Go deeper cartoon: When God repeats Himself

theology god is love

Posted in bible study

Gay marriage ruling: What does it mean for Christians?

gay marriage ruling

Gay marriage ruling: What does it mean for Christians?

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, 2015, declared that gay couples have a right to marry anywhere throughout the United States and that such couples who marry deserve the same rights, privileges, and benefits of other married couples. This will likely have two negative effects for New Testament Christians. It will appear to give gay marriages legitimacy because they are now recognized officially by government officials and agencies, and it will reinforce the false notion that rejecting that legitimacy is tantamount to being a bigot who opposes to granting people their fundamental civil rights.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Roberts warns, “Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage.”

Fellow dissenter Justice Alito concurs: “Today’s decision usurps the constitutional right of the people to decide whether to keep or alter the traditional understanding of marriage. The decision will also have other important consequences. . . . It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. . . . The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”

Committed Christians are not bigots because they oppose a redefinition of marriage. They are only submitting to what God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his apostles teach on the subject.

The Bible speaks clearly about homosexual acts: they are an abomination to the Lord. Leviticus 18:22 declares, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Also, Leviticus 20:13 states, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

The word abomination (Hebrew: ʿēbâ) is a category that includes homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), along with a number of other unlawful deeds:

  • prostitution (Deut. 23:18; 1 Kings 14:24)
  • sexual impurity (Lev. 18:26, 27, 29)
  • idolatry (Deut. 17:4; 20:18; 32:16; 2 Kings 21:11; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:2; 34:33; 36:8, 14; Ezra 9:1, 11, 14)
  • making idols (Deut. 27:15)
  • child sacrifice (2 Kings 16:3)
  • worshipping the Astoreth (a fertility cult, 2 Kings 23:13)
  • offering a blemished sacrifice (Deut. 17:1)
  • witchcraft or sorcery (Deut. 17:9; 18:12; 2 Kings 21:2)
  • cross-dressing (Deut. 22:5)
  • using unjust weights (Deut. 25:16; Prov. 11:1; 20:10, 23)
  • wickedness in general (Prov. 3:32; 6:16; 8:78; 11:20; 15:9, 26; 16:12)
  • lying lips (Prov. 12:22)
  • sacrifice of the wicked (Prov. 15:8; 21:27)
  • being proud in heart (Prov. 16:5)
  • perverting justice (Prov. 17:15)
  • scoffing (Prov. 24:9)
  • the prayer of the lawless (Prov. 28:9)
  • being an unjust man (Prov. 29:27)

I give this long list so that you can decide: does a change of covenants from the Law to Grace transforms an abominable deed into one that is now holy and pure? An apparent exception to this list is prohibited foods (Deut. 14:3), where, in a context discussing idolatry, the same word is used, when typically a different Hebrew word for ‘abomination’ (Hebrew: šeqe) occurs (see Lev. Lev. 11:10-13, 20, 23, 41-42; Isa. 66:17; Ezek. 8:10). We know that “Jesus declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19). No such similar declaration regarding homosexual acts occurs anywhere in the New Testament.

The New Testament makes equally clear statements about homosexual acts. For instance, in First Corinthians 6:9-10, the Apostle Paul declares, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (This rendering found in the English Standard Version has a footnote for the phrase “men who practice homosexuality” that says: “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.”)

Whether those engaged have a casual or committed relationship does not make the homosexual acts committed illegitimate or legitimate. In Genesis 2:24, Moses writes, “[A] man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The Hebrew word for ‘man’ or ‘male’ and for “husband” are the same word  (ʾīš), and the Hebrew word for ‘woman’ or ‘female’ and for ‘wife’ are the same word (ʾīšâ). Likewise, in First Corinthians 7:2, Paul commands, “[E]ach man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” Here, the Greek word for ‘man’ or ‘male’ as well as for ‘husband’ are the same word (anēr) and the Greek word for ‘women’ or ‘female’ as well as for ‘wife’ are the same word (gynē). Both the Old and New Testaments, therefore, clearly define marriage as heterosexual.

The first chapter of Romans states that as a consequence of willful rebellion against God, “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Rom. 1:26-27).

These passages are enough to establish the consistent teaching of the Bible that homosexual acts are abominable to God and, along with other willful sins that a person may persist in committing, disqualify him or her from entering God’s kingdom. We need not debate with Christian gays the sin of Sodom, and we can dismiss as ridiculous their claims that biblical homosexual couples include David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, or even Jesus and “the disciple whom He loved.”

