Bible


People often misunderstand and misapply the term “hypocrite.” A hypocrite literally refers to an actor. They are pretenders. In the realm of morals, a hypocrite is someone who pretends to be moral. They tell you not to do something, but have no intention of following their own commands. They are people who do not think their own rules apply to them. They might pretend to keep these rules, but secretly they flout them.

On the other hand, there are those who believe the moral commands they preach to others apply equally to themselves, and they do their best to live up to those moral ideals. However, they fail to do so perfectly or consistently. When they fail their moral standards, they regret it and repent. These people are not hypocrites. They are simply fallen humans doing their best to do what’s right, but failing to do so perfectly.

I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)

While most people rightly understand the baptism of the Spirit as a reference to regeneration, there is no shortage of interpretations of what the “fire” refers to.

Some understand this as referring to two separate Spirit baptisms for believers: the baptism of the Spirit is for salvation (regeneration), while the baptism with fire is an empowerment for ministry. Others agree that “fire” refers to anointing and empowerment, but only see one baptism in view. When we receive the Spirit, we experience both salvation and ministry empowerment simultaneously. An appeal is often made to Acts 2:1-4, where fire appeared over the disciples when they were filled with the Spirit.

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I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:5-8, ESV)

What is the “gift of God” that Paul enjoined Timothy to fan into flame? Many interpreters, including Pentecostals, tend to view this gift as the gift of the Holy Spirit that we see in the book of Acts. I’ve heard a number of messages about stirring up the Holy Spirit inside of me, based on this verse. It’s not hard to see the connection. The laying on of hands is associated with receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 8:17-18 and 19:6, and this experience is intimately connected with “power” being given to the believer (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 4:33; 6:8; 10:38).

While this is a plausible interpretation, I do not think it is the best. Let’s consider other possibilities. (more…)

When it comes to Biblical interpretation, some tend to think that they don’t need to study or engage in deep thinking on the Scripture. God will simply tell them what the Bible means. On the other end of the spectrum are those who tend to think that they don’t need any spiritual illumination of the text. They can discover the meaning through study and deep thinking alone.

Paul rejected both of these approaches to Scripture. He told Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7). Paul didn’t see it as an either-or, but a both-and. We must do our best thinking on the words of Scripture, and Jesus will help us understand Scripture in the process.

I am temporarily reviving an old series I did on hermeneutics called “straight outta context.” For this installment, I want to look at 1 Corinthians 3:10-17.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Cor 3:10-17)

I had always heard verses 10-15 used to exhort people to good works. As Christians, we need to make sure that we are doing works that will endure for eternity (gold, silver, precious stones) and for which we will receive a reward, rather than doing things that have no eternal value (wood, hay, stubble). However, in context, this is Paul’s warning to teachers to make sure that they are discipling God’s people correctly.

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More than 80 fragments of Nahum and Zechariah (not all have text written on them) were recently discovered in the Judean desert. These are the first Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 60 years. Apparently, these fragments belong to a scroll of the Minor Prophets that was discovered in this same cave more than 60 years ago. That scroll, and these new fragments, are written in Greek rather than Hebrew. One of the interesting features of this scroll is that the name of God is written in paleo Hebrew, which is the ancient Hebrew script. Hopefully more scrolls will soon be discovered.

See:

Biblical Archaeology Society

The Jerusalem Post

I often hear people preface their wayward theological musings with, “I really prayed about this and did a lot of study.” If they are simply making the point that they did not come to their conclusions rashly, fine, but this sort of statement is often used as a justification for their theological conclusions. They are appealing to their prayer and study as reasons to accept their beliefs as true. This is mistaken. Prayer and study do not guarantee that one will come to the right conclusions. This should be evident from the fact that many people have given themselves over to much prayer and study regarding a particular issue, only to come to different conclusions. Prayer and study do not guarantee that you will come to the right conclusion, and surely they are not good reasons for others to trust your conclusions. All that matters are the reasons you offer for your conclusions. If your reasons are good, then your conclusion should be trusted. If your reasons are bad, then your conclusions should not be trusted. The same goes for your facts and presuppositions. Your conclusion will only be as good as the facts you considered and the presuppositions you bring to the question. I’m glad you prayed and studied, but I care more about your reasons than your investment and sincerity.

While there is much discussion regarding the fidelity of the transmission of the NT text, very little attention is given to the OT.  I’ve long been looking for a good book dedicated to OT textual criticism, written from the perspective of a conservative text critic, so I was happy to come across John F. Brug’s Textual Criticism of the Old Testament

Brug does a great job of explaining the manuscript resources, how text critics go about establishing the original text, ancient and modern criticism of the text, and many examples of the variants with a fair assessment of which are original.  What I was particularly interested in is his explanation of the differences between the Greek translation and the Hebrew, as well as the differences in names and numbers in parallel passages such as Kings and Chronicles.

The book is under 200 pages, so it’s very digestible.  I would highly recommend this as an intermediate introduction to OT textual criticism.

In the parting words of Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica, he admonished them with several imperatives, including “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).

Many Christians have struggled to make sense of Paul’s admonition because it’s evident that we cannot literally pray without ceasing. At the very least, we would have to stop praying when we go to sleep at night. Even if Paul was only talking about our conscious hours, one cannot pray while they are talking to other people, concentrating on their work, etc. Many Christians, wanting to affirm the sense of “continual prayer,” have taken this verse to mean that we should continually be in “a spirit of prayer.” This is often construed along the lines of always having a prayerful attitude even when we are not praying to God (which should be a frequent affair throughout one’s day). What exactly a prayerful attitude is, is not entirely clear. Others take it to mean that we should pray about everything.

