culture since 1973, people view it as a moral, God-given right. Focus has been on the “woman’s right to choose,” rather than the human life inside her womb. Since God exists and the Bible is His inspired (i.e., God-breathed) word, then whatever the Bible teaches regarding when human life begins is true. Several passages show human pregnancy involves human children inside the wombs of their mothers (Ps. 139:13-16; Eccl. 11:5; Job 3:11-16; Jer. 1:5).

Perhaps the most obvious is a comparison of Luke 1:41, 44 with Luke 2:12, 16. The word “babe [baby, ESV]” is from the Greek word brephos (βρεφός), which in Luke 1:41, 44 is used for a child in the womb (i.e., fetus). The same word (brephos) is also used in Luke 2:12, 16 for young, or newborn, children. Luke also uses brephos in Luke 18:15, where it is translated “infants [babies, NAS95],” and in Acts 7:19, where it is translated “babies [young children, KJV; infants, ESV].” Outside of Luke’s writings, brephos is used in Second Timothy 3:15, where it is translated “childhood [a child, KJV],” and in First Peter 2:2, where it is translated “babes [babies, NAS95; infants, ESV].” A human being is considered in all these situations, whether inside or outside the mother’s womb! No one can rationally argue that a human fetus is not a human life! Yet, because America has been bombarded with the “cultural norm” that it is acceptable to snuff-out human life in the womb for unwanted or crisis pregnancies, there are many who think it is immoral to make laws against on-demand abortions!

Cultural Norms Are Not
Necessarily Biblical Norms

In any area of life, people whose culture indoctrinates them with certain values and then those people construct their day-to-day living based on that indoctrination are going to think differently than people who have not been so influenced by that same culture. A good example is a faithful brother and missionary to Muslims with whom many in the brotherhood are familiar. He was reared in Bagdad. His culture indoctrinated people to hate Americans. Many facets of their society were geared toward perpetuating hatred toward America and its culture. Given those facts, it is easy to see how the average person from Iraq would have a different attitude toward America than the average person, say from Bermuda, or other nations whose culture and practices are American friendly. Thankfully, by God’s grace, this faithful brother from Iraqi was a deeper and more spiritual thinker than the indoctrination of his culture!

Culture can be both a Scripturally obligatory matter that is temporary as well as a perpetual matter of option. For example, there is nothing inherently sinful about eating meat, for “God created [it] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good … if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:3-5). However, if Christians are in a culture where eating meat is considered participating in idolatry or if eating meat causes another Christian to sin by violating his or her conscience, then eating meat is temporarily sinful (1 Cor. 8:1-13). When new Christians learn God’s word and allow it to transform their lives, their consciences will eventually approve eating meat and/or participating in activities with other faithful Christians (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; 14:1-7).

Cultural norms that are inherently sinful, however, must not be followed or even allowed a place in the Christian’s heart. An experienced missionary once told an FSOP chapel assembly that certain countries in Asia only allowed one child per family. While there is nothing inherently sinful for parents to have only one child, the problem arises when more than one is born. “Law abiding” citizens are called upon to have additional children “euthanized” (which is a polite way of saying murdered) in order to maintain the mandate. Since males are valued more than females, and since many parents do not want to directly kill their children, babies are often born in back rooms, unnoticed by authorities. As a result, orphan homes are overrun with girls, who become prime candidates for the sex traffic trade.

It is one thing when a country allows its citizens to commit immoral activities (like America with its legal allowance for fornication, abortions, same sex marriages, etc.), but it is quite another issue when a country (like the one mentioned above) forces its citizens to commit immoral acts. An incidental lesson here is when Christians in America start thinking the “grass is greener” in communist countries or with their philosophies, they need to consider the enforcement of mandates like the one-child-per-family! Christians are not authorized to commit sinful acts, such as murder, in obedience to culture (cf. Acts 5:29; Rom. 3:8; 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17).

New Testament Principles
Transcend Cultural Norms

One big difference between Old Testament Judaism and New Testament Christianity is that Christianity has been declared binding for all people in all ages since its inauguration in Acts 2 (cf. Mt. 28:18-20; Rom. 1:16). Parts of Old Testament Judaism required being in Jerusalem for feasts (cf. Deut. 16:1-6). Judaism also required descendants from Levi to serve in the tabernacle/temple (Ex. 28–29). Since the Old Testament feasts as such are not part of the Gospel, there are no ties to physical Jerusalem. Since all Christians are priests in God’s kingdom (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:5-6), the Levitical system has no binding concern in Christianity (cf. Heb. 7:11-14; 8:7).

The Law of Moses also served as both the civil and religious law for Old Testament Israelites. This can be seen in its laws and regulations for tribal elders (and later kings), as well as religious practices like blood sacrifices, Sabbath days, purification procedures, etc. (Lev. 20; Num. 27). Thus, civil law that was derived from God’s law and passed down was always reliable and binding upon the Jews. Although civil government is from God (Rom. 13:1-5), the New Testament authorizes no exclusive form of government. Rather, it gives principles that when applied make any government more efficient and tolerable for its citizens (cf. Mt. 5:38-48; 7:12). For example, a monarchy is great when the king is living and ruling according to Gospel principles, but when he lives and follows wickedness, the people suffer (Mt. 2:16)!

While Christians have freedom to practice any cultural item that does not violate God’s will (Rom. 14:23; 1 Cor. 9:19-23), they must not be deceived into accepting sinful cultural norms. Government sometimes mandates things it thinks will best serve it citizens. For example, the one-child-per-family mandate mentioned above was probably for population control, which can be good (cf. Jer. 16:1-4). However, no one has a right to murder people for the sake of “population control” (cf. Ex. 1:15-22)! Consider also a person living in first-century Corinth. The city’s reputation through history reveals that fornication was a way of life for a large segment of that population. Thus, citizens would be desensitized to that sin, which attitude could also spill into the church. This is why Paul dealt with that sin quite extensively in his first epistle to them (1 Cor. 5:1; 6:13, 18; 7:2; 6:18). Cultural norms, whether promoted by civil government or merely allowed, must not be followed when they violate God’s transcendent will!

Conclusion

An overturning of Roe v. Wade would be a step in the right direction (Pr. 14:34), but it will take more than that to turn culture norms toward godly views of human life. The Christian is living among people in high positions who, if they had their way, would increasingly mandate silencing opposition to ungodliness in culture. It seems the older Americans are, the more freedoms they realize have vanished or are in danger of it. While loss of freedom is less than ideal, Christians can still please God with little or no political freedom (cf. 1 Cor. 7:21-23). Christians must continue to undergird themselves with the Gospel. The time may come when the amount of political freedom is contingent on conformity to mandated norms that are sinful (such as being forced to murder, endorse homosexuality, “transgenderism,” etc.). May we maintain such integrity and faithfulness that if persecuted, we would rejoice that we “were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” and that we keep “teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42)!

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Conception, Culture, and Christ’s Church
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Which Divorce Does God Hate?

Over the last year, this writer has had several discussions with different brethren who were defending the position that God accepts remarriages that Jesus plainly calls adulterous (Mt. 19:9), as long as those marriages were entered before the couple became Christians. After all, they will say, God forgives sin when people are baptized into Christ. In these discussions, the people so arguing would say something like, “I can’t divorce her [the unscriptural wife] because God hates divorce, and I don’t want to do anything God hates.” Yes, the Bible indeed teaches that “He [God] hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16), but which divorce is it that He actually hates?

God Hates Divorce From Scriptural Wives

Malachi 2:16 is a passage that is twisted by those defending the position above. Malachi 2:10-16 deals with the corrupted family life of God’s remnant who returned to Palestine from captivity (cf. Ezr. 1:1-4; 7:1-10; Neh. 1:1–2:8). In this section of Malachi, the prophet identified two main reasons why their family life was corrupted.

First, their family life had been corrupted by their religiously mixed-marriages (Mal. 2:10-12). Intermarriage with those of the surrounding nations was expressly forbidden under Israel’s law (Ex. 34:16; Deut. 7:3). Solomon’s violation of this law several hundred years prior to this time greatly contributed to Israel’s apostasy (1 Kgs. 11:1-13; Neh. 13:23-27). Since idolatry led to the Exile (cf. Hos. 7:8-10; 13:2), it should have been unthinkable for God’s remnant to tolerate this kind of apostasy again.

Malachi reminded them that their common unity in the covenant made mixed-marriages an offense against their own brothers and sisters (Mal. 2:10). They should have respected the covenant their “one Father” had given to the children of Israel when God created them to reflect His character (cf. Deut. 32:6; Isa. 43:7; 63:16; 64:8). Instead, they broke the covenant’s unity in “dealing treacherously” and “profaning the covenant” through entering into these mixed marriages, an “abomination” to the Lord. Furthermore, marrying outside the covenant polluted the holiness of God. They were indulging in idolatrous practices with these foreign wives and then entering into God’s presence as if everything were alright (cf. Ezr. 9:1-2; [cf. Isa. 1:11-15]). Judgment was pronounced upon those guilty of mixed marriages (Mal. 2:12). The guilty would be removed from the covenant people for taking wives of heathen women (cf. “does this”) and for acting piously while at the same time desecrating the “holiness of the Lord” (cf. “yet who brings an offering,” Mal. 2:12).

Second, their family life had been corrupted by divorce (Mal. 2:13-16). Mistreating their covenant wives made their worship and sacrifices unacceptable (Mal. 2:13). “Cover the altar … with tears” may refer to the rejected wives’ tears which, so to speak, extinguished the altar fires (Hailey 416), or it may refer to the people’s tears upon their realization that their communion with God was broken (Verhoef 273). Either way, since these tears were not the guilty husbands’ tears of godly sorrow (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10), God did not accept their sacrifices (cf. Num. 16:15).

The reason why their offerings were not accepted was because their marriage vows had been broken (Mal. 2:14). Marriage involves more than just the two spouses. Marriage also involves God (cf. Mt. 19:6)! “The Lord has been witness,” not only of the marriage, but also of the treatment of their wives. Even under the old law, marriage was a binding covenant to which the Lord was (and is) witness (cf. Gen. 31:50; Pr. 2:17). Lawfully, they only had a right to one wife. That authorized wife is identified as “the wife of your youth” (found only twice outside this context, Pr. 5:18; Isa. 54:6). This refers to their first love, to one to whom they promised faithfulness and support (Verhoef 274). Note how this is term is also paralleled with “your companion” and “your wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14). Yet, they had been faithless to their only God-approved wives by rejecting them for heathen women.

Malachi gave two reasons why breaking their marriage vows was wrong. First, divorcing the covenant wife did not perpetuate God’s covenant (Mal. 2:15). Although this verse is textually one of the most difficult in Malachi, it is possible to understand its general meaning, which can be conveyed by two possible interpretations. One is that God made Adam only one wife (although He could have made him more) for the specific purpose of producing “godly offspring. Thus, this divine purpose is contrary to both divorce and mixed marriages (Verhoef 277). The other is that the person who seeks a godly offspring is spiritually wise and does not therefore violate God’s divine institution of marriage (Keil 453). In either case, the continuance of the covenant is threatened by the lack of “godly offspring.” Therefore, they must quit divorcing their wives. No husband of God’s remnant desiring to have “godly” descendants, would divorce his Israelite wife to marry a heathen woman!

Second, breaking marriage vows is wrong because God “hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16). God has always intended that there be one man with one wife for life (cf. Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:5-6). “He hates” conveys the idea that God continually and habitually hates divorce. “Divorce [putting away, KJV]” was tolerated only because of their “hardness of heart” (Deut. 24:1-4 cf. Mt. 19:7-8). The sin of divorcing their God-approved wives to marry a “daughter of a strange god” was compounded by the violence involved. The expression, “it covers one’s garment with violence” is figurative for all kinds of blatant wrong doing which, like the blood of a murdered victim, leaves its mark for all to see (Baldwin 241). The man who divorced his God-approved wife, ignoring God’s covenant and her deeply wounded feelings, covered his garment with the violence of iniquity.

From a detailed analyses of this text, it is clear that the divorce God hated was the divorce from their God-authorized wives. Under that covenant, the “wife of his youth” was the only wife to which the Israelite husband could be married.

God Commands Divorce From Unscriptural Wives

Not only did God hate His people’s divorcing their Scriptural wives (Mal. 2:10-16), He also commanded the guilty to put away their unauthorized wives. Sections of the historical Books of Ezra and Nehemiah also concern the post-exilic remnant who had sinned by marrying unauthorized wives. Ezra was informed that:

The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands … For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, so that the holy seed is mixed with the peoples of those lands. Indeed, the hand of the leaders and rulers has been foremost in this trespass. (Ezr. 9:1-2)

Ezra reacted with mourning (Ezr. 9:3). He prayed to God:

For we have forsaken Your commandments … and join in marriage with the people committing these abominations … O Lord God of Israel … Here we are before You, in our guilt … no one can stand before You because of this! (Ezr. 9:5-15)

Despite their sin, Ezra was reminded, “yet now there is hope in Israel” (Ezr. 10:2). Restoration involved separation from unlawful marriages.

Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice … of those who tremble at the commandment of our God. (Ezr. 10:3)

The “covenant” they made required them to “make confession to the Lord God … and do His will; separate yourselves … from the pagan wives” (Ezr. 10:11). The “descendants of the captivity did” exactly as God through Ezra demanded (Ezr. 10:16), even in cases where children were involved (Ezr. 10:3, 44).

Nehemiah 13:23-31 also details similar instruction and response from the guilty.

While these are Old Testament examples and people today are not answerable to Old Testament law, there are some truths we learn from the fact that God commanded these unauthorized wives to be put away (cf. Rom. 15:4). First, God is merciful and will allow His people to repent of sin and be restored to His favor, even when the sin involves marriage (Ezr. 9:9-15; 10:1-3 cf. Acts 8:22; Rom. 2:4). Second, some marriages are not pleasing to God (Ezr. 9:13-14; 10:2, 10 cf. Mk. 6:17-18; Mt. 5:31-32; 19:9). Third, the guilty are responsible for their own repentance in any sin, including sinful marriages (Ezr. 10:4, 12, 16, 19 cf. Lk. 13:3, 5; 2 Cor. 7:10).

Conclusion

The claim by some today that it is sinful to put away their unscriptural wives because “God hates divorce” is an abuse of Malachi 2:16. The divorce God hates is the one from “the wife of his youth” (Mal. 2:15), not from the unauthorized wife, “the daughter of a foreign god” (Mal. 2:11), which God commanded to be put away (Ezr. 10:11-44; Neh. 13:23-31). Rather than justify unauthorized marriages, people involved need to repent, for God “has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31)!

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Which Divorce Does God Hate?
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Free Slaves Liberating Captive Souls

William Still (October 7, 1821–July 14, 1902) was a prominent abolitionist and civil rights activist who coined the term “underground railroad.” As one of the chief “conductors” in Pennsylvania, he helped thousands of people of African decent achieve freedom and get settled away from enslavement to other humans. Throughout his life, Still fought not only to abolish slavery but also to provide civil rights to former slaves in northern territories. Still’s work with freedom seekers is documented in his monumental book, The Underground Rail Road (published in 1872). Upon hearing of this not-so-familiar yet sigificant historical figure, it reminded me of a major work of Christians, especially preachers. Paul wrote:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

1 Cor. 9:19-23

Christians Are Free

When Paul declared, “I am free from all men” (1 Cor. 9:19a), he was affirming that he no longer lived a life where he sought to please men at the expense of doing what was right according to God’s will (cf. Gal. 1:10-12). Paul was free in at least these three ways: (1) free as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28-29); (2) free from financial support from the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 9:15-18); and (3) free from the consequences of sin (Rom. 6:17-18). However, important to this context, a fourth way is also apparent. Paul was free from man-made requirements of salvation. “Religion” is full of such requirements, but they are not binding. Paul wrote about this in more detail:

Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—21“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” 22which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

Col. 2:20-23

The string of commands, “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” is not talking about smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco. Rather, it is referring to false religious practices of denial that people thought made them more spiritual. Some were teaching the more a person denied himself, the more spiritual he would be. There is a sense in which this is true as it relates to worldly lusts (cf. Mt. 16:24; Titus 2:12-13; 1 Jn. 2:15-17). However, for a person to continually deny appetites that God has placed in humans (such as hunger and thirst), thinking that this will make him more pleasing to God, is false! In the name of such views, monks in Mediaeval times would literally pluck out their eyes and cut off their fingers, hands, and other body parts or lie naked in a swamp to let insects bite them, thinking this made them holier! The ESV translators rendered the term “false humility” (NKJ) as “asceticism” (Col. 2:23), which refers to the religious practice of severely denying oneself physical things, thinking it will automatically make him more spiritual. This was part of the heresy affecting the Colossians when Paul wrote (Col. 2:8, 18). Christians are not bound by man-made requirements (Col. 2:13-17)!

Christians Are Slaves

Although Paul was “free from all men,” he still declared, “I have made myself a servant to all” (1 Cor. 9:19b). The phrase, “I have made [myself] … servant” is from a single Greek word (douloo, δουλόω) that means to enslave. There were, of course, different kinds of slavery in the first century Greco-Roman world. The slavery about which Paul spoke of himself was completely voluntary, like that of a “bond servant” (Rom. 1:1, NKJ). Paul wrote that every person is a slave of one master or another:

Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

Rom. 6:16-18

The only way to become a slave of righteousness is to “obey from the heart” a form of doctrine (Rom. 6:17-18), which must include baptism (Rom. 6:3-4). When people obey the Gospel and become Christians, they are crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:17-18; Gal. 2:20). As Paul said he became a “servant of all,” Christians today must also serve their neighbors (Mt. 22:36-40). Again, this is to be a completely voluntary submission (cf. “I am debtor,” Rom. 1:14). In so serving his neighbor, Paul did not compromise truth by “becoming all things to all men” (Gal. 1:10). Christians can adapt the cultural customs of others as long as those customs do not violate God’s law. For example, if a culture does not eat certain meat because they deem it “unclean,” a Christian working among them, even though he knows better, should not eat that meat, at least until some teaching is done to show that God allows Christians to eat any meat that is “received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 3:4). Like Christ, we must come to serve, not to be served (Mt. 20:28).

Christians Win Souls

“That I might win the more” is the reason Paul gave as to why he was free from man-made religion and free to submit himself as a servant to others (1 Cor. 9:19c). The word “win [gain, KJV]” (from kerdaino, κερδαίνω) means to gain, profit; win over (Phil. 3:8; 1 Pet. 3:1). When Paul interacted with people, he did so with a view of winning them to Christ. This is perhaps best summarized:

I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. 15So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. 16For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

(Rom. 1:14-16)

We can “become” like other people and serve them without sinning. Jesus did (cf. Phil. 2:5-11)!

Conclusion

Paul went on to write how he would forgo his “rights,” adapting himself to the customs of his hearers, so that he might win them to Christ (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Paul certainly did not compromise the Gospel by becoming “all things to all men.” In matters of indifference, Paul forsook his rights so as not to arouse unnecessary prejudices that would close the minds of some to the Gospel.

Jesus is our great example. He said:

[W]hoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

Mk. 10:43-45

William Still and his “underground railroad” did a great work by freeing physical slaves of physical masters. We, however, have a greater opportunity to do an even greater work: freeing people from the bondage of sin and death by bringing them to Jesus! Are you a slave of Jesus, freed from sin and the shackles of man-made religion, seeking to liberate souls in bondage to the same?

Endnotes

Image Attribution: Nick-philly, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Free Slaves Liberating Captive Souls
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Two Students Graduating May 15, 2022

Zachary Jones came to FSOP from the Lake Drive church of Christ in Vinton, Virginia, for whom Tommy Blewett (1986 FSOP graduate) has been preaching since 1988. Zachary became a Christian in 2018. Before enrolling in FSOP, he worked as an ice rink attendant. In addition to a high school diploma, he also attended the Secondary Academy for Success in Bothell, Washington. While a student at FSOP, Zachary served as our “tech guy.” He started school during the covid-19 pandemic, when FSOP installed new electronic equipment to maximize our online capabilities. Zachary was invaluable in helping us. After graduation, Zachary plans on working with Tommy and the Lake Drive congregation.

Paul Walter came to FSOP from North Texas, having retired as chief of police after a twenty-seven year career with various departments in Mississippi and Oklahoma. He is a Marine Corp veteran. He is a licensed general contractor, plumber, HVAC, and electrician, and he has generously helped brethren with those talents. While a student, he was involved in Orange Street church of Christ’s Polk County jail ministry. He also went with Ted Wheeler on a mission trip to Ghana, West Africa. After graduation, Paul plans to return to North Texas and to work with his home congregation, Linden church of Christ, and other churches of Christ in that area as the need arises.

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webadmin-fsop
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Two Students Graduating May 15, 2022
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Six Steps for Minimizing Generational Friction

Long before generations studies existed, Job wrote, “Please inquire of past generations, and consider the things searched out by their fathers. For we are only of yesterday and know nothing, because our days on earth are as a shadow” (Job 8:8-9, NASB). The reality is that life is short, and no person or generation has all the answers. The definition and length of a “generation” was probably different during Job’s lifetime, but currently there are six generations co-existing on earth.

These dates are best understood as guidelines and vary from researcher to researcher. Each of these generations have characteristics, worldviews, and values that define the generation. (For a deeper breakdown, see the University of South Florida’s PDF, “Generational Differences Chart” [https:// www.usf.edu/hr-training/documents/lunch-bytes/ generationaldifferenceschart.pdf]).

Every person in the church belongs to a generational class. You may not identify with every characteristic of your class (or with what they say about other generations), but there is wisdom in recognizing the differences. During the time of King David, the men of Issachar were identified as “men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (1 Chr. 12:32). As the church advances through time, leaderships and people change with each generation. The transition of one generation to another can cause friction. Friction can be harmful (rubbing your knees or elbows across carpet or concrete), or friction can be helpful (rubbing sandpaper across rough wood). Growth is often painful, but necessary for survival and development. As the body of Christ grows its multi-generational family, here are some considerations for minimizing negative generational friction.

Be Humble

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3, NASB). Jesus commanded, “truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:2-3). Humility seeks to demonstrate how others matter and are important. Every generation has strengths and weaknesses, and there is no generation that should lift itself above others. A humble-minded Millennial sees the value in Gen-Z values and respects the ways and traditions of Boomers. Humility does not negate open dialogue, but it does seek to understand each other. Jesus transcends times and brings salvation to every generation. When we encounter older or younger people within the church, remember to communicate and show one another why we are grateful for everyone in the church. No matter the age, every person bears the image of God, and we can always respect God’s image.

Avoid Stereotypes

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (Jn. 7:24). It is easy (and unfair) to pass judgement on an individual when we know only what we have heard about “those people.” Generational stigmas exist within the church but should never be used to define individuals. Any attempt to define a person based solely on a birth year and “research data” will create more friction than facts. Phrases like, “your generation” or “my generation” are polarizing statements that automatically put people on the defensive. The devil is skilled in turning us against each other, but our Christ-like love for one another should prevent us from that entrapment. Jesus defied stereotypes of His day by talking to the Samaritan woman (Jn. 4), dining with tax collectors and sinners (Mt. 9:10-11), and healing a Canaanite’s daughter (Mt. 15:21-28). When it comes to generation stereotypes, beware not to accuse someone of “being a typical [insert generation name].” Remember that we belong to Christ, and we are atypical (by being Christ-like) in our treatment of each other and people—“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, of this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 7:12).