The same Bible also teaches, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18; Mark 12:31 and parallels), and our neighbors include the lesbian, the gay man, the bisexual, and the transsexual. We should be aware and sympathize with the struggles individuals of these orientations may have had, struggles that often include rejection and abandonment by family members, isolation from those around them, the deeply distressing ambivalence of a self-imposed compulsion to hide and to lie.

We can join our homosexual friends in condemning violence against gays, and we can offer them friendship, a listening ear, and acceptance of them as persons without condoning what the Bible calls sin, just like we make friends with those guilty of other sins that our society doesn’t stigmatize, like being greedy, getting drunk, overeating, overworking, indulging in heterosexual lust, being haughty, and being selfish.

We can confess to them our own sinfulness and our need for a Savior who inspires us to turn away from sin and find forgiveness in His cleansing blood. We can help them discover the Body of Christ, which meets our deep-felt needs for friendship, love, and unconditional acceptance. In time we may convince them, even if they never become Christians, that we are not bigots, that we care what happens to them, that we are committed to being their friends, and that we truly love them.

Want to go deeper?

Highly recommended:

  • Eros Defiled: The Christian and Sexual Sin by John White. (www.amazon.com/Eros-Defiled-John-White-ebook/dp/B003ZSIS80/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435359669&sr=1-1)

This Christian psychiatrist writes with understanding and compassion about sexual sins. He claims that most professional counselors believe that homosexual orientation can be corrected, and that the more experience they have in the profession, the higher is the proportion of those convinced it is possible. He concludes by explaining how local congregations can deal with sexual sin in a context of love and forgiveness.

  • A Biblical Point of View on Homosexuality by Kerby Anderson. (www.amazon.com/Biblical-Point-View-Homosexuality-ebook/dp/B00547QX9Q/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435360311&sr=1-3)

Chapters are: Homosexuality and Society, Homosexuality and Relationships, Homosexuality and Families, Homosexuality and the Schools, The Causes of Homosexuality, Homosexuality and the Bible, Homosexuality and the Church, Same-sex Marriage and Politics, Answering the Arguments for Same-sex Marriage, and The Social Impact of Homosexuality.

If you found this post helpful, please share.

I welcome your perspective: what should the Christian’s attitude be toward the June 26, 2015 Supreme Court ruling legitimizing same-sex marriages? Enter your comments below.

 

Posted in bible study

Theology: How deep is God?

omniscience of god

Posted in christian theology

Perspective of Original Audience

biblical hermeneutics

Posted in bible study

Who are the blessed?

beatitudes of jesus

beatitudes of sermon on the mount

Q. How do you understanding the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12). What do these verses say to you?

A. Matthew 5, verses 1-2 are paramount in understanding the beatitudes. “His disciples came to him and he began to teach them, saying….” In other words, this is not teaching to non-disciples, to unbelievers. It is for Jesus’ disciples, those who “come to Him,” that is, who submit to His authority, which is also how the Sermon on the Mount ends (Matt. 7:28-29). “He began to teach them…” indicates that this was their introduction to what it means to be His disciples. Literally, “He opened His mouth and taught them….” which some say implies that He held nothing back from them.
Note that Jesus does NOT say, “You must be poor in spirit. You must mourn. You must be meek, must hunger and thirst for righteousness, must be merciful, and pure in heart.” He does NOT say, “You must be peacemakers, and you must be persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” Nor does He say, “You must be salt for the earth and light for the world.”

What does He say? He says, “You are blessed.” Blessed by whom?

Jewish speech was filled with circumlocutions: carefully crafted ways of talking about God without mentioning Him. One of the ways they did this was by expressing things in the passive voice: “You are blessed,” by which they meant “God is blessing you.” How do we know that Jesus is employing circumlocution in Matt. 5:3-11? Because of a second circumlocution Jesus uses in verse 12: “great is your reward in heaven,” which means “God is giving you a great reward.”

Jesus is telling His disciples that by submitting themselves to Him as their Teacher-Trainer-Coach, God is blessing them in a progressive way. Yes, they are spiritually bankrupt, something to grieve over. But as they relinquish control to God, He begins to fill them with the very character of their Master. They develop a spiritual hunger and thirst that only God can satisfy. They begin to have compassion for other people. They let go of selfish motives and take on God’s perspective about the world and its people. They become active mediators and intercessors, introducing God’s peace as the solution to conflicts they encounter.

