“My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of their choice without coercion or undue influence. My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly.” These remarks on religious tolerance were made by the Indian Prime Minister in February 2015. Hinduism is said to be tolerant to other religions because it holds that there are many ways which lead towards salvation (or spiritual liberation) and Hindus can select their deity from the wide pantheon of gods and goddesses conceived since time immemorial.
It is estimated that about 16% of the world’s population is Hindu. This increases to about 80% in India, Nepal and Bali (in Indonesia) and about 50% in Mauritius. The Hindu faith is polytheistic, although it is claimed that one supreme reality (Brahman) is manifested in many gods and goddesses. In this way Hinduism is different to Islam, Judaism and Christianity. But is Hinduism consistent with the message of the Bible? Is it one of the ways to salvation and spiritual liberation?
True or false?
The Bible contains three clear tests for determining whether a belief, teaching or philosophy is true or false. To be true it must pass each of the three tests.
The Jesus test
This test states that, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:2-3, 6 NIV). The question to be answered in this test is: What does it say about Jesus Christ? Is it consistent with Christ’s unique birth, divine and human nature, sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and second coming (1 Jn. 4:1-3)?
The gospel test
The Bible warns about those promoting a different gospel, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gal.1:9). The question to be answered in this test is: What is its gospel? In other words: what is the core belief or hope? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements—resulting in death. The only means of rescue is salvation by repentance of sin and faith in the work of Christ. ‘Different gospels’ are those that differ from this. They either add to it or take away from it. There is a warning against adding to or taking away from the words of the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19).
The fruit test
Jesus Christ warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:15-20). The question to be answered in this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? In other words, what type of attitudes and behavior does it encourage? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident (Gal. 5:19-23)?
I have previously summarized Hinduism. These tests will now be used to assess the Hindu faith.
Testing the Hindu faith
The Jesus test
Hindus believe in one supreme god (Brahman) who created the universe. He is impersonal and all-pervasive. And he created many gods to be his helpers. There are thousands (and maybe millions) of Hindu gods that are considered to be different manifestations of Brahman. These gods and goddesses of Hinduism represent the many aspects of Brahman. So, Hinduism is neither only monotheistic nor only polytheistic, but has elements of both.
Brahman is not the same as the monotheistic personal God of Christianity, who is separate from His creation (Rom. 1:25). In Hinduism, God, the universe, human beings and all else is essentially one thing and everything is connected as part of the divine being. This means that Hindus worship literally everything and god is thought to be in every human being as Atman, the eternal Self. This is pantheism.
Because Hinduism involves image (idol) worship, it is included in those described by Paul as: “Yes, they knew God (through creation; v.19-20), but they wouldn’t worship Him as God or even give Him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. … They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created (idols) instead of the Creator Himself” (Rom. 1:21-25NLT).
Hinduism is also unlike the Christian trinity of one God in three persons. God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit have similar attributes whereas there is greater distinction among the Hindu deities, which have different mythologies and personalities.
Jesus isn’t mentioned in any of the numerous Hindu scriptures (as most were written before His time) and none of the legion of Hindu gods is like Jesus. So, the Hindu religion says nothing directly about Jesus Christ. But Hindus may think that Jesus was a holy man, a guru (teacher) or a god. However, they wouldn’t see Jesus as the only way to God. At best, He would be one god amongst the many gods that they worship.
Hindus believe that Krishna was the eighth “avatar” (incarnation) of the god Vishnu. Could Jesus also be an avatar? In Hinduism, an avatar is the bodily incarnation of a deity on earth. But Jesus was not an avatar because He is fully human and fully God. Hindus could also consider Jesus to be a great teacher like Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. But Jesus wasn’t the reincarnation of Krishna because after His death, He was resurrected, not reincarnated.
What does the Hindu religion imply about Jesus Christ? By worshipping many other gods instead of Christ, the implication is that these gods are greater than Christ. Like Hinduism, people in the Greek and Roman empires worshipped many Gods. What does the New Testament say about this? When the Thessalonians became followers of Christ, they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us (believers) from the coming wrath” (1 Th. 1:9-10). The God who was living and true is contrasted against idols that were dead and false gods. They had learnt that God “doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve His needs—for He has no needs” (Acts 17:24-25NLT). The Corinthians were told to separate from idol worship (2 Cor. 6:16-17). John repeats this message that Christians should “keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21). The true God is said to be God the Father or God the Son (Jesus), while idols are false gods.
Paul described the state of the Corinthians before they became Christians as “you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols” (1 Cor. 12:2NLT). Their idols were lifeless! But how were they being “led astray and swept along”? The Bible says that idolatry is associated with demon worship (Rev. 9:20). And it’s the work of Satan (2 Cor. 6:15-16). So they were being led astray and swept along by Satan and his demons! That’s why Paul was “was greatly distressed to see that the city (of Athens) was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).
Except in matters of ethics and moral conduct, there is very little in common between the teachings of Jesus and the main teachings of Hinduism. So, Hinduism clearly fails the Jesus test. Hindus don’t believe that Jesus is the unique Son of God whose sacrificial death (crucifixion) and resurrection solved the problem of humanity’s sinfulness. They don’t believe that Jesus came to the earth as a substitute to take the punishment that we all deserve.
The gospel test
The ultimate goal of Hindu religious life is liberation from the cycle of birth and death (reincarnation) and to escape from the recurring pattern of existence. This is the Hindu core belief or hope. There are two problems with this goal: the problem being addressed and the solution that is offered.
The problem being addressed in Hinduism is the seemingly endless cycle of birth and death (reincarnation). The Bible shows that humanity is the special creation of God, created in God’s image with both a material body and an immaterial soul and spirit. People are distinct and unique from all other creatures—angels and the animal kingdom. The Bible teaches that at death, while a person’s body is mortal (it decays and returns to dust) their soul and spirit continue to either a place of torment for those who reject Christ or paradise (heaven) in God’s presence for those who have trusted in the Savior. Both categories of people will be resurrected, one to eternal judgment and the other to eternal life with a glorified body (Jn. 5:25-29). The Bible says, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). This makes it clear that humanity only dies once and is then judged on the life they have lived. One is not born again in an endless cycle of death and rebirth, and its opportunities to improve one’s karma. The Bible never mentions people having a second chance at life or coming back as different people or animals. As Larry Norman sang, “you live once and you die once, with no re-incarnate episodes”.
We have seen that the idea of incarnation is a false teaching. But this is the main problem addressed by the Hindu faith! Their core belief or hope is the product of human imagination! On the other hand, the Christian faith addresses the problem of sin (rejection of God’s revelation in creation and in Jesus Christ) and its consequences. We will now look at the solution being offered.
Because the Hindu social division and hierarchy is believed to be based on rebirth and karma, good works and striving to please God play an important role in a Hindu’s way of life. A Hindu may seek to earn salvation and liberation through good works and a good life. Other ways that Hindus seek salvation are True Knowledge (scholarly study), devotion to a god, or meditation. These are also things that people can do to attain union with the Brahman (god). Yes, good works do please God, but only the good works and the good and sinless life of Jesus. The Bible says that it was Jesus’ good work (sacrifice) on the cross that will get us salvation and liberation!
Our good works are not good enough. Larry Norman also sang, “you can’t hitchhike to heaven or get there by just being good”. The Bible says that most of the work of salvation is done by God and not by us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
The Christian gospel may be summarized as: “Because of His infinite mercy, God sent His Son (Jesus) to earth to save people so they could live right. He was the sacrifice which would permit God to blot out all our sins, and enable us to be clean so that we could dwell eternally with our holy God. Jesus died for the sins of humanity”. But Hinduism is a religion of salvation by works.
A Hindu’s salvation is never guaranteed; they don’t know how much meditation or yoga they need to do or how many lives they will live before reaching moksha (Hindu heaven). By contrast, the Christian’s salvation is sure and confident. God’s promises are never broken, and we can rely on scripture when it declares that faith in Jesus saves (Acts 16:31) and we can rest confidently in this assurance (1 Jn. 5:13). Our forgiveness and salvation are completely based on the work of Christ on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and not on any of our deeds because we have a sinful nature (Rom. 7:18).
So, Hinduism fails the gospel test.
The fruit test
Hinduism is often said to be a tolerant religion. But India is included in the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. Following an increase in religiously motivated (Hindu) nationalism, India has climbed to its highest ever ranking of 15. It was ranked between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. This is equivalent to a “very high” level of persecution. Most of the countries where it is more difficult to live as a Christian than in India (except North Korea) are Islamic.
Open Doors reports that since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power in 2014, radical Hinduism has increased steadily. Some of those who have left Hinduism to follow Jesus have been attacked and even killed by their own parents. On average, more than 15 Christians were physically attacked every week in India in 2016. Some of these attacks have come from Hindu extremists. They particularly target believers who have converted from Hinduism; these believers face daily harassment and have been beaten, hospitalized and even killed. Protestant Christian communities are the second main target because of their involvement in outreach activities and conversions.
Christians are also facing increasing pressure on a national level. Several states have implemented anti-conversion laws to prevent people from leaving Hinduism and the ruling BJP desire to make these laws nation-wide. Such laws are often used as an excuse to disrupt church services and harass Christians. With the Indian government refusing to speak out against the atrocities being carried out against Christians and other minorities, the situation is expected to get worse. Hindus that convert to Christianity are rejected by their family. Their family is affected as well by suffering shame in their Hindu society.
In February 2017, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report on “Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India”. They note:
– “Anti-conversion laws” in seven Indian states, and discrimination based upon caste and religion.