Find Common Ground

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26). In the church, we all exist on the same spiritual plane—an undeniable need for a Savior. Our age does not affect that fact. Every generation experiences sin-induced guilt and no generation had the solution to it – Jesus alone is the only cure. Even apart from salvation, our human experiences frame out common ground: joys in births and marriage; frustrations from jobs; grief from losing loved ones. Do not overlook similarities that can connect us. Our goals are often similar, but how we reach them may be different. Even the priorities of emphasis may differ from one generation to the next. “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col. 3:24), not self nor our friends. If our mind is unified (1 Cor. 1:10) and we all have the same goal of loving God, loving people, and living like Jesus, then our different approaches should not destroy us. They will not be stumbling blocks to tear us down, but stepping stones for climbing closer to God and one another.

Learn From One Another

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:12). Older men and women in the church are to exhibit godly qualities to those who are younger, while the younger are to echo the same godly qualities (Titus 2:1-8). Experience is the most personal teacher one can encounter. God’s wisdom dictates that those with the more experience should be able to share that experience with those who have less. Similarly, no matter the age of a person, each person’s experience is unique (despite age), and we as the body of Christ recognize that every member matters (cf. Rom. 12:4- 5; Eph. 4:16). Our job is not to “fix” the wrongs of other generations, but to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24, ESV). Older generations may teach younger generations about “the good ole days,” while younger generations could teach older generations about “those computer machines.” Every generation has meaningful information and lessons to transfer.

Tailor Communication Style

“Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the young men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the young women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:1-2). Children are to communicate respect and honor to their parents (Eph. 6:1-2). Communication is already difficult among people who share our age, so trying to figure out how to communicate with different ages may require extra effort. Everyone has a default range of communication that allows us to connect easier with some over others. Generationally, there may be a breakdown due to word use or style. The goal is not to be “hip” or “cool” or “rad” or whatever generational word you want to use. The goal is to provide meaningful communication to encourage our brethren and strengthen our relationships. We may have to re-word or change our tone depending on who you are addressing. Even approaches may need to be altered. Younger generations may respond better to digital methods of communication while older generations connect better with face-to-face. The hopeful news for Christians is that we all seek God. Most communication breakdowns have nothing to do with ears and tongues, but everything to do with the heart. Speak with love. Listen with love… and the result will always be love.

Be Flexible

“I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). Rigid movements are limited in their range and when forced beyond their framework will tear or break. When we refuse to adapt our communication or styles of work, it can tear and break relationships among individuals and even generations. Have we not seen or heard of congregations splitting between the “young” and the “old”? Have there not been congregations that are identified by their generational demographics? There is a delicate balance in bridging the generation gaps within the church. “I don’t do technology” may be the prevailing voice of an older generation, but this should not prevent the church from advancing its communication methods to encourage the saved and reach the lost. Similarly, this should not embolden younger generations (in the name of divine progress) to trample the traditions of their seniors by disregarding their honed practices and approaches of yesteryear. Being open-minded provides great opportunities for growth: ways to connect with people; community outreach ideas; learning new worship songs; leadership approaches and evangelism. Flexibility permits each person and generation to move forward without damaging relationships and harming the Lord’s body.

Conclusion

No matter the age, people matter to God. “For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations” (Ps. 100:5). Christians should be undeniable reflections of that love and care. James encapsulates it this way: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (1:27). Orphans and widows are on the opposite ends of the generation spectrum, yet everyone is called to care for those in need … whatever the need, whatever the age.

In the end, there are no generations saved or condemned based solely on their age demographic. The “stubborn and rebellious generation” is characterized by those who: forget the works of God, do not keep his commandments, do not prepare their hearts, and lack a faithful spirit (Ps. 78:7-8). No age limit required. Whatever generation we are a part, let us live and work in such a way that Jesus will never call us a “generation of vipers” (Mt. 12:34). Rather:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world. (Phil. 2:14-15)

Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
Title:
Six Steps for Minimizing Generational Friction
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Impartial or a “Face Looker”? (Part 2)

Among the major translations of the Bible, the explicit term “respecter of persons” is found only in the KJV and ASV translations. Most people in our culture who have never heard preaching from the KJV would likely not know what that term meant. In last month’s Harvester, we examined the background of “respect of persons” (KJV) in the Old Testament to see how it came from an expression that literally had to do with looking at faces before extending greetings or responding to another person.

In this article, we will examine “respect of persons” in the New Testament and make applications for Christians today. Since God is not a “respecter of persons,” neither should His people be!

God Does Not Have “Respect of Persons”

The New Testament clearly shows that God is impartial. First, God’s character, His very nature, does not show “respect of persons.” When Jewish leadership sent certain of the Pharisees and Herodians to “catch [Jesus] in his words,” they asked, “Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth” (Mk. 12:13-14). The phrase, “thou regardest not the person of men” (ou … blepeis eis prosopon anthropon) literally means “you do not look into [the] face of men.” This is also translated “not partial to any” (NAS95) and “not swayed in appearances” (ESV).” Although these Jewish leaders declared the truth that Jesus was not partial, they certainly did not believe it enough to show it (cf. Jn. 12:42-43).

Second, God’s offer of salvation does not show “respect of persons.” When Peter finally came to the household of Cornelius, the apostle “opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). “Respecter of persons” here is from the noun (prosopolemptes), which refers to a person who shows favoritism. God, however, does not show favoritism, as evidenced by the fact Cornelius and his household were baptized into Christ (Acts 10:48 cf. Acts 11:17-18).

Third, God’s judgment of how His people live their lives does not show “respect of persons.” Peter wrote, “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:17). The adverb translated “without respect of persons” (aprosopolemptos) simply means impartiality. Because God will impartially judge all people by their works, Christians must live according to His will. “Fear” (phobos) includes reverence and awe, along with a healthy fear of God’s discipline (cf. Acts 5:5, 11; 9:31; 2 Cor. 7:15; Col. 3:22; 1 Pet. 2:17-18). The proper fear of God will result in a transformed life (cf. 2 Cor. 7:1).

God’s People Must Not Have “Respect of Persons”

As discussed in the March 2023 Harvester, God’s being no “respecter of persons” was the basis upon which His people were required to be impartial (Deut. 1:17; 10:17; 16:19; 2 Chr. 19:6-7 cf. Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:7). So it is under the New Testament!

First, like God, the Christian’s character is to show no “respect of persons.” James used the term twice in his prelude to the section on faith without works. “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons” (Jas. 2:1). With this verse, James seemed to allude to Deuteronomy 10:17 and Leviticus 19:15. The word translated “respect of persons” is not found in either secular Greek or the LXX [Septuagint],” but is “apparently a creation of the early Christian parenetic [persuasive] tradition to translate the common Hebrew term for favor/favoritism … used in the OT in both a positive [1 Sam. 25:35; Mal. 1:8] and a negative sense, particularly in judicial contexts [Deut. 1:17; Lev. 19:15; Ps. 82:2; Pr. 6:35; 18:5]” (Davids 105-106). This favoritism “based on external considerations is inconsistent with faith in the One who came to break down the barriers of nationality, race, class, gender and religion” (Moo 120). Christians cannot mix faith with prejudice!

James also wrote, “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin” (Jas. 2:8-9). “Have respect of persons” (prosopolempteo) means to show favoritism; treat one person better than another. This passage contrasts love and partiality. Love is fulfilling the “royal law” whereas showing respect of persons exposes a person as a guilty transgressor. It is impossible to live in harmony with Christ while at the same time showing partiality (cf. Jas. 2:2-7). Peter’s sin in Galatians 2:11-14 shows this truth.

Jude addressed the opposite of this character when he wrote about the ungodly false teachers who had “crept in unawares” (Jude 4, 15). He described them in one instance as “having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage” (Jude 16). The phrase, “having men’s persons in admiration” (thaumazontes prosopa) literally means something like “the ones who marvel at faces.” Other versions translate it “showing respect of persons” (ASV); “flattering people” (NKJ); “showing favoritism” (ESV). The idea of “flattery” is interesting. The word thaumazo, from which “marvel” comes in the literal meaning, can also mean “wonder at” or “marvel in,” which could be construed as a fake expression of wonder or amazement at another from ulterior motives (i.e., “because of advantage”). Either way, this characteristic is the antithesis of God, who “regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward” (Deu. 10:17).

Second, the Christian’s teaching is not to show “respect of persons.” In Galatians 2, Paul was still showing that he did not receive the gospel from man, “but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). It took Paul three years to meet Peter (Gal. 1:18), yet Paul was still preaching before that. Finally, after fourteen years, Paul went to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to show the gospel he preached to the Gentiles was the same gospel Pater and the Jerusalem preachers proclaimed to the Jews (Gal. 2:1-10). In the midst of that discussion, Paul wrote that “these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me” (Gal. 2:6). By this, Paul was saying he even taught those of high reputation, but it did not matter to him because it did not matter to God, who Himself is impartial. The phrase “God accepteth no man’s person” (prosopon ho theos anthropou ou lambanei) literally means “God does not accept the face of man.” Other translations read, “God shows personal favoritism to no man” (NKJ), and “God shows no partiality” (NAS95). Like God, faithful preachers must not allow respect of persons to dictate the ones before whom they proclaim the gospel (cf. Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11)!

Third, the Christian’s interaction with people of different social statuses must show no “respect of persons.” Paul wrote about both slaves and masters and how each should treat the other in their respected relationships. If they violated God’s instruction, they would be punished by the impartial God. Concerning the slaves, Paul said first, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God” (Col. 3:22). Slaves were to sincerely obey their masters. “According to the flesh” was the sphere of their present, earthly bondage, but spiritually, they belong to Christ (cf. Col. 3:24; Gal. 3:27-29). How Paul told them to act and not act was a reflection of God’s impartiality. “Eyeservice [external service, NAS95]” refers to service rendered merely for the sake of impressing others (Eph. 6:6). The term “menpleasers [people-pleasers, ESV]” refers to one who acts merely to please men (Eph. 6:6). Neither one of these traits reflect God. He is not interested in pleasing others by making it look like He is really concerned, nor does He act just to find favor with people. “Singleness [sincerity, NKJ] of heart” refers to generosity, liberality; sincerity, or single hearted devotion (Rom. 12:8; 2 Cor. 1:12; 8:2; 9:11, 13; 11:3; Eph. 6:5).

Paul also wrote about slaves, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24). Slaves were to work as if they were working for the Lord. “Do it heartily” translates a phrase in the Greek text that literally means, “working out of your soul.” They were to give an honest day’s work! “As unto the Lord” means their working should be done with the same attitude and vigor as if they were working for the Lord Himself (cf. Eph. 5:22). Because God is impartial, by so doing, slaves would receive an inheritance from Him (cf. Rev. 20:13).

Additionally, Paul confirmed God’s judgment, “But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons” (Col. 3:25). Slaves who did not work this way for their masters would receive reciprocal punishment, physical and spiritual (cf. Mt. 6:15; Gal. 6:7). The word twice translated “wrong” means to treat unjustly, harm; to do wrong or evil (Acts 25:10-11; 1 Cor. 6:7-8; Phile. 18; Rev. 22:11). The sure judgment that would come was because “there is no respect of persons” in the One judging!

Paul also used “respect of persons” when he wrote concerning slave owners, “And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him” (Eph. 6:9). The “same things” to which Paul referred went back to what he just wrote about the servants. “Masters,” like their servants, are to hold up their part of the relationship “with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Eph. 6:5-7). Both masters and servants were to know that “whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free” (Eph. 6:8). All masters must give an account to the Master who will judge them with perfect impartiality because there is “no respect of persons with him” (Eph. 6:9)!

Conclusion

God is no respecter of persons, for He “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45). God “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). The Hebrews writer declared that Jesus was “made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9). Paul affirmed, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Note the terms in these passages: “whosoever” (John 3:16); “every man” (Heb. 2:9); and “every one” (Rom. 1:16). God gave and still offers the most precious gift of all time to anyone who will receive it, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, place of birth and/or upbringing, family status, or outward appearance. Since God is such an impartial giver, His people must always reflect that impartiality and “have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons” (Jas. 2:1).

Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
Title:
Impartial or a “Face Looker”? (Part 2)
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Impartial or a “Face Looker”? (Part 1)

The explicit term “respecter of persons” is found in the KJV and ASV translations. Most people, reading that for the first time, would not know what that term means. Even people who have read it numerous times do not know what it means. Many years ago, I remember hearing a lesson that included points on personal hygiene and saying “Yes, sir” and “No Ma’am” when addressing older people. The preacher obviously took the term “respecter of persons” to mean that we should show respect to self and others! His points were true, but the passage he used did not teach them. Needless to say, that preacher lost some respect among those who knew better. Let us consider this term in the Bible to see what it really means and then make some applications to ourselves.

“Respect of Persons” in the OT

The term “respect persons” (KJV) is found in Deuteronomy 1:17, where Moses told the children of Israel the instruction he gave their judges. These judges were to hear each case and “judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons [show partiality, NKJ] in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man [man’s presence, NKJ]; for the judgment is God’s” (Deut. 1:16-17). The clause, “ye shall not be afraid of the face of man,” is key to understanding the term “respect of persons.” The Hebrew phrase from which “respect persons” is translated literally meant to “lift up the face,” which referred to “the graciously accepting act of raising up the face of one who had prostrated himself” (cf. Gen. 40:13, 20), mostly done as a form of greeting (Opperwall 672). In the Old Testament period, the typical Jewish greeting would involve one person humbly turning his face to the ground. “If the person greeted thus raises the face of the man, this is a sign of recognition and esteem … Men … honor one another by humble greeting and lifting of the face [cf. Gen. 32:20] … But [the greeting] may be partial when regard is hard for the person and there is unjust preference” (Lohse 779). In other words, among Jewish brethren, there could hardly be a reason other than prejudice or animosity for the one greeted not to respond back by lifting up, or acknowledging, the face of the greeter. While those naturally related would normally greet one another without question (cf. Mat. 5:47), God’s people were to go beyond just greeting their friends. They were to acknowledge all people without “respect of persons.”

Although this greeting imagery was behind its meaning, the term “respect of persons” reached far beyond greetings. God’s people were to never “lift up and see the face” of someone before deciding to respond. The injunction to not be a respecter of persons, or not to show partiality, was especially relevant to judges in Israel, for they were “continually tempted to pervert justice by showing partiality” (Opperwall 672). God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour” (Lev. 19:15). The judgments spoken of here were not personal opinions but were legal rulings in courts of law. Moses defined what he meant by “unrighteousness in judgment” by forbidding them from committing two, closely related sins: (1) they were not to “respect the person of the poor,” which meant to show favoritism because he was poor (cf. Deut. 27:19; Ps. 82:2); and (2) they were not to favor the “mighty” person, which primarily referred to someone with high social status (cf. Deut. 10:17; 16:19; 2 Chr. 19:7).

Moses instructed the second generation Israelites, “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee … they shall judge the people with just judgment. Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous” (Deu. 16:18-19). Again, the importance of righteous judges was emphasized. Here, Moses said these judges were given by “the Lord thy God,” and thus their judgments were to reflect God’s judgments. “God does not allow himself to be influenced by appearances or respect of persons (Deut. 10:17) … Equally the earthly judge must refrain from all partiality” (cf. Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17; 16:19) (Tiedtke 587).

The only explicit occurrence of the term “respect of persons” in the Old Testament’s books of history is found in First Chronicles 19:7. In this context, Jehoshaphat appointed judges and told them, “Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment. Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts” (2 Chr. 19:6-7). Jehoshaphat revealed a very important truth to this study: “there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts” (2 Chr. 19:7). The “judges” spoken of here, as in the Pentateuch, were not rulers, as were the judges in the Book of Judges, but were leading men who rendered verdicts in cases brought before them. They were authorized by God to keep peace among God’s people when conflict arose. Since there was no trial by jury (as today), most people represented themselves, relying heavily on witnesses. Also, “at times a group of elders may have been involved in judging a case. When only one individual judge was involved, the danger of favoring the powerful or the wealthy was very real” (Walton, et al. 440).

Although the explicit term “respecter of persons” is only found a few times in the Old Testament, this characteristic in God is part of His nature. If God’s people were to be holy like Him (Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:7), then they needed to judge righteously and be completely impartial, thus showing no “respect of persons.”

Wisdom Shows No Favoritism

The wise man wrote, “These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment” (Pr. 24:23). “These … belong” shows that those who would be wise need to attain and cultivate all the characteristics listed, starting with to “not … have respect of persons.” Again, “respect of persons” comes from a Hebrew idiom (literally, “to have regard for faces”) that means to be partial. This injunction, as others (Pr. 18:5; 28:21), is especially applicable for judges in Israel. For these judges, having respect of persons would be to “give a decision or to act on the basis of who a person is rather than on the basis of his or her guilt or innocence” (Reyburn and Fry 531). In both ancient and modern cultures, people in positions of authority have been tempted to base their judgments on a person’s skin color, ethnicity, place of birth or upbringing, family status, or even his handsomeness or her outward beauty. Lots of information has come to light in recent years exposing false judgments given by prejudiced judges who wrongly convicted people of African descent for crimes worthy of death, for which there was no sufficient evidence. Today, there are even false judgments given by prejudiced judges who wrongly convict political opponents of unsubstantiated crimes to sway public opinion. Both of these would be a violation of the Proverbs 24:23 principles.

The wise man went on to illustrate the consequences of respect of persons in the next verses, “He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him: But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them” (Pr. 24:24-25). Even before the internet and social media, people could tell when a judge, or anyone else, was showing partiality (i.e., respect of persons). Proverbs 24:24 deals with the judge who had respect of persons and what the people thought of it, while Proverbs 24:25 considers the one who did not have respect of persons and how people responded to his impartial judgments. Concerning the former, respect of persons would have to be the only way a judge could declare the wicked righteous. Isaiah pronounced, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20). However, Isaiah was speaking of people who had been so immersed in false doctrine and idolatry that to make these false, destructive judgements was second nature (cf. Eph. 2:1-3). Legitimate God-appointed judges, on the other hand, should weigh each case upon the available evidence. Eyewitness testimony was usually the strongest and most often used form of evidence in the biblical world, which is one reason why there is so much in the Old Testament forbidding false witnesses (cf. Ex. 20:16; 23:1; Deut. 19:16; Pr. 6:19; 12:17; 19:9; 24:28; 25:18).

Because “miscarriages of justice make citizens feel insecure” (Smith, 639), there will be an adverse reaction to judges who show respect of persons. The wise man gave two reactions from the lesser to the greater. First, this prejudiced judge “shall the people curse” (Pr. 24:24). The term “curse” comes from a root that means “to puncture … to perforate, with more or less violence” (Strong). Figuratively, it means to use words that tear down and puncture the character of the one to whom they are directed (Job 3:8; Pr. 11:26). Second, “nations shall abhor” the judge who shows respect of persons. The word translated “abhorred” is similar in meaning to “curse,” and means to “express indignation” or to “denounce” (Reyburn and Fry 532). Of course, no matter the negative human reaction, God has warned in each section of the Old Testament that showing respect of persons is sinful and will receive a just recompense. From the Law: “Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked” (Ex. 23:7). From the Psalms: “How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah. Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psa. 82:2-4). From the Prophets: “Woe unto them that … justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!” (Isa. 5:22-23). It is no wonder, then, that wisdom says, “It is not good to accept the person of the wicked, to overthrow the righteous in judgment” (Pr. 18:5)!

Concerning the judges who were impartial, or showed no respect of persons, and who thus rebuked the wicked, “delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them” (Pr. 24:25). In contrast to the prejudice judges who receive cursing and abhorrence from people and nations, those upright judges who render verdicts based on evidence, not “face looking” (i.e., respect of persons), receive blessings and prosperity. Some regard “blessing” as referring to what people say to the impartial judge (which gives him a good reputation), while others take “blessing” in reference to the impartial judge being blessed with material prosperity from God (Reyburn and Fry 532). Either way, there was a blessing upon those who were impartial, which is in stark contrast to the judge who showed respect of persons!

Conclusion

It is the very nature of God to be impartial. God is not a “face looker” when it comes to dealing with people (Rom. 2:11). Peter affirmed, “God is no respecter of persons [shows no partiality, NKJ]: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). Since God’s people are to be like Him, we must not show “respect of persons” (Jas. 2:1).

Works Cited

  • Lohse, Eduard. “Προσωπολημψία.” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 6. Eds. G. Kittel and G. Friedrich. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968. 779-780.
  • Opperwall, Nola J. “Partiality; Show Partiality; Be Partial.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. Ed. G. W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986.
  • Reyburn, William David and Euan McGregor Fry. A Handbook on Proverbs. UBS Handbook Series. New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 2000.
  • Strong, James. “Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary.” The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. 1890. Iowa Falls, IA: Riverside Book and Bible House, n.d. Power Bible CD.
  • Tiedtke, Erich. “Face [πρόσωπον].” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Vol. 1. Ed. Colin Brown. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986. 585-587.
  • Walton, John H., Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.
Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
Title:
Impartial or a “Face Looker”? (Part 1)
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Scriptural Use of Local Church Funds

The use of church funds has often been a topic of contention, even among the brotherhood. In fact, that was one of the main issues that split the brotherhood in the late 1950s/early 1960s. In a recent meeting between the preachers and leading men of two local churches (neither of which had an eldership), a list of questions was presented to see at what point the two sides disagreed, with the hope that this series of discussions would either resolve the issues toward restoring unity or let brethren know the reason why the disunity still exists. Both sides agreed on 90% of the questions, even one about whether it was sinful to eat in the church building. The only question over which the two sides disagreed involved use of church funds. Unfortunately, the side who thought it was always sinful to help “non-saints” from the church treasury called off further discussions. This article will examine Paul’s instruction in Galatians 6:6-10, showing three areas where local churches of Christ have authority to use their funds.

Supporting Gospel Preachers

Paul wrote, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (Gal. 6:6). This authorizes the local church to use their funds to financially support gospel preachers and teachers. The verb translated “share [communicate, KJV]” (from koinoneo, κοινωνέω) means to contribute, give a share (Rom. 12:13; 15:27; Phil. 4:15; 1 Tim. 5:22; Heb. 2:14; 1 Pet. 4:13; 2 Jn. 11). It is a verb form of the word fellowship. Lest someone make a quibble over the “him” in Galatians 6:6a, as if it only authorized “individual action,” note that Paul elsewhere said that “If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? … Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:11, 14). Also, Paul wrote Timothy, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine … The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim. 5:17-18). Those who teach the gospel have a right to receive financial support from those they teach. Although Paul chose not to accept support from some congregations (1 Cor. 9:14-18; 1 Thes. 2:9; 2 Thes. 3:8-9), he did accept support from others (Phil. 4:15-18). Supporting gospel preachers, evangelists, and teachers must not be viewed as a “grim duty, though some congregations seem to treat it as such;” rather, Paul spoke of it as “fellowship,” or a “partnership” (Boice, 503).

