A New Zealand prime minister once said, “New Zealanders who emigrate to Australia raise the IQs of both countries”. That’s slander; a false spoken malicious statement that damages someone’s reputation.
After Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who couldn’t see or speak, the common people were astonished and wondered whether He was the Messiah. This enraged the Pharisees who claimed He did it in the power of “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Mt. 12:24). That’s slander because Beelzebub is another word for Satan (Mt. 12:26) and Jesus said that He drove out demons in the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:28). So they called the Holy Spirit, Satan or a demon! In saying that someone who was good was evil, they were totally wrong. Whereas as Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees knew about the prophecies concerning the Messiah (Lk. 4:16-21; 7:18-22).
Then Jesus told the Pharisees, “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:31). He repeated, “anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:32). The account is repeated in Mark, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (Mk. 3:29). He said that the reason for this was because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit” (Mk. 3:30). Jesus said this because He “knew their thoughts” and their future behavior (Mt. 12:25). He knew they would continue to be hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent in their opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit. They would stubbornly reject all the evidence before them and be blind to the truth. Forgiveness is impossible as long as one continues to reject the work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. Although the Pharisees observed His powerful miracles, they continued to oppose Christ until they convinced the Romans to crucify Him.
Jesus pointed out the Pharisees inconsistency (Mt. 12:25-29; 33-37). It makes no sense to say He’s a bad tree (demonic) producing good fruit (healings). Using this illustration, blasphemy against the Spirit is saying that Jesus’ good works (by the Spirit) are the fruit of a bad (demonic) tree.
The Greek word translated “blaspheme” (blasphemis, Strong’s #988) means slander; speech that injures another’s good name. The ones who made these accusations were Jewish religious leaders who had travelled all the way from Jerusalem (Mk. 3:22). Because they thought their role was threatened by Jesus, they had plotted how they might kill Him (Mt. 12:14). So they were full of evil intent.
In this context, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean swearing or bad language. As the Holy Spirit’s mission was to testify about Christ – “He will testify about Me” (Jn. 15:16), it was saying that Jesus performed miracles by the power of Satan rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit, and continuing to reject Christ as the Messiah throughout their lifetime.
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Th. 5:19). Also, it doesn’t apply to everyone who openly rejects Christ, because Peter and Paul did this but became leaders in the early church (Jn. 18:15-17; Acts 9:1-2). This sin is not based on a single act, but on someone’s spiritual state.
How does it apply today?
Can this unpardonable sin be committed today? There are two main views on this topic. First, it is not possible in the sense of Jesus being physically on earth performing miracles and being accused of being demon-possessed. Also, it is not mentioned in any of the letters in the Bible written to the church. Furthermore, the accusation of demon possession is rare because today many people reject the idea of a spiritual dimension to life.
Second, the outcome of this sin still occurs today. As long as people reject Christ as Savior, their sins cannot be forgiven and pardoned. Today the only sin that is unforgivable is that of not receiving Jesus Christ as Savior. Permanently rejecting Christ is an unforgivable sin (Jn. 3:18, 36). There is no pardon for a person who dies in unbelief. In this sense, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unbelief that persists throughout life. But only God knows in advance if this will be the case.
If a person continues in apostasy (those in the early church who reverted to Judaism; rejection of Christianity by those who had professed to be Christians; false teachers), they are unforgivable – they can’t be brought to repentance while they continue to reject Christ (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 1 Jn. 5:16-17). They continue “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace”. They trample Christ underfoot, say His death was useless and insult the Holy Spirit. Persistent sin against the trinity leads to spiritual death. Such hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit is similar to the behavior of the Pharisees who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. As they can repent and be forgiven, apostasy is only unpardonable if it continues to death and only God knows this in advance.
As the Holy Spirit’s mission today includes convicting us of our sins (Jn. 16:7-8), is deliberate, hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent rejection of one’s sinfulness equivalent to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
Written, March 2014
Politicians often make sweeping statements. But can we trust them? Because of our doubts, the Australian ABC news features a “Fact Check” which determines the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions. Their verdict often highlights the selective use of statistics.
People often doubt politician’s promises. When Jesus was on earth, many of the Jews doubted God’s promises in the Old Testament. They didn’t live like they were God’s covenant people. We will see that they were challenged by a message from God to consider their spiritual need for the forgiveness of their sins.
Because He healed many people, crowds of people followed Jesus at Capernaum in Galilee. When He was preaching in a house that was packed full of people, four men brought a paralyzed man to Jesus by lowering him down through a hole in the roof (Mk. 2:1-5)! The preaching was interrupted and “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’”. On another occasion Jesus also announced publicly that a woman’s sins were forgiven (Lk. 7:36-50). Later the man was healed instantly, took up his mat and walked home. This amazed everyone because they had never seen anything like it before.
The man and his companion’s faith may have come from the Old Testament or they may have heard the message of John the Baptist or Jesus of confessing and repenting of sins for forgiveness (Mt. 3:6; Mk 1:14-15; Lk. 3:3).
This happened before a crowd of people comprised of people with faith (like the paralytic and his friends), people with no faith (like the religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat), and people with uncertain and doubtful faith. What did the claim of “your sins are forgiven” mean to each of these groups?
The faithful probably knew what the Old Testament says about sin and forgiveness. That is what Jesus would have preached about. For Jews, sin was disobedience of the laws given to Moses (Exodus – Deuteronomy). Sin was serious because it resulted in God’s punishment instead of His blessing. They were given sacrifices to be offered to atone for unintentional sins such as the sin offering, the guilt offering, and the annual day of atonement (Lev. 4:1 – 5:13; 5:14 – 6:7; 16:1-34).
Sin is serious because “you may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). Our sins separate us from God (Isa. 59:2). Wilful sin was to be punished by execution or banishment (Num. 15:30-31). In the case of unintentional sin, a sacrifice restored their covenant relationship with the Lord.
Sin also has other consequences, for example Moses and Aaron didn’t enter Canaan because of their sin (Num. 20:12). The Old Testament records the sins of the Israelites and their consequences. History teaches that despite their deliverance from Egypt and sustenance in the wilderness journey, “they kept on sinning” (Ps. 78:32). Their sins were listed and Daniel confessed them (Ps. 106:6-46; Dan. 9:4-15). Their persistent sin and rebellion against God resulted in their conquest by the Assyrians and Babylonians (Ps. 79:8).
Like David (Ps. 51:1-10), they were to confess their sins and pray for God’s forgiveness (Ps. 19:12-13; 32:5; Prov. 28:13). When they did this, God promised to forgive them (Ps. 32:5; 99:8; 103:3; 130:3-4). Because the faithful had confessed their sins, when these people heard “your sins are forgiven”, they took it as a message of assurance from God that their sins were forgiven. Their faith was affirmed.
Like many of the religious leaders, the unfaithful Jews may still have followed the Jewish rituals and sacrifices, but they were selfish and didn’t trust in God. As the news of Jesus’ ministry spread the religious leaders became increasingly hostile. On this occasion they “had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem” with the purpose of finding some accusation against Him (Lk. 5:17).
When these people heard “your sins are forgiven”, they knew that only God can forgive sins (Mk. 2:7). But they didn’t believe that Jesus had this power. Then Jesus said “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Lk. 2:10). His power to heal the man was a visible affirmation of His invisible power to forgive sins. But they continued in unbelief.
When these people heard “your sins are forgiven”, they used it to make accusations against Jesus. While the faithful helped the helpless man, the unfaithful hindered Jesus’ ministry. They remained in their unbelief.
The doubtful and uncertain
What about people between the two previous categories with uncertain and doubtful faith? These would have been impacted by the miraculous healing. Because Jesus linked the physical healing and the spiritual forgiveness, they should have been challenged about their spiritual need and been convicted of their sin and reminded of the Old Testament or the message of John the Baptist or Jesus of confessing and repenting of sins for their forgiveness.
These were the people that Jesus was targeting because they needed to hear this message and respond to it. Because, “everyone who believes in Him (Christ) receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43).
Because we have the New Testament, we know much more than these people. They didn’t know that Jesus was the promised Messiah (Mt. 9:8) who would give up His life as a sacrifice so that no more sacrifices would be required for their sins. We have the Scriptural evidence that Jesus was the Son of God and not just another prophet. Because Christ died for our sins (past, present and future), God can forgive us (Mt. 26:28). His judicial forgiveness is eternal.
When we hear or read the words of God from the Bible, is our faith affirmed, our unbelief unchanged, or are we moved do something about it? Are we challenged to consider our spiritual need for the forgiveness of sins? The Bible says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (Jas. 1:22).
Written, March 2014
These words were spoken by Jesus to the disciples after he talked with a rich young man (Mt. 19:26; Mk. 10:27; Lk. 18:27). It occurred near the end of His ministry, after He began His last trip to Jerusalem (Lk. 17:11). The rich man wanted to do something to obtain eternal life. He thought he could obtain salvation by his own efforts, but was unwilling to acknowledge his sin of greed and covetousness. Because he wouldn’t admit his sinfulness, he was unable to obtain eternal life though faith in Christ. That’s why Jesus said it was difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. As prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing in Old Testament times (Dt. 28:1-14) and the man obeyed most of the commandments, the disciples were amazed and asked Jesus “Who then can be saved”? Jesus answered “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26NIV). Or, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible” (NLT). It has also been recorded as “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Lk. 18:27).
As the context of the verse is salvation, the word “this” stands for salvation. It addresses questions such as, “Who can be saved to go to heaven?” and “How are they saved?”. It teaches that there is no human component to a person’s salvation. We can’t save ourselves, because we are sinful. God does it all. Salvation comes from God’s grace and mercy alone, and human achievement has no role in it (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).
The Greek word translated “all things” (Strongs #3956), is also used in verses 20 and 27. In verse 20 it means “all” the commandments mentioned in v.18-19. In verse 27 it means “all” the things the disciples left behind to follow Jesus. Therefore, in v.26 it means “all” the things to do with salvation or “everything” to do with salvation.
The “all things” refers to God’s unlimited power which makes salvation possible. But it doesn’t mean that God can do anything. He can’t sin and He can’t deny who He is (1 Tim. 2:13). Instead, He can do all things that are consistent with His nature.
Prayer requests (except prayers of confession and repentance) and other miracles are outside the scope of how the verse was used by Jesus. Another implication of this incident is that prosperity is no longer a sign a God’s blessing, something difficult for the Jews of the day to understand.
So, “all things are possible with God” means that everything to do with the miracle of salvation is only possible through God’s power.
Written, September 2013
In the Bible, the words translated as “heaven” or “heavens” can mean either:
- The earth’s atmosphere
- The realm of the stars
- The dwelling place of God and the angels
The term the “heaven and earth” is mentioned in 26 verses of the NIV Bible. Most of these are describing what God created in the beginning of time (Gen. 14:19; Ps. 115:15, Isa. 37:16). It refers to the universe. The physical world of the earth, its atmosphere and the realm of the stars.
The term the “heavens and earth” is mentioned in 15 verses of the NIV Bible. Likewise most of these are describing what God created in the beginning of time (Gen. 1:1; Jer. 32:17; Acts 14:15). It refers to the universe. The physical world of the earth, its atmosphere and the realm of the stars.
New heavens and new earth
The term “new heavens and new earth” is mentioned in two verses (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). Isaiah lived until at least 680 BC, which is about 75 years before the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem when Daniel was captured and deported to Babylon (in 605 BC) and about 94 years before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem (in 586 BC) and took more captives. The book of Isaiah is about God’s judgment and deliverance of the Jews. Isaiah predicted that the judgment was imminent (Ch. 1-39), but they would be eventually restored (Ch. 40-66). It ends with restored people living on a restored earth under the rule of the Messiah.