– Since 2014, when the BJP took power, hate crimes, social boycotts, assaults, and forced conversion (to Hinduism) have escalated dramatically.
– Although discrimination due to caste is prohibited in the constitution, the caste system, which is discriminatory at its root, remains a fundamental part of Hinduism. Under this system, the “untouchables”, or Dalits, have faced unique discrimination, the only parallel of which was apartheid in South Africa. Many Dalits are Christians. In fact, Dalits account for two-thirds of India’s Christian population, who number more than 80 million, or 7% of India’s total population.
– Religious minorities and Dalits face discrimination and persecution due to a combination of overly broad or ill-defined laws, an inefficient criminal justice system, and a lack of judicial consistency.
– Religious freedom in India will never be achieved unless the country is willing to make substantial amendments to its constitution and legal framework.
The findings of this report were rejected by the Indian external affairs ministry.
In April 2017, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued its annual report which noted:
– Hindu nationalist groups and their sympathizers perpetrated numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence against religious minority communities and Hindu Dalits. These violations were most “frequent and severe” in 10 of India’s 29 States. National and State laws that restrict religious conversion, cow slaughter, and the foreign funding of non-governmental organizations helped create the conditions enabling these violations.
– While the Prime Minister spoke publicly about the importance of communal tolerance and religious freedom, members of the ruling party have ties to Hindu nationalist groups implicated in religious freedom violations, and used religiously divisive language to inflame tensions.
– Police and judicial bias and inadequacies have created a pervasive climate of impunity in which religious minorities feel increasingly insecure and have no recourse when religiously motivated crimes occur.
Although it’s difficult to assess attitudes and behavior objectively, these three separate reports mention persecution of religious minorities and a lack of religious freedom in India. And there is even discrimination against low-caste Hindus.
What type of attitudes and behavior do you think the Hindu faith encourages?
Results of the tests
We have seen that the Hindu faith fails the Jesus Test and the Gospel Test and the results of the Fruit Test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which isn’t consistent with the overall message of the Bible.
In a previous post it was noted that Hinduism is both polytheistic and pantheistic (P&P). This is not surprising because most of the Hindu scriptures were written between 1500BC and 500BC. During this period, the deities of the following nations were also polytheistic and pantheistic (P&P): Egypt, Phoenicia (Canaan), Babylon, and Greece. In fact, this was probably a characteristic of all the Gentile nations at that time. It was also characteristic of previous nations (such as Mesopotamia) and following nations (such as the Roman Empire). By the way, pantheistic religions are probably polytheistic, but are polytheistic religions pantheistic?
What does the Bible say about such P&P religions?
– About 2000BC Abraham left the P&P religion in Ur of the Chaldeans (in Mesopotamia) to live in the land of Canaan and to follow the monotheistic God who created the universe.
– About 1750BC when Jacob left Paddan Aram (in upper Mesopotamia), his wife Rachael stole her father’s P&P household gods (Gen. 31:19, 30, 32, 35). When he arrived back in Canaan, Jacob buried all their foreign P&P gods (Gen. 35:2-4).
– About 1450BC when the Israelites left Egypt in the exodus, God told them to stop practicing the P&P religion of the Egyptians and gave them commands on how to follow the true monotheistic God.
– About 1500BC when the Israelites conquered and settled in Canaan, God warned them not to follow the P&P religion of the Canaanites and the surrounding nations.
– Between 1380BC and 1050BC the Israelites forsook the God that brought them out of Egypt and followed the P&P religion of the peoples around them (Jud. 2:10-13). They intermarried with these peoples and served their P&P gods (Jud. 3:5-6). Consequently, the Israelites were punished by God and brought back to serving the true monotheistic God by a series of judges.
– Between 930BC and 722BC Israel was divided into two kingdoms and the northern kingdom followed the P&P religion of the peoples around them. Prophets such as Elijah and Elisha warned them of the consequences of following these false religions. They were punished by God when they were conquered by the Assyrian Empire.
– Between 700BC and 586BC, the southern kingdom of Israel (Judah) often followed the P&P religion of the peoples around them. Prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah warned them of the consequences of following these false religions. They were punished by God when they were conquered by the Babylonian Empire.
– the 70-year exile in Babylon decimated the nation of Israel and seemed to cure those who returned to Judah from following P&P religions. But it took over 900 years for them to learn this lesson!
– In the 1st century AD, the New Testament apostles, such as Peter and Paul, preached against the P&P religion of the Roman Empire.
Note the similarities between Hinduism and the P&P religions mentioned in the Bible. Hindus have household P&P gods like Laban. Since 2000BC God has distinguished Himself from P&P religions. By reading the Bible we can see repeated warnings against P&P religions. These warnings were given over a period of more than 1,500 years. Why not check this for yourself by reading the Bible?
Paul said that P&P gods are not real gods (Acts 19:26). He knew that they “cannot see or hear or eat or smell” (Dt. 4:28; Dan. 5:23; Rev. 9:20). And that they are the work of Satan and his demons (2 Cor. 6:15-16; Rev. 9:20).
The clearest biblical arguments against pantheism are the numerous commands against idolatry. The Bible forbids the worship of idols, angels, celestial objects, and items in nature. If pantheism were true, it would not be wrong to worship such an object, because that object would, in fact, be divine. If pantheism were true, worshipping a rock or an animal would have just as much validity as worshipping God as an invisible and spiritual being. The Bible’s clear and consistent denunciation of idolatry is a conclusive argument against pantheism. So, Hinduism, which is based on pantheism, is a false religion.
Hinduism regards itself as an ancient religion. However, this is not a good attribute because such ancient P&P religions were soundly denounced many years ago by the Bible. In this sense, Hinduism is a retrograde religion. It’s like the religions that were denounced by the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament.
Some Hindus are zealous and devout, but salvation is dependent on the object of one’s zeal and devotion and not on the zeal itself. Their focus/object is Hindu teachings, which we have shown to be false. Like Judah in Jeremiah’s time, Hindus are “trusting in deceptive words that are worthless” (Jer. 7:8). In Judah’s case, the deceptive words spoken by the false prophets were that God wouldn’t destroy Jerusalem because He wouldn’t allow the Jewish temple to be destroyed. This superstitious belief was stated repetitively, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7:4), which reminds me of the repetitive nature of Hindu meditation. But repetition doesn’t increase the truthfulness of a statement! In Hinduisms case, the deceptive words come from Hindu teachings which are false. Because of false prophets, Judah followed “other gods” (Jer. 7:9) apart from the real God, while because of Hindu teachings, Hindus follow many “other gods”.
We have tested Hinduism against three tests from the Bible. It clearly failed two tests (about Jesus and the gospel) and the results of the third test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which is the product of human imagination, and which isn’t consistent with the message of the Bible. So Hindus don’t worship the same God as Christians.
Written, August 2017
The blogpost that has generated the most comments on my blog is “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?” This post was written in 2011. No one has clicked the “Like” button, but at least 18 people have left comments. So it has generated lots of discussion. Most of the commentators disagree with the opinion expressed in the post.
After his commentary on the book of Galatians, MacDonald (1989) states that “On completing a study of Galatians, one might conclude that Paul defeated the teachers of legalism so effectively that the issue would never trouble the church again. History and experience prove otherwise! Legalism has become so important a part of Christendom that most people believe that it actually belongs. Yes, legalists are still with us.”
The major example MacDonald gives of contemporary legalism is insistence on Sabbath-keeping. He refers to those who warn Christians that they must keep the Sabbath if they are to be saved at last. Then he gives the following warning of this false teaching and how to answer it.
The (false) teachers of the Sabbath usually begin by preaching the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ. They use well-known evangelical hymns to lure the unwary, and appear to place much emphasis on the Scriptures. But before long, they put their followers under the law of Moses, especially the commandment concerning the Sabbath. (The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, or Saturday).
Moral law and ceremonial law
How do they do this in the light of Paul’s clear teaching that the Christian is dead to the law? How do they get around the plain statements of Galatians? The answer is that they make a sharp distinction between the moral law and the ceremonial law. The moral law is the Ten Commandments. The ceremonial law covers the other regulations given by God, such as rules concerning unclean foods, leprosy, offerings to God, and so forth.
The moral law they say has never been revoked. It is an expression of God’s eternal truth. To commit idolatry, murder, or adultery will always be contrary to God’s law. The ceremonial law, however, has been done away in Christ. Therefore, they conclude, when Paul teaches that the Christian is dead to the law, he is speaking about the ceremonial law and not the Ten Commandments.
Since the moral law is still in effect, Christians are bound to keep it, they insist. This means that they must keep the Sabbath, that they must do no work on that day. They assert that one of the popes of the Roman Catholic Church (or the Emperor Constantine) ordered the change from Sabbath-observance to observance of Sunday, in utter violation of the Scriptures.
This reasoning sounds logical and appealing. However, its great condemning feature is that it is entirely contrary to God’s word! Note the following seven points.
- In 2 Corinthians 3:7-11, the Ten Commandments are definitely stated to be “brought to an end” for the believer in Christ. In verse 7, the law is described as “the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone”. This could only mean the moral law, not the ceremonial law. Only the Ten Commandments were engraved in stones by the finger of God (Ex.31:18). In verse 11, we read that the ministry that brought death, though glorious, was “being brought to an end” (ESV), “fading away” (HCSB), “made ineffective” (NET), or “transitory” (NIV). Nothing could be more decisive than this. The Sabbath has no claim on the Christian.