Promoting Spiritual Life

Paul continued:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Gal. 6:7-9)

These verses, in context, authorize the local church to use their funds for endeavors that promote spiritual life among its members. This is emphasized in two parts. First, God’s natural law of sowing and reaping is certain (Gal. 6:7). Because of the rhythmic nature of this verse, some think it was a common proverb of the day. “Mocked” is translated from muktepizo (μυκτηρίζω), which means to mock, make a fool of; to treat with contempt, to ridicule. Paul’s point is that God cannot be fooled or outwitted by people who seek to circumvent His natural law (cf. Col. 1:16; Heb. 11:3). Second, God’s spiritual law of sowing and reaping is just as certain (Gal. 6:8). Sowing to the flesh results in spiritual death (Gal. 6:8a cf. 5:19-21; Job 4:8). Sowing to the Spirit results in “life everlasting” (Gal. 6:8b). Is not maximizing the ability for its members to reap eternal life a major reason why the local church exists? Since God’s law of sowing and reaping is certain, we must not quit, or “grow weary” (KJV), in sowing spiritual seed (Gal. 6:9). These verses, couched between financially supporting preachers (Gal. 6:6) and helping those in need (Gal. 6:10), show that promoting spiritual sowing and reaping is to be promoted by the church (even if it involves local church funds)! This would include a host of expediences as determined by a local eldership.

Helping Those in Need

Paul concluded, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). This authorizes the local church to help people, even “non saints.” Although the full harvest mentioned in the previous verse is future, now is the time to take advantage of the opportunities God presently gives (Gal. 6:10a). Two aspects of opportunity involve: (1) the true needs of those in distress; and (2) our ability to meet those needs (cf. Acts 2:43-44; 4:32-35). Good is to be done to all people when opportunities arise, not just to saints, or members of the church, but to everyone (Gal. 6:10b). The word “all [all men, KJV; all people, NAS; everyone, ESV]” (from pas, πας), without the definite article, as here, means “each, every,” or in the plural, “all.” This word is found several times in Galatians (1:2; 2:14, 16; 3:8, 10, 13, 22, 26, 28; 4:1; 5:3, 14; 6:6). As with any word or statement in the Bible, it must be taken literally, unless something in the context demands otherwise. If this were not the case, we could make the Bible teach anything we wanted! There is nothing in this context that demands the word “all” to mean only saints. To the contrary, the word “especially” (from malista, μάλιστα), which means “above all, most of all” (Phil. 4:22; 1 Tim. 4:10; 5:8; 2 Tim. 4:13; Tit. 1:10), demands that “all” include non-saints! If “all” referred only to saints, why would Paul have to say, “especially … those who are of the household of faith”? The “only saints” doctrine of benevolence is false (cf. Mt. 15:21-28; Lk. 10:25-37; Jas. 1:27)!

Conclusion

Everything in this world belongs to God (Deut. 10:14; Ps. 24:1; 50:10; 1 Cor. 10:26), including the money we control! While a local church must seek godly wisdom in using the money over which its leaders have control (cf. Jas. 1:5), a local church has authority from God to use those funds to support gospel preaching and teaching, to promote the spiritual life of its members, and to help people in need, even if they are not members of the body of Christ (Gal. 6:6-10).

Works Cited

  • Boice, James Montgomery. “Galatians.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary—Vol. 10: Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976.
Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
Title:
Scriptural Use of Local Church Funds
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Rise of the Messianic Kingdom, A Preview of Our 2023 Lectureship Book

The lectureship may be well underway by the time many receive this Harvester. Hopefully, if you were not here in person, you were able to participate online. Whether you were here in person or online, we encourage you to make the lectureship last even longer. In addition to the video/audio thumb drives and downloads, a 539 page hardbound volume of our lectureship book is available. This is a great way to keep the lectureship for yourself to study and/or share it with others who would also benefit from a study on the “Rise of the Messianic Kingdom.” As our custom is for the January Harvester, below are some excerpts from the book to give you an idea of its contents.

Overview

Bruce Daugherty sets the stage in his chapter, “Overview of the Messianic Kingdom in Luke’s Gospel”:

The Gospel according to Luke and its companion volume, Acts, comprise approximately 28% of all the words in the New Testament. … Despite this fact, Luke’s Gospel has been overshadowed in study … This neglect has led to a separation of the Gospel of Luke from Acts. To be properly understood, however, the narrative in Acts needs to be viewed through Luke’s Gospel, [which] … emphasizes the continuation of God’s work in the salvation of humanity. … Luke’s Gospel tells how the promised Messiah was misunderstood and rejected by the leaders of Israel, and how God raised Him from the dead and made Him “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36, NKJ). Luke’s companion volume, Acts, tells the story of the people who have accepted the rule of Christ. These people are the church, which is seen in Acts expanding throughout the Roman Empire but undergoing persecution. This persecution might be misunderstood as if these people were cursed by God, but like their Messiah, this suffering indicates their faithfulness and is only a prelude to their exaltation by God.

The Messianic kingdom did not just fall out of the sky, but it, along with everything else associated with the Messiah, was planned from the foundation of the world (Mt. 13:35; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20). The prophets spoke of this coming kingdom, especially Isaiah and Daniel. Emanuel Daugherty, in his chapter, “Isaiah 2 and Daniel 2 Fulfilled in Acts 2,” states:

Prophecy is God’s way of telling beforehand future events to His people before they happen, thereby creating faith in Him as the one true God. When correctly understood, prophecy makes the New Testament open and blossom as a beautiful flower! Having a knowledge and understanding of these things establishes our faith in God and His Son, making the Holy Scriptures a joy and blessing to read and study! … To miss the point of Isaiah 2 and Daniel 2 is to miss it all! … The Messianic kingdom seen in Isaiah and Daniel was the pledge and promise of God to Israel that He had not forgotten the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and other faithful souls of the Old Testament (Gen.12:1-3; 2 Sam.7:12-16; Ps. 89:3-4, 19-37, 38-52). The preaching and teaching of the prophecies … will help souls come to a better understanding of God’s book leading them to Christ and into greater service for King Jesus.

Establishment

Before the Messianic kingdom could be established, the Messiah had to be enthroned. Concerning this, Vince Daugherty wrote:

Though Jesus spoke prophetically concerning many things, He spoke often of His ascension [Jn. 3:13-14; 6:62; 7:33; 13:3, 33; 14:12, 28-29, 16:5, 10; 16, 28; 17:11; 20:17] … After Jesus’ prophetic words and account of His ascension, He is referred to in the rest of the New Testament as only residing in heaven (Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; 22:6-8; 26:13-16; Phil. 3:20; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 6:20; 1 Pet. 3:22). … The enthronement of Jesus also established Jesus as The Priest. “The Lord has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek’” (Ps. 110:4). At His enthronement, Jesus was given the role of High Priest. A priest was simply a mediator between man and God. Jesus is the perfected High Priest, perfected through what He could only experience by becoming human.

With Jesus on the throne and serving as priest, everything was set for the Messianic kingdom to be established. That kingdom was inaugurated for the Jews in Acts 2, on the first Day of Pentecost following the Lord’s resurrection, and for the Gentiles in Acts 10, with Cornelius and his household. Jimmy Clark states:

Today, the message of the gospel rings true for the needs of all people everywhere. God is not just the God of the Jews [Rom. 3:29]. … the promise made to Abraham is fulfilled in the gospel going to every man [Gen. 12:3]. … Therefore, the promise to Abraham was more than just to Abraham’s physical descendants. … Since sin is universal in its scope, the remedy for sin must also be provided in the same scope, for God is no respecter of persons (cf. Rom. 2:11). It is the nature of God that none perish (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4-7; 2 Pet. 3:9). The inclusion of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God beginning with Cornelius and his household is today realized in multiplied places where good and honest hearts hear the same gospel message and obey those same conditions of salvation [Gal. 3:29].

The Holy Spirit’s Role

The Holy Spirit’s involvement with the establishing and continuation of the Messianic kingdom is undeniable. This book contains useful, biblical information on the Holy Spirit, a subject that is often avoided, but embraced in this book simply because the Holy Spirit is an integral part of the Messianic kingdom.

The “gift of the Holy Spirit” has always been a much discussed subject in the brotherhood. After laying valuable groundwork in comparing two passages that contain the phrase “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38; 10:45) and one that people claim aids in defining the meaning of “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:15-20), even though the exact phrase is not found within it, Stephen Atnip, in his chapter, “The Gift of the Holy Spirit,” writes:

We begin this section with the following characteristics of the “gift of the Holy Ghost” in Acts 2:38. First, it came after the penitent believer’s baptism in the name of the Lord for the remission of sins. Second, it was promised to all, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. While many seek to limit the term “many,” only a theological bias would move its simplest meaning from quantitative to qualitative (cf. Arndt’s comments on hosos [ὅσος]). Every person baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins was promised to receive this “gift of the Holy Ghost.” Based on these elements in Acts 2:38-39, we make several confident affirmations.

We confidently affirm the gift of the Spirit is not baptism with the Holy Spirit. The baptism with the Spirit came before water baptism in the name of the Lord, while the gift of the Spirit comes after baptism in the name of the Lord.

We confidently affirm the gift of the Spirit in Acts 2:38 is not what is meant by the phrase “filled with the Holy Ghost” in Acts 4:8. The phrase in Acts 4:8 was a miraculous, revelatory gift of the Spirit given to people of the first century to speak the prophetic word of God without previous study. It is what was promised to the apostles as the “Comforter [Helper, NASB]” in John 13–17. Those who were “filled with the Holy Ghost” were able to foretell the future (Jn. 16:13, “he will shew you things to come”). All who were baptized for the remission of their sins were promised to receive the gift of the Spirit, but the “Comforter [Helper, NASB]” was not given to every baptized person as one who could foretell the future. Thus, we affirm that the gift of the Spirit is not being “filled with the Holy Ghost.” We should never claim the Holy Spirit as our “Comforter [Helper, NASB]” as He was for the apostles, by appealing to the gift of the Spirit in Acts 2:38.

We confidently affirm the “gift of the Holy Ghost” is not referring to the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, such as signs and miracles. We have shown this already earlier in our examination of Acts 8:15-20.

We confidently affirm the “gift of the Holy Ghost” is not a reference to the “gift of God” in Acts 8:20. The “gift of God” in that passage was only for the apostles as shown earlier.

We confidently affirm the gift of the Holy Spirit is not referring to being “full of the Holy Ghost” as in Acts 6:3, 5. Being full of the Holy Spirit was used as a qualification for service. It is not received by every Christian as is true with the gift of the Spirit in Acts 2:38-39. If everyone is full of the Spirit, then being full of the Spirit could not be used as a qualification. Thus, the phrase “full of the Holy Ghost” is not referring to the “gift of the Holy Ghost” which comes to every baptized believer.

We also confidently affirm the “gift of the Holy Ghost” in Acts 2:38 is not the indwelling word. The word of the Spirit indwells the hearts of people before they are baptized. The “gift of the Holy Ghost” is given only after people are baptized. The indwelling word is what creates faith which leads people to be baptized. If there is faith to be baptized, then there is already the indwelling word (Rom. 10:17). However, the gift of the Spirit in Acts 2:38 comes only after baptism, thus after faith, which comes after the word enters the hearer. It is strange to hear people who rightfully argue that the word works the same way on the unbeliever as it does on the believer, then argue that the gift of the Holy Spirit, which only comes after baptism, is the indwelling word which is what brings the heart to faith. Does not the indwelling word work the same way in the unbaptized, penitent believer as it does in the baptized, penitent believer? If we are going to say the gift of the Spirit is the indwelling word, then the gift of the Spirit is not only given after baptism, it also comes before baptism, and thus it cannot be said to be a promise only to baptized believers. This would in essence say that none but a baptized believer can have the word indwelling his heart, and that is an error of Calvinism. The indwelling word is within the penitent believer leading him or her to be baptized. The indwelling word both precedes and comes after baptism, and is not uniquely given only to the baptized believer. The gift of the Spirit, however, is only given after a person has been baptized. So, we confidently say that the gift of the Spirit is not the indwelling word.

What, then is the “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 2:38? Brother Atnip continues:

We rightly point out that whatever it is, it is only given to a penitent, baptized believer. Second, it is a gift that comes to all baptized, penitent believers, not just a select few [Acts 2:39]. … The only gift of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament that meets these qualifications found in Acts 2:38 is the Holy Ghost given to indwell every Christian to be the guarantor of his or her resurrection into the likeness of Christ’s glorious body. It is the earnest of our inheritance, that which guarantees every faithful saint that we shall be raised to an eternal inheritance in the likeness of Jesus’ resurrection [Eph. 1:13-14; Rom. 8:11]. … Every Christian, according to Paul, plainly has this indwelling Holy Spirit dwelling within to raise him or her on the last day in the likeness of Jesus’ glorious body. If no other reason might be adduced from Scripture for this
indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Christian, this reason alone shows the absolute necessity for the “gift of the Holy Ghost” given to every penitent, baptized believer, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

Conclusion

David Stearsman, in his chapter, “Aiding and Determining the Messianic Kingdom’s Spread,” provides
a fitting conclusion:

No one today is led by the Spirit directly as they were in first century, but through the New Testament examples we have direction. … The advancement of the Messianic kingdom today depends on Christians, faithfully petitioning deity for providential care, and growing to maturity in the faith.

Visit our online bookstore to order your lectureship book!

Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
Title:
Rise of the Messianic Kingdom, A Preview of Our 2023 Lectureship Book
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Memories of Michael Elledge

On Christmas Eve 2010, I received word that Mike was found on the gym locker room floor unresponsive. No one knew exactly how long he had lain there with no pulse or respirations. It looked bleak, but he was revived and taken to the hospital with stabilizing vital signs. A month earlier, I had lost my wife to cancer and was still feeling that inward chill of loneliness, intensified while alone on a night like Christmas Eve. I felt compelled to check on Mike, so I drove about an hour to the hospital to see if I could comfort his sister or if my voice could penetrate his unconsciousness with an encouraging word, Scripture reading, or prayer. The usually busy streets were eerily silent that night as a light mist entwined the darkness. As I drove, I prayed and even thought about a possible future of Mike being brain damaged and unable to function as he once did. I will never forget that night.

By God’s grace, Mike recovered and continued to serve the Lord in preaching, evangelizing, and influencing people to be Christ-like, especially those struggling with addiction. Only the Lord could have known these many years since Christmas Eve 2010 that Mike would be “carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” on August 27, 2023, and that His providence would have allowed me the honor of praying over him, in fulfilment of a wish he had made known before his death, that a gospel preacher would pray over his body when he died. I just happened to be the one nearby when Mike’s spirit passed from its earthly tent. We continue to pray for Nicole and the entire Elledge family.

An Evangelist

First and foremost, when I think of Mike, I think of a personal evangelist. Mike was first introduced to the gospel and was eventually baptized into Christ by Ed Duffy, who began studies with FSOP in Fall 1989 (the same semester I did), after retiring from employment as a corrections officer. Ed convinced Mike to attend FSOP, from which Mike graduated May 1995. Ed and Mike had one major thing in common: both had a past plagued by alcohol, and, as a testimony to the power of the gospel, both stayed sober and very active in the Lord for many years until they both unexpectedly passed from this life. Mike used this background to reach and influence many souls. In fact, his introductory bio on the FSOP faculty page of our website states, “His passion is sharing the gospel with the addicted community, which he has done for thirty years.” Mike would go places and attend events where that segment of the addicted community who desired sobriety would be present. This was his major mission field. He knew first-hand the destructive consequences of addiction, the saving power of God’s word, how to bring the two together, and the overwhelming victory that can be attained through obedience to the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 6:16-18; 1 Cor. 2:5; Gal. 2:20). Not only did he know this, but more importantly, he put it into practice by following Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20). Mike was an exemplary evangelist.

Insightful of God’s Word And the Ways of the World

Mike was very insightful concerning how ancient Scripture applied to contemporary situations. After becoming a Christian, he was one who definitely pursued God’s wisdom, as Solomon declared, “If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, And find the knowledge of God” (Pr. 2:4). A turning point in his ability to study was when Jackie M. Stearsman, FSOP’s second director (1992-2009), introduced him to the New King James Version. Mike fell into the category of those who were not reared hearing, reading, and having explained to them the wording of the old King James Version. Like others, Mike was often frustrated in his hungering and thirsting for God’s word when he came across the often unfamiliar and ambiguous wording of the KJV, yet he had an insatiable appetite to understand God’s will. Once he had a Bible whose words were more contemporary, Mike blossomed as a Bible student and continued studying fruitfully while sojourning in this world. Mike taught with FSOP from 2002-2017, in both extension night classes as well as day classes in Lakeland. Most of his classes were from the Old Testament. He also liked teaching Friday afternoons, which is the most difficult time (due to student fatigue). This changed when Nicole, who would become his lovely wife, came along. We were happy to adjust the schedule to give Mike (and Nicole) Friday afternoons. His insight into Scripture was keen and on target. Because of this, along with his illustrations and applications, he was very well liked by his students.

A Man Before His Time

Mike was, in many ways, a man before his time concerning preaching and writing styles. Since my returning to Florida in 1996 to work with FSOP, the only times I heard Mike preach were on lectureships and perhaps a gospel meeting or two. On those occasions, though, I learned to appreciate Mike’s unique preaching style. He was somewhat casual and conversational, yet very serious and penetrating. Using his insight and illustrations from personal life, sporting events, or news stories, he effectively imbedded the soul-saving gospel into the hearts of those who wanted to learn. He maintained a great balance between Bible quotation, illustration, application, and persuasion (cf. Neh. 8:8; Isa. 50:4). That style is now more common, but Mike was ahead of that curve and was a master at it. This being ahead of the curve also applied to his writing style. As editor of the FSOP lectureship book since the 2000 volume, Mike’s writing style at first would give me fits. In semi-formal writing, the use of the second person personal pronoun, “you” (and its forms) are not supposed to be used, except on very rare occasions. For any other writer, though tedious, I would edit out the “yous” and “yours” by eliminating them or by replacing them (and their corresponding syntax) with third person personal pronouns. With Mike’s writings, however, there was no way to change them without rewriting the whole thing, which was practically impossible! Thus, I allowed Mike’s chapters to remain using second person personal pronouns. This is more the style these days, thus putting Mike a man before his time … but do not any other FSOP manuscript writers and future writers get any ideas! Mike was exceptional.

Postscript

Let us continue to pray for Nicole and the grieving family. It is with sad hearts we contemplate losing Mike so soon and so suddenly. However, we do not “sorrow as others who have no hope” (1 Thes. 4:13). We also know that “Jesus died and rose again,” and that one day:

[T]he Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thes. 4:14-18)

Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
Title:
Memories of Michael Elledge
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Faithful Christians Are “More Than Conquerors”

As Paul concluded Romans 8, he asked, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:37). The apostle made clear that no physical adversity can separate us from Christ’s love. Paul listed (1) “tribulation,” which is trouble, hard circumstances, suffering (Rom. 2:9; 5:3; 12:12; 1 Cor. 7:28); (2) “distress [anguish, ASV],” which is difficulty, trouble (Rom. 2:9; 2 Cor. 6:4; 12:10); (3) “persecution,” which is being “hunted down” for following God (Mt. 13:21; Acts 8:1); (4) “famine,” which is hunger (2 Cor. 11:27); (5) “nakedness,” which is without sufficient clothing, poverty (2 Cor. 11:27; Rev. 3:18); (6) “peril [danger, ESV]” (2 Cor. 11:26); and (7) “sword,” which is a literal sword, but can also be used figuratively for war, violent death, execution (Mt. 10:34; Lk. 21:24; Acts 12:2; Rom. 13:4; Heb. 11:34, 37). Paul experienced all of these (2 Cor. 4:8-12; 11:23-29). Physical adversity has always been the lot of those who follow God (Rom. 8:36 cf. Ps. 44:22). Suffering is a sign not of failure but of God’s will (Mt. 5:10-12; Jn. 15:18-20; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12). Over all these, God makes us “super-conquerors” (Rom. 8:37)! Paul, by the Holy Spirit, invented this word, by taking the word for “conquer” and adding the prefix “hyper.” Thus, Paul taught Christians, through Christ’s love, are “hyper-conquerors,” or “we overwhelmingly conquer” (NAS95). Victory takes place through suffering, not apart from it, and God even works through harsh realities (cf. Rom. 8:28). The victory comes not in escaping suffering or having courage in the face of suffering, but in God’s love for us in the midst of suffering!

Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
Title:
Faithful Christians Are “More Than Conquerors”
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Thanks for Your Support!

By God’s grace, we started our 55th school year August 7, 2023! This would not be possible without your supporting us as you have since our very first semester began September 5, 1969. We know there are others, like ourselves, who understand people are separated from God because of sin (Isa. 59:1-2), that Christ’s blood is the only thing that can take away sin (Rev. 1:5), that obedience to the gospel is the only way to contact Christ’s blood (Rom. 6:3-4), and that getting the good news into the world is the only way people can be reconciled to God (Mk. 16:15-16 cf. 2 Cor. 5:17-21). Our mission is to train men from the Bible to be preachers of sound doctrine in order to strengthen the church and to reach the lost. Thanks for being “fellow workers for the truth” (3 Jn. 8)! —Brian

Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
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Thanks for Your Support!
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Complete in Christ

Epaphras, a messenger of the church in Colosse (cf. Col. 4:12), came to Paul in Rome with good news and bad news about the church of Colosse. The good news was that the gospel had born fruit among the Colossians (cf. Col. 1:6), who were continuing in the faith in Christ and in love for their fellow Christians (cf. Col. 1:4). The bad news was the Colossians were being deceived by a new teaching that was contrary to the gospel. The new teaching claimed a profound knowledge apart from Christ (Col. 2:8), an emphasis on following prescribed human rituals (Col. 2:16), the worship of angels (Col. 2:18), and asceticism (Col. 2:18, 20-23). This new teaching invoked spiritual powers rather than calling on Christ in whom the fullness of God dwelt in bodily form (Col. 2:9). To deal with this false teaching, Paul wrote the letter to them. In Colossians 2:8-12, Paul gave four truths that adequately refute the heresy in Colosse (and all false religions).

Within Christ Is All Truth

Paul warned, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8 cf. Col. 2:4). The word “cheat [spoil, KJV; takes you captive, NAS]” (from sulayogeo, συλαγωγέω) means to make a captive of; to carry off as booty or captive. According to Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, “the word meant to ‘kidnap,’ and here depicts carrying someone away from the truth into the slavery of error” (776), through human, worldly, and ungodly philosophy. Any system of religion not “according to Christ” is empty and damnable (cf. Rom. 10:1-3).