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Skeptics of Christianity often try to undermine the truth of Christianity by pointing to supposed errors or contradictions in the Bible.  As a result, some Christians have abandoned the faith, while others remain shaken in their faith.  This is unfortunate because the skeptics’ approach is fundamentally flawed.

We must distinguish between what makes Christianity true (an ontological question) and how we know Christianity to be true (an epistemological question).  Many people think it’s the Bible that makes Christianity true.  That’s why they question the truth of Christianity when they are confronted with supposed errors or contradictions in the Bible.  A moment’s reflection reveals this to be wrongheaded.  After all, couldn’t God have chosen to communicate the Gospel truths orally rather than in a written format?  Of course!  Indeed, that’s how it was transmitted in the early church.  If Christianity could still be true without any written Bible at all, then surely it could still be true even if the Bible contains errors.

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I recently finished reading Greg Koukl’s new book, The Story of Reality.  In fact, I read it twice – and I rarely read a book more than once.  Koukl contends that while most Christians know most of the bits and pieces of the Christian worldview, few know how to put those pieces together in a coherent fashion to form a truly Christian worldview.  They may have a lot of knowledge about the Bible’s contents (micro-level understanding), but few understand the overarching Biblical storyline (macro-level understanding).  The Story of Reality sets out to tell that story, breaking it up into five major areas: God, man, Jesus, cross, and final resurrection.

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mutualsubmission“…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)

This verse is often invoked in the context of the marital relationship to teach against male headship.  Rather than the wife submitting to the man, it is claimed that Paul argued for mutual submission: the wife should submit to her husband, but the husband should also submit to his wife.  This principle is extended beyond the marriage relationship as well to include all Christians.  Each Christian ought to submit themselves to each other.

Is that the point of this passage? Is Paul teaching that we should always yield our will to someone else’s will?  I think not.  While a look at the context will prove this to be so, common sense alone rules this interpretation out.  Consider the following: (more…)

no-visionFor many years this proverb has been misinterpreted, probably because the KJV translates it “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” What we typically hear preached from this verse is that a church must have a long-term goal and plan if they wish to thrive rather than perish. That may be good advice, but that’s not the meaning of this proverb.

The word vision does not refer to one’s ability to formulate future goals and plans, but is a synonym for the prophetic word which comes from God’s prophets.

“Perish” has also been misunderstood.  It’s not referring to churches that will cease to exist if they don’t have a vision, or to the spiritual perishing of unbelievers who will perish in hell if the church does not get a vision for the lost.  The word means “to cast off all restraint.”  The point of the Proverb, then, is that when there is no prophetic word from God to guide the people, they will cast off all moral restraint and follow their own evil devices.

Keep it in context….

peace-of-christ-rule-in-heartsLet the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

We have often interpreted this verse in an individualistic fashion to mean that each Christian should have peace in our heart.  This verse is even appealed to in support of the teaching that intrapersonal peace in our heart is a means by which we discern God’s will for our life.  Is this what Paul was conveying?  Let’s look at the context. (more…)

The doctrine of inerrancy holds that the original manuscripts of Scripture were inspired by God, and thus inerrant.  Both Christians and skeptics alike have questioned the rationality and utility of the doctrine in light of the fact that we do not possess those manuscripts, and the manuscripts we do possess contain errors.

Regarding the rationality of the doctrine, why God would extend His power to inspire every word down to the very case and voice only to immediately allow some of those words to be garbled by the first few scribes who copied the inerrant text?  Why extend your power to create an inerrant text if you’re not also going to extend your power to preserve it in the same inerrant fashion?

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Unfortunately, someone took the scrolls from the cave years ago.  We can only wonder where those scrolls are now.

testing_the_spiritsBeloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God… (1 John 4:1a)

… for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4b)

Portions of 1 John 4:1-6 are often cited in discussions of spiritual warfare.  John’s admonition to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (4:1) is cited as evidence that we need to exercise spiritual discernment to distinguish between angelic and demonic spirits, or even good and bad human spirits.  “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (4:4b) is typically quoted in the context of overcoming the Devil.  But are these passages being interpreted correctly?  Are they referring to spiritual warfare?  To find out, let’s look at the context. (more…)

all-things-through-christI can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

Some have called this the Superman verse.  People invoke it to say that they can do anything and everything, as long as Christ is giving them the ability to do it.  It’s a great motivational verse.  As great as that message sounds, it’s not what Paul meant when you read the verse in its context.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)

Ben Witherington observes that the Greek does not say “do.” The only verb in the Greek is ischuo, which means “to be able, strong, healthy, valid, powerful.”  A literal rendering of the verse is “I am able all things in Him who empowers me.”  Read literally, it doesn’t make any sense.  Able to do what?  The helping verb is missing, and can only be supplied by the surrounding context.

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root-of-bitternessSee to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. (Hebrews 12:15)

The way I have typically heard this verse explained, the author is warning against the spiritual danger of harboring personal bitterness.  Indeed, the Contemporary English Version interprets it this way in their “translation”: “Make sure that no one misses out on God’s wonderful kindness. Don’t let anyone become bitter and cause trouble for the rest of you.”  Is that what the author meant to convey?  Let’s look at the context. (more…)

work-together-for-goodAnd we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This passage is typically used to teach that God will use the bad things that happen to us in life to bring about some future blessing (financial, relational, ministerial, etc.).  Some go so far as to teach that each instance of suffering has a corresponding blessing attached to it.  Let’s look at the context.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom 8:28-30)

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