- No Gentile was ever commanded to keep the Sabbath. The law was given to the Jewish nation only (Ex. 31:13). Although God Himself rested on the seventh day, He did not command anyone else to do so until He gave the law to the children of Israel.
- Christians did not switch from the Sabbath to the first day of the week because of the decree of any pope (or Roman Emperor). We set aside the Lord’s Day (Sunday) in a special way for worship and for service because the Lord Jesus rose from the dead on that day, a proof that the work of redemption was completed (Jn. 20:1). Also, on that day the early disciples met to break bread (celebrate the Lord’s Supper), showing forth the Lord’s death (Acts 20:7), and it was the day appointed by God for Christians to set apart their offerings as the Lord had prospered them (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Furthermore, the Holy Spirit was sent down from heaven on the first day of the week.
Christians do not “observe” the Lord’s day as a means of achieving holiness, or from fear of punishment; they set it apart because of loving devotion to the One who gave Himself for them.
- Paul does not distinguish between the moral law and the ceremonial law. Rather, he insists that the law is a complete unit, and that a curse rests on those who seek to attain righteousness by it, yet fail to keep it all.
- Nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament as moral instruction for the children of God. They deal with things that are inherently right or wrong. The one commandment which is omitted is the law of the Sabbath. The keeping of a day is not inherently right or wrong. There is no instruction to Christians to keep the Sabbath. Rather the Scripture distinctly states that the Christian cannot be condemned for failing to keep it (Col. 2:16)!
- The penalty for breaking the Sabbath in the Old Testament was death (Ex. 35:2). But those who insist on believers keeping the Sabbath today do not carry out the penalty on offenders. They thus dishonour the law and destroy its authority by failing to insist that its demands be met. They are saying, in effect, “This is God’s law and you just keep it, but nothing will happen if you break it”.
- Christ, and not the law, is the believer’s rule for life. We should live as He lived. This is an even higher standard than was set by the law (Mt. 5:17-48). We are empowered to live holy lives by the Holy Spirit. We want to live holy lives because of love for Christ. The righteousness demanded by the law is fulfilled by those who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4)
Thus, the teaching that believers must keep the Sabbath is directly contrary to Scripture (Col. 2:16), and is simply a “different gospel” upon which God’s word pronounces a curse (Gal. 1:7,9).
May each one be given wisdom from God to discern the evil doctrine of legalism in whatever form it may appear! May we never seek justification or sanctification through ceremonies or human effort, but depend completely and only on the Lord Jesus Christ for every need. May we always remember that legalism is an insult to God because it substitutes the shadow for the Reality—ceremonialism for Christ.
MacDonald William (1989) “Believer’s Bible commentary”, 2nd edition, Thomas Nelson, p. 1928-1930.
Written, April 2017
Also see: What about keeping the Sabbath day?
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?
What does the New Testament say about the Sabbath?
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?
The Sabbath day difference between Jesus and Paul
Why the new covenant is better
The sin of legalism
From Genesis to Revelation
History is full of examples of the proverb, “Pride goes before destruction” (Prov. 16:18). The Titanic was declared indestructible by its proud makers, but it sank on its maiden voyage. The word “Babylon” occurs in about 270 verses of the Bible, where it is associated with humanism, materialism, pride and wealth. But we will see that this atheistic way of life is doomed to destruction.
Is “Babel” the same as “Babylon”?
The Hebrew word that’s translated “Babylon” (Babel, Strongs #894) can also be translated “Babel”. The reason for this is that the written Hebrew text only uses consonants and not vowels. The word “Babel” means confusion, because that’s where God caused different languages to arise and cause confusion between the different groups of people (Gen. 11:9). It’s not a Hebrew word, but is a word from one of the Semitic languages of the Shinar region. “Babel” was most likely what the place of the Tower was called by the Semitic people who lived in Shinar at the time of the final editing of the Old Testament (about 450 BC). The Greek name “Babylon” comes from the Assyrian word Bab-ilani, which means “gate of the gods”. The first occurrence of this Hebrew word (Babel, Strongs #894) in the Bible is in Genesis 10:10 where a city in the kingdom of Nimrod (Noah’s great-grandson) is said to be: “Babel” (ESV, NET) or “Babylon” (HCSB, NIV, NLT). And the NET says “or Babylon”, and the Septuagint (written about 3rd to 1st century BC) says “Babylon”. So the ESV is the only one of these five modern translations that doesn’t specifically equate Babel with Babylon. So the consensus is that the words Babel and Babylon refer to the same geographic location.
Nimrod was a mighty warrior and a great hunter. Babel (Babylon) was one of the cities in his kingdom and he built the city of Nineveh, which became the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Nimrod rebelled against God and the tower of Babel was probably one of his projects. His personal emblems were the dragon and the snake. “Ancient gods and their associated legends arose from the deification of dead human heroes” (Merrill, 2005). This happened to Nimrod and his wife Semiramis.
After the flood, God told Noah’s descendants to “fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1NIV). But they embarked on a project to build a tower in order to make a name for themselves (a reputation that would be honoured after death) and thereby avoid being “scattered over the face of the earth” (Gen. 11:4). The tower was to keep people together, so they wouldn’t spread out across the earth. Maybe it was to be a place to sacrifice to God. In fact, ziggurats and pyramids have been used all over the world for religious events. It seems as though this disobedience against God’s command to fill the earth may have occurred at Babylon (Babel). However, God responded by confusing their languages, which resulted in them being scattered “over all the earth” after all (Gen. 11:9).
So, in about 2200 BC, Nimrod and the people of Babel (Babylon) rebelled against God. They were anti-God. God’s plan was that people spread out across the earth and form nations (Gen. 10 – The table of nations), whereas they congregated in the same area, glorified humanity, and took pride in their achievements.
A powerful and wicked nation
The ancient city of Babylon was located on the Euphrates river, about 80km (50 miles) south of the modern city of Baghdad (in Iraq). Abraham travelled through it on his way from Ur to Haran and then Palestine (Gen. 11:31). About 1,500 years later this city became the head of the Babylonian Empire.
After conquering Assyria in 612 BC, the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 BC (2 Ki. 24:7). The Babylon Empire ruled the Middle East for about 70 years (612 – 539 BC).
Babylon was a great city with an area of about 200 square miles (513 square km). It was protected by a double brick wall with towers and a moat (Jer. 51:53, 58). Access was via eight gates, the best known being the Ishtar Gate with images of dragons and bulls. There were many temples to gods and goddesses, including Marduk (also called Bel, Jer. 50:2). The hanging gardens of Babylon were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Babylon was likened to a queen and a jewel (Isa. 13:19; 47:5). It was a city of merchants and traders, and manufacture of clothing (Josh. 7:21; Ezek. 17:4). King Nebuchadnezzar called it “The great Babylon” and he was proud of his achievements (Dan. 4:30). Babylon was wealthy (Jer. 50:37; 51:13) and had great military and naval power (Isa. 43:14; Jer. 5:16; 50:23). The Babylonians thought they were invincible.
But the Babylonians were cruel and arrogant (Isa. 14:13-14, 17; 47:6-10; Jer. 50:31-32; 51:25; Hab. 1:6-7). They trusted in sorcery and astrology (Isa. 47:9, 12-13; Dan.2:1-2) and followed idols (Jer. 50:38; Dan. 34:18). Jeremiah said that “it is a land of idols” (Jer. 50:38). Babylonians were also irreverent and wicked (Isa. 47:10; Dan. 5:1-3) and oppressive (Isa. 14:4).
Babylon and Judah
God made a covenant with the nation of Israel (Ex. 24:1-8). The conditions of the covenant were given in the law of Moses and they were summarized in the Ten Commandments. There were rewards for keeping the covenant and punishments for disobedience (Lev. 26; Dt. 28). The punishments included being invaded, taken captive and being scattered among the nations (Lev. 26:27-35; Dt. 28:36-37, 47-57). Once Israel accepted the covenant, they were bound to the promises made to God.
Unfortunately, the message of the prophets and the history of Israel show that Israel did not keep the demands of the covenant. They broke the covenant and worship idols like Baal by offering sacrifices to them, and trusting them for fertility, healing and deliverance from enemies (Jer. 19:4-5). Because they were unfaithful to God, God divorced the kingdom of Israel and allowed them to be invaded by Assyria (Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:1-13). But Judah took no notice of this and continued to be unfaithful! God said that they were guilty of spiritual adultery. They were like an unfaithful wife (Jer. 3:20; 9:2; Ezek. 6:9) and like a prostitute (Isa. 1:21; Jer. 3:1-5; Ezek. 16:15-34). The prophets used these metaphors repeatedly. And because Judah continued to be unfaithful to God (like an adulterer or prostitute), God’s judgement was that they would be destroyed by the nations they idolised (Ezek. 16:35-43).
When Merodach-baladan, king of Babylon sent envoys to king Hezekiah of Judah (who ruled 715 – 686 BC), they were shown the kingdom’s wealth. After Isaiah questioned Hezekiah, he prophesied that all of Judah’s wealth “will be carried off to Babylon” and some of the people would be deported as well (2 Ki. 20:12-18; 2 Chron. 32:31; Is. 39:1-4). This prophecy happened over 100 years before the Babylonian exile and before the Babylonians defeated the Assyrians.
Because Judah was a “rebellious people”, the prophets predicted the destruction of the Jerusalem by the Babylonians (Isa. 22:1-25; Jer. 21:3-14; Ezek. 12:1-3). Ezekiel said, “Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jer. 25:8-11).