Within Christ Is All Deity

Paul affirmed, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9 cf. Col. 1:19). Finite human minds cannot fully comprehend how this is possible, but it is. We know that God exists and the Bible is His inspired word (cf. Rom. 1:20; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). If the Bible teaches there is one God (and it does, Deut. 6:4), and if the Father (1 Cor. 1:3), and the Son (Jn. 1:1-3, 14), and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4) are each said to be God (and they are), yet each are distinct personalities (and each is, Mt. 3:16-17; Jn. 14:23; 15:23); then the Bible teaches that there are three distinct personalities in the one Godhead (Mt. 28:19; Jn. 14:16; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Pet. 1:2). In Jesus’ fleshly body, while He walked among humanity, was the Godhead!

Within Christ Is All Authority

Paul acknowledged, “And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:10).Since in Jesus’ body dwelt the “fullness of the Godhead,” there is absolutely no need to seek spiritual guidance anywhere else (cf. Rev. 1:8). In fact, not only is there no need, to do so would be to fall from grace by forsaking the only means of salvation (Gal. 5:1-7), and could be to “crucify again … the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:6). The word translated “complete [made full, ASV; filled, ESV]” (from pleroo, πληρόω) means to fulfill; bring to completion; complete finish (Col. 1:9, 25; 2:10; 4:17; Phil. 2:2; 2 Thes. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:4). Jesus as “head of all principality and power” means He has authority even over unseen, spiritual beings (cf. Col. 1:16; Rom. 8:30; Eph. 6:12), the very entities to which the heresy pointed! Only Jesus has “all authority” (Mt. 28:18), and only God’s written word, the Bible, 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 Tim. 3:16-17). Any other source of authority in religion is damnable!

Within Christ Is Every Spiritual Blessing

Paul instructed, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:11-12). As the context reveals, the “circumcision” to which Paul alluded was baptism into Christ (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; 1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:6; Eph. 2:11-13). When people are Scripturally baptized into Christ, they are raised with Christ as “new creations” (2 Cor. 5:17), to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). This being “raised … from the dead” opens up all blessings of fellowship with God, which leaves out no spiritual blessing (cf. Eph. 1:3-14). Sin separates us from every one of God’s spiritual blessings (Isa. 59:1-2). If we abandon, or even dilute, Christ in favor of a false system, we forfeit all spiritual blessings!

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Complete in Christ
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Scripture Meditation

There are several avenues by which to grow and mature spiritually as a Christian. One of those ways—a very basic starting point—is by meditating on God’s word. Two Old Testament passages immediately come to mind when thinking about meditating on God’s word. First, as part of God’s commission to Joshua, the Lord told him:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Josh 1:8)

Second, the psalmist eloquently wrote of the “blessed” person. In contrast to walking, standing, and sitting with the ungodly, sinners, and scornful, the psalmist declared, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:1-2).

The word “meditate” means to “think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence … [sometimes] for religious or spiritual purposes” (dictionary.com). According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, it carries with it to “moan, growl, utter, speak” (151). Bratcher and Reyburn, in their Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, give synonyms such as “reads carefully … studies … pours over … read in an undertone,” then add that the word means “intensive, careful reading and study” (18). While any kind of Bible reading, no matter how deep, is profitable, only by deep study and reflection on God’s word can a person even begin to grow spiritually.

“Meditate” in Psalm 119“

The English word “meditate” appears more in Psalm 119 than in any other chapter in the Bible (Ps. 119:15, 27, 48, 78, 148). This is very fitting, seeing this is a psalm that exalts the word of God. There are eight different words in Psalm 119 that are used in reference to God’s word. These are: (1) “law” (torah, always singular, 25x)—general instruction for righteous living; (2) “word” (dabar, 24x)—any word from God; divine revelation (Deut 4:2, 10, 13); (3) “judgments [rules, ESV]” (mispatim, always plural, 23x)—legal decisions (Ps. 119:7, 62, 106); (4) “statutes/testimony” (edut, 23x)—witness; testify (Ps. 25:10; 132:12); (5) “commandment(s)” (miswah, 22x)—anything the covenant God ordered or commanded (Ps. 119:86, 98, 151, 172); (6) “decrees/righteous judgments” (huqqin, 21x) — from a root meaning to engrave, or inscribe (Ps. 148:1-6); (7) “precepts” (piqqudim, only in Psalms, 21x)—the authority God has laid down (Ps. 119:56, 63, 173); and (8) “word [promise, ESV]” (imrah, 19x)—anything God has spoken, commanded, or promised (Ps.119:50, 116, 154). All of these words and the principles they represent are worthy of our meditation!

“Meditate” in the New Testament

The word “meditate” appears three times in the New Testament (NKJ), from three different words. First, Jesus told the apostles, “Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer” (Lk. 21:14). Here “meditate” (from promeletao, προμελετάω) means to think and prepare ahead of time. Jesus promised His apostles that the Holy Spirit would reveal to them all they needed to speak as they defended the faith before adversaries (cf. Mt. 10:19; Mk. 13:11; Lk. 12:11; Jn. 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). Second, Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Here, “meditate” (from logizomai, λογίζομαι) means to consider, evaluate, think on, reflect upon. Indeed, as a person “thinks in his heart, so is he” (Pr. 23:7). Thus, as per Paul’s instruction, we must meditate on spiritually good things (cf. Col. 3:1-2). Third, Paul instructed Timothy, “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine … Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Tim. 4:13-15). Here, “meditate” (from meletao, μελετάω) means to practice, cultivate; think about (Acts 4:25, “plot”). Preachers must continue to build-up themselves and the church by focusing upon and practicing the word of God (cf. Jas. 1:21-25). No matter our station in life, we will immensely benefit from meditating on God’s word!

Meditating on God’s Word Is Key To:

When considering Bible passages that mention meditating on God’s word and/or that which God’s word approves, there emerges key blessings.

Victory Again, note the words to Joshua: This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Josh. 1:8) Joshua’s success was predicated upon his meditating and doing what was contained in the “Book of the Law.” Only by meditating on God’s word can we know what we must do to obey God’s word.

God’s Approval Again, note the contrast in this Psalm between the ungodly and the righteous, summed-up in the last verse, “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Ps. 1:6). The word “know” here does not merely mean intellectual awareness, but it carries the idea of approval. The Lord approves the way of the righteous! Because the righteous “delight” in God’s word, he constantly “meditates” on it (Ps. 1:2). As a result, he shall grow and prosper, “like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither” (Ps. 1:3). Do we delight in God’s law? If so, we will meditate on it, do it, and be approved by God.

Confidence in God The psalmist wrote, “I will remember the works of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, And talk of Your deeds” (Ps. 77:11-12). This was in a context of “the day of … trouble” when the psalmist’s “soul refused to be comforted” (Ps. 77:2). However, the psalmist began his move from despair to comfort: “I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, And my spirit makes diligent search” (Ps. 77:6). When he remembered the “works of the Lord,” meditated on those works, and talked of what God had done in the past, his confidence in God was restored (Ps. 77:13-20). When we are discouraged, meditate on what God has done for His people in the past (Rom. 15:4).

Being in God’s “Book” “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, And the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the Lord And who meditate on His name” (Mal. 3:16). Note the connection between those who “feared the Lord” and His listening to them. Note also that those who feared the Lord meditated on His name. This “book of remembrance” is, as it were, the way God let the people know He will not forget them. “‘They shall be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them As a man spares his own son who serves him’” (Mal. 3:17). The Bible speaks of His “book” elsewhere (Ex. 32:31-32; Ps. 139:16 [cf. Ps. 68:28; Isa. 4:3; Dan. 12:1; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 3:5). Being in this “book” will forever be a blessing for those who now fear God and meditate on all for which He stands as revealed in His word (cf. Rev. 20:11-15).

Unprecedented Peace Immediately before informing his readers on what they should meditate, Paul mentioned “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). This unfathomable peace is thus maintained by meditating on:

[W]hatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy. (Phil. 4:8)

Again, as a person “thinks in his heart, so is he” (Pr. 23:7). Thus, if we continually meditate on what God deems as good, no matter what we face in life, we will have the unprecedented peace as Jesus promised “in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).

Continued Growth As stated earlier, the “these things” on which Paul told Timothy to meditate included “reading … exhortation [and] … doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13-15). These things are essential to spiritual growth! Since “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17), our faith can never outrun our knowledge of God, for “he who comes to God must believe that He is [which predicates knowledge], and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6)! True exhortation must also be based on God’s word (1 Cor. 14:6, 15-17, 26-33). Without a continually increasing knowledge based on a continually increasing meditation of God’s word, we cannot “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).

Conclusion

While reading God’s word is to some extent always profitable, it is only through meditation on Scripture that we can begin to seriously grow into the people God wants. Let us have the same attitude as the psalmist:

Make me understand the way of Your precepts; So shall I meditate on Your wondrous works. (Ps. 119:27)
My hands also I will lift up to Your commandments, Which I love, And I will meditate on Your statutes. (Ps. 119:48)

Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
Title:
Scripture Meditation
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Scripture Meditation

There are several avenues by which to grow and mature spiritually as a Christian. One of those ways—a very basic starting point—is by meditating on God’s word. Two Old Testament passages immediately come to mind when thinking about meditating on God’s word. First, as part of God’s commission to Joshua, the Lord told him:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Josh 1:8)

Second, the psalmist eloquently wrote of the “blessed” person. In contrast to walking, standing, and sitting with the ungodly, sinners, and scornful, the psalmist declared, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:1-2).

The word “meditate” means to “think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence … [sometimes] for religious or spiritual purposes” (dictionary.com). According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, it carries with it to “moan, growl, utter, speak” (151). Bratcher and Reyburn, in their Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, give synonyms such as “reads carefully … studies … pours over … read in an undertone,” then add that the word means “intensive, careful reading and study” (18). While any kind of Bible reading, no matter how deep, is profitable, only by deep study and reflection on God’s word can a person even begin to grow spiritually.

“Meditate” in Psalm 119“

The English word “meditate” appears more in Psalm 119 than in any other chapter in the Bible (Ps. 119:15, 27, 48, 78, 148). This is very fitting, seeing this is a psalm that exalts the word of God. There are eight different words in Psalm 119 that are used in reference to God’s word. These are: (1) “law” (torah, always singular, 25x)—general instruction for righteous living; (2) “word” (dabar, 24x)—any word from God; divine revelation (Deut 4:2, 10, 13); (3) “judgments [rules, ESV]” (mispatim, always plural, 23x)—legal decisions (Ps. 119:7, 62, 106); (4) “statutes/testimony” (edut, 23x)—witness; testify (Ps. 25:10; 132:12); (5) “commandment(s)” (miswah, 22x)—anything the covenant God ordered or commanded (Ps. 119:86, 98, 151, 172); (6) “decrees/righteous judgments” (huqqin, 21x) — from a root meaning to engrave, or inscribe (Ps. 148:1-6); (7) “precepts” (piqqudim, only in Psalms, 21x)—the authority God has laid down (Ps. 119:56, 63, 173); and (8) “word [promise, ESV]” (imrah, 19x)—anything God has spoken, commanded, or promised (Ps.119:50, 116, 154). All of these words and the principles they represent are worthy of our meditation!

“Meditate” in the New Testament

The word “meditate” appears three times in the New Testament (NKJ), from three different words. First, Jesus told the apostles, “Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer” (Lk. 21:14). Here “meditate” (from promeletao, προμελετάω) means to think and prepare ahead of time. Jesus promised His apostles that the Holy Spirit would reveal to them all they needed to speak as they defended the faith before adversaries (cf. Mt. 10:19; Mk. 13:11; Lk. 12:11; Jn. 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). Second, Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Here, “meditate” (from logizomai, λογίζομαι) means to consider, evaluate, think on, reflect upon. Indeed, as a person “thinks in his heart, so is he” (Pr. 23:7). Thus, as per Paul’s instruction, we must meditate on spiritually good things (cf. Col. 3:1-2). Third, Paul instructed Timothy, “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine … Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Tim. 4:13-15). Here, “meditate” (from meletao, μελετάω) means to practice, cultivate; think about (Acts 4:25, “plot”). Preachers must continue to build-up themselves and the church by focusing upon and practicing the word of God (cf. Jas. 1:21-25). No matter our station in life, we will immensely benefit from meditating on God’s word!

Meditating on God’s Word Is Key To:

When considering Bible passages that mention meditating on God’s word and/or that which God’s word approves, there emerges key blessings.

Victory Again, note the words to Joshua: This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Josh. 1:8) Joshua’s success was predicated upon his meditating and doing what was contained in the “Book of the Law.” Only by meditating on God’s word can we know what we must do to obey God’s word.

God’s Approval Again, note the contrast in this Psalm between the ungodly and the righteous, summed-up in the last verse, “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Ps. 1:6). The word “know” here does not merely mean intellectual awareness, but it carries the idea of approval. The Lord approves the way of the righteous! Because the righteous “delight” in God’s word, he constantly “meditates” on it (Ps. 1:2). As a result, he shall grow and prosper, “like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither” (Ps. 1:3). Do we delight in God’s law? If so, we will meditate on it, do it, and be approved by God.

Confidence in God The psalmist wrote, “I will remember the works of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, And talk of Your deeds” (Ps. 77:11-12). This was in a context of “the day of … trouble” when the psalmist’s “soul refused to be comforted” (Ps. 77:2). However, the psalmist began his move from despair to comfort: “I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, And my spirit makes diligent search” (Ps. 77:6). When he remembered the “works of the Lord,” meditated on those works, and talked of what God had done in the past, his confidence in God was restored (Ps. 77:13-20). When we are discouraged, meditate on what God has done for His people in the past (Rom. 15:4).

Being in God’s “Book” “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, And the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the Lord And who meditate on His name” (Mal. 3:16). Note the connection between those who “feared the Lord” and His listening to them. Note also that those who feared the Lord meditated on His name. This “book of remembrance” is, as it were, the way God let the people know He will not forget them. “‘They shall be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them As a man spares his own son who serves him’” (Mal. 3:17). The Bible speaks of His “book” elsewhere (Ex. 32:31-32; Ps. 139:16 [cf. Ps. 68:28; Isa. 4:3; Dan. 12:1; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 3:5). Being in this “book” will forever be a blessing for those who now fear God and meditate on all for which He stands as revealed in His word (cf. Rev. 20:11-15).

Unprecedented Peace Immediately before informing his readers on what they should meditate, Paul mentioned “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). This unfathomable peace is thus maintained by meditating on:

[W]hatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy. (Phil. 4:8)

Again, as a person “thinks in his heart, so is he” (Pr. 23:7). Thus, if we continually meditate on what God deems as good, no matter what we face in life, we will have the unprecedented peace as Jesus promised “in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).

Continued Growth As stated earlier, the “these things” on which Paul told Timothy to meditate included “reading … exhortation [and] … doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13-15). These things are essential to spiritual growth! Since “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17), our faith can never outrun our knowledge of God, for “he who comes to God must believe that He is [which predicates knowledge], and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6)! True exhortation must also be based on God’s word (1 Cor. 14:6, 15-17, 26-33). Without a continually increasing knowledge based on a continually increasing meditation of God’s word, we cannot “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).

Conclusion

While reading God’s word is to some extent always profitable, it is only through meditation on Scripture that we can begin to seriously grow into the people God wants. Let us have the same attitude as the psalmist:

Make me understand the way of Your precepts; So shall I meditate on Your wondrous works. (Ps. 119:27)
My hands also I will lift up to Your commandments, Which I love, And I will meditate on Your statutes. (Ps. 119:48)

Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
Title:
Scripture Meditation
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Is the “Safest Thing” Really Scriptural? (Or Is It a Reflection of Brotherhood Politics, Leading to Binding What God Did Not?)

Several years ago, I was asked to perform a wedding ceremony for a couple from another congregation. I hardly knew the couple, but I knew the other congregation and their preacher were both sound. When I learned the preacher from the other congregation would not officiate their wedding, I also refused. That decision slightly bothered me at first because it seemed the only reason I refused was because the preacher whom I highly respected refused. As the years progressed, it became more apparent the decision was not based on Scripture but on conforming to another man’s decision. That couple remained faithful and were in full fellowship at that same congregation, which would not be the case had the marriage been unscriptural! If God allows remarriage in certain circumstances (cf. Mt. 19:9; Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39), and those circumstances are present in the couple wanting to marry, why should I consider that wedding ceremony second rate and not worthy of consideration and support (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26; 13:4-7; Rom. 12:15)? Years later, I did repent by letting the groom know I was wrong. Then recently (after all these years), I learned other preachers have that same policy of never performing the wedding ceremony of any second marriage. Since that policy is not taught in Scripture, it must be the reasoning of man! This, of course, is not to say the policy is inherently sinful, but the principle behind it (and similar policies) is definitely worthy of evaluation.

“Whatever Is Not From Faith Is Sin”

To be sure, if we cannot do something optional with a good conscience, we must not do it. Eating meat is a good biblical example. Some Christians in Paul’s day were converted from paganism (cf. 1 Thes. 1:8-10). The only time in their former lives they ate meat was in connection with idolatrous worship. Thus, the Corinthians asked Paul whether it was Scriptural to eat meat (1 Cor. 8:1-4a). Paul let them know there was no such thing as an idol god but only one true God (1 Cor. 8:4b-6). However, since all were not fully convinced of that, Paul declared it was wrong for Christians to eat meat if it violated their conscience or if it would cause someone else to sin by violating their conscience (1 Cor. 8:7-13). Paul discussed similar issues in Romans 14, whether Christians “may eat all things … [or] only vegetables,” and whether they can “esteem one day above another … [or] every day alike” (Rom. 14:1-6). After much discussion, the apostle concluded, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). The word “faith,” in this context refers to personal conviction, or conscience. If a person cannot eat meat (or participate in any other God-authorized optional matter) in good conscience, he or she sins (cf. Rom. 2:15). This does not teach that anything a person does in good conscience must automatically be morally right (cf. Acts 23:1; 2 Tim. 1:3). It does teach, however, that doing potentially scrupulous optional matters are sinful, unless the person doing them is “fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5).

“Do I Seek to Please Men?”

In the beginning of Paul’s defense of his apostleship to the Galatians, he wrote, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). Paul had likely been accused by his enemies of preaching a message that was “seeking the favor” (NAS95), or “approval” (ESV) of men. Nothing could be further from the truth, for he had just pronounced a curse upon any who would change the gospel (Gal. 1:8-9). Serving Christ and pleasing people at the gospel’s expense are incompatible! Being a “bondservant” of Christ means willingness to give up all for Him, including having the favor of men (cf. Jn. 12:42-43). This harmonizes with First Corinthians 9:19-22. Paul would not unnecessarily offend others, and thus adopt their customs as long as they did not violate God’s word (cf. Acts 5:29). Paul did not place pleasing others above the gospel of Christ (cf. Mt. 6:24). Paul gave insight to his former life by using the word, “still [yet, KJV]” (from eti, ἔτι) in “For if I still pleased men” (Gal. 1:10b). This reveals that when Paul served Judaism, he was doing it to please men (cf. Acts 7:58; 8:1-3), though he was deceived into thinking he was serving God (cf. Jn. 16:2). No person can serve two masters (Mt. 6:24)! Rather than pleasing men, Paul’s post-conversion message was in part to “make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man” (Gal. 1:11). All that we preach and teach must be “the gospel,” not the “commandments of men” (cf. Mt. 15:9; Titus 1:14).

“But Let a Man Examine Himself”

One person’s conscience over optional matters is not God’s standard of judgment over another person’s actions (cf. 1 Cor. 14:3-13). Thus, for a spiritually mature preacher to have a “safest thing” policy that automatically excludes Scriptural options and faithful brethren is questionable. Consider the second-time wedding ceremony mentioned above. Do preachers with policies to never perform such ceremonies not trust those involved, even their own earthly family members whom they know have a Scriptural right to remarry? While it is true some people are not trustworthy, it is also true some are, and in such cases, does not love demand consideration (1 Cor. 13:7)? Do preachers with such policies not want to be bothered by the “extra work” of a wedding ceremony? While it is true a preacher’s time may be overwhelmed, it is also true that sacrificing time to encourage Christians (and non-Christians) is worthy (cf. Eph. 5:15-17). Are preachers afraid if they perform one second marriage and not another, they will offend the ones involved in the other? While it is true preachers should not want to unnecessarily offend anyone (cf. Eph. 4:15), would it not be better to state the reason they could not perform a particular wedding ceremony than to make a blanket policy (cf. Rom. 12:17)? Is not that what preachers do with first wedding ceremonies they cannot perform?

Lastly, and very importantly, are preachers with such “policies” merely trying to please men whom they highly respect in the brotherhood? While it is true we are to love and respect the brotherhood (1 Pet. 2:17), we should not let brethren be our source of authority (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12, 18). When brethren’s example and teaching were commended in Scripture, it was because it harmonized with truth (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Pet. 3:15-16). Could some preacher’s refusal to do certain optional matters be to keep in good standing with influential brethren? While it is true we need to respect brethren’s positions on optional matters, we must not cave to their demands of conformity, whether explicit or implicit (Gal. 2:3-5). The potential problem with this conformity (i.e., brotherhood politics) is that those participating begin to think this opinion over an optional matter is equivalent to God’s law on the subject! We jeopardize our souls and the souls of others when we bind what God has not bound (cf. Mt. 16:19; 15:8-9; 23:15; Col. 2:20-23; Rev. 22:18-19).

Conclusion

Ultimately, a preacher’s (or any Christian’s) decision on optional matters is between him and the Lord with consideration of others involved. However, we should evaluate the motives behind our policies to make sure we are not falling prey to the deceptive tactics of the devil. Unfortunately, sound brethren have been shunned because they participated in optional matters that more influential brethren would not have done because of their “safest thing” policies. Are those forbidding policies, though, really based on Scripture or do they reflect brotherhood politics and/or elevating human opinion as if it were God’s law? Let us always be “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3)!

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Is the “Safest Thing” Really Scriptural? (Or Is It a Reflection of Brotherhood Politics, Leading to Binding What God Did Not?)
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Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted? Part Two

by Vince Daugherty

[Editor’s note: In Part 1 of this article, Vince brought out two main points of consideration; namely, (1) the Gospels were close enough in time to be accurate (as well as New Testament epistles that talk about the life of Jesus, Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Cor. 15:3-8); and (2) the Gospels were intended to be accurate. Consider now, in this final part, more evidence for the historical accuracy of the Gospels. Much of this material is drawn from Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, Chapter 1, “Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted?”]

Included Accurate Flaws

Another interesting element to consider with the potential flaws in the biographies of Jesus is how the disciples are often portrayed. If I were producing a man-made account of my life, there would be certain details I would leave out that would undermine my readers’ confidence or would paint me in a negative light. This is not what we find in the Gospels. Jesus often rebuked His disciples for having “little faith” (Mt. 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). In other places, the disciples fought over who would be the greatest, or first, in the kingdom (Mt. 20:20-28). Blomberg says of the apostles, “They look like a bunch of self-serving, self-seeking, dull-witted people a lot of the time” (quoted in Stroble, 50). Also, the Gospel writers note that women were the first witnesses to the resurrection. This is significant, for in the ancient world the testimony of a woman was not worth much. Why not leave out that detail and say that Peter, James, or one of the other apostles was the first to see Jesus? By not leaving out personally damaging details of the accounts or trying to cover up their own blunders, confidence is increased in the accuracy of what actually happened.