And yes, God blesses them even as they endure trash-talk and worse from bitter opponents, because even as they suffer they preserve what’s alive in the world and expel what is corrupt. Even as they bleed, they illuminate those around them with God’s glory.

They have a deeper righteousness than the most religious people they know. They have a more profound piety than the paragons of virtue in their community. Their simple prayers connect with God more immediately. They escape the tug-of-war between God and greed that pulls others apart. They choose to trust God for their needs, even as they make the priorities of His kingdom their own.

They refuse the role of judge and jury over other sinners as well as the role of the rending of the wild dog or the trampling of the swine. They choose their Master against the crowd and will not be deceived by the disguise of false prophets, testing them by their fruits. They remember that obedience is more than just talk and that the solid foundation of their Master’s teaching is proven by the great storm.

And why are these the people whom God blesses? Because God loves all the people of the world and has brought to His world a Savior – the one and only Redeemer. But His mission for all lost people is to redeem them through a community, through a multiplying ministry. He blesses us, so that through us He might bless others.

Please “like” and share if you find this helpful.

Want to go deeper?

I highly recommend D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.

 

Posted in bible study

Kingdom coming?

millennium

 

millennial kingdom

Does the Bible teach a millennial kingdom to come?

Q: I would love to know your thoughts on this interpretation and how are we supposed to react. “Working on my final message in the FUTURE SHOCK sermon series. . . . My topic is the millennial kingdom. What will life be like on planet earth when Jesus rules and reigns on planet earth for 1000 years? I’ll let you in on a little preview. . . it is going to be unfathomably great! No crime, no lack, no injustice, no fear! . . . . Can’t wait to see the curse removed from the earth, the lion lay with the lamb, the child play with the cobra, the desert bloom like a rose, and King Jesus physically enthroned in Jerusalem.” – Lisa S.

A: We have to deal with this as a matter of what Bible interpretation principles (hermeneutics) we use. The one passage that speaks of reigning for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6) says nothing about: 1) no crime, no lack, no injustice, no fear; 2) the curse removed; 3) the lion lying down with the lamb and the child playing at the hole of the cobra; 4) the desert blooming like a rose; or 5) Christ physically ruling in a literal Jerusalem.

Drawing from an assortment of Old Testament prophecies of blessing, people apply all of these concepts to the millennium because of a false assumption. The assumption is that because such prophecies have not yet found a literal fulfillment, they must be fulfilled in the future, and what better time for their fulfillment than the millennium?

The truth is that many predictive prophecies made by true prophets of God, whether of doom or bloom, are conditional: did people who first hear the prophet heed to his call to return to God. The conditional nature of predictive prophecy is spelled out in Jeremiah’s lesson at the potter’s house (Jer. 18:1-10). It nearly always applies whether or not the conditions are stated in the prophetic prediction itself. (For example, see Jonah 3:4-10; 2 Chron. 12:1-12; 2 Kings 20:1-11.)

Many of the covenant blessing passages were never fulfilled because the Israelites did not keep the conditions involved (see Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28). Other covenant blessing found a fulfillment in the blessings the Messiah brought to the world through the cross, but they are spiritual blessings expressed with metaphorical language (such as Mark 4:8, 20; John 4:35-38).

Christ is reigning now (Col. 1:13-14; 1 Cor. 15:25-28). The glorious blessings of His current reign are unimaginably rich (Eph. 3:14-21).

Should we take the millennium of Revelation 20 literally? The context says no. The dragon is not literal. Neither is his chain, or the door, or the lock. Where in the context do we make a switch from figurative to literal? There is no reasonable place to do it. That makes me believe that the souls are figurative, along with the altar, their resurrection and their reign, the thousand years, and the release of the dragon at its end.

A partial validation of this figurative understanding of Revelation 20 comes when we compare it with John 5:28-29, in which Jesus predicts the coming of “an hour when all the dead will hear his voice [i.e., the voice of the Son of Man] and come out—those who have done good to a resurrection of life, those who have done evil unto a resurrection of judgment.” In contrast to Revelation 20’s “first resurrection” of saints before the millennium and another resurrection after the millennium, Jesus anticipates one literal resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. Reconciling John 5 with Revelation 20 is difficult unless we understand that “first resurrection” as a figurative one.

Go deeper?