In this portion of the book, Isaiah is looking ahead to when the Jews would be in exile in Babylon. Isaiah 63:15 – 64:12 is a prayer of those in exile seeking deliverance from their captivity. The prayer is answered in Chapters 65-66, which mentions the new heavens and the new earth.
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isa. 65:17NIV).
“‘As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,’ declares the Lord, ‘so will your name and descendants endure’” (Isa. 66:22).
This new creation is characterised by (Is. 65:17-25; 66:19-24):
- Longevity and no infant mortality (65:20)
- There will be death and therefore sin will be present (65:20), but Satan will be bound (Rev. 20:2-3).
- Children will be born (65:23)
- No war or calamity (65:23)
- Wild animals will be tame and not dangerous (65:25)
- Jews return to Jerusalem (66:20)
- Jewish worship and priesthood will be re-established, which implies that the temple will be rebuilt (66:21)
- All humanity will worship the Lord (66:23)
- Resurrected Christians will rule the world with Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:6)
So the Jews are promised a time of great blessing which has not yet occurred. When he spoke to Jews who rejected Christ, Peter called this the “times of refreshing” when God will “restore everything”, which was predicted by the Old Testament prophets (Acts 3:17-24). As it is referred to as a 1,000 year period in Revelation 20:1-7, this is often referred to as the Millennium.
Heaven and the Millennium
But those who trusted God before the death of Christ also go to heaven (God’s dwelling place). Although most of the promises they were given were physical (like the Millennium), they also had a heavenly hope. They realised that this earth was not their final home: “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” and “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16a). Therefore, the verses in Isaiah probably include the eternal state of heaven. The main difference between the two is that there is sin in the Millennium, but not in heaven. Their temporal relationship is shown in the timeline. The Bible indicates that the sinful world vanishes after the Millennium and before the eternal state (Isa. 51:4-6; Rev. 20:11; 21:1).
A new heaven and a new earth
The term “a new heaven and a new earth” is also mentioned two verses (2 Pt. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). 2 Peter 3 comments on those who doubt God’s final judgment of the physical world. They are called scoffers (v.3). As the earth was devastated by a global flood in Noah’s time, in future the universe will be devastated by a fire (v.6-7, 10-12). At this time the sinful world is replaced by a sinless one (Mt. 24:35; 2 Pt. 3:10; Rev. 21:1). This judgement occurs before the “day of God”, which is the eternal state. It’s God’s final triumph over sin and evil. Christians are told to look forward to the “day of God” and “a new heaven and a new earth” – these terms are equivalent. They are told, “But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pt. 3:13). They look forward to God’s new creation where there will be no sin (Rom. 8:21). In this sense, it will be like God’s original creation. The physical universe will be transformed and renewed in a similar manner to the bodies of believers (Rom. 8:20-23). So it seems as though the eternal state has a physical component.
Most of the book of Revelation describes future events. These include the second advent of Christ as a warrior who defeats all His enemies (19:11-20), and then as a king who reigns over the earth for 1,000 years (20:4-6). The final event is the new heaven and new earth, which is the eternal state (21:1-22:5). John says, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1).
This new creation is characterised by:
- God is present – it’s His home (22:3)
- No sadness, suffering or death and therefore no sin (21:4). It will be a place of harmony, peace and joy (Col. 3:20).
- Only Christians will be there – non-Christians are excluded (21:27). It’s their eternal home where they have a close relationship with the Lord (21:3, 7; 22:4).
- Christian will have new bodies, like that of the risen Lord (Phil. 3: 21).
- Christians will be worshipping and praising the Lord, serving Him and reigning with Him (22:3, 5)
It is also described in: “Heaven and hell: What is heaven like?”
Lessons for us
We can see that those who trust God are promised a future time of blessing. It’s what they longed for (Heb. 11:16a; 2 Pt. 3:12-13). They look ahead and forward, not behind and backwards. Are we anticipating a time without sin and being in the presence of our Savior?
In view of this we should “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him” (2 Pt. 3:14). It should change our behavior. Are we pure? Are we blameless? Are we holy? Are we at peace or is there strife?
Written, July 2013
As there will be people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” in heaven, it seems that some of these would not have heard about Jesus before they died (Rev. 5:9-10). I believe that infants go to heaven when they die because they are not accountable for their sin. We will look at other people in two categories, those who lived before and after Christ.
The Bible says that those who trusted God in Old Testament times go to heaven. Although most of the promises they were given were physical, they also had a heavenly hope. They realised that this earth was not their final home: “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” (Heb. 11:13NIV). Instead they were looking towards heaven: “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16a). We are told that God “has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16b). In particular, Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).
These people are commended in Hebrews as those who lived by faith. The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The Jews were told, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). This faith was based on a revelation from God.
“Enoch walked faithfully with God” (Gen. 5:22, 24). So did Noah (Gen. 6:9). This means they obeyed God. “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22). “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). Job repented after God revealed His power through nature (Job 38-41; 42:6).
So those who trusted in God’s revelation to them before the formation of the Israelite nation go to heaven. In their case, God usually spoke directly to them.
God spoke to the Israelites “at many times and in various ways” (Heb. 1:1). It is stated that Moses accepted “disgrace for the sake of Christ” (Heb. 11:26). But as Moses lived about 1,450 years before Christ, this seems to be a figure of speech. It means that Moses choose to be loyal to God and to associate with his fellow Israelites. The reason given is that “he was looking ahead to his reward”. As Hebrews was probably written about 65AD, the writer knew that the Messiah was the one through whom God guaranteed their promised future.
So the Israelites who trusted in God’s revelation to them in Old Testament times go to heaven. In their case, the revelation was usually miracles and the law given through Moses.
We know God revealed Himself to the Israelites as they were His people during this period of time. But what about the Gentiles? The Israelites were told to follow the laws that God gave them through Moses so that other nations would come to know God: “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Dt. 4:6-8).
Rahab is a Gentile who trusted God (Heb. 11:31). She told the Israelite spies, “I know that the Lord has given you this land … for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Josh. 2:9-11). Because of what she had heard of the Exodus and the defeat of the Amorites, she realised that the God of the Israelites was greater than the Canaanite gods. So she rejected the Canaanite gods to follow the God of the Israelites.
Also Ruth the Moabite told her Israelite mother-in-law, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Likewise, she rejected the gods of the Moabites to follow the God of the Israelites. God’s interest in the Gentiles is shown in the book of Jonah where Jonah was sent to Nineveh with a message of God’s judgment and the people repented of their sin (Jon. 3:1-10).
So the Gentiles who trusted in God’s revelation to them in Old Testament times go to heaven. God revealed Himself to them through the Israelites when they heard about their law and the miraculous preservation of their nation.
All the above are examples of people who go to heaven without hearing about Jesus. But the Bible says the following about Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12NLT). And Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). This means that the only way to get into heaven is through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Before Christ’s death people were saved according to their acceptance of God’s revelation to them. It was based on the future work of Christ. So those who trusted in God’s revelation in Old Testament times go to heaven because their faith in God was equivalent to faith in Jesus Christ. They were saved on credit. “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom. 3:25). In this way God overlooked the sins of those who trusted in Him before Christ’s death and resurrection.
In Romans, God reveals that we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23) and we can only get to heaven through trusting in Christ’s sacrifice for us (Rom. 3:22-26). But it also says that people are judged according to God’s revelation to them: “All who sin apart from the law (Gentiles) will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law (Jews) will be judged by the law” (Rom 2:12). The two main ways that God reveals himself to people who haven’t heard about Jesus are creation and conscience.
Firstly, the physical world demands a Creator. Its design requires a Designer. The laws of nature require a Lawmaker. By looking at our universe, anyone can know that there is a creator God. “The truth about God is known instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:19-20NLT). Enough of God is revealed in His creation that there is no excuse for not believing in Him. Those who reject this revelation follow idols and practice sinful behaviour and suffer God’s judgment (Rom. 1:18-32).
Nature is a testimony of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4). Also, Paul said “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, He let all nations go their own way. Yet He has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:15-17).
So if people haven’t heard about Jesus, they can be judged according to their response to the revelation of God in creation. If they turn from idolatry and seek the true God, then God may give them additional revelation. For example, Cornelius was a Gentile who sought God. So God sent Peter to tell him about Jesus and salvation (Acts 11:14). God can appear to people in many ways throughout their lives. He can send people to inform them (Rom. 10:14-15). Because God doesn’t want anyone to perish in hell and wants everyone to repent of their sin, we must trust that He has made a way for those people (2 Pt. 3:9).
Secondly, everyone is born with a conscience. We all have an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong. For example, most people know it is wrong to lie, steal, and commit adultery and murder. The Bible gives God’s standards for humanity. But for those who are ignorant of this it says: “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Rom. 2:15NLT). Anyone who has not heard about what the Bible says will be judged according to their conscience. God will say, “What did you think was right and wrong?” The next question is, “Did you always do the right and not the wrong?” By that standard, of course, everyone fails. The conscience proves that we are sinners like the law does for the Jew.
The issue is their response to a guilty conscience. If they were sorry for their behavior and would repent then they would probably go to heaven. This reasoning is based on the fact that God is just and wants all to be saved. He has made a way for all, but few accept it.
Like those who lived before Christ, the issue is whether they responded to God’s revelation to them. So through the creation and our conscience, God gives everyone the opportunity to turn to Him and be saved from the penalty of their sinfulness and go to heaven.
Lessons for us
Like the Israelites, a Christian’s behaviour can influence an unbeliever to repent and follow God and go to heaven. “Live such good lives among the pagans (your unbelieving neighbors, NLT) that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pt. 2:12).
Although people can to be saved without hearing about Jesus, it isn’t likely to occur in very many instances. The usual way to go to heaven is to respond to hearing about Jesus. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14). That’s why it’s important to tell people about Jesus as much as possible and support others in this work.
I have received this question about the Bible: It seems that rape was condoned in the Bible, which seems inconsistent with a God who is against abortion and offers forgiveness to sinners … I ask these hard questions for myself as well as unbelievers who use this to justify their hatred of God and the Bible.
Instances in the Bible
Rape is mentioned several times in the Bible. Dinah the daughter of Jacob was raped by Shechem the Hivite (Gen. 34:1-31NIV). Her brothers were shocked and furious at this “outrageous thing … that should not be done” (v.7). When Shechem’s father went to Jacob to arrange their marriage, he was told that the bride price would be that their men become circumcised like the Israelites. After they agreed and were in pain due to the circumcision, two of Dinah’s brothers attacked the city of Shechem and killed all the men because Dinah had been treated “like a prostitute”. However, the word “God” is not mentioned in this chapter of the Bible.
When an Israelite traveller stopped overnight at Gibeah in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, “the wicked men of the city surrounded the house” and demanded to have homosexual sex with the visitor (Jud. 19:1-30). Instead they were given the Israelite’s concubine and “they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go” and she was found dead outside the door of the house. When the Israelites heard about this “lewd and outrageous act” and “awful thing”, they demanded that the perpetuators be handed over to be put to death (Jud. 20:1-48). After this was refused, most of the Benjamite warriors were killed in a war. The Bible’s description of this period is that “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Jud. 19:1; 21:23). It demonstrates the moral depravity that resulted when God’s people turned away from following Him.
King David’s son Amnon lusted after his beautiful half-sister Tamar – they had different mothers (2 Sam. 13:1-39). When he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister”, she said “No, my brother! Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you” (v.11-13) “But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her” (v.14). “When king David heard all this, he was furious” (v.21). Two years later, Tamar’s brother Absalom took revenge by arranging for Amnon to be killed “because he had disgraced his sister Tamar” (v.22).
The passage of how the Benjamites obtained wives from Jabesh Gilead and Shiloh has been alleged to involve rape, but Judges 21:10-25 concerns marriage, not rape. As noted above, this was time of moral depravity. Likewise, the marriage of captive women from outside Canaan was marriage, not rape (Dt. 21:10-14). The taking of female prisoners of war has also been alleged to be rape, but in this instance they probably became slaves and there is no indication of rape or sex slavery, although they may have subsequently married an Israelite (Num. 31:18).