Other Sources Confirm

Another strong consideration is what other “news sources” had to say about Jesus, the man. It is one thing to find the perspective of believers, but what about those who may have stood in opposition to the faith? The first prevalent Jewish explanation for Jesus’ open tomb is that “His disciples came at night and stole Him away” (Mt. 28:13), yet this explanation confirms an empty tomb. Later, the Jewish Talmud called Jesus a sorcerer who led Israel astray, confirming His influence and even His miraculous ability. Strobel rightly points to another truth: the Christian movement started in Jerusalem, which was the center of the Jewish religion. How could a counter movement take hold in that location if the events were fabricated? All the Jewish (or Roman) leadership would have had to do was produce the body and execute the blasphemers. The movement would have been done! Rather, the advice from Gamaliel was where wisdom was found:

[K]eep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God. (Acts 5:38-39)

Not only has Gamaliel’s advice stood the test of time, but so also has the Gospel writers’ biographies! While the Gospel writers definitely had purpose to why they wrote, their testimony is still believable, trustworthy, and holds up against the scrutiny of the rational and honest skeptic.

No Originals; No Problem

A skeptic may contend, we do not have any surviving originals of the New Testament. That is true. However, this is not a unique issue with which to contend. One such response people ought to know is that we have a wealth of multiple copies. If there are a multitude of copies from various geographical locations that still align with each other, it helps us to be confident that the contents were faithfully copied. Also, the copies we do have are very close in age to the time of the originals. One scholar, Bruce Metzger, says:

We have copies commencing within a couple generations from the writing of the originals, whereas in the case of other ancient text, maybe five, eight, or ten centuries elapsed between the original and the earliest copy. (quoted in Strobel, 59)

Further, he states:

Even if we lost all the Greek manuscripts and the early translations, we could still produce the contents of the New Testament form the multiplicity of quotations in [ancient] commentaries, sermons, letters, and so forth from the early church fathers. (quoted in Strobel, 59).

In a comparative study of other ancient works, the Bible has a mountain of copies compared to a minuscule number of copies of texts that are accepted as generally reliable. Compare the Bible to the historian Tacitus’ Annals of Imperial Rome. Thought to be originally written in AD 116, “His first six books exist today in only one manuscript, and it was copied about A.D. 850” (quoted in Stroble, 60, emphasis VD). Josephus is another ancient historian whose nine copies of Jewish Wars, describing events from the first century AD, are from “the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries” (quoted in Stroble, 60). Compared to over five thousand copies of the New Testament, some of which are very old. The closest comparable ancient work of The Illiad only has 650 Greek manuscripts. Also, Homer is believed to have written the work in the 800’s BC, and the oldest copies we have are from the third century AD. The oldest fragments of the New Testament can be dated to before AD 150.

The multiplicity of copies can give the person of faith confident that the Bible we have today has been reliably preserved. Over five thousand Greek manuscripts and ancient translations into such languages as Latin, Ethiopic, Slavic, and Armenian bring the total to twenty-four thousand written evidence still in existence (Stroble, 63). Copies that are in various languages, geographic locations, and earlier and later dates make for an easy reliability test. An honest comparison with other ancient works that are accepted show the Bible has a wealth of corroborating evidence for us to have confidence.

Conclusion

When considering the historical accuracy of the New Testament biographies of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), one test to consider is what has been preserved in history. Have the biographies been reliably preserved? What does archeology have to say? Does it corroborate what the New Testament writers say or does it contradict their accounts? Every piece of evidence, honestly evaluated and scrutinized, harmonizes with what the Bible has revealed since it was originally recorded in the first century AD. Indeed, the New Testament biographies of Jesus have stood the test of time throughout the centuries! The Gospels can and ought to be trusted!

Works Cited

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
Title:
Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted? Part Two
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Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted? Part One

by Vince Daugherty

For individuals to have a solid, reasonable faith, they must be able to trust the sources upon which their faith is based. For the Christian, he is staking his claim of faith in the historical figure of Jesus being the Christ. The overwhelming source for that knowledge and faith comes from the Bible, specifically the Gospels. In a world that seems difficult to trust news reports, people may also be skeptical of what is reported in the biblical text. Therefore, one critical question that must be answered is: Can the biographies of Jesus found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John be trusted? One Bible scholar, Craig L. Blomberg, says yes! (Much of this article is drawn from Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, Chapter 1, “Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted?”)

Because some people see “Christianity” as having evolved over the centuries, they will say it is impossible to really know what the historical Jesus was like or what He really said because historical facts get mixed with legend and/or myth. One way to put those criticisms to rest is to put the biblical biographies of Jesus to the test and see if they hold up to scrutiny.

Close Enough in Time to Be Accurate

If we take even liberal dates for the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they all come onto the scene within the first century AD. Blomberg says, “That is still within the lifetimes of various eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus, including hostile eyewitnesses who would have served as a corrective if false teachings about Jesus were going around” (quoted in Strobel, 33). This is critical to the trustworthiness of those early biographies. Blomberg further states:

The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written … more than four hundred years after Alexander’s death in 323 BC, yet historians consider them to be generally trustworthy. (33)

If a person can have confidence in the biographies of Alexander the Great, written four hundred years later, he should have that much more confidence in those biographies of Jesus written within sixty years of His earthly life.

We can get even closer to the earliest beliefs of the disciples when we look into letters of the New Testament. Remember, “the books of the New Testament are not written in chronological order” (Blomberg, 34). Paul began writing his letters in the AD 40s and 50s. Consider three passages:

Philippians 2:5-11

… Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The following fundamental beliefs of Jesus are evidenced in this passage: (1) Jesus was equal with God; (2) Jesus came to earth to live as a man; (3) Jesus died on the cross; and (4) Jesus was exalted as Lord by God.

Colossians 1:15-20

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

The following fundamental beliefs of Jesus are evidenced in this passage: (1) Jesus is the image of invisible God; (2) Jesus was the means by which all things were created; (3) Jesus is the head of the church; (4) Jesus is the firstborn of the dead; and (5) Jesus made peace through the cross.

First Corinthians 15:3-8

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

The following fundamental beliefs are evidenced in this passage: (1) this statement was not original with Paul; thus, it must be older than when Paul wrote it; (2) Christ died, was buried, and rose again on the third day; (3) the resurrected Christ was seen alive by Cephas (Peter); (4) the resurrected Christ was seen alive by the other twelve apostles; (5) the resurrected Christ was seen alive by over five hundred brethren at one time, and some were still alive at the time of writing; (6) the resurrected Christ was seen alive by James; and (7) the resurrected Christ was seen alive by Paul.

Multiple hours could be spent with these passages, especially First Corinthians 15:3-8, contemplating the magnitude of the various sightings of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances and the life-changing effect they had on those witnesses. Now, we can put the timing of these statements together. If Paul was writing in the AD 50s and referencing a creedal statement older than his own writing, it would be within ten years of the crucifixion of Jesus. The theology of Jesus from His earliest disciples was emphatic that they believed He was God come in the flesh, died on the cross, and rose again. While it is certainly true that modern beliefs and practices have evolved through the years, critics would be hard-pressed to claim the earliest accounts would have been unable to paint a valid picture of Jesus of Nazareth. These accounts were written early enough to be accurate, and if they were peddling false claims, those in opposition would have corrected the narrative.

Intended to Be Accurate

Did the New Testament biographers have the intention of telling the truth concerning the life of Jesus of Nazareth? Luke stated at the outset of his Gospel:

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed. (Lk. 1:1-4)

Luke’s purpose was clear, “to write … an orderly account,” so that those who read it, “may know with certainty of those things” that had taken place pertaining to Jesus. In order to write it, Luke said he interviewed “eyewitnesses” who were present with Jesus from the beginning of these events. Luke presented not as myth, legend, or fantasy, but in a similar tone as other ancient, eyewitness-based biographies. Note also, in his Gospel, Luke stated there were others who were writing about the events of Jesus’ life.

Consider this purpose statement from John’s Gospel, “these [other signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31). When reading this statement, there is the temptation to say John was biased. Sure, the Gospel writers certainly had a theological agenda they are promoting (i.e., belief that Jesus was the Christ), but does that necessitate them falsifying the data? Consider, as with most any writing, there is a purpose why the writer is recording something. Blomberg says, “Nobody [from the ancient world] wrote history if there wasn’t a reason to learn from it” (quoted in Strobel, 31). Later, Blomberg gives a powerful example from a more modern standpoint. Some of the best historians on the Holocaust are Jewish people.

… [I]t has been the Jewish scholars who’ve created museums, written books, preserved artifacts, and documentedeyewitness testimony.…Now they have a very ideological purpose—namely, to ensure such an atrocity never occurs again—but they have also been the most faithful and objective in their reporting of historical truth. (quoted in Strobel, 32)

Instead of a desire to embellish the facts of the Holocaust, they want the absolute truth to make the case. If I were trying to convince someone to change their entire world view (i.e., become a Christian), would I want that person to make a blind leap of faith or would I want that person to make a reasonable decision based on evidence? While there may be other details about Jesus’ life that are not written in the Gospels, the information selected was for a purpose (Jn. 20:30; 21:25). The Gospels did not give equal parts of focus to the different periods of Jesus’ life, but they focused on what was necessary for the lessons the Holy Spirit wanted their original readers to learn. The essential details for a Christian’s faith rest on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-3). From the Gospels, we find convergences on those details. It helps to have confidence, not blind faith.

[To be continued.]

Works Cited

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
Title:
Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted? Part One
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A Reasoned Hope: Firm unto the End

Our thirty-first hard cover lectureship book is 451 pages on the subject of hope. Typically, in the January issue, we give a review of the entire lectureship book. However, an especially valuable and unique part of this lectureship book deals with mental health issues, especially depression and what to do in preventing and dealing with suicide. While there are great chapters in the 2024 book, the focus in this review concerns the chapters dealing with these mental health issues.

Too Young to Die: Depression
And Suicide in the Church

The following are excerpts from Daniel Stearsman’s chapter, titled as the header above.

This piece will take a biblically holistic view of depression, examining how the spiritual life connects with the psychological, social, and biological aspects of human nature (Sulmasy, “Bio,” 24). Sin is a driving, but not exclusive, factor in depression. Personal sin can lead a person into depression, and the sins of others can lead to hurt that then leads to depression. Both offenders and sufferers need God’s help. Extremes will be avoided that see depression as (1) exclusively remedied by medications without any notion of God; (2) exclusively remedied by therapies that eliminate or dispense with the Bible; or (3) exclusively see the Bible as a quick-fix, mind-over-matter, power-of-positive-thinking, just-pray-about-it, or just-get-over-it-already approach to depression. Instead, this piece will examine languishing, depression, and suicide by examining: (1) the current medical landscape; (2) hope and the Bible on mental health; (3) a lumbering elephant and the moral dimension of depression; and (4) eight ways the church can help.

Restoring Hope:
When Suicide Hits a Family

The following are excerpts from Jerry Martin’s chapter, titled as the header above.

It is generally thought that at least six people are intimately traumatized when someone dies by suicide, and the impact of such a death ripples out to touch hundreds of people. … The suicide loss survivors’ grief is often complicated by strong emotions and feelings surrounding self-blame associated with the context of their loved one’s death. The guilt and blame are felt for not preventing the suicide, for not seeing the signs, or for not being there when their loved one needed them. Sometimes, suicide loss survivors may feel they played a part in their loved one’s death. … Suicide is such a dark, confusing, incomprehensible, and fatal outcome of an intentional act that ends an individual’s life. The Bible only records seven suicides [Abimelech, Judg. 9:54; Samson, Judg. 16:30; King Saul, 1 Sam. 31:4-5; King Saul’s armorbearer, 1 Sam. 31:5; Ahithophel, 2 Sam. 17:23; Zimri, 1 Kgs. 16:18; and Judas, Mt. 27:5]. There is no elaboration in the Scriptures with any of the examples of suicide. To say the least, none of the individuals in the Scripture who committed suicide were standards of righteousness. …

Ways To Minister To
And Help Suicide Loss Survivors

If we know of someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, there are many things we can do. … When expressing our condolences, use the loved one’s name (Cea). Too often, the stigma of suicide causes what appears to be a banning of the deceased loved one’s name, and an avoidance of the survivor. A genuine expression of empathy and compassion can be therapeutic by acknowledging the deceased and staying close to the survivor. … Accept The Survivor’s Time Line. … Show Up Promptly. … Sit Quietly In Their Presence. … Share Their Pain. … Serve Where And When Possible. … Stay Connected With Purpose. … Shine God’s Love To Light Their Path. …

Ways Survivors Of Suicide Loss
Can Help Themselves

Survivors must accept the truth that they are not responsible for their loved one’s death. The emotional grounding cannot occur until the survivor recognizes and accepts the reality that the suicide was the personal choice and action of the one who ended his or her life. Though there are often complicated family dynamics, mental illness challenges, medication side-effects, and other factors, the deceased individual is still the one who rejected all other life options. Accepting the truth that it was not the family’s fault in any form is essential to a healthy outcome to the grieving process. … Allow As Much Time As Needed To Grieve Your Loved One’s Death. … Assist Family And Friends When You Are Ready. … Access Available Resources. …

Ways To Help Increase
Church Members’ Understanding Of Suicide

Even though research supports a neurobiological basis for mental illness and its often connected to suicide, there is still the widespread stigma of shame. Many individuals who are in the depth of suicidal depression lose their problem-solving ability and often see life as unbearable. Most have a helpless and hopeless view of the future. Based on the accounts of individuals who have attempted suicide and lived, they acknowledge the primary goal of their suicide attempt was not to end their life, but to stop the pain. Those struggling with mental illness find it virtually impossible to hold on to the hope that things are going to get better. … Before attempting to help survivors of suicide loss, compassionate Christians, especially preachers, need to have an informed theology guiding their own feelings concerning suicide, death, mental illness, forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life. Survivors will often struggle with the final destiny of their deceased loved one. They likely will have anxiety and confusion concerning whether the loved one is saved or eternally condemned. … Church leaders, if you have not already provided training for the congregation you shepherd, you should use the occasion of the tragedy as an opportunity to educate and engage the entire congregation in a way that informs everyone of the impact of suicide on the survivor. … The one place where survivors should find a safe, caring, supportive place to grieve openly and honestly, is the church of our Lord! The church should serve as a constant reminder of the living, constant, and boundless love of Christ. It is the love of Christ shared by Christians that restores hope.

The Role of Faith
In Treating Hopelessness
And Preventing Suicide

The following are excerpts from James Eaves’ chapter, titled as the header above.

Numerous studies done over the past few years have revealed what many Christians have long known regarding depression and suicide. Faith is a preventive factor against hopelessness and suicide. …

The range of scenarios that throw people into hopelessness are many. Job’s pitiful situation had his wife convinced he was better off dead (Job 2:9). King Saul and his armor bearer both lost all hope and took their own lives (1 Chr. 10:4-5). Let us not forget the betrayer Judas. When he realized his actions would result in the death of Jesus, “He went and hanged himself” (Mt. 27:5). These individuals failed to see any light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. So many today are failing to see that light as well, or if they find a light, it is not the “true light” (Jn. 1:9). David said that God’s word was that light that lights our path (Ps. 119:105). …

God saw fit to leave us numerous examples of individuals who, though in seemingly hopeless situations, allowed their faith to blossom into hope that would guide them through those dark times [cf. Mt. 8:2; Lk. 8:42-48]. …

In Scripture, we find an example of a man with undeniable faith who was deeply lost in hopelessness (1 Kgs. 19). …We are not told why Elijah responded this way [cf. 1 Kgs. 19:2-4], but his fear and hopelessness were made apparent. … Let us notice the steps God took to help Elijah so we will be better equipped to help those around us who are struggling to see the hope … in Jesus. First, God sent an angel to Elijah (1 Kgs. 19:5). The first thing the angel did was touch the prophet. … It is common among those with depression to want to be alone. So, the first thing God did to help Elijah was restore that physical connection to others. … Second, the angel of the Lord provided sustenance for the prophet’s body. … Third, once Elijah had some time to regain his physical health, God gave him purpose [1 Kgs. 19:9]. … Fourth, God caused Elijah to think introspectively. God would ask, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kgs. 19:9, 13). Both times God listened to Elijah and did not cast judgment on his thoughts and feelings. … Finally, God provided a mission in Elijah’s life that would remind him he was not alone [cf. 1 Kgs. 19:18] … one of his tasks was to appoint a new king (1 Kgs. 19:16)! … A physical connection was restored through touch. Basic physical health was provided. Small tasks were given and accomplished. Open questions were asked, causing introspective thought. Elijah found purpose that showed him he was not alone. Might we be able to follow these same steps and help our brothers or sisters in their time of need?

The Church: A Safe Place To
Restore Hope & Meaning in Life

The following are excerpts from Joey Davis’ chapter, titled as the header above.

Most Bible students are familiar with the Book of Ecclesiastes, which records Solomon’s experimental quest to discover life’s meaning and purpose. Solomon contextualized his search as “under the sun,” a designation representing the mundane, material focus so prevalent in the hearts and lives of people. Of course, Solomon found no hope, no lasting purpose, and no real meaning in life in his “under the sun” search (Eccl. 2:10-11). In other words, if hope, purpose, and meaning in life are to be found, then people must look beyond the mundane—the search must involve something transcendental, something beyond this physical, material, and temporal world. To Solomon, God was the only source of what he sought (Eccl. 12:13) … The godless among us are at a loss at this juncture. They preach about a world without design that resulted from mere chance, and they obstinately reject God, the eternal creator, provider, and sustainer of all that exists. Therefore, their search for hope, purpose, and meaning in life is limited by the same parameters with which Solomon restricted his search. Consequently, these skeptics cannot write a script that truly motivates people to live with hope, purpose, and meaning. The climax of their story will always be “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1 Cor. 15:32). …

Despite the voluminous protests [as quoted by Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan] against a transcendental supplier of hope, purpose, and meaning in life, of which the foregoing is just a sampling, the evidence to the contrary remains insurmountable. … Interestingly, much research has been conducted to better understand the nature of hope, purpose, and meaning in life, as these relate to various issues of life, the results of which are very telling. This research consistently demonstrates the “empirical finding” that there is “a positive relationship” between spirituality and religion, life satisfaction, and a sense of life meaning (Kress et al.). …

Since the New Testament portrays the church of Jesus Christ as the entity suited for hope, purpose, and meaning in life, it is incumbent upon Christians to make sure that people have uninhibited access to the true New Testament church. We do this by publicly preaching the Gospel, and of necessity the one church, with boldness and conviction because we believe this is important for man’s greatest needs. … According to Maslow’s theory, an individual is motivated to fulfill these needs in hierarchical order from the lower (physiological) to the highest (self-actualization) … a person needs to meet these lower needs before the higher ones become factors for motivation. … It might be helpful to consider the findings of human researchers in light of what inspired Scripture has already recorded. … First, people have physiological needs such as food and clothing. Of course, Jesus promised to meet those needs [Mt. 6:25-34]. … Second, people have safety needs. … [People] need to know the God of the Shepherd Psalm [Ps. 23:4 cf. Rom. 15:33; Eph. 6:15]. … Third, people need love and belongingness. … Jesus impressed this need upon His followers [Jn. 13:34-35]. … Fourth, people have esteem needs. … So often individuals enter into adulthood having had the horrible experience of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of those who were charged with protecting and nurturing them. Consequently, they lack a sense of worth and value … They need to hear that … God … notices … them personally (Mt. 10:29-31). They need to know … every part [of Christ’s body] has its worth and can do its share (Eph. 4:16). They need to know that … church … culture … is to “esteem others better than self” (Phi. 2:3). … Fifth … people have self-actualization needs. This correlates with our need to see our purpose and to know and understand the meaning in our life. … our purpose here is to prepare for eternity [cf. Heb. 11:13] … to “Fear God and keep His commandments” (Eccl. 12:13) … there is a place of equality in the body of Christ that is not based on race or socioeconomic status (Gal. 3:26-28). We absolutely must connect people with their transcendental purpose (Mt. 6:19-21). However, consistent with the observations made by Maslow, people are not inclined to digest instruction about laying up treasures in heaven when their minds are stuck on meeting their pressing physical needs in the moment.

Conclusion

Hope is a vast Bible subject. This book contains articles that will bring the major parts together to motivate us to be living sacrifices. Even hopelessness, as these excerpts show, can be overcome!

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
A Reasoned Hope: Firm unto the End
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Considering Again Bible Authority And “Silence of the Scriptures”

By Brian R. Kenyon

Silence of the Scriptures is a concept that must be understood in order for people to please God. Pleasing God is impossible without conforming to His will (Col. 1:10; 1 Thes. 4:1; Heb. 11:6). Conforming to God’s will is impossible without knowing and practicing what He authorizes (Col. 3:17; Heb. 13:21; 1 John 2:3-6). Knowing and practicing what God authorizes involves, among other things, a proper understanding of the silence of the Scriptures.

Major Misunderstandings
Of How the Bible Authorizes

Relative to this study, there are two major misunderstands concerning how the Bible authorizes. First, some think that whatever the Bible does not explicitly forbid must be authorized. That is, if the Bible does not explicitly say, “Thou shalt not…,” then whatever action under consideration must be acceptable to God. This view, however, is false. If the Bible had to explicitly specify everything that God did not authorize, it would be so large a volume that no one could physically handle it. Imagine the Book of Leviticus, for example, listing all the animals that were not allowed for the Israelites to use for sacrifice! It does not have to include every kind of animal with which the Israelites would come in contact besides the animals specified in Leviticus! Not only that, if the Bible had to explicitly specify everything that God did not authorize, then much of the Bible would make no sense to certain generations. Imagine a Christian living in AD 150, for example, trying to make sense of “Thou shalt not clone human embryotic stem cells”! Those who seek authority from what the Bible does not explicitly forbid, are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, “Where does the Bible say I cannot?,” they should be asking, “Where does the Bible teach I can.”

Second, on the opposite extreme, some think that whatever the Bible does not explicitly mention or exemplify must be unauthorized. That is, if the Bible does not explicitly say, “Thou shalt…,” then whatever action under consideration must be unacceptable to God. This view, however, is also false. If the Bible authorized only by explicit statements and/or examples, then none of it would apply to people living today because none of it was explicitly addressed to people living today. Nowhere can the reader find his or her name mentioned as an addressee of any New Testament epistle. There are those, for example, who will say that since the Bible does not explicitly say that the local church can support a preaching school from its treasury, there is no authority for it. How-ever, what these same people fail to realize is that the Bible nowhere explicitly says that the church can have a checking account, pay a utility bill, or have a Facebook page, yet the very local churches of which they are members have a checking account, pay a utility bill, and have a Facebook presence.