I go into some of this in more detail in my book, Overcoming: Guide to Understanding the Book of Revelation (http://deeperstudy.com/overcoming-study-guide-book-revelation/). See especially pages 21-25 in the sample pages – http://deeperstudy.com/link/overcoming_sample_2015.pdf.

Read and digest this great article: F. Furman Kearley, “The Conditional Nature of Prophecy: A Vital Exegetical and Hermeneutical Principle” (Montgomery, Ala.: Apologetics Press, n.d.). https://www.apologeticspress.org/rr/reprints/Conditional-Nature-of-Prophecy.pdf

If you find this posting helpful, please “like” and “share.” (Illustration: detail from “The Peaceable Kingdom,” oil painting by Edward Hicks (1826). Now in National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

 

Posted in bible study, eschatology

church branding

church of christ brand

 

Q: Do we worship a church brand more than the one who is Head of His Church? –Kevin W.

A: The potential exists for this to be true. We must acknowledge that the danger of sectarianism is at least as great as the danger of denominationalism.

I pause to define terms. “Denominationalism” is the idea that all churches are only component parts of the Church as a whole, like the hundred, the twenty, the ten, the five, and the one are denominations of the U.S. currency. Denominationalism ignores doctrinal and operational differences between churches, claiming that these differences don’t matter much to God; He accepts us all where we are doing what we do, as long as we are sincere.

“Sectarianism” is the idea that only our group is the Church. Everyone else is lost and must join our group to be saved. Rather than minimizing doctrinal and operational differences, sectarians maximize them with the assumption that only one doctrine among many alternatives can be right and only one practice can have God’s sanction. Sectarians tend to use biblical terms such as “church of Christ” as if it is a brand rather than a description.

Recognizing that denominationalism and sectarianism are dangers at both extremes of a continuum, we must seek the “Golden Mean,” namely that of being “Christians only,” and “not the only Christians.” In other words, our mission is to understand that God’s Church is greater than our little group.

Christ’s church, as God sees it, includes all of those who have truly been born again, and it is His decision, not ours, whom He includes and excludes. At the same time, we must recognize that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” enters God’s kingdom (Matt. 7:21-23). Doctrine is fundamentally important, even as faithful practice matters to our Lord.

To avoid the brand-mentality, we should think of the biblical terms for the church, its leaders and servants, and what we do as its members in terms of descriptions, not names or titles. It is the church of Christ because it belongs to Him, not because of the sign out front. It is also the church (or assembly) of God because God calls its members out of the world.

The church’s leaders are called pastors because they shepherd the flock. They are also called overseers, because they supervise the Lord’s Work, and elders because they lead by example and settle disputes. Deacons are servants of the church, evangelists share the Good News, and teachers guide people to a better understanding of God’s Word. If people who have these labels are not performing these functions, then the descriptions are contentless and become mere titles.

It is up to our Lord who’s in and who’s out. It is up to us to be faithful to Him, striving to please Him, and depending on Him for our salvation, our assurance, and the spiritual power to change into the image of His Son and to encourage others to change with us.

 

Posted in bible study, ecclesiology

word is god

“The Word was a god” – Is the Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Translation of John 1:1 justified?

JWs claim that their translation is accurate because θεος (“theos”) in John 1:1b does not have the definite article ὁ (“the”) and only θεος with the article means God (capital “g”). But in Greek, the definite article is not the only way to make a noun definite. It is also definite when it is the object of a preposition or when it is used with the article elsewhere in the context.

There is another way to make a Greek noun definite, which has to do with the Greek word order in a sentence using an intransitive verb (a verb that has no direct object and needs none to complete its meaning). In such a case, if the subject complement (also called the predicate nominative) comes before the verb, it is definite.

This is known as “Colwell’s Corollary,” named after the scholar, Ernest C. Colwell, who first described it and applied it to John 1:1b in the Journal of Biblical Literature in 1933. He cited parallel constructions in which a noun that the context demonstrates is definite comes before an intransitive verb as in John 1:1b. Because the word order is the reverse of what it normally is (και θεος ην ο λογος “kai theos ēn ho logos,” not και ο λογος ην θεος), θεος can be definite (and translated “God” not “god”) even though it lacks the definite article. Such a noun can be definite–the lack of an article merely shows the reader which noun is the subject complement (θεος “God”), since the subject (ὁ λογος “the word”) has the article, even though it comes after the verb, instead of before, as usual.