The Bible also records instances of the rape of female prisoners of war by ungodly men such as: when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 BC (Lam. 5:11), when the Medes conquered Babylon in 539 BC (Isa. 13:16-17) and in a coming day when the nations attack Jerusalem before Christ returns to earth (Zech. 14:2).
Sexual immorality, including rape, was one of the sins of the Jews in Jerusalem (Ezek. 22:11). Because of these, they were conquered by the Babylonians and dispersed among the nations.
In all these cases, the Bible reports rape as an example of ungodly behavior.
What about Abram and Hagar?
Was Hagar was raped by Abram (Gen. 16:1-4)? When Abram’s husband, Sari, was unable to have children she thought “perhaps I can build a family through” Hagar, who was her slave. After Abram agreed, Sari gave Hagar to him “to be his wife”. This seems to be a euphemism for sexual intercourse because afterwards Hagar is still referred to as Sari’s slave and not Abram’s wife. Then Abram slept with Hagar and she became pregnant. As this was Sari’s idea and there is no indication that Hagar opposed it, there is no evidence of rape. Instead it seems to be an accepted practice in society at that time. This interpretation is supported by four instances in the life of Jacob (Gen. 30:1-13). On two occasions when Rachel was unable to have children she asked him to sleep with her servant Bilhah. This resulted in the births of Dan and Naphtali. Similarly, on two occasions when Leah was unable to have children she also asked him to sleep with her servant Zilpah. This resulted in the births of Gad and Asher. Later Bilhah is called Jacob’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). As secondary wives, concubines were associated with polygamy. While these cases seem to have been culturally acceptable at the time, they are contrary to God’s plan for marriage, which is monogamy (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:4-9).
According to the law that God gave to the Israelites, the crime of rape of a “young woman who was pledged to be married” was to be punished by death (Dt. 22:25-27). This penalty is the same as someone (male or female) guilty of adultery (Dt. 22:20-22). So rape was considered to be a serious crime.
However, if the young woman was not pledged to be married, the man was to marry her if her father agreed (Ex. 22:16-17; Dt. 22:28-29). In this case the penalty was to support her for the rest of her life. In those days a woman depended on her father or husband for her welfare. If the woman was no longer a virgin and was not pledged to be married, she would have been deemed undesirable for marriage and so would be subject to poverty after the death of her father. So this law moderated the penalty in order to provide for the welfare of the woman and her children. Taken in isolation, this could be used to assert that the Bible condoned rape. However, the rapist risked the revenge of the victim’s family as was the case with Shechem and Dinah (Gen. 34:1-31). Also, the rest of the Bible clearly condemns rape.
Sexual immorality, such as rape, is a serious sin (1 Cor. 6:9-19) and a characteristic of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19-21). It is a sign of those who are under God’s judgement (v.9-11) and Christians are told to flee from it (v.18).
The Bible reports sinful behavior such as rape. Like history books and the news media, the Bible doesn’t necessarily approve all it reports. Also, much of the Bible is descriptive and not prescriptive. Clearly, the bible condemns rape as a serious sin. To claim otherwise is to misinterpret the text and context of these Scriptures.
Written, May 2013
I received a comment on my blog claiming that the Hebrew language didn’t exist until the Jewish exile in Babylon. So, what does the evidence say?
According to the Bible, all people spoke the same language until around 2200 BC when God caused different languages to develop at Babel and people scattered to form different nations across the earth (Gen. 11:1-9). This was the source of the diversity of human languages.
The Hebrew nation settled in Canaan in the 14th century BC. They occupied Canaan until the first Jewish captives were deported to Babylon in 605 BC and the second wave were exiled in 586 BC when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed (Dan. 1; 2 Ki. 25).
According to Wikipedia, the Siloam inscription records the construction of Hezekiah’s tunnel. The NIV Study Bible states that Hezekiah was king of Judah between 715 BC and 686 BC (2 Ki. 18:1-2). The tunnel, leading from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, was designed as an aqueduct to provide Jerusalem with water during an impending siege by the Assyrians, led by Sennacherib (2 Ki. 20:20; 2 Chr. 32:30). The inscription, which was discovered in the tunnel in 1880 and has been dated at 701 BC, is written in the “Biblical Hebrew” language, which uses the ancient Hebrew alphabet. So here we have a written example of the Hebrew language that dates at least 100 years before the Jewish exile.
Hebrew belongs to the Semantic family of languages which were used in the middle east. Geographically it was a Canaanite language like Phoenician, Ugaritic and Moabite. The Bible notes that Jacob’s language was different to Aramaic (Gen. 31:47). Scholars believe that Hebrew was spoken in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah during the 10th to 7th centuries BC.
Therefore, the reader’s comment seems to be inconsistent with the evidence available. It can be shown that the Hebrew language originated well before the Babylonian exile. In fact, Wikipedia claims that there is evidence of “Biblical Hebrew” as far back as the 10th century BC, which extends to the days of king David (2 Sam. 5:4). The Gezer calendar is dated in this time period.
Written, March 2013
When the armies of three nations ran out of water they sought the help of Elisha the prophet (2 Ki. 3:9-27). Elisha received a message from God saying that He would use a miracle to provide water for themselves and their animals. This happened on the following morning and God also used the appearance of the water to defeat their enemy. So God did more than they requested (Eph. 3:20).
The first part of God’s message as given in verse 16 has been translated in two ways:
- “Make this valley full of ditches” (NKJV). This emphasises that the armies were to dig the ditches (or pits) and then the Lord would provide the water.
- “I will fill this valley with pools of water” (NIV). This emphasises that God would provide the water.
See link for a comparison between different translations and a translation note from the New English Translation (NET). Here we see that both alternatives occur in more than one translation. The difference depends on whether the command is assumed to be literal or hyperbolic (a figure of speech). It has also been said that in this context “ditches” (or pits) and “pools” are nearly synonymous.
Possible applications to the two alternative translations are:
- Pray, listen to God and do all you can to accomplish His purposes, while trusting God to act.
- Pray and then wait and trust God to act.
Written, February 2013
What did Jesus mean when He said He would not eat the Passover again until it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Lk. 22:16)?
This statement is included in a description of how Jesus celebrated the Jewish Passover festival with His disciples just before He was executed.
When the hour came, Jesus and His apostles reclined at the table. And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God”. After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Lk. 22:14-18NIV).
The Lord looked forward to this occasion because it was the last Passover that He would share with His disciples and the last Passover of His first advent on earth. He also looked ahead to the kingdom of God. The previous mention of the “kingdom of God” in the book of Luke is associated with a description of Christ’s second advent (Lk. 21:25-31). This means that the next time He would be on earth to celebrate such a Jewish festival would be during His millennial kingdom, after His second advent on earth (Rev. 20:1-6). Jesus would eat no more Passover meals until this time.
Link to outline of events associated with the second advent.
As He is talking about a physical meal (v.15-16) and a physical drink (v.17-18), the Lord is addressing a future physical kingdom and not a spiritual one. At this time, the temple will be rebuilt, the Jewish priesthood restored and the Israelites will occupy their promised land (Ezek. Ch. 40-48). They will also resume Jewish festivals like the Passover (Ezek. 45:21). So, the future Passover is also physical like it was in the Old Testament (OT) times.
In the New Testament Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and “our Passover lamb” who “has been sacrificed” (Jn. 1:29, 1 Cor. 5:7). Through His sacrificial death on the cross He paid the penalty for our sin. In this way, Jesus was like the Passover lamb, which died as a substitute (Ex. 12:21-30). Furthermore, He was crucified on Passover day. But the fact that Christ has delivered sinners from hell and been victorious over Satan and the forces of evil will not be evident until He returns in great power to establish His kingdom on earth.
How is the Passover “fulfilled in the kingdom of God”? As the Israelites escape from slavery wasn’t realised until the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, so Christ’s victory over Satan will not be complete until Satan’s forces are defeated at the triumphant second advent (Rev. 19:11-21). The purpose of the Passover was so the Israelites could settle in Canaan as God’s people, living according to His commands. But because they disobeyed and rebelled against God over many years, God allowed them to be invaded and scattered to foreign countries. After this God predicted the Gentile kingdoms that would rule over the Jews, culminating with a promise to establish His eternal kingdom on earth (Dan. 2:44). So the victory that began with the first Passover in Egypt and was remembered whenever the Jewish Passover festival was celebrated will be ultimately finalised when Christ’s millennial kingdom is established on earth.
Soon after this passage in Luke, Jesus referred to the “kingdom of God” once again when He promised that the disciples would reign over the earth in the coming kingdom (Lk. 22:29-30; Rev. 5:9-10). So at this Passover, Christ looked ahead to the fulfilment of God’s purposes. Likewise, at the Lord’s Supper believers today look back to the Lord’s death and ahead to His coming again (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
At the Passover the OT Jews remembered their rescue from slavery in Egypt, whereas in the coming kingdom Jewish believers will remember that through the death of Christ, they have been rescued from the penalty of their sin.
In summary, Jesus hasn’t eaten the Passover since He ascended into heaven. Only after He returns to the earth as king to establish the kingdom of God on earth will He be able to celebrate the Passover again. The rescue mission that began with the Passover, which was a foretaste of Christ’s death, will be completed and evident to the universe at the second advent of Christ and in His subsequent kingdom.
Written, February 2013
Also see: An outline of future events
Welfare for the poor
I have received this question about the Bible: It seems that slavery was condoned in the Bible and there were forced marriages with captive women, which seems inconsistent with a God who is against abortion and offers forgiveness to sinners … I ask these hard questions for myself as well as unbelievers who use this to justify their hatred of God and the Bible.
According to the dictionary, a slave is a person who is completely dominated by their owner and works without payment. The word “slavery” implies hardship, exploitation and lack of freedom. Slaves are different to servants or employees who are paid a wage and have the freedom to leave their employment. Let’s look at what the Old Testament has to say on this topic.
“Slavery” in the Bible
Slavery was prevalent in ancient times. People could become slaves due to poverty or warfare or being born to slaves (Ex. 21:4; Eccl. 2:7). The English word “slave” or related words occur in 65-310 verses in the Bible, depending on the translation (see below). Translations with lower frequency use the word “servant” where the others have “slave”. The Hebrew word is “ebed” (Strongs #5650), which describes one who serves another as a slave.
The Old Testament describes the history of the Israelites, who were God’s chosen people. Their first instance of slavery was when Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites who in turn sold him to Potiphar in Egypt (Gen. 37:28, 36; 39:17, 19). This included being imprisoned for over two years (Ex. 41:1; Ps. 105:17). After he was freed, his father’s family moved to Egypt because of a famine.
Before this time, God told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved in a foreign country, which was Egypt (Gen. 15:13-14; Acts 7:6-7). As they felt threatened by Jacob’s numerous descendants, the Egyptians subjected them to slavery (Ex. 1:6-14). Under their slave masters the Israelites constructed buildings and worked in the fields. They were beaten by the Egyptians (Ex. 2:11; 5:14). It was forced labour and a life of oppression, suffering and misery (Ex. 2:23; 3:7; 5:6, 10, 13, 14; 6:6). This continued during the 40 years when Moses was in Midian. After they cried to God for help, He promised to deliver them from the slavery (Ex. 2:23-25; 3:7-10; 6:6-8). The Israelites were finally delivered after the ten plagues and God miraculously lead the exodus towards Canaan (Ex. 13:20-22).