Lest one think this view is only held by the anti-cooperation camp, consider a statement made by Phillip Morrison at a “contemporary” discussion:

It’s disingenuous [hypocritical] to stand in a church building not authorized by Scripture, behind a podium not authorized by Scripture, to use a microphone not authorized by Scripture, to use a hymn book not authorized by Scripture, to use a tuning fork not authorized by Scripture, and argue that you can’t use a piano because it’s not authorized by Scripture. (Hosted by Freed-Hardeman University, 11 Feb. 2005)

Aside from the fact he is admitting he does not need Bible authority (because he does those things, which according to him, are without Bible authority), he reflects a serious misunderstanding. It is true that the Bible does not explicitly say “Thou shalt use a church building, podium, microphone, etc.,” but that does not mean the Bible does not authorize them. Understanding the relationship between explicit statements, implicit principles, silence of the scriptures, and Bible authority is a serious matter.

Silence of the scriptures is more than merely the lack of an explicit statement. Explicit statements are the word for word statements found in the Bible. Implicit statements are true statements based on the truth of explicit statements. For example, the Bible explicitly declares, “Abram went up from Egypt … and Lot with him” (Gen. 13:1). From this explicit statement one can know Lot came up from Egypt. However, nowhere does the Bible explicitly say, “Lot went into Egypt.” A person surely can know Lot had to go into Egypt before he could come out of Egypt. Thus, the implicit statement, “Lot went into Egypt,” is just as true as the explicit statement, “Abram went up from Egypt … and Lot with him” (Gen. 13:1). The Bible is not silent about Lot going into Egypt, even though there is no explicit statement, “Lot went into Egypt.” Both the explicit and the implicit statements about Lot are equally true, even though only one is explicit!

Conclusion

True silence of Scripture means the Bible does not teach at all a particular matter, either explicitly or implicitly. This kind of silence, obviously, does not authorize. In the next Harvester, consideration will be given to “silence” from the Book of Hebrews.

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Considering Again Bible Authority And “Silence of the Scriptures”
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A Reasoned Hope: Firm unto the End

Our thirty-first hard cover lectureship book is 451 pages on the subject of hope. Typically, in the January issue, we give a review of the entire lectureship book. However, an especially valuable and unique part of this lectureship book deals with mental health issues, especially depression and what to do in preventing and dealing with suicide. While there are great chapters in the 2024 book, the focus in this review concerns the chapters dealing with these mental health issues.

Too Young to Die: Depression
And Suicide in the Church

The following are excerpts from Daniel Stearsman’s chapter, titled as the header above.

This piece will take a biblically holistic view of depression, examining how the spiritual life connects with the psychological, social, and biological aspects of human nature (Sulmasy, “Bio,” 24). Sin is a driving, but not exclusive, factor in depression. Personal sin can lead a person into depression, and the sins of others can lead to hurt that then leads to depression. Both offenders and sufferers need God’s help. Extremes will be avoided that see depression as (1) exclusively remedied by medications without any notion of God; (2) exclusively remedied by therapies that eliminate or dispense with the Bible; or (3) exclusively see the Bible as a quick-fix, mind-over-matter, power-of-positive-thinking, just-pray-about-it, or just-get-over-it-already approach to depression. Instead, this piece will examine languishing, depression, and suicide by examining: (1) the current medical landscape; (2) hope and the Bible on mental health; (3) a lumbering elephant and the moral dimension of depression; and (4) eight ways the church can help.

Restoring Hope:
When Suicide Hits a Family

The following are excerpts from Jerry Martin’s chapter, titled as the header above.

It is generally thought that at least six people are intimately traumatized when someone dies by suicide, and the impact of such a death ripples out to touch hundreds of people. … The suicide loss survivors’ grief is often complicated by strong emotions and feelings surrounding self-blame associated with the context of their loved one’s death. The guilt and blame are felt for not preventing the suicide, for not seeing the signs, or for not being there when their loved one needed them. Sometimes, suicide loss survivors may feel they played a part in their loved one’s death. … Suicide is such a dark, confusing, incomprehensible, and fatal outcome of an intentional act that ends an individual’s life. The Bible only records seven suicides [Abimelech, Judg. 9:54; Samson, Judg. 16:30; King Saul, 1 Sam. 31:4-5; King Saul’s armorbearer, 1 Sam. 31:5; Ahithophel, 2 Sam. 17:23; Zimri, 1 Kgs. 16:18; and Judas, Mt. 27:5]. There is no elaboration in the Scriptures with any of the examples of suicide. To say the least, none of the individuals in the Scripture who committed suicide were standards of righteousness. …

Ways To Minister To
And Help Suicide Loss Survivors

If we know of someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, there are many things we can do. … When expressing our condolences, use the loved one’s name (Cea). Too often, the stigma of suicide causes what appears to be a banning of the deceased loved one’s name, and an avoidance of the survivor. A genuine expression of empathy and compassion can be therapeutic by acknowledging the deceased and staying close to the survivor. … Accept The Survivor’s Time Line. … Show Up Promptly. … Sit Quietly In Their Presence. … Share Their Pain. … Serve Where And When Possible. … Stay Connected With Purpose. … Shine God’s Love To Light Their Path. …

Ways Survivors Of Suicide Loss
Can Help Themselves

Survivors must accept the truth that they are not responsible for their loved one’s death. The emotional grounding cannot occur until the survivor recognizes and accepts the reality that the suicide was the personal choice and action of the one who ended his or her life. Though there are often complicated family dynamics, mental illness challenges, medication side-effects, and other factors, the deceased individual is still the one who rejected all other life options. Accepting the truth that it was not the family’s fault in any form is essential to a healthy outcome to the grieving process. … Allow As Much Time As Needed To Grieve Your Loved One’s Death. … Assist Family And Friends When You Are Ready. … Access Available Resources. …

Ways To Help Increase
Church Members’ Understanding Of Suicide

Even though research supports a neurobiological basis for mental illness and its often connected to suicide, there is still the widespread stigma of shame. Many individuals who are in the depth of suicidal depression lose their problem-solving ability and often see life as unbearable. Most have a helpless and hopeless view of the future. Based on the accounts of individuals who have attempted suicide and lived, they acknowledge the primary goal of their suicide attempt was not to end their life, but to stop the pain. Those struggling with mental illness find it virtually impossible to hold on to the hope that things are going to get better. … Before attempting to help survivors of suicide loss, compassionate Christians, especially preachers, need to have an informed theology guiding their own feelings concerning suicide, death, mental illness, forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life. Survivors will often struggle with the final destiny of their deceased loved one. They likely will have anxiety and confusion concerning whether the loved one is saved or eternally condemned. … Church leaders, if you have not already provided training for the congregation you shepherd, you should use the occasion of the tragedy as an opportunity to educate and engage the entire congregation in a way that informs everyone of the impact of suicide on the survivor. … The one place where survivors should find a safe, caring, supportive place to grieve openly and honestly, is the church of our Lord! The church should serve as a constant reminder of the living, constant, and boundless love of Christ. It is the love of Christ shared by Christians that restores hope.

The Role of Faith
In Treating Hopelessness
And Preventing Suicide

The following are excerpts from James Eaves’ chapter, titled as the header above.

Numerous studies done over the past few years have revealed what many Christians have long known regarding depression and suicide. Faith is a preventive factor against hopelessness and suicide. …

The range of scenarios that throw people into hopelessness are many. Job’s pitiful situation had his wife convinced he was better off dead (Job 2:9). King Saul and his armor bearer both lost all hope and took their own lives (1 Chr. 10:4-5). Let us not forget the betrayer Judas. When he realized his actions would result in the death of Jesus, “He went and hanged himself” (Mt. 27:5). These individuals failed to see any light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. So many today are failing to see that light as well, or if they find a light, it is not the “true light” (Jn. 1:9). David said that God’s word was that light that lights our path (Ps. 119:105). …

God saw fit to leave us numerous examples of individuals who, though in seemingly hopeless situations, allowed their faith to blossom into hope that would guide them through those dark times [cf. Mt. 8:2; Lk. 8:42-48]. …

In Scripture, we find an example of a man with undeniable faith who was deeply lost in hopelessness (1 Kgs. 19). …We are not told why Elijah responded this way [cf. 1 Kgs. 19:2-4], but his fear and hopelessness were made apparent. … Let us notice the steps God took to help Elijah so we will be better equipped to help those around us who are struggling to see the hope … in Jesus. First, God sent an angel to Elijah (1 Kgs. 19:5). The first thing the angel did was touch the prophet. … It is common among those with depression to want to be alone. So, the first thing God did to help Elijah was restore that physical connection to others. … Second, the angel of the Lord provided sustenance for the prophet’s body. … Third, once Elijah had some time to regain his physical health, God gave him purpose [1 Kgs. 19:9]. … Fourth, God caused Elijah to think introspectively. God would ask, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kgs. 19:9, 13). Both times God listened to Elijah and did not cast judgment on his thoughts and feelings. … Finally, God provided a mission in Elijah’s life that would remind him he was not alone [cf. 1 Kgs. 19:18] … one of his tasks was to appoint a new king (1 Kgs. 19:16)! … A physical connection was restored through touch. Basic physical health was provided. Small tasks were given and accomplished. Open questions were asked, causing introspective thought. Elijah found purpose that showed him he was not alone. Might we be able to follow these same steps and help our brothers or sisters in their time of need?

The Church: A Safe Place To
Restore Hope & Meaning in Life

The following are excerpts from Joey Davis’ chapter, titled as the header above.

Most Bible students are familiar with the Book of Ecclesiastes, which records Solomon’s experimental quest to discover life’s meaning and purpose. Solomon contextualized his search as “under the sun,” a designation representing the mundane, material focus so prevalent in the hearts and lives of people. Of course, Solomon found no hope, no lasting purpose, and no real meaning in life in his “under the sun” search (Eccl. 2:10-11). In other words, if hope, purpose, and meaning in life are to be found, then people must look beyond the mundane—the search must involve something transcendental, something beyond this physical, material, and temporal world. To Solomon, God was the only source of what he sought (Eccl. 12:13) … The godless among us are at a loss at this juncture. They preach about a world without design that resulted from mere chance, and they obstinately reject God, the eternal creator, provider, and sustainer of all that exists. Therefore, their search for hope, purpose, and meaning in life is limited by the same parameters with which Solomon restricted his search. Consequently, these skeptics cannot write a script that truly motivates people to live with hope, purpose, and meaning. The climax of their story will always be “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1 Cor. 15:32). …

Despite the voluminous protests [as quoted by Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan] against a transcendental supplier of hope, purpose, and meaning in life, of which the foregoing is just a sampling, the evidence to the contrary remains insurmountable. … Interestingly, much research has been conducted to better understand the nature of hope, purpose, and meaning in life, as these relate to various issues of life, the results of which are very telling. This research consistently demonstrates the “empirical finding” that there is “a positive relationship” between spirituality and religion, life satisfaction, and a sense of life meaning (Kress et al.). …

Since the New Testament portrays the church of Jesus Christ as the entity suited for hope, purpose, and meaning in life, it is incumbent upon Christians to make sure that people have uninhibited access to the true New Testament church. We do this by publicly preaching the Gospel, and of necessity the one church, with boldness and conviction because we believe this is important for man’s greatest needs. … According to Maslow’s theory, an individual is motivated to fulfill these needs in hierarchical order from the lower (physiological) to the highest (self-actualization) … a person needs to meet these lower needs before the higher ones become factors for motivation. … It might be helpful to consider the findings of human researchers in light of what inspired Scripture has already recorded. … First, people have physiological needs such as food and clothing. Of course, Jesus promised to meet those needs [Mt. 6:25-34]. … Second, people have safety needs. … [People] need to know the God of the Shepherd Psalm [Ps. 23:4 cf. Rom. 15:33; Eph. 6:15]. … Third, people need love and belongingness. … Jesus impressed this need upon His followers [Jn. 13:34-35]. … Fourth, people have esteem needs. … So often individuals enter into adulthood having had the horrible experience of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of those who were charged with protecting and nurturing them. Consequently, they lack a sense of worth and value … They need to hear that … God … notices … them personally (Mt. 10:29-31). They need to know … every part [of Christ’s body] has its worth and can do its share (Eph. 4:16). They need to know that … church … culture … is to “esteem others better than self” (Phi. 2:3). … Fifth … people have self-actualization needs. This correlates with our need to see our purpose and to know and understand the meaning in our life. … our purpose here is to prepare for eternity [cf. Heb. 11:13] … to “Fear God and keep His commandments” (Eccl. 12:13) … there is a place of equality in the body of Christ that is not based on race or socioeconomic status (Gal. 3:26-28). We absolutely must connect people with their transcendental purpose (Mt. 6:19-21). However, consistent with the observations made by Maslow, people are not inclined to digest instruction about laying up treasures in heaven when their minds are stuck on meeting their pressing physical needs in the moment.

Conclusion

Hope is a vast Bible subject. This book contains articles that will bring the major parts together to motivate us to be living sacrifices. Even hopelessness, as these excerpts show, can be overcome!

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
A Reasoned Hope: Firm unto the End
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“Silence of Scripture” Exemplified From the Book of Hebrews

By Brian R. Kenyon

In last month’s Harvester, an examination was given concerning Bible authority and “silence of Scripture,” especially analyzing the following two common misconceptions: (1) whatever the Bible does not explicitly forbid is authorized; and (2) whatever the Bible does not explicitly mention or exemplify must be unauthorized. Both of these are false. In this article, consideration will be given to specific examples of “silence of the Scriptures” in the Book of Hebrews that will help us further understand how the Bible does and does not authorize.

Explicit Examples

The classic example of the argument from silence in the Book of Hebrews concerns the priesthood of Christ. In a context where the Hebrews writer showed that the old law, represented by the Levitical priesthood, was destined to change, he wrote:

For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 13For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. 14For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. (Heb. 7:12-14)

Of particular interest is the phrase, “of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.” Jesus being from the tribe of Judah was well known among the first readers of Hebrews (“it is evident” cf. Isa. 11:1-4; Mt. 1:1-16; Rev. 5:5). Jesus could not serve as priest under the old law, not because the old law explicitly said, “People from the tribe of Judah shall not serve as priests,” but because the old law authorized only men from Aaron’s seed as those who could serve as priests (Ex. 28:1; Num. 3:10). In other words, there was no authority from God for those from the tribe of Judah to serve as priests. The Old Testament’s “silence” (i.e., “Moses spoke nothing”) concerning the tribe of Judah serving in the priesthood did not authorize it!

Another explicit example of the argument from silence in the Book of Hebrews concerns the superiority of Christ over the angels. The Hebrews writer rhetorically asked, “For to which of the angels did He ever say: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You’? And again: ‘I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son’?” (Heb. 1:5). The implied answer is “None!” The first part of the verse alluded to Psalm 2:7, the latter part to Second Samuel 7:14. The point was that since God only said concerning His Son, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You,” only His Son held that superior position (cf. Acts 13:33). Imagine how huge the Bible would be if it had to explicitly mention all those to whom “You are My Son …” did not apply! This verse teaches that angels are inferior to Christ, not because the Bible explicitly says, “To no angel does ‘You are My Son, this day have I begotten You’ apply,” but because Hebrews only taught concerning Jesus, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” The Bible’s “silence” concerning the application of Psalms 2:7 to angels does not authorize applying it to them!

Implicit Examples

An implicit example is one that involves the argument from silence in its Old Testament setting, though the Hebrews writer did not explicitly mention the silence part of the argument. While there are a number of these examples, attention will be focused on two. First, consider the worship of Cain and Abel. The Hebrews writer declared:

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks” (Heb. 11:4)

In the Genesis account, Cain and Abel both brought sacrifices to the Lord. Cain brought “of the fruit of the ground” (Gen. 4:3), and Abel “also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat” (Gen. 4:4). God “respected” Abel and his offering, but “He did not respect Cain and his offering” (Gen. 4:4-5). The Hebrews writer confirmed Abel offered his sacrifice “by faith,” which implies that Cain did not. There are no explicit commands that early in Genesis as to what exactly God required in offering sacrifices. However, a long standing principle is that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Evidently, in that patriarchal system, God informed these two brothers exactly how to worship Him acceptably. There had to be a standard of authority, and that standard was the word of God (cf. Deut. 4:2). Note again that Paul said that “faith comes by hearing … the word of God,” not by what the word of God does not say! God may not have explicitly told Cain and Abel, “You shall not offer only the fruit of the ground,” but by God’s specifying the exact kind of offering, the brothers had no authority for any other kind, except that exemplified by Abel. “Silence” of the scriptures did not authorize.

Another implicit example is that of Noah. The Hebrews writer declared, “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Heb. 11:7). After God determined to “destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth … Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:7-8). God provided the means by which Noah and his family would be saved. God instructed Noah to build the ark (Gen. 6:14-16). After specifying the materials, the dimensions, the window, the levels, and the numbers of animals, inspiration declared, “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did” (Gen. 6:22; 7:5, 16). Wayne Jackson fittingly observed:

Though the question is frequently ridiculed these days—when authority is held in contempt—it is still appropriate to ask: Would Noah have been preserved if he had acted upon the presumption that “whatever is not [explicitly] forbidden is allowed,” and so had altered the divine pattern for the building of the ark? (17)

The answer is obvious: “No.” Noah could not have been faithful if he, for example, used oak wood to build the ark, not because God explicitly said, “Thou shalt not use oak wood,” but because Noah only had authority to use “gopher wood.” Imagine how huge the Bible would be if God had to explicitly list all the kinds wood Noah could not use in building the ark! “Silence” of the scriptures did not authorize.

Silence Versus Exclusion

Some confuse the principle of exclusion with the silence of the Scriptures. Silence in one verse does not exclude. Some well intentioned brethren will say of Colossians 3:16, for example, that since this verse explicitly says “sing,” it excludes all other forms of music. The truth of the matter, however, is that Colossians 3:16 only authorizes singing as music in worship. If a person can find another passage that authorizes mechanical instruments in worship, then those instruments would be authorized. Mechanical instruments in worship are not authorized, not because Colossians 3:16 excludes them, but because the Bible does not authorize them! While this may seem trivial or a matter of semantics to some, it is important to understand this distinction. Too many of our brethren at the very least loose credibility and at worst bind false conclusions because they adhere to the so-called “law of exclusion.”

To illustrate the contradictory “logic” of this so-called “law of exclusion,” consider what God authorizes for first-day-of-the-week worship. Acts 20:7 authorizes the church to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week. To say that the “silence” of a verse excludes, would be to say that Acts 20:7 excludes all other acts of worship except partaking of the Lord’s Supper. However, the contradiction enters when First Corinthians 16:2 is examined. That verse authorizes a Christian to “lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper” on the first day of the week. The truth of the matter is that the “silence” of a verse does not exclude! The “silence” about the first-day-of-the-week contribution in Acts 20:7 does not exclude giving on the first day of the week. Acts 20:7 authorizes partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. Likewise, the “silence” about the Lord’s Supper in First Corinthians 16:2 does not exclude partaking of the Lord’s Supper. First Corinthians 16:2 authorizes “laying something aside.” Only when the entire Bible is silent on an issue does silence of the Scriptures forbid a matter.

Conclusion

The argument from silence is a crucial part of the Hebrews writer’s argument that Christ is superior and offers a better covenant. Members of the church of Christ today must respect true silence of the Scriptures. Because there is not an explicit “Thou shalt not” does not give people license to believe, teach, and/or practice whatever they want. May the Lord help all people, especially Christians, to live the principle: “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17).

Works Cited
Connelly, Marlin, and Phillip Morrison. “Should the Use of Instrumental Music in Worship Be a Barrier to Fellowship with Others, Such as Independent Christian Churches?” A Contemporary Discussion Hosted by Freed-Hardeman University. 11 Feb. 2005.
Jackson, Wayne. “The Silence of the Scriptures.” Spiritual Sword 28.2 (Jan. 1997): 16-21.

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
“Silence of Scripture” Exemplified From the Book of Hebrews
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A Review of the Beals – Oliver Debate Homosexuality and Christianity

On October 27, 2022, George F. Beals (FSOP instructor) and Andy Oliver (United Methodist pastor) met in St. Petersburg, Florida, for a reasoned and frank public debate. Each was given fifteen minutes to explain his view of the proposition: “The Bible is the standard of authority determining right and wrong human actions.” Then, each was given thirty-five minutes to affirm his proposition. Andy Oliver was to affirm: “Human sexuality is God’s gift and can be used to glorify God and edify the church, no matter the sexual orientation.” George Beals affirmed: “All homosexual behavior is immoral (sin).” The evening concluded with a Q/A session. Only three were in attendance from the United Methodist Church (including Andy). We appreciate the in-person Central Florida brethren for showing support.

The debate was a bit disappointing in these respects: (1) Andy Oliver did not present a single logical argument; (2) he appealed to the Bible only once (though mentioning a few other verses); and (3) he relied on personal testimony, none of which addressed, “Human sexuality is God’s gift and can be used to glorify God and edify the church, no matter the sexual orientation.” Andy Oliver admitted he did not openly invite members of his church for fear they would be “traumatized.” The only time he actually appealed to the Bible was in the Q/A when he attempted to show from Ezekiel 16:49 that the sin of Sodom was inhospitality. However, if he would have read the next two verses, he would have referenced Sodom’s “abominations” as additional reason why the city was destroyed (Ezk. 16:50-52 cf. Jude 7).

George Beals proved as sound three arguments. First, “since (the Bible in Romans 1:26-27 has condemnatory language) and (the passage is making a wide-sweeping reference to sex between men plus sex between women), then (the Bible, in this passage, is giving a wide sweeping, unqualified condemnation to homosexual behavior).” Second, “since (the Bible in Colossians 3:17 requires everything to be done with New Testament authority) and (there is no New Testament passage that proves authority for any homosexual behavior — that is, there is the absence of authority for the behavior), then (the Bible thereby teaches all homosexual behavior violates Colossians 3:17 and is thus not righteous, but is sin [immoral]).” Third, by observing creation, or natural revelation (comparing sexual anatomies between the human male and the human female, how babies are made, and the pleasure made possible by God’s placement of that anatomy): “heterosexual behavior is consistent with God’s design and homosexual behavior is not. And anything which conflicts with divine intent is immoral.”

George concluded: “those who endorse or encourage the practice [of homosexuality] as moral do those engaged in the practice a great disservice. They are duping you. Choose to follow God’s word instead, as independent thinkers….Several of us would be honored to study with you.”—Brian Kenyon

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
A Review of the Beals – Oliver Debate Homosexuality and Christianity
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Impartial or a “Face Looker”? (Part 2)

Among the major translations of the Bible, the explicit term “respecter of persons” is found only in the KJV and ASV translations. Most people in our culture who have never heard preaching from the KJV would likely not know what that term meant. In last month’s Harvester, we examined the background of “respect of persons” (KJV) in the Old Testament to see how it came from an expression that literally had to do with looking at faces before extending greetings or responding to another person.

In this article, we will examine “respect of persons” in the New Testament and make applications for Christians today. Since God is not a “respecter of persons,” neither should His people be!

God Does Not Have “Respect of Persons”

The New Testament clearly shows that God is impartial. First, God’s character, His very nature, does not show “respect of persons.” When Jewish leadership sent certain of the Pharisees and Herodians to “catch [Jesus] in his words,” they asked, “Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth” (Mk. 12:13-14). The phrase, “thou regardest not the person of men” (ou … blepeis eis prosopon anthropon) literally means “you do not look into [the] face of men.” This is also translated “not partial to any” (NAS95) and “not swayed in appearances” (ESV).” Although these Jewish leaders declared the truth that Jesus was not partial, they certainly did not believe it enough to show it (cf. Jn. 12:42-43).