Fall of Jerusalem
King Nebuchnezzar lead three campaigns against Judah: 605 BC, 580 BC and 586 BC. In the final campaign he conquered Judah, destroying Jerusalem and deported part of its population to Babylonia (2 Ki. 24:1 – 25:21; 2 Chron. 36:20-23; Ezra 5:2; Jer. 39:1-10; 52:12-30). So Babylon was God’s instrument to punish Judah (Ezek. 21:1-27).
Psalm 137 records the feelings of a Jew who was captive in Babylon. The first three verses say:
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion (Jerusalem).
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
They missed their homeland and didn’t want to sing Jewish songs to their captors. Daniel was deported in 605 BC and he tells us what it was like living in Babylon in his book of the Old Testament (Dan. Ch. 1-6).
Even the remnant of Jews who escaped to Egypt would be largely destroyed because they burnt incense to “the Queen of Heaven”, who was the Babylonian goddess Ishtar (derived from Semirami, the wife of Nimrod).
End of empire
Although Babylon was God’s agent for the punishment of Judah, the Old Testament prophets predicted that God would also punish Babylon (Isa. 13-14; 21:1-10; 47; Jer. 25:12-14; 50-51). Babylon was to receive what she had done to others (Jer. 50:15, 29; 51:24,35,49). They said that it would become uninhabited (Isa. 13:19-22) and a heap of ruins (Jer. 51:37). Babylon’s judgement was inevitable (Isa. 47:1-15).
“Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the pride and glory of the Babylonians, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isa. 13:19).
“Babylon will be a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals (dragons, dinosaurs) an object of horror and scorn, a place where no one lives” (Jer. 51:37).
Fall of Babylon
In 539 BC, Babylon surrendered without a battle to Cyrus king of the Persians. This enabled groups of Jews to return to help restore the city of Jerusalem in 538 BC (Zerubbabel), 458 BC (Ezra) and 444 BC (Nehemiah). Their efforts are described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Babylon fell into disrepair after the Persian empire fell to Alexander the Great in 330 BC and after this it declined in importance and it is now only a mound of rubble (a tell). The kingdoms that followed Babylon were the Medes and Persians, the Greek, and the Roman. Like the Babylonian Empire, these were all anti-God (they had different gods).
After Jesus was born, Magi (Magos; Strongs #3097) came from the east to worship Him (Mt. 2:1, 7, 16). According to Thayer’s Greek Lexion, a magus is the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, prophets, sorcerers etc. The fact that they came from the east would have been assumed by most people in New Testament times, because the Magi were primarily known as the priestly-political class of the Parthians who lived to the east of Palestine. The magi were skilled in astronomy and astrology (which, in that day, were closely associated) and were involved in various occult practices, including sorcery, and were especially noted for their ability to interpret dreams. It is from their name that our words “magic” and “magician” are derived.
The magi were a powerful group of advisors in the Babylonian empire. Because the Lord gave Daniel the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream; which none of the other court seers was able to do; Daniel was appointed as “ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men” (Dan. 2:48).
Because of Daniel’s high position and great respect among them, the magi would have learned much from that prophet about the God of Israel, and about His will and plans for His people through the coming Messiah. Because many Jews remained in Babylon after the exile and intermarried with the people of the east, it is likely that Jewish messianic influence remained strong in that region even until New Testament times. So the Magi who visited Jesus probably travelled from somewhere near Babylon (in their day Parthia) and followed a similar route to Palestine as Abraham did many years before.
Symbol of Rome?
“Babylon” is also mentioned in the New Testament. Peter’s greetings at the end of his first letter include: “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark” (1 Pt. 5:13). “She” could refer to an individual woman or to a church with whom Peter is staying. According to the NET, “Most scholars understand Babylon here to be a figurative reference to Rome. Although in the Old Testament the city of Babylon in Mesopotamia was the seat of tremendous power (2 Ki. 24-25; Isa. 39; Jer. 25), by the time of the New Testament what was left was an insignificant town, and there is no tradition in Christian history that Peter ever visited there. On the other hand, Christian tradition connects Peter with the church in Rome, and many interpreters think other references to Babylon in Revelation refer to Rome as well (Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). Thus it is likely Peter was referring to Rome here”. Also, Peter was in Rome in the final years of his life.
Peter may have used “Babylon” as a symbol for the city of Rome in order to protect the Christians in Asia Minor from prosecution. Nero was the Roman Emperor when this letter was written in about AD 62. It’s interesting to note that John Mark was in Rome with Paul in about AD 60 (Col. 4:10), which is consistent with him being in Rome with Peter when this letter was written. So it seems that in this instance Peter probably used a metaphor to describe Rome as being like Babylon.
Just as ancient Babylon had oppressed the Jewish exiles, the Roman Empire was persecuting the Christians that lived in Rome. It also invaded Jerusalem in AD 70, burned the temple and dispersed the Jews from their homeland. So there are similarities between Babylon and the Roman Empire.
What about the references to “Babylon” written in about AD 95 in Revelation (14:8, 16:19; 17:5; 18:1, 2, 10, 21)? According to the Futuristic interpretation of Revelation, its structure is outlined in 1:19. “What will take place later” (after AD 95 and still future) is given in 4:1 – 22:5. This includes aspects of the tribulation (Rev. 6:1-18:24) between the rapture (when all Christians are taken to heaven) and the second coming of Christ (after which Christ rules on earth for 1,000 years). The events of the tribulation are designed to bring Israel back to God.
“Babylon” in Revelation
Babylon is mentioned in the judgement associated with the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-21). The context is the second coming of Christ at the end of the great tribulation. It doesn’t relate to the true church because all believers are taken to be with the Lord at the rapture. The fall of Babylon is also mentioned in Revelation 14:8 and more details are given in chapters 17-18. Chapter 17 is the religious fall of Babylon and chapter 18 the political fall of Babylon. Babylon stands for a global system of religion in chapter 17 and a global system of government and commerce in chapter 18.
Revelation 17-18 is apocalyptic literature. Ancient apocalyptic writings were filled with visions that revealed hidden truths in figurative language for the purpose of assuring persecuted people of the goodness of God’s ways. For example, Ezekiel 37-39 and Daniel 7-12 were messages to the Jews who were devastated after their defeat and exile by the Babylonians.
“Babylon” is symbolised as a prostitute riding upon a scarlet beast. Her name is “Babylon the great – the mother of prostitutes – and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev. 17:5-6). She also commits spiritual adultery (Rev. 14:8). In the old Testament, “prostitution” and “adultery” were used symbolically to describe God’s people when they followed the idols of other nations instead of following the true God (Ezek. 16:26-32; 23:1-48). So Babylon the great is a spiritual adulterer and a prostitute; an apostate religion. Grant Richison calls her a “worldwide ecumenical religion”, a super-religion.
This apostate religion will be attractive and wealthy and comprised of unbelievers. It will blend different belief systems together. And she will cause the death of martyrs who will preach the gospel of the kingdom of God in the tribulation period (Rev. 11:1-10; 17:6; 18:24).
The woman rides a beast with seven heads that represent “seven hills on which the woman sits” (Rev. 17:7, 9). Some think that this refers to Rome, which has seven hills. But this passage is not dealing with a literal city or mountains but with kings (Rev. 17:10, 12).
The fall of Babylon is predicted as being God’s judgment. The global systems of religion, government and commerce think they are invincible. But they will receive what they have done to others (Rev. 18:5-6, 20). This is a principle that God uses in “the day of the Lord” (Obad. 1:15). Babylon is also guilty of pride, idolatry, and demon possession (Rev. 18:2, 7). And it’s clear that the global systems of religion, government and commerce are based on materialism and humanism.
Lessons for us
So the story behind Babylon stretches from about 4,200 years ago to the coming tribulation between the rapture and the second coming of Christ. Babylon is opposite to Zion. Babylon was a wicked place (where people rebelled against God), while Zion was a holy place (where God lived).
It reminds us that:
– God kept His promises to Israel. The law said that if they disobeyed God and followed idols, they would be expelled from Palestine (Dt. 4:25-28; 28:62-65; 30:1-3). And that’s what happened. Likewise, God will keep His promises given to us in the New Testament.
– God is sovereign over all the events in human history. He is powerful (source of different languages and different nations; and caused the rise and fall of nations). And He uses who He wills to achieve His purposes. He used a pagan nation to punish Judah.
– God judged the wickedness of Babylon. Likewise, in the future God will judge all evil and wickedness.
– Apostate religion is doomed. God wants us to separate from apostate religion.
– Materialism and humanism is doomed. God wants us to separate from materialism and humanism.
Steven Merrill (2005) “Nimrod. Darkness in the cradle of civilization”. Diakonoa Publishing. Greenboro, North Carolina, USA.
Grant Richison. Commentary on the book of Revelation.
Written, February 2017
All languages contain figures of speech where words have a figurative meaning instead of the literal one. The same is true for the Bible. It’s important to correctly recognize figurative language so we don’t treat figurative language as though it were literal, or treat literal language as though it were figurative.
The passage “by his wounds you have been healed” is mentioned in Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24. What does it mean? From the context, “his wounds” refers to Christ’s suffering on the cross. Does it mean that through Christ’s death we can be miraculously healed from illness or injury? Or does it mean something else?
This passage is also alluded to in Deuteronomy 32:39NIV: “There is no god besides me. I (God) put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand”.
This verse is a part of the song of Moses which deals with the punishment of the nations which God used to punish Israel. Here God is shown to be sovereign over the nations. He can destroy them (“put to death”) and create them (“bring to life”). He can judge them (“wound”) and restore them (“heal”). So in this context, the word “heal” is used as a figure of speech for restoring the fortunes of a nation. It has nothing to do with recovering from an illness or injury.