Afterwards they were to remember they were slaves in Egypt (Dt. 16:12; 24:22) and that God brought them out of slavery in Egypt (Ex. 20:2; Lev 26:13; Dt. 5:6, 15; 6:12, 21; 7:8; 8:11; 13:5, 10; 15:15; 16:12; Dt. 5:6, 15; 6:12, 21; 7:8; 8:14; 13:5, 10; 15:5; 24:18; Josh. 24:17; Jud. 6:8; Jer. 34:13; Mi. 6:4). At the Passover festival they celebrated their release from slavery (Ex. 13:3, 14).
The Israelites then travelled to Canaan where they eventually divided into two kingdoms, with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. At times they were enslaved by the Arameans (Syrians), the Phoenicians (Tyre & Sidon) and Philistia (2 Ki. 5:2; Joel 3:4-6, Amos 1:6). Over a 10-year period the Assyrians attacked Israel until they were conquered and deported to Assyria (2 Ki. 15:29; 17:3-6; 18:9-12; 1 Chron. 5:26). This was God’s punishment for their idolatry (2 Ki. 17:7-23). So the Israelites were slaves to the cruel Assyrians.
Then the Assyrians attacked Judah, but God delivered them (2 Ki. 18:13-19:37). Later Isaiah predicted that they would be conquered and deported to Babylon (2 Ki. 20:16-18). This was fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and took prisoners back to Babylon where they were captive for at least 70 years (2 Ki. 24:12-1; 25:1-21; 2 Chr. 36:20). Next they were slaves to the Persians (Ez. 9:7-9; Neh. 9:36-37), followed by the Syrians and Egyptians in the inter-testament period. In fact from this time until 1948, Judea was always ruled by other nations.
What’s it like to be a slave? In Psalm 123 the captives in Babylon plead to God for deliverance. They had endured contempt and ridicule from the Babylonians.
So God used slavery to get the Israelites out of Egypt so they could settle in Canaan. He also used slavery as punishment for their idolatry in Canaan. In more recent times, He used the Nazi holocaust, which was worse than slavery, to give Judea back to them in 1948.
When a criminal is convicted of a serious crime, they are sentenced to gaol where they lose their freedom. Gaol or prison is a form of slavery, which I will call penal slavery.
The earliest mention of slavery in the Bible is when Noah cursed Canaan; “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers” (Gen. 9:24-27NIV). The descendants of Canaan were extremely wicked (Gen. 15:16; Dt. 9:4-5; 18:9-13). That’s why they were cursed to be slaves. Because of their wickedness, the Canaanites were to be driven from their lands or destroyed when the Israelites settled in Canaan (Ex. 23:23, 31). But some Canaanites remained in the land and these were used by Solomon to built the temple, the palace, and the city walls (1 Ki. 5:15; 9:15-22; 2 Chr. 2:17-18; 8:1-9; Eccl. 2:4-7). Also the Gibeonites (Canaanites who deceived the Israelites) were woodcutters and water carriers for the tabernacle (Josh. 9:23-25). So the prediction was fulfilled when the Canaanites were slaves to the Israelites. In this case the Canaanites were better off than otherwise – as they hadn’t escaped to another country they should have been killed during the Israelite invasion of Canaan.
The Canaanite slavery to the Israelites and the Israelite slavery to Babylonia were both examples of penal slavery. A thief who couldn’t make restitution for their crime was also to become a penal slave (Ex. 22:1-3).
How other nations treated slaves
Samson lived when the Israelites were ruled by the Philistines. He had great strength and killed many Philistines. When the Philistines finally captured Samson they gouged out his eyes and bound him with bronze shackles in prison where he worked grinding grain (Jud. 16:21). That was slave labor!
When the Ammonites besieged an Israelite city, they would only agree to a treaty if the right eye of the Israelites was gouged out (1 Sam. 11:2). Fortunately that didn’t happen! Also, when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, they put out king Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon (Jer. 39:7).
When the Amalekites attacked Israel, they abandoned an Egyptian slave when he became ill (1 Sam. 30:13). After he had been without food or water for three days, David gave him food and water.
Other nations were slave traders – they traded slaves for merchandise (Ez. 27:15). So these nations were cruel to their captives.
How Israelites were to treat slaves
So far we have seen that because slavery was prevalent in ancient times, it is recorded in the Bible. Just because something is mentioned in the Bible doesn’t mean that God approved it. But what does God say to His chosen people about slavery?
If we can’t meet the repayments on a car or house, they are repossessed. If we are made bankrupt, we are restricted from business ownership and overseas travel and required to repay our debts before we can be discharged. In a world without government welfare and charities, God put laws in place to protect poor Israelites (Lev. 25:35-38). They were to be helped with no-interest loans and sold food at cost. So a Jew could not profit from the poverty of a fellow Jew. But God also put some other provisions in place.
“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God” (Lev. 25:39-43).
Here we see that a Jew could repay their debt though physical labor. But they were to be treated as household employees or indentured servants, not as slaves. In this way, adults or children could become slaves to pay debts (2 Ki. 4:1; Neh. 5:4-8).
“If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you and serve you six years, in the seventh year you must let them go free. And when you release them, do not send them away empty-handed. Supply them liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to them as the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today” (Dt. 15:12-15; Ex. 21:1-4; Jer. 34:14).
Debt slaves were to be released after working six years or in the Sabbath Year or in the Year of Jubilee if that came earlier (Dt. 15:1-11). This meant that they could not be enslaved for more than six years. They were not to be perpetual slaves. The reason they were to be released was because God said, “the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt” (Lev. 25:55). The slave was to be released with provisions to ensure they didn’t fall straight back into debt. The NIV Bible calls this slave a “servant”, presumably because they are treated more like an employee than a traditional slave. As employees like servants don’t sell themselves to their employer, this is a form of slavery which I will call debt slavery. It is like a debt repayment scheme. After the work was done, they were freed. After all, Solomon said that“the borrower is slave to the lender (Prov. 22:7).
“But if your servant says to you, ‘I do not want to leave you,’ because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his earlobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. Do the same for your female servant” (Dt. 15:16-17).
In this instance, we have a debt slave who is about to be released. Instead, they chose to continue working for their master or owner because of the good conditions and lack of oppression. This is a form of household slavery which I will call voluntary slavery. As noted earlier, the NIV calls this type of slave a “servant”. The hole in their earlobe was the sign of a voluntary Jewish slave.
Prisoners of war are captive to the victors (Num. 31:7-9; Dt. 20:14; 21:10). This is a form of slavery which I will call captive slavery. For example, the Jews were captives of the Babylonians. As the Israelites were not meant to enslave Canaanites and they didn’t usually get involved in distant wars, this would not have been a significant source of slaves in Israel. But when God used Israel to punish wicked nations, the survivors were often captive slaves. The Canaanites mentioned previously were captive slaves. Also, captured Ammonites were Israel’s laborers (2 Sam. 12:31). Such captives could be taxed by their new ruler and used to provide labor and military forces (2 Sam. 8:2).
The Israelites slaves were to come from other nations, not from Israel (Lev. 25:44-46). When the kingdom of Israel defeated Judah they intended to take the men and women as slaves (2 Chron. 28:5-15). But after they were confronted, the Judeans were freed. However, the Jews did have Jewish slaves when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and one of the reasons for the Babylonian captivity was that the Israelite salves had not been released after serving for six years, as God had commanded (Jer. 34:8-22).
Captive slaves were often penal slaves. For example, Israelite idolatry led to Philistine and Ammonite oppression (Jud. 10:6-10; 13:1). This captivity was part of God’s judgement of wickedness.
Rights and privileges
In all the above cases, the owners of Jewish slaves were commanded, “Do not rule over them ruthlessly” (Lev. 25:43, 46, 53). What a contrast to the cruelty of other nations in Biblical times and in world history!
The Jews were to give a foreign slave refuge and protect fugitive slaves rather than returning them to an owner (Dt. 23:15-16). Slaves were to share many of the privileges of others in the household. They were to rest on the Sabbath day and could eat the Passover if circumcised and celebrate Jewish festivals (Ex. 12:44; 23:12; Dt. 5:14; 12:12; 16:10-11, 13-14). A priest’s slave could eat of the offerings, which was prohibited for an employee (Lev. 22:10-11).
Although foreign debt slaves could be bought and owned as a person’s property and passed on to subsequent generations (Lev. 25:44-46), they were to be loved and treated as fellow citizens (Lev. 19:34; Dt. 10:19).
What about allowing a slave to be beaten (Ex. 21:20-21, 26-27)? Slaves were given similar rights to free citizens; the punishment for mistreating a slave was the same as for a free person. There were laws giving punishment if a slave was injured or killed and if a man slept with another’s female slave (Lev. 19:20-22). There was a penalty of death for kidnapping an Israelite into slavery (Ex. 21:16; Dt. 24:7).
What about forced marriages? Marriage contracts allowed a family to find a better life for their daughter (Ex. 21:7-11). In a world when most marriages were arranged by the parents, a young girl could be sold as a maidservant so she could be a potential wife or concubine in a wealthy family. The payment could be viewed as a bride price that was paid to the parents of the bride. She was adopted until the marriage was completed. If she became a concubine or wife in a wealthy family she would be better off than in poverty. In this case the woman was to be treated in the same way as any wife or concubine; she was not a sex slave. Whether or not she became a concubine or wife, her rights and privileges were to be protected.
When the Israelites were travelling to Canaan the Moabite and Midianite women enticed the Israelite men into idolatry and immorality (Num. 25:1-18). This resulted in a plague that killed 23,000 Israelites in one day (1 Cor. 10:8). God told the Israelites to take vengeance on the Midianites. So an army of 12,000 men killed all the Midianite soldiers and captured women and children (Num. 31:1-47). But Moses said that because it was the women who had caused the Israelites to sin, they must be killed and only the virgin women kept as the spoil of battle (Num. 31:18, 25-47). These women probably became household slaves; there is no evidence that they were forced into marriage. After all, it is recorded that there were slave girls in David’s household (2 Sam. 6:20, 22).
An Israelite could marry a foreign female prisoner of war if she was not a Canaanite (Dt. 21:10-14). The marriage was of a probationary nature because he could let her go wherever she wished if he was not pleased with her. However, he could not sell her as a slave. This form of captive slavery seems like forced marriage, but it would probably be better for the woman than slavery in a foreign nation. What would you rather be: a wife or a slave? The woman who was released from the marriage also seems to be better off than a slave because she could “go wherever she wished”.
Liberation from slavery
Slaves long for deliverance and release from slavery and suffering into a life of freedom and joy. Debt slaves could be released and redeemed by the payment of a ransom price. If girl slaves didn’t become a concubine or wife, they could be redeemed (Ex. 21:8). The value of a slave was 30 pieces of silver, similar to the amount paid to Judas Iscariot (Ex. 21:32; Mt. 26:15)!
God redeemed (freed) the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 6:6; Dt. 7:8). Jeremiah predicted that God would also redeem them from captivity in Babylon (Jer. 31:11). If Jews were slaves to a foreigner living in Israel, they could be released in the Year of Jubilee or earlier if they were redeemed by a relative (Lev. 25:47-55).
God’s attitude to slavery in the Old Testament is like His view of divorce. Jesus said, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Mt. 19:8). Both slavery and divorce were not God’s plan, but He gave practical ways to deal with them.
The Old Testament regulated “slavery” in Israel by removing the oppression, cruelty, exploitation and racism that is usually associated with it. Instead they were to be treated as employees and given opportunities for liberation. “Debt slavery” was a form of welfare, an employment contract that was a repayment scheme which saved the poor from starving and was so good that it could lead to “voluntary slavery”, which was a form of lifetime employment. “Penal slavery” and “captive slavery” were sentences for wickedness. In all these cases there was a loss of freedom for the good of the person and society.
So “slavery” in Israel was different to that in other nations. This type of “slavery” was different to what is usually called slavery, which makes it difficult to translate the Hebrew word “ebed” (Strongs #5650). As we don’t have an English word for it, many Bibles use the word “servant” instead of “slave”.