Second, God’s offer of salvation does not show “respect of persons.” When Peter finally came to the household of Cornelius, the apostle “opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). “Respecter of persons” here is from the noun (prosopolemptes), which refers to a person who shows favoritism. God, however, does not show favoritism, as evidenced by the fact Cornelius and his household were baptized into Christ (Acts 10:48 cf. Acts 11:17-18).

Third, God’s judgment of how His people live their lives does not show “respect of persons.” Peter wrote, “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:17). The adverb translated “without respect of persons” (aprosopolemptos) simply means impartiality. Because God will impartially judge all people by their works, Christians must live according to His will. “Fear” (phobos) includes reverence and awe, along with a healthy fear of God’s discipline (cf. Acts 5:5, 11; 9:31; 2 Cor. 7:15; Col. 3:22; 1 Pet. 2:17-18). The proper fear of God will result in a transformed life (cf. 2 Cor. 7:1).

God’s People Must Not Have “Respect of Persons”

As discussed in the March 2023 Harvester, God’s being no “respecter of persons” was the basis upon which His people were required to be impartial (Deut. 1:17; 10:17; 16:19; 2 Chr. 19:6-7 cf. Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:7). So it is under the New Testament!

First, like God, the Christian’s character is to show no “respect of persons.” James used the term twice in his prelude to the section on faith without works. “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons” (Jas. 2:1). With this verse, James seemed to allude to Deuteronomy 10:17 and Leviticus 19:15. The word translated “respect of persons” is not found in either secular Greek or the LXX [Septuagint],” but is “apparently a creation of the early Christian parenetic [persuasive] tradition to translate the common Hebrew term for favor/favoritism … used in the OT in both a positive [1 Sam. 25:35; Mal. 1:8] and a negative sense, particularly in judicial contexts [Deut. 1:17; Lev. 19:15; Ps. 82:2; Pr. 6:35; 18:5]” (Davids 105-106). This favoritism “based on external considerations is inconsistent with faith in the One who came to break down the barriers of nationality, race, class, gender and religion” (Moo 120). Christians cannot mix faith with prejudice!

James also wrote, “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin” (Jas. 2:8-9). “Have respect of persons” (prosopolempteo) means to show favoritism; treat one person better than another. This passage contrasts love and partiality. Love is fulfilling the “royal law” whereas showing respect of persons exposes a person as a guilty transgressor. It is impossible to live in harmony with Christ while at the same time showing partiality (cf. Jas. 2:2-7). Peter’s sin in Galatians 2:11-14 shows this truth.

Jude addressed the opposite of this character when he wrote about the ungodly false teachers who had “crept in unawares” (Jude 4, 15). He described them in one instance as “having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage” (Jude 16). The phrase, “having men’s persons in admiration” (thaumazontes prosopa) literally means something like “the ones who marvel at faces.” Other versions translate it “showing respect of persons” (ASV); “flattering people” (NKJ); “showing favoritism” (ESV). The idea of “flattery” is interesting. The word thaumazo, from which “marvel” comes in the literal meaning, can also mean “wonder at” or “marvel in,” which could be construed as a fake expression of wonder or amazement at another from ulterior motives (i.e., “because of advantage”). Either way, this characteristic is the antithesis of God, who “regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward” (Deu. 10:17).

Second, the Christian’s teaching is not to show “respect of persons.” In Galatians 2, Paul was still showing that he did not receive the gospel from man, “but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). It took Paul three years to meet Peter (Gal. 1:18), yet Paul was still preaching before that. Finally, after fourteen years, Paul went to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to show the gospel he preached to the Gentiles was the same gospel Pater and the Jerusalem preachers proclaimed to the Jews (Gal. 2:1-10). In the midst of that discussion, Paul wrote that “these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me” (Gal. 2:6). By this, Paul was saying he even taught those of high reputation, but it did not matter to him because it did not matter to God, who Himself is impartial. The phrase “God accepteth no man’s person” (prosopon ho theos anthropou ou lambanei) literally means “God does not accept the face of man.” Other translations read, “God shows personal favoritism to no man” (NKJ), and “God shows no partiality” (NAS95). Like God, faithful preachers must not allow respect of persons to dictate the ones before whom they proclaim the gospel (cf. Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11)!

Third, the Christian’s interaction with people of different social statuses must show no “respect of persons.” Paul wrote about both slaves and masters and how each should treat the other in their respected relationships. If they violated God’s instruction, they would be punished by the impartial God. Concerning the slaves, Paul said first, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God” (Col. 3:22). Slaves were to sincerely obey their masters. “According to the flesh” was the sphere of their present, earthly bondage, but spiritually, they belong to Christ (cf. Col. 3:24; Gal. 3:27-29). How Paul told them to act and not act was a reflection of God’s impartiality. “Eyeservice [external service, NAS95]” refers to service rendered merely for the sake of impressing others (Eph. 6:6). The term “menpleasers [people-pleasers, ESV]” refers to one who acts merely to please men (Eph. 6:6). Neither one of these traits reflect God. He is not interested in pleasing others by making it look like He is really concerned, nor does He act just to find favor with people. “Singleness [sincerity, NKJ] of heart” refers to generosity, liberality; sincerity, or single hearted devotion (Rom. 12:8; 2 Cor. 1:12; 8:2; 9:11, 13; 11:3; Eph. 6:5).

Paul also wrote about slaves, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24). Slaves were to work as if they were working for the Lord. “Do it heartily” translates a phrase in the Greek text that literally means, “working out of your soul.” They were to give an honest day’s work! “As unto the Lord” means their working should be done with the same attitude and vigor as if they were working for the Lord Himself (cf. Eph. 5:22). Because God is impartial, by so doing, slaves would receive an inheritance from Him (cf. Rev. 20:13).

Additionally, Paul confirmed God’s judgment, “But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons” (Col. 3:25). Slaves who did not work this way for their masters would receive reciprocal punishment, physical and spiritual (cf. Mt. 6:15; Gal. 6:7). The word twice translated “wrong” means to treat unjustly, harm; to do wrong or evil (Acts 25:10-11; 1 Cor. 6:7-8; Phile. 18; Rev. 22:11). The sure judgment that would come was because “there is no respect of persons” in the One judging!

Paul also used “respect of persons” when he wrote concerning slave owners, “And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him” (Eph. 6:9). The “same things” to which Paul referred went back to what he just wrote about the servants. “Masters,” like their servants, are to hold up their part of the relationship “with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Eph. 6:5-7). Both masters and servants were to know that “whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free” (Eph. 6:8). All masters must give an account to the Master who will judge them with perfect impartiality because there is “no respect of persons with him” (Eph. 6:9)!

Conclusion

God is no respecter of persons, for He “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45). God “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). The Hebrews writer declared that Jesus was “made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9). Paul affirmed, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Note the terms in these passages: “whosoever” (John 3:16); “every man” (Heb. 2:9); and “every one” (Rom. 1:16). God gave and still offers the most precious gift of all time to anyone who will receive it, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, place of birth and/or upbringing, family status, or outward appearance. Since God is such an impartial giver, His people must always reflect that impartiality and “have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons” (Jas. 2:1).

Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
Title:
Impartial or a “Face Looker”? (Part 2)
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“Silence of Scripture” Exemplified From the Book of Hebrews

By Brian R. Kenyon

In last month’s Harvester, an examination was given concerning Bible authority and “silence of Scripture,” especially analyzing the following two common misconceptions: (1) whatever the Bible does not explicitly forbid is authorized; and (2) whatever the Bible does not explicitly mention or exemplify must be unauthorized. Both of these are false. In this article, consideration will be given to specific examples of “silence of the Scriptures” in the Book of Hebrews that will help us further understand how the Bible does and does not authorize.

Explicit Examples

The classic example of the argument from silence in the Book of Hebrews concerns the priesthood of Christ. In a context where the Hebrews writer showed that the old law, represented by the Levitical priesthood, was destined to change, he wrote:

For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 13For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. 14For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. (Heb. 7:12-14)

Of particular interest is the phrase, “of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.” Jesus being from the tribe of Judah was well known among the first readers of Hebrews (“it is evident” cf. Isa. 11:1-4; Mt. 1:1-16; Rev. 5:5). Jesus could not serve as priest under the old law, not because the old law explicitly said, “People from the tribe of Judah shall not serve as priests,” but because the old law authorized only men from Aaron’s seed as those who could serve as priests (Ex. 28:1; Num. 3:10). In other words, there was no authority from God for those from the tribe of Judah to serve as priests. The Old Testament’s “silence” (i.e., “Moses spoke nothing”) concerning the tribe of Judah serving in the priesthood did not authorize it!

Another explicit example of the argument from silence in the Book of Hebrews concerns the superiority of Christ over the angels. The Hebrews writer rhetorically asked, “For to which of the angels did He ever say: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You’? And again: ‘I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son’?” (Heb. 1:5). The implied answer is “None!” The first part of the verse alluded to Psalm 2:7, the latter part to Second Samuel 7:14. The point was that since God only said concerning His Son, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You,” only His Son held that superior position (cf. Acts 13:33). Imagine how huge the Bible would be if it had to explicitly mention all those to whom “You are My Son …” did not apply! This verse teaches that angels are inferior to Christ, not because the Bible explicitly says, “To no angel does ‘You are My Son, this day have I begotten You’ apply,” but because Hebrews only taught concerning Jesus, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” The Bible’s “silence” concerning the application of Psalms 2:7 to angels does not authorize applying it to them!

Implicit Examples

An implicit example is one that involves the argument from silence in its Old Testament setting, though the Hebrews writer did not explicitly mention the silence part of the argument. While there are a number of these examples, attention will be focused on two. First, consider the worship of Cain and Abel. The Hebrews writer declared:

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks” (Heb. 11:4)

In the Genesis account, Cain and Abel both brought sacrifices to the Lord. Cain brought “of the fruit of the ground” (Gen. 4:3), and Abel “also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat” (Gen. 4:4). God “respected” Abel and his offering, but “He did not respect Cain and his offering” (Gen. 4:4-5). The Hebrews writer confirmed Abel offered his sacrifice “by faith,” which implies that Cain did not. There are no explicit commands that early in Genesis as to what exactly God required in offering sacrifices. However, a long standing principle is that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Evidently, in that patriarchal system, God informed these two brothers exactly how to worship Him acceptably. There had to be a standard of authority, and that standard was the word of God (cf. Deut. 4:2). Note again that Paul said that “faith comes by hearing … the word of God,” not by what the word of God does not say! God may not have explicitly told Cain and Abel, “You shall not offer only the fruit of the ground,” but by God’s specifying the exact kind of offering, the brothers had no authority for any other kind, except that exemplified by Abel. “Silence” of the scriptures did not authorize.

Another implicit example is that of Noah. The Hebrews writer declared, “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Heb. 11:7). After God determined to “destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth … Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:7-8). God provided the means by which Noah and his family would be saved. God instructed Noah to build the ark (Gen. 6:14-16). After specifying the materials, the dimensions, the window, the levels, and the numbers of animals, inspiration declared, “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did” (Gen. 6:22; 7:5, 16). Wayne Jackson fittingly observed:

Though the question is frequently ridiculed these days—when authority is held in contempt—it is still appropriate to ask: Would Noah have been preserved if he had acted upon the presumption that “whatever is not [explicitly] forbidden is allowed,” and so had altered the divine pattern for the building of the ark? (17)

The answer is obvious: “No.” Noah could not have been faithful if he, for example, used oak wood to build the ark, not because God explicitly said, “Thou shalt not use oak wood,” but because Noah only had authority to use “gopher wood.” Imagine how huge the Bible would be if God had to explicitly list all the kinds wood Noah could not use in building the ark! “Silence” of the scriptures did not authorize.

Silence Versus Exclusion

Some confuse the principle of exclusion with the silence of the Scriptures. Silence in one verse does not exclude. Some well intentioned brethren will say of Colossians 3:16, for example, that since this verse explicitly says “sing,” it excludes all other forms of music. The truth of the matter, however, is that Colossians 3:16 only authorizes singing as music in worship. If a person can find another passage that authorizes mechanical instruments in worship, then those instruments would be authorized. Mechanical instruments in worship are not authorized, not because Colossians 3:16 excludes them, but because the Bible does not authorize them! While this may seem trivial or a matter of semantics to some, it is important to understand this distinction. Too many of our brethren at the very least loose credibility and at worst bind false conclusions because they adhere to the so-called “law of exclusion.”

To illustrate the contradictory “logic” of this so-called “law of exclusion,” consider what God authorizes for first-day-of-the-week worship. Acts 20:7 authorizes the church to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week. To say that the “silence” of a verse excludes, would be to say that Acts 20:7 excludes all other acts of worship except partaking of the Lord’s Supper. However, the contradiction enters when First Corinthians 16:2 is examined. That verse authorizes a Christian to “lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper” on the first day of the week. The truth of the matter is that the “silence” of a verse does not exclude! The “silence” about the first-day-of-the-week contribution in Acts 20:7 does not exclude giving on the first day of the week. Acts 20:7 authorizes partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. Likewise, the “silence” about the Lord’s Supper in First Corinthians 16:2 does not exclude partaking of the Lord’s Supper. First Corinthians 16:2 authorizes “laying something aside.” Only when the entire Bible is silent on an issue does silence of the Scriptures forbid a matter.

Conclusion

The argument from silence is a crucial part of the Hebrews writer’s argument that Christ is superior and offers a better covenant. Members of the church of Christ today must respect true silence of the Scriptures. Because there is not an explicit “Thou shalt not” does not give people license to believe, teach, and/or practice whatever they want. May the Lord help all people, especially Christians, to live the principle: “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17).

Works Cited
Connelly, Marlin, and Phillip Morrison. “Should the Use of Instrumental Music in Worship Be a Barrier to Fellowship with Others, Such as Independent Christian Churches?” A Contemporary Discussion Hosted by Freed-Hardeman University. 11 Feb. 2005.
Jackson, Wayne. “The Silence of the Scriptures.” Spiritual Sword 28.2 (Jan. 1997): 16-21.

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
“Silence of Scripture” Exemplified From the Book of Hebrews
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Considering Again Bible Authority And “Silence of the Scriptures”

By Brian R. Kenyon

Silence of the Scriptures is a concept that must be understood in order for people to please God. Pleasing God is impossible without conforming to His will (Col. 1:10; 1 Thes. 4:1; Heb. 11:6). Conforming to God’s will is impossible without knowing and practicing what He authorizes (Col. 3:17; Heb. 13:21; 1 John 2:3-6). Knowing and practicing what God authorizes involves, among other things, a proper understanding of the silence of the Scriptures.

Major Misunderstandings
Of How the Bible Authorizes

Relative to this study, there are two major misunderstands concerning how the Bible authorizes. First, some think that whatever the Bible does not explicitly forbid must be authorized. That is, if the Bible does not explicitly say, “Thou shalt not…,” then whatever action under consideration must be acceptable to God. This view, however, is false. If the Bible had to explicitly specify everything that God did not authorize, it would be so large a volume that no one could physically handle it. Imagine the Book of Leviticus, for example, listing all the animals that were not allowed for the Israelites to use for sacrifice! It does not have to include every kind of animal with which the Israelites would come in contact besides the animals specified in Leviticus! Not only that, if the Bible had to explicitly specify everything that God did not authorize, then much of the Bible would make no sense to certain generations. Imagine a Christian living in AD 150, for example, trying to make sense of “Thou shalt not clone human embryotic stem cells”! Those who seek authority from what the Bible does not explicitly forbid, are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, “Where does the Bible say I cannot?,” they should be asking, “Where does the Bible teach I can.”

Second, on the opposite extreme, some think that whatever the Bible does not explicitly mention or exemplify must be unauthorized. That is, if the Bible does not explicitly say, “Thou shalt…,” then whatever action under consideration must be unacceptable to God. This view, however, is also false. If the Bible authorized only by explicit statements and/or examples, then none of it would apply to people living today because none of it was explicitly addressed to people living today. Nowhere can the reader find his or her name mentioned as an addressee of any New Testament epistle. There are those, for example, who will say that since the Bible does not explicitly say that the local church can support a preaching school from its treasury, there is no authority for it. How-ever, what these same people fail to realize is that the Bible nowhere explicitly says that the church can have a checking account, pay a utility bill, or have a Facebook page, yet the very local churches of which they are members have a checking account, pay a utility bill, and have a Facebook presence.

Lest one think this view is only held by the anti-cooperation camp, consider a statement made by Phillip Morrison at a “contemporary” discussion:

It’s disingenuous [hypocritical] to stand in a church building not authorized by Scripture, behind a podium not authorized by Scripture, to use a microphone not authorized by Scripture, to use a hymn book not authorized by Scripture, to use a tuning fork not authorized by Scripture, and argue that you can’t use a piano because it’s not authorized by Scripture. (Hosted by Freed-Hardeman University, 11 Feb. 2005)

Aside from the fact he is admitting he does not need Bible authority (because he does those things, which according to him, are without Bible authority), he reflects a serious misunderstanding. It is true that the Bible does not explicitly say “Thou shalt use a church building, podium, microphone, etc.,” but that does not mean the Bible does not authorize them. Understanding the relationship between explicit statements, implicit principles, silence of the scriptures, and Bible authority is a serious matter.

Silence of the scriptures is more than merely the lack of an explicit statement. Explicit statements are the word for word statements found in the Bible. Implicit statements are true statements based on the truth of explicit statements. For example, the Bible explicitly declares, “Abram went up from Egypt … and Lot with him” (Gen. 13:1). From this explicit statement one can know Lot came up from Egypt. However, nowhere does the Bible explicitly say, “Lot went into Egypt.” A person surely can know Lot had to go into Egypt before he could come out of Egypt. Thus, the implicit statement, “Lot went into Egypt,” is just as true as the explicit statement, “Abram went up from Egypt … and Lot with him” (Gen. 13:1). The Bible is not silent about Lot going into Egypt, even though there is no explicit statement, “Lot went into Egypt.” Both the explicit and the implicit statements about Lot are equally true, even though only one is explicit!

Conclusion

True silence of Scripture means the Bible does not teach at all a particular matter, either explicitly or implicitly. This kind of silence, obviously, does not authorize. In the next Harvester, consideration will be given to “silence” from the Book of Hebrews.

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Considering Again Bible Authority And “Silence of the Scriptures”
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A Reasoned Hope: Firm unto the End

Our thirty-first hard cover lectureship book is 451 pages on the subject of hope. Typically, in the January issue, we give a review of the entire lectureship book. However, an especially valuable and unique part of this lectureship book deals with mental health issues, especially depression and what to do in preventing and dealing with suicide. While there are great chapters in the 2024 book, the focus in this review concerns the chapters dealing with these mental health issues.

Too Young to Die: Depression
And Suicide in the Church

The following are excerpts from Daniel Stearsman’s chapter, titled as the header above.

This piece will take a biblically holistic view of depression, examining how the spiritual life connects with the psychological, social, and biological aspects of human nature (Sulmasy, “Bio,” 24). Sin is a driving, but not exclusive, factor in depression. Personal sin can lead a person into depression, and the sins of others can lead to hurt that then leads to depression. Both offenders and sufferers need God’s help. Extremes will be avoided that see depression as (1) exclusively remedied by medications without any notion of God; (2) exclusively remedied by therapies that eliminate or dispense with the Bible; or (3) exclusively see the Bible as a quick-fix, mind-over-matter, power-of-positive-thinking, just-pray-about-it, or just-get-over-it-already approach to depression. Instead, this piece will examine languishing, depression, and suicide by examining: (1) the current medical landscape; (2) hope and the Bible on mental health; (3) a lumbering elephant and the moral dimension of depression; and (4) eight ways the church can help.

Restoring Hope:
When Suicide Hits a Family

The following are excerpts from Jerry Martin’s chapter, titled as the header above.

It is generally thought that at least six people are intimately traumatized when someone dies by suicide, and the impact of such a death ripples out to touch hundreds of people. … The suicide loss survivors’ grief is often complicated by strong emotions and feelings surrounding self-blame associated with the context of their loved one’s death. The guilt and blame are felt for not preventing the suicide, for not seeing the signs, or for not being there when their loved one needed them. Sometimes, suicide loss survivors may feel they played a part in their loved one’s death. … Suicide is such a dark, confusing, incomprehensible, and fatal outcome of an intentional act that ends an individual’s life. The Bible only records seven suicides [Abimelech, Judg. 9:54; Samson, Judg. 16:30; King Saul, 1 Sam. 31:4-5; King Saul’s armorbearer, 1 Sam. 31:5; Ahithophel, 2 Sam. 17:23; Zimri, 1 Kgs. 16:18; and Judas, Mt. 27:5]. There is no elaboration in the Scriptures with any of the examples of suicide. To say the least, none of the individuals in the Scripture who committed suicide were standards of righteousness. …

Ways To Minister To
And Help Suicide Loss Survivors

If we know of someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, there are many things we can do. … When expressing our condolences, use the loved one’s name (Cea). Too often, the stigma of suicide causes what appears to be a banning of the deceased loved one’s name, and an avoidance of the survivor. A genuine expression of empathy and compassion can be therapeutic by acknowledging the deceased and staying close to the survivor. … Accept The Survivor’s Time Line. … Show Up Promptly. … Sit Quietly In Their Presence. … Share Their Pain. … Serve Where And When Possible. … Stay Connected With Purpose. … Shine God’s Love To Light Their Path. …

Ways Survivors Of Suicide Loss
Can Help Themselves

Survivors must accept the truth that they are not responsible for their loved one’s death. The emotional grounding cannot occur until the survivor recognizes and accepts the reality that the suicide was the personal choice and action of the one who ended his or her life. Though there are often complicated family dynamics, mental illness challenges, medication side-effects, and other factors, the deceased individual is still the one who rejected all other life options. Accepting the truth that it was not the family’s fault in any form is essential to a healthy outcome to the grieving process. … Allow As Much Time As Needed To Grieve Your Loved One’s Death. … Assist Family And Friends When You Are Ready. … Access Available Resources. …

Ways To Help Increase
Church Members’ Understanding Of Suicide

Even though research supports a neurobiological basis for mental illness and its often connected to suicide, there is still the widespread stigma of shame. Many individuals who are in the depth of suicidal depression lose their problem-solving ability and often see life as unbearable. Most have a helpless and hopeless view of the future. Based on the accounts of individuals who have attempted suicide and lived, they acknowledge the primary goal of their suicide attempt was not to end their life, but to stop the pain. Those struggling with mental illness find it virtually impossible to hold on to the hope that things are going to get better. … Before attempting to help survivors of suicide loss, compassionate Christians, especially preachers, need to have an informed theology guiding their own feelings concerning suicide, death, mental illness, forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life. Survivors will often struggle with the final destiny of their deceased loved one. They likely will have anxiety and confusion concerning whether the loved one is saved or eternally condemned. … Church leaders, if you have not already provided training for the congregation you shepherd, you should use the occasion of the tragedy as an opportunity to educate and engage the entire congregation in a way that informs everyone of the impact of suicide on the survivor. … The one place where survivors should find a safe, caring, supportive place to grieve openly and honestly, is the church of our Lord! The church should serve as a constant reminder of the living, constant, and boundless love of Christ. It is the love of Christ shared by Christians that restores hope.