What’s the point of the unusual word order? Apparently, the Apostle John changes the word order to emphasize that “God is what the Word was.” When you realize, as you probably do, that “Logos” has the additional meaning of mind, reason (the word behind our word “logic,” and word-fragment “-logy” meaning study), and rationality, then it all begins to fit together.

Christ is the “Wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:30). God exercised His wisdom as He created the universe, which makes Christ the co-creator. Question: Did God make anything without using His reason, His wisdom? The answer is no! “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.”

What I’m getting at is that the context demands the translation, “The Word was God.” God’s reason, His λόγος, cannot be separated from Him. He shares in His essential nature. We cannot conceive of God apart from His reasoning capacity; neither can we conceive of the λόγος apart from His deity.

This concept is not just in John and 1 Corinthians. We also find it in Colossians 2:3: “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” and v. 9: “For in Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form….” Understanding this makes John’s statement later on all the more amazing, “And the λογος became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14). That One so exalted should humble Himself all the way down to humanness is astounding.

People are now exploring what they call “Wisdom Christology” in their effort to understand the path from the Old Testament’s “Word of God” to the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs, to the New Testament declaration that Christ is God’s Wisdom and the λόγος.

The JWs are inconsistent about their translation of θες. They have been aware of Colwell’s Corollary for more than 80 years, and elsewhere in their translation of the New Testament they translate θεος as “God” and other nouns as definite when as a subject complement they come before the verb.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are definitely guilty of intellectual dishonesty and prejudicial translating. Rather than conforming their theology to the text of Scripture, they have tried to twist Scripture to conform to their theology.

Posted in bible study, christian theology, christology

who is god

nature of god

Q. Can God create a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it?

 

A. When someone poses this question, usually they are either joking or else trying to demonstrate how ridiculous belief in God is. But let’s analyze the question for a minute.

The first half asks about God’s creative capacity. The Scriptures affirm that He created the entire universe (Isa. 45:12; Jer. 10:12; 51:15), demonstrating that His creative capacity is infinite. He does as He wills, with no one to stop or hinder Him. We humans have no category in which to file this ability, since our creative capacity is so limited and derivative. With pre-existing materials human beings can create some amazing things, but we cannot create something—anything—out of nothing.

The second half explores God’s capacity to do work. To this ability we can relate, for though our ability to work is limited, we know what work is, to some degree. As humans, we know that if the work is lifting, our ability decreases as the load increases, until finally, the weight is too heavy for us to lift. Not so with God! Having infinite power means that a heavier load does not tax Him more than a light load. No matter how much weight is added, His lifting ability remains the same: infinite.

When we put the two halves together, we find ourselves comparing the infinite with the infinite. Therefore, the answer is: No, it is impossible for God to create a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it. Why is it impossible? Isn’t nothing too hard for God (Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:17, 27; Luke 18:27)? If nothing is too hard for God, why would we claim He cannot create such an object? Because it is impossible for such an object to exist. The question theorizes a logical absurdity.

Does that mean that even God is subject to the rules of logic? No, it means that the rules of logic arise from the nature of the eternal and omnipotent God. They exist as a part of His eternal Mind, and “He cannot disown [or deny] Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). Other things are also impossible for God: He cannot lie (Heb. 6:18); He cannot tolerate wrongdoing (Hab. 1:13); He cannot be tempted by evil (James 1:13); and He cannot run out of covenant-love, because it also is bound up in His essential nature (1 John 4:8), its scope is infinite (Ps. 103:11), and it lasts forever (Ps. 136:1-26).

Want to go deeper? Take a look at “Omnipotence Paradox” in Wikipedia, but I warn you: way too quickly it gets way too deep for safe “swimming.” Better take oxygen tanks!

Posted in bible study, christian theology

penitence

Spiritual renewal

spiritual renewalIf a Christian comes to the point of doubting or even denying God’s existence, saying, “I don’t hear His voice,” or “I don’t see His hand,” or “I never feel His presence,” it’s because of a lack of repentance—we have shut Him out. We have become deaf to His voice, blind to His hand, and callous to His presence (Isa. 6:9-10). Instead of proclaiming far and wide the death of God, we should fall to our knees in penitence and cry out, “I believe! Help my unbelief! Please, Lord, heal me! Open my eyes, unstop my ears, and remove the callous from my heart!” Such a prayer God longs to hear and hastens to answer.

Posted in bible study

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