Slavery was an important part of Jewish history. Joseph was a slave who reached an exalted position. Jesus took “the very nature of a servant (or the humble position of a slave)” when on earth, but has now been exalted to the highest place (Phil. 2:7-9). The Jewish Passover was a celebration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt. The Lord’s Supper is a celebration of our liberation from slavery to sin.
So debt slavery as described in the Old Testament is largely an example of God’s compassion for the poor and disadvantaged people in their community.
Written, February 2013
According to the Bible, Abraham left polytheism to follow the God who made the universe. Abraham lived about 2,000 BC and he and his descendants were known as Hebrews (Gen. 14:13). In fact the Pentateuch was written by Moses in the Hebrew language. Isaac was Abraham’s son and Jacob his grandson. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel (Gen. 32:28; 46:1). Since this time Israel’s descendants were known as the children of Israel or Israel or Israelites. Israel’s family moved to Egypt where his son Joseph was second in command to the Pharaoh. In Egypt the Israelites grew to 2 million people when they subsequently migrated to Canaan in the Middle East under the leadership of Moses and Joshua.
After the Israelites invaded Canaan, they were ruled by the kings Saul, David and Solomon. King David lived about 1,000 BC. After this, the kingdom was divided into two, with 10 tribes in the northern kingdom of Israel and two in the southern kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 10). Samaria was the capital of Israel and Jerusalem the capital of Judah.
The Hebrew word “Yehudi” (“Jew” in English; Strongs #3063) is derived from the name Judah, who was one of Jacob’s twelve sons. Judah was the ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel, which was named after him. Originally, the word referred to members of the tribe of Judah, but later it described anyone from the kingdom of Judah (2 Ki. 16:6; Est. 2:5).
In 722 BC, Samaria was conquered by the Assyrians and the Israelites were dispersed into surrounding nations (2 Ki. 17). As they assimilated and now have no national identity, they are known as the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel”.
In 598 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia invaded Judah and in 586 B.C. Jerusalem was destroyed. Many of the Jews were taken to exile in Babylon. When the Persians conquered Babylon in 538 BC, the Persian King Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to their homelands and many returned to Judah. After the Babylonian exile, “Jew” replaced “Israelite” as the most widely-used term for these survivers. This was because, by that time, virtually all Israelites were descendants of the kingdom of Judah. Also, the Jewish religion was known as Judaism.
After Jerusalem was rebuilt, Judea was ruled by the Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians and Romans. Although the terms “Hebrew” and “Israelite” continued in use into the New Testament period (Rom. 9:4; 2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5), by then the term “Jew” was more commonly used. At His death, the Romans referred to Jesus as the “king of the Jews” (Mt. 27:37).
In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and in 134 AD the Romans attacked again and the Jews were killed, enslaved and dispersed to surrounding countries including Europe and North Africa. Since this time, Judea has been ruled by the Byzantine Empire, the Islamic Empire, the Crusaders, the Mamluk Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire. The Jews were persecuted and driven out of many regions culminating in the holocaust. Despite these difficulties, the Jews maintained their identity, even in foreign lands. The need to find a homeland for Jewish refugees led to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
How amazing – the Jews survived 1,900 years of exile! No other people has ever gone into exile and survived this long and returned to re-establish a national homeland. And the Jews went into exile twice! They also survived the persecutions of the the Hamans and Hitlers of this world (Est. 3:1-15). Surely this is evidence of the Bible’s inspiration, and of the existence of the God who promised to preserve the Jews, return them to their homeland, and bring them to a time of great national blessing in the last days.
In common speech, the word “Jew” is now used to refer to all of the descendants of Abraham and those who adhere to Judaism.
Written January 2013
I heard a preacher say that grace and mercy are two sides of the same coin. What did he mean? And was he right?
The mercy rule used in sports such as baseball is an act of mercy to cease a game when one team has a huge lead. One of the acts of mercy in the Bible is when an offender or enemy is forgiven or pardoned by withholding punishment.
According to the Bible, because we have all sinned, we deserve to die and face eternal judgment in the lake of fire (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; Rev. 20:12-15). Without God we are spiritually dead and doomed to eternal punishment (Eph. 2:1-3). But that is not the end of the story. God had a rescue plan!
The greatest example of mercy in the Bible is God’s act of mercy in forgiving and pardoning the sins of humanity: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Ps. 32:1NIV); “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 11:10).
We see God’s mercy in His plan to rescue us from the death and judgement that we deserve. Our sins can be forgiven because Jesus took the death penalty on our behalf. This is an example of mercy – delivering someone from a penalty. So we have a God who is rich in mercy (Eph.2:4).
What prompted God to be merciful? He chose to act this way – it was entirely voluntary (Ex. 34:6; Jas. 1:18). It was an example of grace, which is an undeserved favor.
But that is not the end. God has done more than this for us. Christians are not only rescued, they will also be rewarded. Usually only the rescuer is rewarded, but in this case those who are rescued are rewarded! The believer’s reward is to be resurrected to have bodies that will not die and to be with God eternally in a world without sin (Eph. 2:6). They are now children of God and co-heirs with Christ (Jn. 1:12; 1; Rom. 8:17; Jn. 3:1). This is an example of grace – receiving a gift beyond our wildest expectations.
What are “two sides of the same coin”? The two sides of a coin are different with respect to their inscription and image, but they are similar in sharing the metal that comprises the coin. So they share a difference and a similarity.
Are mercy and grace “two sides of the same coin”? They are different because mercy is God not punishing us as our sins deserve, and grace is God rewarding us although we do not deserve it. Mercy is deliverance from judgment. Grace is favor to the unworthy.
How are mercy and grace similar? Clearly mercy and grace are two essential components of God’s plan of salvation. They are both gifts that cannot be earnt, but are received by faith in Jesus Christ. In this way, mercy and grace are two sides of the same coin.
However, a sandwich may be a better illustration of mercy and grace than a coin. As God’s great act of mercy was preceded and followed by God’s grace, God’s mercy is sandwiched between two examples of God’s grace. For example, in Psalm 103, God’s mercy is described as “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (v.10), and is preceded and followed by references to God’s grace, compassion and love (v.4, 8, 11, 13).
Jesus can also supply the mercy and grace we need for daily life: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
Written, December 2012
Infant death is agonizing and raises many questions. The Bible teaches that we are sinful from birth and childhood: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5; 58:3NIV). “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood (Gen. 8:21). We are all sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). So infants are never innocent in the sense of being sinless. This is serious because spiritual death is a bigger issue than physical death. It leads to eternal separation from God, which is the opposite of eternal life (Jn. 3:16; Rom 6:23).
Three Bible verses teach that infants are not accountable for their sin. Firstly, when the Israelites rebelled and refused to enter Canaan, they were punished with all their army except Joshua and Caleb dying while they wandered 38 years in the desert. At this time God promised that their young children would enter Canaan, “And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it” (Dt. 1:39, Num. 14:31). Because they did not yet know good from bad, they were not responsible or accountable for the Israelites’ disobedience.
Secondly, when the king of Judah was being attacked by the kings of Syria and Israel, he was given a sign that his enemies would be defeated by Assyria. Isaiah was to have a son and before he “knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right” the land of the two kings will be laid waste (Isa. 7:14-16). Children who are not accountable do not know the difference between right and wrong or good and evil. They are not yet aware of their sinful condition or God’s cure.
Thirdly, when God rebuked Jonah, He similarly distinguished between young children and adults,“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jon. 4:11).
God judges people who haven’t heard the gospel message according to their response to the revelation of His eternal power and divine nature in the universe He created (Rom. 1:19-21). If they can discern what God has made, they have no excuse. However, if they are unable to discern what God has made (which is true for infants), then they have an excuse and will be saved instead of judged.
At what age can a child respond to God’s revelation in creation (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15-16)? It is the age at which they can understand the issue and respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in their life (Jn. 16:8-9). It is when they can recognize His works of creation and choose to accept, honor and thank Him (Rom. 1:21). Those who die at a younger age go to heaven rather than be condemned to spiritual death.
Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for … the sins of the whole world’ (1 Jn. 2:2). As a loving and merciful God, it is reasonable to assume that He accepts Christ’s payment for the sin of those who are unable to understand God’s revelation and their sinful state such as babies and young children. After all, Abraham said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). But once children reach the age of God-consciousness, they are accountable for their sin.
We will now look at some other Scriptures that are sometimes used to answer this question.
Age of accountability
As all the Israelites over the age of 20 died in the desert before they reached Canaan, except for Joshua and Caleb, some think this is the age of accountability for one’s sins (Num. 14:29). However, this was the age above which men served in the army (Num. 1:3; 26:2; Josh. 5:4, 6). They were punished, not because 20 was the age of accountability, but because instead of serving the Lord by taking possession of Canaan, they grumbled against the Lord.
When Bathsheba’s baby died, David stopped fasting and said “Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). Some believe that David believed that when he died he would go to heaven where his son would be. However, it is more likely that David was referring to death or the grave, not to heaven. There is little in the Old Testament about life after death. Job may have believed in a future resurrection (Job. 14:13-15) and the psalmists allude to an after-life (Ps. 16:10-11; 17:15; 49:14-15). The clearest passage is Daniel 12:2-3.
Some believe that when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”, He was saying that the little children belong to the kingdom of heaven and so would go to heaven if they died (Mt. 19:14; Mk. 10:14; Lk. 18:16). However, the verse seems to be explained in the following verse as “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mk. 10:15; Lk. 18:17). In the case of Matthew this thought is given in Mt. 18:3. The emphasis is that child-like faith is required to enter the kingdom of God, not that young children belong to the kingdom of heaven.
So infants go to heaven when they die, but what about us? We can join them in future by realizing our sinfulness and believing that Jesus Christ has taken the penalty for our sin (Acts 16:31).
Written, November 2012
Promise and judgment
Recently I was asked this question about the Bible: I was wondering, what about the parts of the Bible that say that God ordained for the Israelites to slaughter so many people. Yes, I understand that was God’s judgment on a wicked people, but that doesn’t explain slaughtering innocent children, and in some cases of wiping out a people. It seems inconsistent with a God who is against abortion and offers forgiveness to sinners. I agree that wholesale slaughter of nations seems incompatible with a God of love and mercy. It’s an argument that is often brought against the Old Testament.
The context of the Israelite invasion of Canaan begins with Abram who was in the 20th generation of life on earth. Abram was given many promises including that his descendants would be a great nation, the Jews who were God’s special people on earth. They were to be different and separate to the other nations: “you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession” (Dt. 7:6NIV). The Israelites were given special laws to follow, including “You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices” (Lev. 18:2-3).
In the 10th generation, Noah cursed his grandson Canaan (Gen. 9:25), which was an act of divine judgment. As the Old Testament is an account of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel, we will see that Israel as God’s representatives on earth was to be involved with the judgment of the sins of the Canaanites.
When Abram travelled to Canaan, God told him, “To your offspring I will give this land” forever (Gen. 12:7; 13:15; 17:8; 1 Chron. 16:15-18). God confirmed this promise in a covenant: “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it” (Gen 15:7). The promise was repeated to Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses (Gen. 50:24-25; Ex. 6:8). This was an unconditional promise (Ps. 105:8-11). It was like a grant given by a king to a loyal subject.
What land would they receive? “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites” (Gen. 15:18-21). They were to be given the land of Canaan that was occupied by these nations.
When would this happen? “Know for certain that for 400 years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there (Egypt). But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions … In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:13-16). So under the leadership of Moses, the Israelites would leave Egypt and travel to occupy Canaan. Note that the timing of being given the land was when the sin of the Amorites was fully developed. This is explained in Deuteronomy, “it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you” (Dt. 9:4).
Sins of the Canaanites
The Bible describes the wickedness of the Canaanite nations: “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you” (Dt. 18:9-12).