The Role of Faith
In Treating Hopelessness
And Preventing Suicide

The following are excerpts from James Eaves’ chapter, titled as the header above.

Numerous studies done over the past few years have revealed what many Christians have long known regarding depression and suicide. Faith is a preventive factor against hopelessness and suicide. …

The range of scenarios that throw people into hopelessness are many. Job’s pitiful situation had his wife convinced he was better off dead (Job 2:9). King Saul and his armor bearer both lost all hope and took their own lives (1 Chr. 10:4-5). Let us not forget the betrayer Judas. When he realized his actions would result in the death of Jesus, “He went and hanged himself” (Mt. 27:5). These individuals failed to see any light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. So many today are failing to see that light as well, or if they find a light, it is not the “true light” (Jn. 1:9). David said that God’s word was that light that lights our path (Ps. 119:105). …

God saw fit to leave us numerous examples of individuals who, though in seemingly hopeless situations, allowed their faith to blossom into hope that would guide them through those dark times [cf. Mt. 8:2; Lk. 8:42-48]. …

In Scripture, we find an example of a man with undeniable faith who was deeply lost in hopelessness (1 Kgs. 19). …We are not told why Elijah responded this way [cf. 1 Kgs. 19:2-4], but his fear and hopelessness were made apparent. … Let us notice the steps God took to help Elijah so we will be better equipped to help those around us who are struggling to see the hope … in Jesus. First, God sent an angel to Elijah (1 Kgs. 19:5). The first thing the angel did was touch the prophet. … It is common among those with depression to want to be alone. So, the first thing God did to help Elijah was restore that physical connection to others. … Second, the angel of the Lord provided sustenance for the prophet’s body. … Third, once Elijah had some time to regain his physical health, God gave him purpose [1 Kgs. 19:9]. … Fourth, God caused Elijah to think introspectively. God would ask, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kgs. 19:9, 13). Both times God listened to Elijah and did not cast judgment on his thoughts and feelings. … Finally, God provided a mission in Elijah’s life that would remind him he was not alone [cf. 1 Kgs. 19:18] … one of his tasks was to appoint a new king (1 Kgs. 19:16)! … A physical connection was restored through touch. Basic physical health was provided. Small tasks were given and accomplished. Open questions were asked, causing introspective thought. Elijah found purpose that showed him he was not alone. Might we be able to follow these same steps and help our brothers or sisters in their time of need?

The Church: A Safe Place To
Restore Hope & Meaning in Life

The following are excerpts from Joey Davis’ chapter, titled as the header above.

Most Bible students are familiar with the Book of Ecclesiastes, which records Solomon’s experimental quest to discover life’s meaning and purpose. Solomon contextualized his search as “under the sun,” a designation representing the mundane, material focus so prevalent in the hearts and lives of people. Of course, Solomon found no hope, no lasting purpose, and no real meaning in life in his “under the sun” search (Eccl. 2:10-11). In other words, if hope, purpose, and meaning in life are to be found, then people must look beyond the mundane—the search must involve something transcendental, something beyond this physical, material, and temporal world. To Solomon, God was the only source of what he sought (Eccl. 12:13) … The godless among us are at a loss at this juncture. They preach about a world without design that resulted from mere chance, and they obstinately reject God, the eternal creator, provider, and sustainer of all that exists. Therefore, their search for hope, purpose, and meaning in life is limited by the same parameters with which Solomon restricted his search. Consequently, these skeptics cannot write a script that truly motivates people to live with hope, purpose, and meaning. The climax of their story will always be “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1 Cor. 15:32). …

Despite the voluminous protests [as quoted by Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan] against a transcendental supplier of hope, purpose, and meaning in life, of which the foregoing is just a sampling, the evidence to the contrary remains insurmountable. … Interestingly, much research has been conducted to better understand the nature of hope, purpose, and meaning in life, as these relate to various issues of life, the results of which are very telling. This research consistently demonstrates the “empirical finding” that there is “a positive relationship” between spirituality and religion, life satisfaction, and a sense of life meaning (Kress et al.). …

Since the New Testament portrays the church of Jesus Christ as the entity suited for hope, purpose, and meaning in life, it is incumbent upon Christians to make sure that people have uninhibited access to the true New Testament church. We do this by publicly preaching the Gospel, and of necessity the one church, with boldness and conviction because we believe this is important for man’s greatest needs. … According to Maslow’s theory, an individual is motivated to fulfill these needs in hierarchical order from the lower (physiological) to the highest (self-actualization) … a person needs to meet these lower needs before the higher ones become factors for motivation. … It might be helpful to consider the findings of human researchers in light of what inspired Scripture has already recorded. … First, people have physiological needs such as food and clothing. Of course, Jesus promised to meet those needs [Mt. 6:25-34]. … Second, people have safety needs. … [People] need to know the God of the Shepherd Psalm [Ps. 23:4 cf. Rom. 15:33; Eph. 6:15]. … Third, people need love and belongingness. … Jesus impressed this need upon His followers [Jn. 13:34-35]. … Fourth, people have esteem needs. … So often individuals enter into adulthood having had the horrible experience of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of those who were charged with protecting and nurturing them. Consequently, they lack a sense of worth and value … They need to hear that … God … notices … them personally (Mt. 10:29-31). They need to know … every part [of Christ’s body] has its worth and can do its share (Eph. 4:16). They need to know that … church … culture … is to “esteem others better than self” (Phi. 2:3). … Fifth … people have self-actualization needs. This correlates with our need to see our purpose and to know and understand the meaning in our life. … our purpose here is to prepare for eternity [cf. Heb. 11:13] … to “Fear God and keep His commandments” (Eccl. 12:13) … there is a place of equality in the body of Christ that is not based on race or socioeconomic status (Gal. 3:26-28). We absolutely must connect people with their transcendental purpose (Mt. 6:19-21). However, consistent with the observations made by Maslow, people are not inclined to digest instruction about laying up treasures in heaven when their minds are stuck on meeting their pressing physical needs in the moment.

Conclusion

Hope is a vast Bible subject. This book contains articles that will bring the major parts together to motivate us to be living sacrifices. Even hopelessness, as these excerpts show, can be overcome!

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
A Reasoned Hope: Firm unto the End
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Harvester April 2024: “Roberson Louissaint Graduates May 19!”

Articles In This Issue

  • “Roberson Louissaint Graduates May 19!” – Brian R. Kenyon
  • Overcoming Excuses – Brian R. Kenyon
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Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Harvester April 2024: “Roberson Louissaint Graduates May 19!”
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Harvester March 2024: “Silence of Scripture” Exemplified From the Book of Hebrews

Articles In This Issue

  • “Silence of Scripture” Exemplified From the Book of Hebrews – Brian R. Kenyon
Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Harvester March 2024: “Silence of Scripture” Exemplified From the Book of Hebrews
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Harvester Feb 2024: Considering Again Bible Authority And “Silence of the Scriptures”

Articles In This Issue

  • Considering Again Bible Authority And “Silence of the Scriptures” – Brian R. Kenyon
  • 2024 Lectureship Photo Collage –
Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Harvester Feb 2024: Considering Again Bible Authority And “Silence of the Scriptures”
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Complete in Christ

Epaphras, a messenger of the church in Colosse (cf. Col. 4:12), came to Paul in Rome with good news and bad news about the church of Colosse. The good news was that the gospel had born fruit among the Colossians (cf. Col. 1:6), who were continuing in the faith in Christ and in love for their fellow Christians (cf. Col. 1:4). The bad news was the Colossians were being deceived by a new teaching that was contrary to the gospel. The new teaching claimed a profound knowledge apart from Christ (Col. 2:8), an emphasis on following prescribed human rituals (Col. 2:16), the worship of angels (Col. 2:18), and asceticism (Col. 2:18, 20-23). This new teaching invoked spiritual powers rather than calling on Christ in whom the fullness of God dwelt in bodily form (Col. 2:9). To deal with this false teaching, Paul wrote the letter to them. In Colossians 2:8-12, Paul gave four truths that adequately refute the heresy in Colosse (and all false religions).

Within Christ Is All Truth

Paul warned, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8 cf. Col. 2:4). The word “cheat [spoil, KJV; takes you captive, NAS]” (from sulayogeo, συλαγωγέω) means to make a captive of; to carry off as booty or captive. According to Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, “the word meant to ‘kidnap,’ and here depicts carrying someone away from the truth into the slavery of error” (776), through human, worldly, and ungodly philosophy. Any system of religion not “according to Christ” is empty and damnable (cf. Rom. 10:1-3).

Within Christ Is All Deity

Paul affirmed, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9 cf. Col. 1:19). Finite human minds cannot fully comprehend how this is possible, but it is. We know that God exists and the Bible is His inspired word (cf. Rom. 1:20; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). If the Bible teaches there is one God (and it does, Deut. 6:4), and if the Father (1 Cor. 1:3), and the Son (Jn. 1:1-3, 14), and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4) are each said to be God (and they are), yet each are distinct personalities (and each is, Mt. 3:16-17; Jn. 14:23; 15:23); then the Bible teaches that there are three distinct personalities in the one Godhead (Mt. 28:19; Jn. 14:16; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Pet. 1:2). In Jesus’ fleshly body, while He walked among humanity, was the Godhead!

Within Christ Is All Authority

Paul acknowledged, “And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:10).Since in Jesus’ body dwelt the “fullness of the Godhead,” there is absolutely no need to seek spiritual guidance anywhere else (cf. Rev. 1:8). In fact, not only is there no need, to do so would be to fall from grace by forsaking the only means of salvation (Gal. 5:1-7), and could be to “crucify again … the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:6). The word translated “complete [made full, ASV; filled, ESV]” (from pleroo, πληρόω) means to fulfill; bring to completion; complete finish (Col. 1:9, 25; 2:10; 4:17; Phil. 2:2; 2 Thes. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:4). Jesus as “head of all principality and power” means He has authority even over unseen, spiritual beings (cf. Col. 1:16; Rom. 8:30; Eph. 6:12), the very entities to which the heresy pointed! Only Jesus has “all authority” (Mt. 28:18), and only God’s written word, the Bible, 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 Tim. 3:16-17). Any other source of authority in religion is damnable!

Within Christ Is Every Spiritual Blessing

Paul instructed, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:11-12). As the context reveals, the “circumcision” to which Paul alluded was baptism into Christ (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; 1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:6; Eph. 2:11-13). When people are Scripturally baptized into Christ, they are raised with Christ as “new creations” (2 Cor. 5:17), to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). This being “raised … from the dead” opens up all blessings of fellowship with God, which leaves out no spiritual blessing (cf. Eph. 1:3-14). Sin separates us from every one of God’s spiritual blessings (Isa. 59:1-2). If we abandon, or even dilute, Christ in favor of a false system, we forfeit all spiritual blessings!

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Complete in Christ
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Harvester Jan 2024: Book Review – A Reasoned Hope: Firm unto the EndFirm End

Articles In This Issue

  • Book Review – A Reasoned Hope: Firm unto the EndFirm End – Brian R. Kenyon
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Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Harvester Jan 2024: Book Review – A Reasoned Hope: Firm unto the EndFirm End
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Is the “Safest Thing” Really Scriptural? (Or Is It a Reflection of Brotherhood Politics, Leading to Binding What God Did Not?)

Several years ago, I was asked to perform a wedding ceremony for a couple from another congregation. I hardly knew the couple, but I knew the other congregation and their preacher were both sound. When I learned the preacher from the other congregation would not officiate their wedding, I also refused. That decision slightly bothered me at first because it seemed the only reason I refused was because the preacher whom I highly respected refused. As the years progressed, it became more apparent the decision was not based on Scripture but on conforming to another man’s decision. That couple remained faithful and were in full fellowship at that same congregation, which would not be the case had the marriage been unscriptural! If God allows remarriage in certain circumstances (cf. Mt. 19:9; Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39), and those circumstances are present in the couple wanting to marry, why should I consider that wedding ceremony second rate and not worthy of consideration and support (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26; 13:4-7; Rom. 12:15)? Years later, I did repent by letting the groom know I was wrong. Then recently (after all these years), I learned other preachers have that same policy of never performing the wedding ceremony of any second marriage. Since that policy is not taught in Scripture, it must be the reasoning of man! This, of course, is not to say the policy is inherently sinful, but the principle behind it (and similar policies) is definitely worthy of evaluation.

“Whatever Is Not From Faith Is Sin”

To be sure, if we cannot do something optional with a good conscience, we must not do it. Eating meat is a good biblical example. Some Christians in Paul’s day were converted from paganism (cf. 1 Thes. 1:8-10). The only time in their former lives they ate meat was in connection with idolatrous worship. Thus, the Corinthians asked Paul whether it was Scriptural to eat meat (1 Cor. 8:1-4a). Paul let them know there was no such thing as an idol god but only one true God (1 Cor. 8:4b-6). However, since all were not fully convinced of that, Paul declared it was wrong for Christians to eat meat if it violated their conscience or if it would cause someone else to sin by violating their conscience (1 Cor. 8:7-13). Paul discussed similar issues in Romans 14, whether Christians “may eat all things … [or] only vegetables,” and whether they can “esteem one day above another … [or] every day alike” (Rom. 14:1-6). After much discussion, the apostle concluded, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). The word “faith,” in this context refers to personal conviction, or conscience. If a person cannot eat meat (or participate in any other God-authorized optional matter) in good conscience, he or she sins (cf. Rom. 2:15). This does not teach that anything a person does in good conscience must automatically be morally right (cf. Acts 23:1; 2 Tim. 1:3). It does teach, however, that doing potentially scrupulous optional matters are sinful, unless the person doing them is “fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5).

“Do I Seek to Please Men?”

In the beginning of Paul’s defense of his apostleship to the Galatians, he wrote, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). Paul had likely been accused by his enemies of preaching a message that was “seeking the favor” (NAS95), or “approval” (ESV) of men. Nothing could be further from the truth, for he had just pronounced a curse upon any who would change the gospel (Gal. 1:8-9). Serving Christ and pleasing people at the gospel’s expense are incompatible! Being a “bondservant” of Christ means willingness to give up all for Him, including having the favor of men (cf. Jn. 12:42-43). This harmonizes with First Corinthians 9:19-22. Paul would not unnecessarily offend others, and thus adopt their customs as long as they did not violate God’s word (cf. Acts 5:29). Paul did not place pleasing others above the gospel of Christ (cf. Mt. 6:24). Paul gave insight to his former life by using the word, “still [yet, KJV]” (from eti, ἔτι) in “For if I still pleased men” (Gal. 1:10b). This reveals that when Paul served Judaism, he was doing it to please men (cf. Acts 7:58; 8:1-3), though he was deceived into thinking he was serving God (cf. Jn. 16:2). No person can serve two masters (Mt. 6:24)! Rather than pleasing men, Paul’s post-conversion message was in part to “make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man” (Gal. 1:11). All that we preach and teach must be “the gospel,” not the “commandments of men” (cf. Mt. 15:9; Titus 1:14).

“But Let a Man Examine Himself”

One person’s conscience over optional matters is not God’s standard of judgment over another person’s actions (cf. 1 Cor. 14:3-13). Thus, for a spiritually mature preacher to have a “safest thing” policy that automatically excludes Scriptural options and faithful brethren is questionable. Consider the second-time wedding ceremony mentioned above. Do preachers with policies to never perform such ceremonies not trust those involved, even their own earthly family members whom they know have a Scriptural right to remarry? While it is true some people are not trustworthy, it is also true some are, and in such cases, does not love demand consideration (1 Cor. 13:7)? Do preachers with such policies not want to be bothered by the “extra work” of a wedding ceremony? While it is true a preacher’s time may be overwhelmed, it is also true that sacrificing time to encourage Christians (and non-Christians) is worthy (cf. Eph. 5:15-17). Are preachers afraid if they perform one second marriage and not another, they will offend the ones involved in the other? While it is true preachers should not want to unnecessarily offend anyone (cf. Eph. 4:15), would it not be better to state the reason they could not perform a particular wedding ceremony than to make a blanket policy (cf. Rom. 12:17)? Is not that what preachers do with first wedding ceremonies they cannot perform?

Lastly, and very importantly, are preachers with such “policies” merely trying to please men whom they highly respect in the brotherhood? While it is true we are to love and respect the brotherhood (1 Pet. 2:17), we should not let brethren be our source of authority (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12, 18). When brethren’s example and teaching were commended in Scripture, it was because it harmonized with truth (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Pet. 3:15-16). Could some preacher’s refusal to do certain optional matters be to keep in good standing with influential brethren? While it is true we need to respect brethren’s positions on optional matters, we must not cave to their demands of conformity, whether explicit or implicit (Gal. 2:3-5). The potential problem with this conformity (i.e., brotherhood politics) is that those participating begin to think this opinion over an optional matter is equivalent to God’s law on the subject! We jeopardize our souls and the souls of others when we bind what God has not bound (cf. Mt. 16:19; 15:8-9; 23:15; Col. 2:20-23; Rev. 22:18-19).

Conclusion

Ultimately, a preacher’s (or any Christian’s) decision on optional matters is between him and the Lord with consideration of others involved. However, we should evaluate the motives behind our policies to make sure we are not falling prey to the deceptive tactics of the devil. Unfortunately, sound brethren have been shunned because they participated in optional matters that more influential brethren would not have done because of their “safest thing” policies. Are those forbidding policies, though, really based on Scripture or do they reflect brotherhood politics and/or elevating human opinion as if it were God’s law? Let us always be “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3)!

Speaker:
Brian R. Kenyon
Title:
Is the “Safest Thing” Really Scriptural? (Or Is It a Reflection of Brotherhood Politics, Leading to Binding What God Did Not?)
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Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted? Part Two

by Vince Daugherty

[Editor’s note: In Part 1 of this article, Vince brought out two main points of consideration; namely, (1) the Gospels were close enough in time to be accurate (as well as New Testament epistles that talk about the life of Jesus, Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Cor. 15:3-8); and (2) the Gospels were intended to be accurate. Consider now, in this final part, more evidence for the historical accuracy of the Gospels. Much of this material is drawn from Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, Chapter 1, “Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted?”]

Included Accurate Flaws

Another interesting element to consider with the potential flaws in the biographies of Jesus is how the disciples are often portrayed. If I were producing a man-made account of my life, there would be certain details I would leave out that would undermine my readers’ confidence or would paint me in a negative light. This is not what we find in the Gospels. Jesus often rebuked His disciples for having “little faith” (Mt. 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). In other places, the disciples fought over who would be the greatest, or first, in the kingdom (Mt. 20:20-28). Blomberg says of the apostles, “They look like a bunch of self-serving, self-seeking, dull-witted people a lot of the time” (quoted in Stroble, 50). Also, the Gospel writers note that women were the first witnesses to the resurrection. This is significant, for in the ancient world the testimony of a woman was not worth much. Why not leave out that detail and say that Peter, James, or one of the other apostles was the first to see Jesus? By not leaving out personally damaging details of the accounts or trying to cover up their own blunders, confidence is increased in the accuracy of what actually happened.

Other Sources Confirm

Another strong consideration is what other “news sources” had to say about Jesus, the man. It is one thing to find the perspective of believers, but what about those who may have stood in opposition to the faith? The first prevalent Jewish explanation for Jesus’ open tomb is that “His disciples came at night and stole Him away” (Mt. 28:13), yet this explanation confirms an empty tomb. Later, the Jewish Talmud called Jesus a sorcerer who led Israel astray, confirming His influence and even His miraculous ability. Strobel rightly points to another truth: the Christian movement started in Jerusalem, which was the center of the Jewish religion. How could a counter movement take hold in that location if the events were fabricated? All the Jewish (or Roman) leadership would have had to do was produce the body and execute the blasphemers. The movement would have been done! Rather, the advice from Gamaliel was where wisdom was found:

[K]eep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God. (Acts 5:38-39)

Not only has Gamaliel’s advice stood the test of time, but so also has the Gospel writers’ biographies! While the Gospel writers definitely had purpose to why they wrote, their testimony is still believable, trustworthy, and holds up against the scrutiny of the rational and honest skeptic.

No Originals; No Problem

A skeptic may contend, we do not have any surviving originals of the New Testament. That is true. However, this is not a unique issue with which to contend. One such response people ought to know is that we have a wealth of multiple copies. If there are a multitude of copies from various geographical locations that still align with each other, it helps us to be confident that the contents were faithfully copied. Also, the copies we do have are very close in age to the time of the originals. One scholar, Bruce Metzger, says:

We have copies commencing within a couple generations from the writing of the originals, whereas in the case of other ancient text, maybe five, eight, or ten centuries elapsed between the original and the earliest copy. (quoted in Strobel, 59)

Further, he states:

Even if we lost all the Greek manuscripts and the early translations, we could still produce the contents of the New Testament form the multiplicity of quotations in [ancient] commentaries, sermons, letters, and so forth from the early church fathers. (quoted in Strobel, 59).

In a comparative study of other ancient works, the Bible has a mountain of copies compared to a minuscule number of copies of texts that are accepted as generally reliable. Compare the Bible to the historian Tacitus’ Annals of Imperial Rome. Thought to be originally written in AD 116, “His first six books exist today in only one manuscript, and it was copied about A.D. 850” (quoted in Stroble, 60, emphasis VD). Josephus is another ancient historian whose nine copies of Jewish Wars, describing events from the first century AD, are from “the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries” (quoted in Stroble, 60). Compared to over five thousand copies of the New Testament, some of which are very old. The closest comparable ancient work of The Illiad only has 650 Greek manuscripts. Also, Homer is believed to have written the work in the 800’s BC, and the oldest copies we have are from the third century AD. The oldest fragments of the New Testament can be dated to before AD 150.

The multiplicity of copies can give the person of faith confident that the Bible we have today has been reliably preserved. Over five thousand Greek manuscripts and ancient translations into such languages as Latin, Ethiopic, Slavic, and Armenian bring the total to twenty-four thousand written evidence still in existence (Stroble, 63). Copies that are in various languages, geographic locations, and earlier and later dates make for an easy reliability test. An honest comparison with other ancient works that are accepted show the Bible has a wealth of corroborating evidence for us to have confidence.

Conclusion

When considering the historical accuracy of the New Testament biographies of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), one test to consider is what has been preserved in history. Have the biographies been reliably preserved? What does archeology have to say? Does it corroborate what the New Testament writers say or does it contradict their accounts? Every piece of evidence, honestly evaluated and scrutinized, harmonizes with what the Bible has revealed since it was originally recorded in the first century AD. Indeed, the New Testament biographies of Jesus have stood the test of time throughout the centuries! The Gospels can and ought to be trusted!

Works Cited

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

Speaker:
Florida School of Preaching Staff
Title:
Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted? Part Two
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