We will now look at Isaiah 53:5, followed by 1 Peter 2:24.
The Hebrew word nirpa (Strongs #7495), which is translated “heal”, is mentioned in six verses in the book of Isaiah. According to the Appendix, in 80% (4/5) of these verses, the word “heal” is used as a figure of speech. So what does it mean in the other verse, Isaiah 53:5? Is it figurative or literal?
Isaiah prophesied and wrote in Judea in about 700BC when there was great wickedness and idolatry amongst the Judeans. There are four “servant songs” in the book of Isaiah in which the servant is the promised Messiah (Isa. 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13 – 53:12). The fourth song describes a servant who would experience suffering and exaltation. Isaiah 53:5 is set in the following context.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Here the servant endured: pain, suffering, punishment, striking, affliction, piercing, crushing, and wounding. This punishment was from God and in this way the servant took the punishment that “we” deserve for “our” transgressions, iniquities and sin (v.10, 12). In this context the “we” and “our” were the faithful remnant of Judah (Isa. 10:20-23; 11:11; 37:31-32; 46:3). The result is that they experience peace and healing and justification (v.11). Their problem was that they “had gone astray” (v.6). They had sinned and transgressed the law of Moses. There is no mention of illness or injury. So in this verse “healed” means forgiveness of their sins and transgressions, not physical healing. According to the NET version, “Healing is a metaphor for forgiveness here”. It’s a spiritual healing, not a physical one. Brown-Driver-Briggs says that its figurative and addressing a nation or city like Babylon (Jer. 17:14). This means that the word “heal” is used as a figure of speech in 83% (5/6) of the verses where it is mentioned in the book of Isaiah.
In 1 Peter
The Greek word iaomai (Strongs #2390), which is translated “to heal”, is only mentioned once in the books written by Peter (1 Pt. 2:24). Most of the other instances of this word in the New Testament refer to physical healing. The exceptions are:
Acts 28:27, which is a quotation of Isaiah 6:10 in which the phrase “I (God) would heal them” is used as a figure of speech for a spiritual revival (see Appendix).
Hebrews 12:13 “’Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed”. The context of this verse is enduring hardship as God’s discipline (v.3-13). They are encouraged to persevere instead of giving up. The desired outcome is to “share in His (God’s) holiness” (v.10). This is a spiritual solution, not a physical one. So it was a spiritual problem, not a physical one. The “lame” is a weak believer (who had maybe drifted away, Heb. 2:1) and to be “healed” is to be built up, strengthened and restored (instead of stumbled). The NLT says “Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong”. So the words “lame”, “disabled” and “healed” are being used metaphorically in this verse.
So what does “heal” mean in 1 Peter 2:24. This verse is set in the following context:
23 When they hurled their insults at Him (Jesus), He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted himself to Him (God the Father) who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by His wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
After dealing with submission to authorities, Paul gives the example of Christ’s submission when He suffered for our sins. Then he quotes from Isaiah 53:4-6 to encourage believers to live godly lives: “so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right” (v. 24, NLT). The verse is referring to sin and righteousness, not sickness and disease. Therefore, being “healed” means to be forgiven and saved, not to be physically healed. According to Thayers’ Greek Lexion “by His wounds you have been healed” means “to bring about (one’s) salvation”. It’s a way of saying that Christ’s death brings salvation to those who trust in Him. So, it’s spiritual healing. This is consistent with the finding that Isaiah 53:5 is also addressing spiritual healing, which should be the case as that is the source of the quotation in 1 Peter 2:24.
This study has illustrated how to use the surrounding context to distinguish figurative language from literal language in the Bible. The verses and passages in each book of the Bible are set out in an order determined by God. Don’t try to understand a verse or passage in isolation. Look at the message in the whole book. Look at the message in the same chapter, in the previous chapter and in the following chapter. Look at the message in the verses before and in the verses after. Read it like any other book; don’t just read here and there. Proverbs is the only book of the Bible where the verses aren’t always related to each other.
If a verse is quoted and explained without looking at the surrounding context, there is a danger of eisegesis (an interpretation that is imposed on the biblical text by the reader – it comes from the reader’s preconceived ideas) instead of exegesis (an interpretation that is obtained/derived from the biblical text).
In our everyday language the meaning of the words we use is mainly given by the surrounding context. The same rule applies when interpreting Scripture. It’s not good practice to select verses elsewhere in Scripture (i.e. “cherry picking”) to derive the meaning of a particular verse. Who decides which selection is best? But once the meaning has been explained, it’s OK to look for other passages of Scripture that are consistent with the meaning.
If this passage from Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24 is not relevant to illness and injury, then what is a proper Biblical response to such circumstances? Paul prayed about his health problems, but when it was clear that that weren’t going to be taken away, he knew that God doesn’t promise to remove our ailments and problems (2 Cor. 12:9). Instead God can give us the strength to live with our ailments and problems, because human weakness enables the display of divine power. Like a parent trains their children, God uses suffering for our spiritual development (Heb. 12:4-13). It’s how our self-reliance, pride, and earthly wisdom can be replaced with godliness and a stronger faith. James taught that the purpose of such trials is to develop our endurance, patience and perseverance (Jas. 1:2-3). Because our problems can develop our Christian character, we should accept them joyfully instead of getting angry, complaining, giving up, having self-pity, or believing that God will take them away. That can be a challenge for us!
We have seen that the passage “by his wounds you have been healed” mentioned in Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24 doesn’t mean that through Christ’s death we will be miraculously healed from illness or injury. Instead it means that through Christ’s death our sins can be forgiven and we can be spiritually healed and revived. However, physical healing is promised in future when believers will be resurrected to experience no sickness, pain, suffering, or death (Rev.21:1-4, 22:1-3).
Paul’s response to his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:9), parental training of their children (Heb. 12:4-13), and James’ advice on trials (Jas. 1:2-3) are good examples on how to react to illness or injury.
Appendix: Usage of the word “heal” in Isaiah
The Hebrew word nirpa (Strongs #7495), which is translated “heal”, is mentioned in six verses in the book of Isaiah. We now look briefly at the meaning of this word in five of these verses.
Isa. 6:10b: “Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed”. This verse is in a passage describing the results of Isaiah’s ministry to Judah. The people would be unresponsive (like being deaf and blind) and turn even further from God. It’s opposite to people turning back to God (being repentant). And opposite to a spiritual revival. And opposite to spiritual healing. So the phrase “be healed” is used in this verse as a figure of speech for a spiritual revival.
Isa. 19:22: “The Lord will strike Egypt with a plague; He will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the Lord, and He will respond to their pleas and heal them”. Here the Egyptians are able to pray for deliverance from the plague like the Israelites (1 Ki. 8:35-40). In this verse, the word “heal” is used for physical healing from the plague, which is a disease.
Isa. 30:26: “The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted”. This chapter describes Israel relying on political alliances instead of on God, which results in suffering and sorrow. The suffering and sorrow are referred to metaphorically as “bruises” and “wounds”. But they are promised blessing if they repent. The end of their suffering and sorrow is likened to a metaphorical healing. So the word “heals” is used as a figure of speech for a spiritual revival when the Israelites repent to obey God once again.
Isa. 57:18-19: “I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners, creating praise on their lips. Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the Lord. “And I will heal them”. These verses are in a passage where God promises to restore the Israelites who turn away from idolatry. The meaning of the word “heal” is given as to “guide”, to “restore comfort to Israel’s mourners” and to bring “peace”. There is no mention of illness or injury. So the word “heal” is used here as a figure of speech for forgiveness and restoration.
So in 80% (4/5 of these verses, the word “heal” is used as a figure of speech. The other verse that we haven’t considered here is: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed“ (Isa. 53:5). The meaning of “healed” in this verse is discussed above under the heading “In Isaiah”.
Written, February 2017
Esperanto is an international auxiliary language devised in 1887 to help break down the language barriers between different ethnic groups. It was to help communication while allowing retention of different languages and cultures. And a language to unite humanity and bring world peace. However, its proponents were persecuted by the Communists and Fascists and it remained a small movement. In this post we look at an international religious language.
When I was investigating the Islamic faith, I realized that to follow Muhammad and the Quran (Koran), you need to learn how to recite classical Arabic. Classical Arabic is a sacred language for Muslims because it was the language of the 7th century AD used by Muhammad and the language of the Quran. It’s no longer spoken in everyday language (except for religious purposes), being equivalent to Shakespearean English in the English speaking world.
The Quran is Islam’s holiest book; which Muslims believe are the commandments of Allah (God). Muslims believe that the Quran is divine (being Allah’s final message) and must be recited and studied in classical Arabic. A translation into another language (such as English) is viewed as being not divine because a human being did the translation – so it’s viewed as being only a human interpretation. Therefore, one needs to learn classical Arabic in order to properly understand the Quran.
This belief is based on a particular interpretation of this verse from the Quran: “We have revealed/made it (the Quran) an Arabic Quran, that you may understand” (12:2; 43:3). Of course, this is a translation into English, not the original version in classical Arabic! So Muslims would say that it’s not from the “real” Quran because it’s the wrong language! See my exegesis (interpretation) of this verse in the Appendix which gives a different interpretation because it includes the context given in the Quran.
As Islam forbids translation of the Quran from classical Arabic into another language, in all mosques around the world the recitation of the Quran is done in classical Arabic. In this way, classical Arabic is the world-wide liturgical language of Islam.