Their sexual immorality is described in Leviticus 18 as detestable. The Israelites were told “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Lev. 18:24-25). They were also warned against child sacrifice to the god Molek (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5) and against religious prostitution (1 Ki. 14:24; Dt. 23:17).
So the Canaanites were characterised by extreme wickedness, like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. They have been likened to a cancer in society. In such situations, God gives a warning of His judgment. In the days of Abraham they had the witness of Melchizedek the king-priest of Salem (Jerusalem) (Gen. 14:19-20) and the judgment of Sodom and Gormorrah (Gen. 19:1-29).
Before Jericho was destroyed, Rahab told the spies, “I know that the LORD has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Josh. 2:8-11). They knew about God’s promise – the land grant – made over 400 years before and were fearful because of the exodus 40 years beforehand when the God of the Israelites defeated the Egyptians, who were the most powerful nation at that time. This fear had been predicted (Ex. 15:14-17). They also knew about the Israelites recent military victories. Most people would flee when their country was invaded by a stronger army (Jer. 4:29; 6:1). The Amorite and Canaanite kings were also afraid because they knew that God had dried up the Jordan river so the Israelites could cross over (Josh. 5:1). As the Israelite invasion would be gradual (“little by little”), the Canaanites had plenty of time to escape (Ex. 23:30; Dt. 7:22). So they knew what was coming and they could either repent of their ways or escape by migrating out of the land of Canaan.
God had promised that the Israelites would occupy the land of Canaan. When we look at how this is described in the Bible we see two kinds of words: the Canaanite nations were both “driven out” and “destroyed”. What does this mean? We see that the Canaanites had a choice, either migrate before the Israelites arrive or be executed. It was an eviction, not a genocide. This meant that the wicked Canaanite culture and nation was to be destroyed, but most of the people could be assimilated into the surrounding nations. Also, it was to protect the Israelites from being influenced by the Canaanite idolatry and wickedness.
For example, God said, “I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you” and “I will wipe them out” (Ex. 23:23, 31). The people were to be banished or killed and their idols destroyed. To avoid idolatry, there were to be no treaties and intermingling: “Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against Me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you” (Ex. 23:32-33). More detail is given in Deuteronomy and Numbers: “you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them” (Dt. 7:2-3); “drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess” (Num. 33:52-53); “in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God” (Dt. 20:16-18).
So the Canaanites were to be driven out of the land (Lev. 18:24-25) and those who refused to leave were to be executed as judgment of their wickedness and to minimise the chance of the Israelites catching their wicked ways. It was an expulsion, not an extermination. As some always escaped and migrated elsewhere, there were no instances of “wiping out a people”.
Later when the Israelites followed the idolatry of the Canaanites, they were also evicted from Canaan and deported to Babylon (Lev. 18:28)!
Was this fair? Was it consistent with the ways of God?
God’s revelation to those who have not heard the gospel
According to Paul, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:18-20).
This passage describes people like the Canaanites. They could see the works of God in the created world. A creation requires a creator, it can’t create itself, and it doesn’t happen by accident or just by the physical laws of this world. The immensity and magnificence of the created world requires a creator with power and knowledge that greatly exceeds those of humanity. This should be obvious. There is no excuse for not realising that a powerful being has made the universe.
However, people rejected and suppressed this truth and foolishly worshipped idols (Rom. 1:21-32). Their gods were created things instead of the One who created everything. This led to sexual immorality and other sinful behaviour. That’s why the Canaanites were under God’s wrath and judgment. God was fair, He had revealed Himself in His creation and then He waited 400 years while the Israelites were in Egypt. God was patient in judgment (2 Pt. 3:9). He allowed evil to run its course and allowed plenty of time for repentance. Instead of turning to God, the Canaanites turned to increased sinfulness. Physical death was one of the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:19). In this instance, people died prematurely during the Israelite invasion. This means of death discontinued after the Israelites were defeated and captured by the Babylonians. After their captivity, God’s people were not required to kill so they could occupy the promised land.
In the instance of Sodom and Gomorrah, God said he would not destroy these cities if there were ten righteous people there (Gen 18:32). As He enabled Lot’s family to escape this destruction and Rahab’s family to be protected at Jericho (Josh. 6:25), we can infer that all the Canaanites who died had rejected God’s revelation and decided to stay and oppose the Israelites.
What about the children?
We have seen that the Canaanite inhabitants, including children, were either driven out or killed to prevent intermarriage and idolatry (Dt. 7:3-4; 20:16-18). Otherwise, the children who were killed would have probably followed the ways of their parents who were the leaders and those deeply involved in the Canaanite culture.
Also, with respect to idolatry, God said He punishes “the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Num. 14:18; Dt. 5:9). Here we see that children suffer the consequences of their parent’s actions, which is also the case today. For example, if parents are involved in crime or drugs or are alcoholics, it affects the lives of their children. As they lived in extended households, more generations of the Israelites and Canaanites were victims of their family circumstances than would be the case today. For example, Achan’s family were stoned because of his disobedience – the plunder was put under the family tent (Josh. 7:20-25). Household members share in the fate or fortune of the parents, like collateral damage in a war. The fate of the Canaanite children depended on whether their parents migrated out of Canaan or stayed there. On the other hand, Rahab’s family were saved because they were in her house when Jericho was destroyed – they shared in Rahab’s fortune. We should blame the parents and not God for the “slaughtering of innocent children”.
The Bible teaches that we are sinful from birth: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5; 58:3). We are all sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). So children are never innocent in the sense of being sinless. This is serious because spiritual death is a bigger issue than physical death.
Three Bible verses teach that young children are not accountable for their sin. Firstly, when the Israelites rebelled and refused to enter Canaan, they were punished with all their army except Joshua and Caleb dying while they wandered 38 years in the desert. At this time God promised that their young children would enter Canaan, “And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it” (Dt. 1:39, Num. 14:31). Because they did not yet know good from bad, they were not responsible or accountable for the Israelites’ disobedience.
Secondly, when the king of Judah was being attacked by the kings of Syria and Israel, he was given a sign that his enemies would be defeated by Assyria. Isaiah was to have a son and before he “knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right” the land of the two kings will be laid waste (Isa. 7:14-16). Children who are not accountable do not know the difference between right and wrong or good and evil. They are not yet aware of their sinful condition or God’s cure.
Thirdly, when God rebuked Jonah, He similarly distinguished between children and adults,“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jon. 4:11).
At what age can a child respond to God’s revelation in creation (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15-16)? It is the age at which they can understand the issue and respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in their life (Jn. 16:8-9). It is when they can recognise His works of creation and choose to accept, honour and thank Him (Rom. 1:21). Those who die at a younger age go to heaven rather than be condemned to spiritual death.
Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for … the sins of the whole world’ (1 Jn. 2:2). As a loving and merciful God, it is reasonable to assume that He accepts Christ’s payment for the sin of those who are unable to understand God’s revelation and their sinful state such as young children. After all, Abraham said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). Once children reach the age of God-consciousness, they are accountable for their sin.
Lessons for us
What can we learn from this (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6, 11)?
Clearly, Israel’s God was greater than the false Canaanite gods, showing that there is only one true God (Isa. 43:10-12).
God kept His promise to the Israelites. It was a unique time when God established His kingdom across Canaan for a period of about 800 years, which was a foretaste of His future promised kingdom over all the earth for 1000 years. Also, God has given Christians many spiritual promises in the New Testament which He will also fulfil.
God punished the extreme wickedness of the Canaanites. This reminds us that sin has consequences. It results in physical and spiritual death. The only remedy is that eternal life is available for those who accept Christ’s gift of salvation.
God warned the Canaanites of the coming invasion and gave them plenty of time to escape. Today, the gospel message goes out and God is patiently waiting for people to turn to him (2 Pt. 3:9).
Household members, including children, shared the fortunes of their parents. We need to realise that our actions can have consequences for others.
Canaan was Israel’s promised inheritance, which was gained by their faith and obedience and lost by their disobedience. After being rescued (redeemed) from Egypt, because of their backsliding, most of the Israelites died before they reached Canaan. They succumbed to the temptations and trials of this sinful world. Canaan symbolises our present spiritual inheritance. God has given us many spiritual promises in the Bible. By claiming these and living lives in obedience to Scripture, we will be rewarded in heaven at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Let’s resist the temptations and claim God’s promises like the Israelites who claimed Canaan. It’s not easy, but God has supplied our weapons including; the truth in the Bible, our righteousness, the gospel, our faith in God, God’s salvation, the Bible and prayer (Eph. 6:10-20).
God’s main aim was to destroy the Canaanite religion, not the Canaanite people. This was to protect Israel from idolatry and the sins that were associated with idolatry. Likewise, we are told to flee idolatry (1 Cor. 10:1-14). When we are tempted, God will also provide a way out so that we can endure it. Christians are to be separate from all forms of sin, wickedness and idolatry such as are practiced by unbelievers. We are to flee from these like the Jewish exiles fled from idolatrous Babylon (2 Cor. 6:17).
So this unique period in history reminds us that God keeps His promises and judges sin.
Written, October 2012
The good thief went to “Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22NKJV). Are they two different places? Are they intermediate heavens or the real thing? And where do Christians go who die today?
Paul wrote that he had been “caught up to the third heaven”, which was “paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2-4NIV). In the New Testament, the Greek word “ouranos” (Strongs #3772) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and is used in three contexts: the earth’s atmosphere (Mt. 6:26), the realm of the stars (Heb. 11:12) and God’s dwelling place (Mt. 6:9; 12:50). So “paradise” is another name for the “heaven” where God is; they are synonyms. Furthermore, the term “third heaven” doesn’t mean that there are three levels or stages of heaven.
When Jesus died He committed His spirit to God the Father who lives in heaven (Lk. 23:46). This was soon after He told the good thief, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43). So Jesus and the good thief both went to heaven after they died. As their bodies were placed in graves, the part of them that went to heaven was their spirit and soul.
When Lazarus died, “angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (Lk. 16:22). For a Jew to be with Abraham would be a place of bliss. If the setting of the story is after Christ’s resurrection, “Abraham’s side” is synonymous with heaven. If the setting is earlier, then we need to look at the Old Testament. At the end of his life on earth, “Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Ki. 2:11). Although Elijah went to heaven without dying, this seems to indicate that at this time heaven would also be the destiny of the soul of the righteous after death, which supports “Abraham’s side” being synonymous with heaven. On the other hand, some say that the righteous of the Old Testament only went to heaven at Christ’s ascension. However, the passages they use to support this view are addressing Christ’s ascension and incarnation (Eph. 4:8-10) and His resurrection (Acts 2:27, 31), not events in the spirit world.
The three phases of the Christian’s life is described in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9. They are:
- When alive on earth, their spirit and soul are united with their body. This phase is ended by death when the spirit and soul separate from the body (Eccl. 12:6-7).
- Between death and the rapture, the spirit and soul are with Christ in heaven and the remains of the body are on earth.
- At the rapture, the body is resurrected and changed and reunited with the spirit and soul in heaven.
For the believer, death is described as being “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Paul said that “to die is gain” because it meant being “with Christ” (Phil. 1:21-23). Therefore, when Christians die their spirit and soul immediately go to be with Christ in heaven.
Written, June 2012
After Philip baptised the Ethiopian treasurer, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea” (Acts 8:39-40NIV). Was Philip miraculously transported to Azotus, a town that may have been 30 km away? Luke, the author of Acts, would have heard about this event directly from Philip as he stayed with him in Caesarea (Acts 21:8-9).
What happened to Philip is described by the Greek word harpazo (Strongs #726), which is translated above as “suddenly took”. The other occasion this word is used by Luke is when Paul was in Jerusalem and the Jews accused him of speaking against their religion: “The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10). Here harpazo is translated “take by force”. In both cases someone is suddenly moved away from where they were – it is as though someone has seized them. In the second case it was via means of the troops and in the first case it was via means of the Holy Spirit.
In this brief account we are told that Philip left the Ethiopian suddenly after the baptism at the direction of the Holy Spirit. There is no clear evidence in the text that any other miracle was involved and such a miracle is not necessary to explain what happened. For example, Philip could have been shown that he had to leave the Ethiopian immediately and then travelled by the normal means of transport to Azotus. After all, that’s what happened when Paul was directed by the Holy Spirit to travel to Macedonia instead of to Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6-10). In Paul’s case, they “got ready at once to leave for Macedonia”.
Philip’s sudden departure meant that the Ethiopian was unable to thank or reward Philip for his help. Instead of being occupied with the person God used to assist in his conversion, he was occupied with Christ as “he went on his way rejoicing”, which is much more important than Philip’s mode of travel.
Written, June 2012
The idea of seven heavens is found in Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. In Islam and Judaism, the divine throne is said to be in or above the seventh heaven. In Hinduism, the god Brahma lives in the seventh heaven. However, none of these ideas are mentioned in the Bible.
It is thought that the myth of seven heavens came from ancient astrologists who could identify seven great heavenly objects (the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) and assumed that each was moving in a separate heaven, in a series of layers above the earth. These were the only objects that people could see in the sky that moved with respect to the fixed stars. They gave us the names of the week: Sunday after the sun, Monday after the moon, and Tuesday to Friday after the Norse versions of Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus, and Saturday after Saturn.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “samayim” (Strongs #8064) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and has the following meanings according to the context in which the word is used:
- The earth’s atmosphere: “the rain had stopped falling from the sky” (Gen. 8:2NIV).
- The realm of the stars: “the stars in the sky” (Gen. 22:17).
- The dwelling place of God and the angels: “Hear from heaven, your [God’s] dwelling place” (2 Chron. 6:21).
Another expression representing the dwelling place of God is “the highest heaven” (literally the heaven of heavens): “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Dt. 10:14). This expression doesn’t represent multiple heavens, but the uniqueness of God’s home compared to the atmosphere and the stars.
In the New Testament, the Greek word “ouranos” (Strongs #3772) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and has the following meanings according to the context in which the word is used:
- The earth’s atmosphere: “the birds of the air” (Mt. 6:26).
- The realm of the stars: “the stars in the sky” (Heb. 11:12).
- The dwelling place of God and the angels: “Father in heaven” (Mt. 6:9; 12:50).
- God: “I have sinned against heaven [referring to God, by metonymy] and against you” (Lk. 15:18).
Christ’s incarnation and ascension is described as: “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens” (Eph. 4:10). This expression doesn’t represent multiple heavens, but the uniqueness of God’s home compared to the atmosphere and the stars.
Paul said that he was “caught up to the third heaven”, which was “paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2-4). If God’s dwelling place is the third heaven, then the other two heavens are the earth’s atmosphere and the universe beyond the earth.
So, the Bible refers to three different heavens, not seven heavens. These are three usages of the word “heaven”, not a series of layers above the earth. God dwells in the “highest heaven”, which is unique (Lk. 2:14). It is not necessarily physically uppermost or furthest from the earth, but it is superior and supreme. That is why Jesus is “exalted above the heavens”; He is greater than anything in the atmosphere and the rest of the universe (Heb. 7:26). Today, we mainly use the word “heaven” for God’s dwelling place.
Written, April 2012
Although sin separates us from a holy and sinless God, we can be grateful that our sins can be forgiven and forgotten (Ps. 32:5; 130:3-4; Heb. 10:17). Before answering the question, we should realise that there are two main types of confession and forgiveness in Scripture. One is when an unbeliever comes into faith in Christ and the other is when they confess sins committed subsequently as a believer.
In the first case, we face Jesus Christ as the judge and the penalty of our sins is spiritual death, which leads to hell. When this person confesses their sins they are forgiven by God because Christ’s death paid the penalty for their sinspast, present and future. Their destiny changes from hell to heaven and they can enjoy daily fellowship with God. This can be called judicial, unconditional or positional forgiveness, which happens once in a believer’s life (Rom. 8:1-2; Heb. 10:14).
In the second case, the person has sinned, but is spiritually alive. This is the situation in the case of the question. As part of God’s family on earth, they are separated from God the Father in terms of daily fellowship, but they are not separated from going to heaven as the penalty for their sin has already been paid. When this person confesses their sins they are forgiven by God because Christ’s death paid the penalty for all their sins and their daily fellowship with God our Father is restored. This can be called parental, conditional or practical forgiveness, which should occur regularly in a believer’s life (1 Jn. 1:5-2:2). This is the kind of forgiveness that the Lord’s disciples were to practise: “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt. 6:12, 14-15NIV). It includes forgiving others: God cannot forgive us when we are unwilling to forgive one another (Mk. 11:25; Lk. 6:37). If we fail to forgive one another, we will miss being rewarded when we get to heaven (Mt. 18:35).
The two types of forgiveness were illustrated when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (Jn. 13:2-10). As they wore open sandals, the disciples needed to wash their feet regularly after walking on dusty roads even though they may have bathed recently. The bath was like judicial forgiveness and the feet washing was like parental forgiveness.
William MacDonald summarized the differences between the two types of forgiveness as follows:
|Judicial forgiveness||Parental forgiveness|
|Person’s status||Sinner (unbeliever)
|Child of God (believer) (1 Jn. 3:2)|
|RelationshipTo God||Judge (Ps. 96:13)||Father (Gal. 4:6)|
|Result of sin||Eternal death (Rom. 6:23)||Broken fellowship (1 Jn. 1:6)
Prayers hindered (Ps. 66:18)
|Role of Christ||Savior (1 Tim. 1:15)||High Priest (Heb. 4:4-16)
Advocate (1 Jn. 2:1)
|Means of forgiveness||Faith (Acts 16:31)||Confession (1 Jn. 1:9)|
|Consequence averted||Hell (Jn. 5:24)||Discipline (1 Cor. 11:31-32)
Loss of reward (1 Cor. 3:15)
|Outcome||New relationship (Jn. 1:12)||Renewed fellowship (Ps. 32:5)|
|Frequency||Once (Jn. 13:10)||Many times (Jn. 13:8)|
Therefore, although a Christian’s unconfessed sins affects their relationship with God, they are still a child of God whose ultimate destiny is heaven.
Written, February 2012
We know very little about what was said to Adam and Eve before the fall into sin, but Scripture contains what we need to know about the past. God commanded Adam and Eve, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:16-17NIV). With this choice, there is a consequence: disobedience leads to death. We know that Eve was aware of the command and the consequence because she repeated it to the serpent (Gen. 3:2-3). “When you eat from it you will certainly die” is a warning. She knew that it was something to be avoided. It was not trivial but important – a life and death matter. Obviously the disadvantages and impact of spiritual and physical death must have been explained to Adam and Eve at the time.
God gave them enough information so that they could make an informed choice, although we have no evidence that Satan was mentioned. If the warning had been more explicit, then their free will may have been eroded.
So God did warn them about not eating the fruit. He said, don’t do it!
Written, January 2012
The answer to this question depends on the source of temptation and the fact that angels and people have a free will.
Source of temptation
The steps from temptation to sinful behaviour and then to death are described as, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:13-15NIV). So, a temptation to sin doesn’t come from God. Although God can test our faith, He never tempts us to sin. He has no dealings with evil. Temptation is described as our “own evil desire”, which comes from our inner sinful nature (Mt. 15:19). The temptation isn’t necessarily evil , unless we dwell on it until it leads to sinful behaviour, like conception leads to the birth of a child. Jesus was tempted, but He didn’t sin (Mt. 4:1-11).
But Adam and Eve didn’t have a sinful nature and lived in a perfect environment. So who was the source of their temptation to sin? Jesus was tempted although He didn’t have a sinful nature (Heb. 4:15). He was tempted by Satan (Mt. 4:1-11). In Adam and Eve’s case it was the serpent, which is one of Satan’s names (Gen. 3:1-5; Rev. 12:9; 20:2). So Satan tempted Adam and Eve and this lead to them disobeying God. Satan is the tempter (1 Th. 3:5).
But did God cause Satan to tempt Adam and Eve?
God commanded Adam and Eve, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:16-17). They were given a choice to obey God or to disobey Him; they had a “free will”. In order to be free to follow or ignore God, we have to be able to make choices. A loving relationship requires the freedom to make choices. They chose to accept Satan’s temptation instead of rejecting it. This was their own decision, even though Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the snake (Gen. 3:11-13). God did not create evil, but He made people with a free will, and therefore with a potential for good and evil.
Angels, including Satan, didn’t have a sinful nature and lived in a perfect environment. So who was the source of their temptation to sin? Satan was created “blameless”; he was sinless (Ezek. 28:15). But because of pride and arrogance he desired to rule the universe like God (Isa. 14:13-14; Ezek. 28:17). Where did this pride and arrogance come from? He was made perfect, so God can’t be blamed: “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you” (Ezek. 28:15). It was his own choice. Angels were also given a choice to serve God or not; they had a “free will”. Satan was the first one to oppose God and he lead an angelic rebellion against God (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 12:7). God did not create evil, but He made angels with a free will, and therefore with a potential for good and evil.
Clearly God desired angels and people that would choose to follow Him. This also means that some angels and some people will choose to reject Him. Satan’s choice led to demons in the angelic world and evil in the universe. So God didn’t cause Satan to tempt Adam and Eve, it was Satan’s choice.
In God’s love and omniscience, He knew Adam and Eve would sin, and He already had a plan in place to restore them to fellowship when they did. Although God planned to send Jesus to die for their sin, He didn’t cause them to sin. Satan rebelled by choice, he then tempted other angels to rebel and then tempted Eve and Adam and they sinned by their choice. We in turn are also tempted by Satan and by our sinful nature inherited from Adam and Eve, but we sin by our own choice.
Written, January 2012
The following verses are not included in many recent translations of the Bible, such as the English Standard Version and the New International Version: Mt. 17:21; 18:11; 23:14; Mk. 7:16; 9:44, 46; 11:26; 15:28; Lk. 17:36; 23:17; Jn. 5:4; Acts 8:37; 15:34; 24:7; 28:29; Rom. 16:24. They represent less than 0.2% of the verses in the New Testament. These verse differences among translations are due to differences in the Greek source text.
Many ancient copies exist of the New Testament, which was originally written in Greek on papyrus, then on parchment (from the 4th century) and on paper (from the 10th century). The earliest fragments date from 110 AD and the earliest complete texts from 200 AD. However, none of these are manuscripts of the original text. Instead they have been copied by scribes. Minor variations in hand copying have appeared through the centuries before mechanical printing began in about 1450 AD.
There have been three major attempts to construct the original New Testament text:
- The Received Text (“Textus Receptus” in Latin) was based on some Byzantine (eastern portion of the Roman Empire) manuscripts dated from 1000 AD and first published in 1516.
- The Critical (or eclectic) Text was based on an analysis of the manuscripts of all periods (up to the invention of the printing press) and all geographic regions, including the Alexandrian (Egyptian; in the 4th century AD), Byzantine, Caesarean and Western families and first published in the 1880s. Dryer climatic conditions in Egypt favored the preservation of ancient manuscripts, while the Western and Caesarean families are also represented by early manuscripts (as early as the 4th century AD) as well.
- The Majority Text was based on the majority of existing Greek manuscripts and first published in the 1982. As fewer ancient texts have survived and the Byzantine church was quite wealthy and produced many manuscripts, the Majority Text is largely based on the Byzantine family of manuscripts (dated the 9th to the 13th centuries AD) and has some similarities to the Received Text.