The mandatory prayers
Muslims are required to pray five times a day facing Mecca. They believe that all these prayers are to be recited in the classical Arabic language because the prayers include extracts from the Quran. Non-Arabic speakers often learn them by heart and recite them from memory. That’s why the Call to prayer announced by loudspeakers five times daily from mosques is only given in classical Arabic; even in non-Arabic communities. Has anyone ever heard this announcement made in any other language?
A sacred language
So to become a Muslim, you have to adopt the classical Arabic language for these most important religious activities. No other language is accepted except classical Arabic. In this way, Islam is a language-exclusive religion. It is monolingual.
Muslims have many native languages, but one religious language. Non-Arab Muslims have to accept this bias as a natural part of life. As language is a part of culture, the daily use of classical Arabic language would affect one’s culture. In this way, it is understandable that Muslims would adopt aspects of Arabic culture into their local culture as well. For example, some non-Arabic Muslims adopt Arabic names and give their children Arabic names. They also often adopt Arabic modes of dress. So Islam is closely associated with Arabic language and Arabic culture.
On the other hand, Christianity is definitely multilingual. The Bible has been translated into all major languages and is being translated into minor languages as well. When the church began on the day of Pentecost (50 days after Christ’s death), there was a miracle whereby the apostles were able to speak in the native languages of people from at least 15 different language groups (Acts 2:5-15). This was called the gift of tongues (the ability to speak a foreign language without learning it). So from the beginning, the message about Jesus Christ was given in the native languages of the hearers, and not in only one “sacred” language (such as Latin or Koine Greek or Aramaic, John 19:20).
If Christianity was monolingual, then all public usage of the Bible would have to be in a single language like Koine Greek, or Latin or King James English.
Christianity is also multicultural and multinational. Peter had to change his attitude towards Gentiles after being shown that the barrier between Jew and Gentile had been removed because God doesn’t favor people because of their nationality (Acts 10:28, 34).
There is another example in the Bible of God using a multilingual approach rather than a monolingual one. After the Jews returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, in about 444 BC, Ezra read the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy in the Old Testament) to them. But the people no longer understood the Hebrew language as their native language was now Aramaic. So the Levites “instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear (translating it) and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” (Neh. 8:7-8NIV). Afterwards the people were pleased “because they now understood the words that had been made known to them” (Neh. 8:12). It seems as though the Levites were translating the Scripture from Hebrew into Aramaic on this occasion. Many Hebrew words needed to be explained as it was no longer their native language.
Evidence of the usage of Aramaic in this era is given in the book of Ezra. The only portion of the Old Testament that wasn’t written in Hebrew is Ezra 4:8 – 6:18; 7:12-26, which was written in Aramaic. These passages refer to correspondence to and from the king of the Persian Empire written between 534 BC and 458 BC.
Muslims claim to worship the same God as the Jews and the Christians. But we have seen from these examples that the God of the Jews didn’t ask the Jews to treat Hebrew as a sacred language and the God of the Christians didn’t ask the Christians to treat Koine Greek (or Aramaic or Latin) as a sacred language. Yet Allah asked the Muslims to treat classical Arabic as a sacred language. Clearly Allah is inconsistent with the God of the Jews and the Christians. Is seems like Allah is a different god.
To follow Muhammad, Allah and the Quran, you need to learn to recite classical Arabic because classic Arabic is the international liturgical language of Islam. Fortunately, you can follow Jesus Christ in your native language.
Appendix: My exegesis of Quran 12:2; 43:3
This verse says, “We have revealed it (the Quran) an Arabic Quran, that you may understand” or “We have made it (the Quran) an Arabic Quran so that you may apply reason”.
The steps involved in understanding an ancient passage like this are as follows:
– What was the meaning when it was written? This is the original meaning.
– What were the original principles behind this meaning?
– What has changed since then?
– What are the universal principles for us today? Here we update the principles.
– What is the meaning for us today? How should we apply these universal principles? Here we update the applications or practices of the principles.
The Quran was written in 7th century AD Arabic language (Classical Arabic) so that the 7th century AD Arabic people could understand it. This is different to Islam whose original meaning seems to be; “the Quran was written in Classical Arabic because that’s the language that Allah used”.
The Quran must be understandable. This is different to Islam whose original principle seems to be; “the Quran must be in Classical Arabic because that’s the language that Allah used”. Islam seems to ignore the context, which is given as “that you may understand”.
What has changed since then?
It is claimed that the Quran was written at least 1,300 years ago. Since this time Islam has spread to other nations. This means that Muslims no longer speak the same language and no longer speak classical Arabic in everyday life. And for many Muslims, Arabic isn’t their native language.
For the Quran to be understandable by all Muslims, it needs to be available in their native language. This is different to Islam whose modern principle remains; “the Quran must be in Classical Arabic because that’s the language that Allah used”. As mentioned above, this seems to ignore the context, which is given as “that you may understand”.
Translate the Quran into native languages so it can be readily understood by those who read and recite it. This application of the verse is different to Islam because I took the context into account, which is given as “that you may understand”. However, I am in the minority!
Written, January 2017
There is no such thing as sin. It’s an outmoded religious idea. Sin is an illusion. A perception. A mental creation. It is not real outside of your head. Morals are evolved responses. Humans are hardwired by evolution to behave the way they do. That’s what some people think about sin. Another idea is that some people are sinless.
The Shia branch of Islam says that prophets of Allah (God) are infallible. They claim that “All the prophets and messengers of Allah, with no exception, are sinless and infallible”, while some others say they were protected from major sins but not from minor ones. What does the Bible say on this topic?
In the Bible, a prophet (nabi in Hebrew, Strongs #5030) is one who speaks on behalf of someone else. For example, Aaron was Moses’ spokesman (Ex. 7:1). So he was a prophet of Moses. The word is usually used in the Old testament for a spokesman for God, a person chosen by God to speak to people on His behalf. God’s prophets brought messages from God. They were God’s messengers to humanity who were enabled by the Holy Spirit (2 Chr. 15:1; Neh. 9:30; Mic. 3:8). They guided the nation of Israel spiritually and wrote the Old Testament. In this post, we list some of their sins and shortcomings which are mentioned in the Bible. Sin is rebellion against God which is a part of human nature that’s inherited from Adam and Eve (Dt. 9:7; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1-3).
Abraham is the first man to be given the title “prophet” in the Bible (Gen. 20:7). During his life, he deceived both Pharaoh and King Abimelek by saying that his wife was his sister instead of saying that she was his wife (Gen. 12:10-20; 20:1-13). On both of these occasions, which were 20 years apart, he didn’t trust God’s promise that he would have a son (Isaac). Instead he thought that they would kill him to take his beautiful wife for their harems.
God spoke indirectly to prophets by visions and dreams, but He spoke to Moses directly, face to face (Num. 12:4-8; Dt. 34:10). Also, “No one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Dt. 34:12NIV). That’s why Moses has been called the greatest prophet. He also complied and wrote most of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). By the way, John the Baptist was the prophet with the greatest privilege because he announced the arrival of the Messiah (Mt 11:9-11).
God commissioned Moses to lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt northwards to Canaan (Ex. 3:1-22). Previously God had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that their descendants would occupy Canaan (Ex. 6:8). But Moses died before Israel reached Canaan. This was God’s judgment because he “broke faith with me (God) in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the desert of Zin and because you (Moses) did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites” (Dt. 32:51NIV). This occurred when there was no water for the Israelites and their livestock and they complained to Moses and Aaron (Num. 20:1-13). God told Moses to take his staff and gather the people together and speak to a rock and water would pour out of it. But Moses didn’t obey God. Instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it twice with his staff. Because of this sin, God told him “you will not bring this community into the land (Canaan) I give them”.
A prophet from Judah
After King Jeroboam set up an idolatrous system of worship in the kingdom of Israel, God sent a prophet from Judah to denounce their idolatry (1 Ki. 13:1-32). Because of God’s judgement of their apostate worship, the prophet was commanded not to eat or drink while he was in Israel. But when an old man said, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’ (But he was lying to him.) So the man of God (prophet) returned with him and ate and drank in his house” (1 Ki. 13:18-19). This was a lie because although the old man may have been a true prophet in his younger days, he was now living in Bethel where there was a golden calf idol. While they were eating together, the old man from Bethel received a message from God saying that because of his disobedience, the prophet would die and would not be buried with his family. On his way home, the prophet was killed by a lion and buried in Bethel.
Peter said that David was a prophet (Acts 2:30). King David wrote many of the psalms. But he exploited his positional power in adultery with Bathsheba and arranging the killing of Uriah her husband (2 Sam. 11:1-27).
When God told Jonah to preach to the Assyrians in Nineveh, he disobeyed by boarding a ship travelling in the opposite direction (Jon. 1:1-3; 4:1)!
Jeremiah predicted the Babylonian invasion of the kingdom of Judah and demise of the Babylonian empire about 70 years later and the return of the Jews to their homeland. He also wrote the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. But at times Jeremiah regretted his unpopular ministry. This led to depression and suicidal thoughts (Jer. 20:14-18).
What about Enoch and Elijah?
The Bible says that sin leads to death (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, people die because of sin. Did any prophets not die? Yes, Enoch and Elijah (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5). Does this mean that they never sinned?
James used Elijah to illustrate the prayer of a righteous person. He emphasized that Elijah had the same human nature as us:
“Elijah was a human being, even as we are” (Jas. 5:17NIV).
“Elijah was a human being like us” (Jas.5:17NET).