Which of these Greek texts most closely corresponds to the original New Testament? Although no one knows the answer to this question, since errors tend to accumulate with the number of copies made, textural scholars favor older manuscripts, which presumably have been copied less often. They also assume that most copy errors are accidental additions of marginal notes rather than accidental deletions. Furthermore, because of warnings in Scripture, such as the one in Revelation 22:19, scribes tended to add marginal explanations rather than remove words from the text.
So the reason the verses listed above are omitted in recent translations is because scholars believe that they were not in the original text. Some may have been margin notes that were later added to the main text. The verses in question are of lessor significance, although Acts 8:37 did include the eunuch’s confession of faith in Christ before he was baptized. But the fact that faith precedes baptism is mentioned in Acts 8:12-13 and elsewhere in Scripture. Most of the additions in the gospels repeat verses that are included elsewhere in the Bible and the other additions don’t change any Biblical doctrines.
We can be thankful for the Bible’s preservation over thousands of years. It is the most accurate ancient literature that is available today. The differences between the reconstructed New Testament texts mentioned above are mainly technical and not doctrinal. As there is no substantial difference between these texts, each can lead one to salvation and guide one in spiritual growth.
Written, December 2011
Also see- Can we trust our Bibles?
I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God. What does the Bible say about this topic?
Today the people of God comprise the church, which is made up of all true Christians. As the church commenced on the day of Pentecost, the part of the Bible that is specifically addressed to the church are the books from Acts to Revelation. Prior to this time (Genesis 12 to John); the Jews were God’s people on earth. Therefore, the answer to this question must be found between Acts and Revelation of the Bible.
The first mention in the Bible of a day of rest is when God rested at the end of the six days of creation (Gen. 2:2-3). But on this occasion God rested and there is no mention of humanity resting. The first mention of people resting on the seventh day occurs in the days of Moses, which is after people had been on earth for about 2,500 years (Ex. 12:16; 16:22-30). So there is no evidence that this practice was given at the creation of the world.
The distinctive day of the week for the Jews was Saturday, the Sabbath, the last day of the week. It was given to them when God provided manna in the desert and was an important requirement being included in the ten commandments (Ex. 16:22-30; 20:8-11). The Sabbath was given to the Jewish nation only and no Gentile was ever commanded to keep it (Ex. 31:13). It provided an opportunity to rest and focus on God (Mk. 2:27). In the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), the Sabbath is associated with the annual Jewish festivals (Ex. 23; Lev. 27; Num. 28-29). The penalty for breaking the Sabbath was death (Ex.31:14-15; 35:2; Num. 15:32-36).
The Sabbath day was given to the Israelites as a sign to remind them of their special relationship with God (Ex. 31:13, 17). God called them “my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:5). The Sabbath day is a symbol of the covenant given to the nation of Israel at Mt Sinai. It distinguished them from other nations. The original form of the Mosaic covenant is Exodus 20-23, which was written on a scroll (Ex. 24:7-8). Then more laws were progressively added to the covenant. In Exodus 25-30, regulations are added about the building and ceremonies of the tabernacle. After this, God repeats the fourth commandment before He hands Moses the tablets of the covenant law (Ex. 31:12-18). The reason given is that the Sabbath day was a sign for the Israelites who left Egypt and their descendants. It symbolised God’s covenant with them. This covenant, described in Exodus to Deuteronomy (along with the circumcision law of Genesis), was for the Israelites and their descendants (Dt. 29:12-15).
As Jesus lived under this Jewish covenant, He kept the Sabbath day. But He implied that things would change in future; the kingdom of God would be taken away from the Jews and “given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Mt. 21:43). These people would worship in spirit and truth instead of at the temple (Jn. 4:21-24). They are Christians who live under a different covenant. This new covenant included Gentiles (Acts 10:9-15) and excluded the law of Moses (Acts 15:1-35). It didn’t even include a single old covenant law such as circumcision or the Sabbath day, because then one is “obligated to obey the whole law” (Gal. 5:3).
As the old covenant of the Israelite law is now obsolete, its practices are also now obsolete (2 Cor. 3:14; Heb. 8:13). Instead Christians follow the instructions given to the church in the New Testament. The sign of the spiritual blessings that Christians have under the new covenant is the Lord’s Supper (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). However, the Sabbath day will be re-established as a symbol of the Jews special relationship with the Lord when they are revived as God’s people in the millennium (Is. 56:4-6; 66:23; Ezek. 46:1, 3).
On the Sabbath the Jews were commemorating the end of God’s work of creation (Ex. 20:11) and the end of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Dt. 5:15) and they offered animal sacrifices (Num. 28:9-10). There is no instruction addressed to the church in Scripture for believers to continue this practice today. However, in the Lord’s Supper they commemorate their deliverance from being slaves to sin.
The distinctive day of the week for Christians was Sunday (the first day of the week):
- On Sunday, Christ rose from the dead, which proved that His work of redemption was completed (Jn. 20:1)
- On Sunday, Christ met with the disciples between the resurrection and ascension (Jn. 20:19, 26)
- On Sunday, the church commenced when the Holy Spirit was given on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1; Lev. 23:15,16).
- On Sunday, the early Christians met to celebrate the Lord’s Supper – Paul seems to have waited in Troas for seven days so he could be there for the Lord’s Supper (breaking of bread) on the first day of the week (Acts 20:6-7). Although there were missionary visits to Jewish synagogues (Acts 13:14-48; 16:13-15; 17:1-4; 18:4), there is no example in Scripture of a church meeting on the Sabbath.
- The early Christians were told to set aside money for the Lord’s work on Sunday; presumably via a collection at a church meeting (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
Christians are not under the Old Testament law, which includes the ten commandments, but under God’s grace (Rom. 6:14-15) – see separate post on this topic. We have been “released from the law” (Gal. 7:6). The law of Moses has been replaced by the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21; 2 Cor. 3:7-11). Therefore, the Bible places no limits on when Christians can meet together. They can praise and celebrate the Lord’s Supper any day of week (1 Cor. 11:36). Although some early Jewish believers wanted to keep the Sabbath, this was not considered to be a matter of importance, but one of the individual conscience (Rom. 14:5-6).
As Christians have been released from the Old Testament law, they are not bound by regulations such as those saying that a person must keep the Sabbath in order to please God. When the Galatians were trying to earn God’s favor by observing certain days like the Sabbath and by promoting circumcision, Paul said that they had been freed from being subject to such laws (Gal. 4:4-11; 5:1-2). Paul also prohibits Christians being condemned for not following particular food or drink regulations and for not observing particular religious activities that are held on an annual, monthly or weekly basis: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col 2:16-17NIV). In this passage, the religious festivals were the annual Jewish festivals and the Sabbath day was the weekly Jewish Sabbath.
It should be noted that the “Sabbath-rest” in Hebrews 4:1-11, is different to the Sabbath day. This rest is entered by faith in Christ (Heb. 11:2-3). The old covenant laws are now symbols and metaphors for us. As God rested after His work of creation, Christians rest in the completed work of Christ (Mt. 11:28-30). In this sense, the physical Sabbath-rest is likened to our spiritual rest of salvation. The weekly Sabbath pictured our final salvation. Just as Moses was appointed by God to lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the promised land of Canaan, Christ was appointed by God to lead people from bondage to sin to the eternal Sabbath-rest of heaven. As most of the Jews died before reaching the “rest” of the promised land because of unbelief, so unbelief excludes people from God’s gift of salvation.
So the teaching that Christians should worship God collectively on Saturday is contrary to Scripture.
Written, October 2011; Revised February 2014
I’ve been told that Christians should keep the ten commandments as they were God’s law and not the law of Moses. Is this true?
Based on their interpretation of the Bible, some people believe that the ‘ten commandments’ and the ‘law of Moses’ are two completely separate laws; the latter being no longer applying today as it was temporary, but the former being God’s law that is eternal. One of the passages used to support this belief is part of Daniel’s prayer: “We have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws He gave us through His servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed Your law and turned away, refusing to obey You. Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against You” (Dan. 9:10-11NIV). Daniel says that God gave the Jews laws, including the ten commandments, through prophets such as Moses. Clearly, in this passage, “the laws He gave us through His servants the prophets”, “Your law” and the Law of Moses” are synonymous. The sins that Daniel was confessing included, “We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from Your commands and laws. We have not listened to Your servants the prophets” (Dan. 9:5b-6a). I can see no justification in claiming that “Your law” is restricted to the ten commandments and “the Law of Moses” does not include the ten commandments.
Because the people were terrified when God gave them the ten commandments at Mt Sinai, they asked if they could receive future messages via Moses (Dt. 5:23-31). As God granted this request, the other commandments were given to Moses and he taught them to the Israelites. So, all the commandments in the Pentateuch came from God.
Before the Israelites entered Canaan, Moses reminded them to “keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you” (Dt. 4:2). They were especially instructed to remember the giving of the ten commandments (Dt. 4:9-13). Then in between two references to the ten commandments (Dt. 4:10-13; 5:1-22), the Bible says “This is the law Moses set before the Israelites” (Dt. 4:44). So the ten commandments are part of the law of Moses: Moses communicated the ten commandments to the Israelites (Dt. 5:4-5) and he recorded them in the Pentateuch.
When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18; Mt. 22:37-40). This statement seems to be a summary of the ten commandments as duties towards God (Deut. 6:5 and the first 4 commandments) and towards people (Lev. 19:18 and the other 6 commandments). The ten commandments give the basic principles of Jewish law whereas their application to particular situations is given in the detailed laws in the Pentateuch.
Today the people of God comprise the church, which is made up of all true Christians. As the church commenced on the day of Pentecost, the part of the Bible that is specifically addressed to the church are the books from Acts to Revelation. Prior to this time (Genesis 12 to John); the Jews were God’s people on earth. What does Acts to Revelation of the Bible say about Christians keeping the ten commandments?
Christians are no longer under the Jewish law and are freed from its condemnation because Christ has fulfilled the law by paying the penalty of death (Mt. 5:17; Rom. 6:14-15; 7:1-6; Gal. 3:19, 24-25). The Mosaic Covenant under which the law was given is now obsolete (Heb. 8:13). Instead, God’s commandment to us is “to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another” (1 Jn 3:23). Our love for Christ will result in obeying His commands (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 5:1-3; 2 Jn. 6)
Christians seek to live holy lives, not by following the ten commandments, but by allowing Christ to live through them (Gal. 2:19-20). They seek to please the Lord Jesus by following His teachings and those of the apostles (1 Cor. 9:21).
Paul doesn’t distinguish between the ten commandments and the other laws that were given to Moses: he says that the ten commandments, “which was engraved in letters on stone”, were transitory like the other laws (2 Cor. 3:7-11). They were not permanent, whereas the gospel is permanent. Since Christ’s death, the Jewish law has been replaced with the Christian faith and the Jews have been replaced by the church as God’s people on earth (Gal. 3:23-25).
Nine of the ten commandments are given between Acts to Revelation as God’s principles for holy living for Christians:
- Don’t worship any other god except the one true God (1 Cor. 8:4-6)
- Don’t worship idols (1 Cor. 10:7,14; 1 Jn. 5:21)
- Don’t misuse God’s name (Jas. 2:7)
- Keep the Sabbath day – This instruction is not mentioned in Acts to Revelation, and Christians shouldn’t be condemned for failing to keep it (Col. 2:16) – see separate post on this topic
- Honor your parents (Eph. 6:1-3)
- Don’t murder (Jas. 2:11)
- Don’t commit adultery (Jas. 2:11)
- Don’t steal (Eph.4:8)
- Don’t give false testimony (Col. 3:10)
- Don’t covet (Eph. 5:3)
The last six commandments have been summarized as “love your neighbour as yourself” (Rom. 13:8-10).
So, because Christians relate to God via Jesus Christ and not via keeping Jewish laws, they are under no obligation to keep the ten commandments. Instead, they seek to please the Lord by obeying the teachings of Christ and the apostles.
Written, October 2011