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (Jas. 5:17ESV, HCSB)
So Elijah had a sinful nature like us: He wasn’t infallible and sinless.
For example, after he was threatened by Queen Jezebel, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”. He ran from Jezebel travelling at least 160 km (100 miles) to Beersheba! Then he was depressed and suicidal (1 Ki. 19:1-14). So Elijah was like us when he experienced fear, discouragement and dismay.
We know very little about Enoch, except that his father was Jared and Methuselah was one of his sons (Gen. 5:18-24). “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Gen. 5:24). And Jude records a prophesy by Enoch (Jude 14-15). As Enoch had two human parents; according to Romans 5:12 he inherited the sin of Adam. This is a characteristic of humanity. The only exception is Jesus, who didn’t have a human father (Joseph was His step-father).
After Jesus miraculously fed over 5,000 people and taught at the festival of tabernacles, they thought He was the prophet who was promised in the Old Testament (Jn. 6:14; 7:40). The Samaritan woman, the blind man, and those who saw Him raise the widow’s son thought that Jesus was a prophet (Jn. 4:19; 9:17; Lk. 7:16). So some people thought He was a prophet (Mk. 6:15; 8:28). When some Pharisees advised Jesus to escape from Jerusalem, He said “no prophet can die outside Jerusalem” (Lk. 13:33). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the people said He was “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mt. 21:11). And the two travelling to Emmaus after Christ’s death called Him a prophet (Lk. 24:19). God had promised Moses “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him” (Dt. 18:18). This prophet would be a mediator between God and people. In the context of Christ’s coming reign on earth, Peter said that Jesus would be a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:21-23). The similarity is that both are raised up by God (Dt. 18:15, 18).
But Jesus was unique. He didn’t have a biological (human) father like all other people. And He is the only sinless infallible person to have lived on earth. The Bible says “He committed no sin”; He “had no sin”; and “in Him is no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pt. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5). He made no mistakes or errors. He was greater than Moss (Heb. 3:1-6). Also see, “Ten reasons Jesus was more than a prophet”. These reasons are all consistent with Jesus being the divine Son of God who is equal with God and is alive today.
All the Old Testament prophets were sinners because they had a sinful nature (being born of human parents) and so they weren’t infallible. Likewise, people like Mary the mother of Jesus, the Pope, and Muhammad are sinners and so they weren’t (or aren’t) infallible. Also, the originators and leaders of all religions (except for Jesus Christ) are sinners and so they weren’t (or aren’t) infallible.
However, a biblical prophet’s revelations were divinely authoritative and infallible. David wrote, “the Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Peter said that a prophetic message is “completely reliable” and “prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Pt. 1:19-21). A prophet’s words were God’s words. What a prophet said, God said.
What about prophets who lived after 33 AD? Those whose message is not consistent with Jesus being the Son of God and the only mediator between God and humanity are false prophets: because “In the past God spoke to our (Jews) ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son (Jesus), whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe” (Heb. 1:1-2). In fact, “many false prophets have gone out into the world” and they can be recognized by their false view of Jesus (1 Jn. 4:1-3).
What about Christians today? The Bible says, “If we claim to be without sin (a sinful nature), we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins (individual sins), He (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned (individual sins), we make Him (God) out to be a liar and His word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8-10). Conversion doesn’t eradicate our sinful nature. But it gives us a new divine nature with power to live victoriously over the sinful nature. One of the ways to do this is to confess our individual sins and through God’s parental forgiveness (based on Christ paying the penalty for us) our fellowship with God and each other is restored. If anyone claims to be sinless, they make God out to be a liar and deny the reason Jesus come to earth to die. This applies to both the Gnostics of John’s era and todays atheists who deny that immoral actions are sinful.
The Bible shows that prophets like Abraham, Moses, a prophet from Judah, David, Jonah, Jeremiah were sinners and so they aren’t infallible. Even a prophet who didn’t die (Elijah) was a sinner. In fact, all the descendants of Adam and Eve were sinners except for Jesus Christ who wasn’t conceived in the usual way. He is the only infallible person.
So the Shia Islamic view that prophets of Allah (God) are infallible isn’t consistent with the Bible. Also, the atheist and Buddhist view that there is no such thing as sin isn’t consistent with the Bible. This means that they are human ideas that don’t come from God.
Written, November 2016
Facebook has been criticized for disseminating fake and misleading stories that are indistinguishable from real news. US President Obama said that these bogus news stories were a threat to democracy. Because Facebook’s algorithm is designed to determine what its individual users want to see, people often see only that which validates their existing beliefs regardless of whether the information being shared is true. Seven projects are underway to stop the spread of misinformation among Facebook’s 1.79 billion users. But deception isn’t new because Paul faced it almost 2,000 year ago.
The letter of 2 Thessalonians was written to Christians who were deceived by false teachings which were alleged to come from Paul. This post addresses the highlights of this letter where we see the need to stand firm against false teaching that twists the plain meaning of scripture to something inconsistent with the original meaning.
Paul visited Thessalonica for a short time and in response to his preaching a church was established. After he left, he wrote them the letter of 1 Thessalonians to encourage them in the Christian faith. But some time later Paul saw a need to encourage the believers in Thessalonica once again as they were still being persecuted. Besides this, some of them thought the tribulation described in Revelation had already arrived and some had stopped working. So Paul wrote them another letter (2 Thessalonians) in about 51 AD.
Because some were deceived by false teachings, Paul urged them to “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we have passed on to you” (2:15NIV). This letter can be divided into three sections: encouragement during trials and suffering; standing firm against false teachings; and don’t be lazy. God allows Christians to go through trials, suffering and persecution. Now Paul shows how we can cope in difficult times.
Chapter 1: Encouragement during trials and suffering
Paul thanked God for their increasing faith and love (1:3-4). Faith keeps us in contact with God and this leads to love for one another. In the first letter faith, love and hope are mentioned together, but here “hope” is left out maybe because they needed correction concerning the second coming of the Lord (1 Th. 1:3; 5:8). Their hope was not clear. So Paul writes to correct the situation.
They were doing so well that Paul boasted about their spiritual progress to other churches. Despite tough times of persecution and trial, their faith remained strong. By mentioning this in the letter, Paul is affirming their faith, love and perseverance.
Their endurance in the face of persecution was evidence that God was at work among them (1:5-7a)! They were being persecuted because of their Christian faith, but God knew that they could bear it (1 Cor. 10:13). People who are under pressure give up easily unless something is strengthening them. God provided strength so they could endure their suffering and persecution.
Paul points out three things about their suffering. First, it showed they were “worthy of the kingdom of God”. They had been made worthy by faith in Christ and this was evident in their endurance under suffering. The pattern is one of suffering followed by future glory. It is the same one that Jesus followed. The Old Testament prophets predicted; “the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:11), but they didn’t understand that these events would be separated by at least 1,900 years. The Jews expected the Messiah to come in great power and glory, but instead He came in a humble way and suffered greatly. Whereas at His future appearing He will come in great power and glory. This pattern also applies to believers: Paul wrote: “… if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:17-18).
Second, their suffering showed that their persecutors deserved to be judged. Because God is just, He will punish the persecutors—“He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you”. The Greek word translated “trouble” (1:6) means to suffer due to the pressure of circumstances or under antagonism (Vine). We know that God judges unrepentant sinners, both on earth when He “gives them over” to suffer the consequences of their sins (Rom. 1:24,26,28) and at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15).
Third, their suffering showed that they deserved relief for their undeserved persecution. Because God is just, the punishment will be balanced with relief. The Greek word translated “relief” means relief from persecution. But, when will this all happen? It will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven (1:7b-10). Christ is now hidden and many people even deny His existence. But when He appears visibly, He will be seen by all, so that no one will be able to deny or avoid Him.
When will the Lord Jesus be “revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels”? As this hasn’t happened in the last 1,900 years, it is still future. Obviously, it’s a reference to the second coming. When Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, two angels said, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The second coming of the Lord is a series of events over a period of time. In fact there are two main comings, the rapture when Christ returns to the air to take all believers, both dead and alive, to be with Him in heaven (1 Th. 4:13-17) and the appearing when He returns to the earth in great power and glory to remove unbelievers for judgement (Rev 19:1-21).
The timing of these events is evident from the sequence of topics in the book of Revelation: at present the church is on earth (Rev. 2-3); then church in is heaven, which implies that the rapture has occurred between chapters 3 and 4 (Rev. 4-5); then there is tribulation on earth (Rev. 6-18); which is followed by the appearing (Rev. 19:11-21); and then the millennium (Rev. 20:1-7); and finally the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21-22).
Further evidence that the rapture and the appearing are separate events is shown by their relationship to the tribulation. Christians are said to be “saved from God’s wrath” (Rom. 5:9) and kept from “the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” (Rev. 3:10); for “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:9). Of course, God’s “wrath” may refer to the tribulation (Rev. 6:16-17; 14:9-10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19) or to His eternal punishment of unbelievers. According to 1 Thessalonians 5:9, the context is the tribulation. This is consistent with the rapture occurring before the tribulation—believers will be in heaven while the tribulation is occurring on the earth. This understanding is known as the pre-tribulation rapture.
On the other hand, the appearing occurs at the end of the tribulation. The tribulation is described in Matthew 24:3-28, and then the appearing in v.29-31. It is a time of awesome power and punishment of Christ’s enemies (Is. 66:15-16; Rev. 1:7).
When Paul writes about when this will happen (1:7b, 10), he means when it will be visible to all. From the story of the rich man and Lazarus we know that when a believer dies they obtain relief and all their suffering and persecution has ended—they are with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). So, after death, believers enjoy relief in heaven, while unbelievers suffer in hades.
Two classes are marked for punishment. First, “those who do not know God” – these have rejected the knowledge of the true God that is revealed to everyone through creation and conscience (Rom. 1:19-20; 2:12-16). Of course, they may never have heard the gospel. But God has revealed Himself clearly to everyone that He is God. He is in charge of the world. Second, those who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” – these have heard the gospel of salvation through a relationship with Jesus Christ, but sadly they have rejected it.
These people are punished because God’s justice demands punishment for sin. The punishment is “everlasting destruction”, which means eternal ruin; and being “shut out from the presence of the Lord”, which means without Him forever. They will reap the consequence of their choice to ignore God.
The appearing will be a time of great glory and amazement. The Lord Jesus will be glorified and the spectators (those saved during the tribulation) will be amazed at what God has done in the salvation of believers—“glorified in His holy people”. God will reveal to the world what He has been doing with His people through all these years. So, not only is Jesus Christ revealed, but His followers will be revealed as well.
Paul prays that the believers may live lives that are worthy of their calling to participate in the appearing and to reign in the millennial kingdom (1:11-12). He asks for God’s power to enable them to obey every desire to do good and to carry out every deed prompted by faith. Here we see that God prompts such desires and deeds.
These are also difficult days and some are going through tough times. Let’s remember how Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to persevere at such times. Be encouraged that if you hold out against the pressures and temptations of this life it is evident that God is at work in your life in developing character and maturity.
Like the Thessalonians, we can be so occupied with suffering or persecution that we forget about our hope for the future. Do we have a clear view of what we are waiting for? Present suffering will be replaced by glory in future. Do we have a vision of the rapture and the appearing? There will be great power and glory when the Lord and His followers are revealed for all to see. It will be amazing and spectacular.
We can help believers who are going through tough times of trials, suffering or persecution by reminding them that in future things will be set right and the truth will be evident to all. Be encouraged that God is going to punish the persecutors and those guilty of wicked deeds. There will be retribution. Give them a reality check. Help them see the big picture; the eternal perspective. Remind them that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”. This helps them to cope.
Not only were the believers in Thessalonica suffering physically, but they were being attacked by a false teaching which didn’t match what Paul had told them. A rumor was spreading about the end of the age.
Chapter 2: Standing firm against false teachings
Paul now addresses a misunderstanding that had arisen in Thessalonica (2:1-2). Because of the persecution they were enduring, some thought that they were in the tribulation—the first part of the day of the Lord (1 Th. 5:1-11). If this was so, then the rapture must have already occurred and they had been left behind. False teachings such as this are unsettling and alarming—they introduce doubt and uncertainty about the truth and can destroy the unity within a church. Paul now addresses this false teaching. Firstly, he says that it didn’t come from him and secondly, he corrects it.
There was a rumor that the idea that they were in the day of the Lord came from Paul. Paul says that these were only allegations; they were not true. He also refers to the rapture: “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him”. The Greek word before this clause is translated “concerning” in most bibles, but a better translation is “because of” or “by” (see BRG, Darby, DRA, GNV, KJV, PHILLIPS, WYC). It is clear from 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11, that the rapture and the day of the Lord are different events; in fact they have been divided into separate chapters in this instance. The word “concerning” implies that 2 Thessalonians 2 is about the rapture, but this is not the case. Instead, Paul is saying that because of the rapture they should not think they were in the day of the Lord. By the rapture they will be taken to heaven before the day of the Lord occurs on earth. The false teaching said that they were in the tribulation period, which was not the case as the church was still present on earth.
Paul then helps them not to be deceived again on this topic (2:3-5). He says that two things need to happen before the day of the Lord is present. First, there is a “rebellion”. This Greek word, which is also used in Acts 21:21, means “defection from the truth” or “apostasy”. This seems to indicate a major rejection of faith in God during the tribulation. During a time of great persecution many will turn away from the faith rather than suffer and die (Mt. 24:10-12). Instead of love there will be betrayal, hate, wickedness and false prophets.
Then the “man of lawlessness” will be revealed. He is the antichrist, because he sets himself up as God and no other form of worship will be allowed. He even has an idol of himself in the temple in Jerusalem (Rev. 13:14). This event, which marks the middle of the tribulation period, had been described earlier by Daniel and Christ (Dan. 9:27; Mt. 24:15). Furthermore, the antichrist is a “man doomed to destruction”, because he is destined to be tormented forever in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). Paul had previously told them about these things, but they had forgotten them.
Paul says that the antichrist will not be revealed until that which is holding him back is taken away (2:6). He will certainly be revealed when he displays miraculous power through signs and wonders (2:9).
It is evident that the antichrist and the power of evil are being held back by a person or a group of people (2:7). The Greek word for the restrainer means to “hold fast or down” and is used as a metaphor. Paul doesn’t say who the restrainer is; some have suggested it the principal of law and order as found in human government or the Holy Spirit or believers as indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwelling believers seems to fit best. Jesus said, “When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn. 16:8). Also, when he wrote about testing false teachers, John said “every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:3-4). Those who do not acknowledge that Jesus was divine are following the spirit of antichrist. But believers can overcome such false teachers because the Holy Spirit helps them detect error.
Believers are like salt and light in this world: in this sense they hold back the “power of lawlessness” (Mt. 5:13-14). Salt preserves and light removes darkness. Their influence on the world through the indwelling Holy Spirit will be removed at the rapture and the restraint on lawlessness will be gone (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). We see that the power of lawlessness was already at work in Paul’s time and we know that evil is present in our world today (2:7). But it will be fully revealed during the tribulation. This universal evil will be present on earth until the restrainer is removed—then it will be judged. For example, the great flood didn’t come until Noah’s family were safely in the boat and Sodom was not destroyed until Lot’s family were safely away from the city. So, God will not judge the evil in this world until He has taken His people to safety in heaven.
So we see that the antichrist will be revealed during the tribulation (2:8), and his reign of terror is described in the next section. At the end of this period, the antichrist will be destroyed when the Lord appears in great power and glory (Is. 11:4).
The antichrist will work like Satan works (2:9-12). He will be able to do miracles and people will be amazed at his signs and wonders. Many will be deceived and believe that these miracles prove that he is divine (2:10). But this is a lie; Satan and demons can also perform miracles. In that day, God will send a powerful delusion so that those who deliberately rejected the truth will believe the lie that the antichrist is the Messiah (2:11); God on earth. As most people rejected the real Messiah, most people in the tribulation will accept the false Messiah. This shows how much Satan and sin have affected humanity.
Those deceived are described as: “perishing”, “they refused to love the truth”, they “have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness”. Because of their unbelief, they will be condemned by God—their names will not be written in the book of life (2:12; Rev. 20:15).
So how does this evil work? In the unseen spiritual world—that’s how Satan works. It can use counterfeit miracles. Deceptively—things that seem to be good finish up being destructive. And in those who have no time for God or the Scriptures.
After describing the antichrist and his followers, Paul now contrasts them with the Christians at Thessalonica (2:13). This change from bad news to good news is indicated by the word “but”. He thanks God for saving them. This salvation involves the past, the present and the future. In the past, God chose them to be believers in the early church. In the present, the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin and the need to accept the gift of salvation. In the future, Christians will share in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, because they will be with Him and like Him forever (2:14). That’s a summary of God’s work throughout history and in our world today.
Both God and humanity play roles in this salvation. The three members of the trinity are involved; God chose them, the Lord loved them and the Spirit sanctified them (2:13). On the human side, the Thessalonians were called to be believers when God used Paul to preach the gospel to them (2:14). Also, the people needed to believe (2:13) and act on the truth of the gospel.
Paul says that despite the hard times they were going through, they should “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you” (2:15). In those days doctrine was taught verbally by apostolic and prophetic messages and written in letters. But we now have the teachings of the apostle Paul and the other inspired authors written in the Bible, which should be the foundation and anchor of our faith. So, the defense and remedy against false teachings is to follow and obey the instructions and principles in God’s Word. Paul urged them not to quit or give in to evil but to draw on the resources that God had given them to handle the pressures of life.
Then he prayed that God would encourage and strengthen them inwardly in order to produce good deeds and good speech outwardly (2:16-17). Their greatest resource was God Himself. Paul also mentions three things about God: He loved them, He gave them “eternal encouragement”, and He gave them “good hope”. Likewise, because of the gift of His Son for us, our sin has been forgiven and so believers have the eternal encouragement now and the hope of a future with the Lord. So our source of encouragement and hope should be God’s promises in the Bible. Also, note that the Christian life is not just words to know, but deeds to do. All the principles of God’s word need to be put into practice. Otherwise, we are hypocrites if we say the right words but never apply these to ourselves.
We need maturity in order to distinguish good from evil and to avoid being blown off course by false teachings (Eph. 4:13-14; Heb. 5:14). False teachers could be recognized by their false view of Jesus (1 Jn. 4:1-3), their false gospel (Gal. 1:6-9), and their bad fruit (Mt. 7:15-20). Don’t welcome false teachers or false teachings into your house or the local church (2 Jn. 7-11), instead keep away from them and have nothing to do with them (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Tim. 2:21; 3:5-9).
Paul taught the young believers at Thessalonica about future prophetic events. This gave them an eternal perspective and helped them endure suffering and persecution. Likewise, we should include prophecy when teaching young believers.
But the Thessalonians had forgotten what Paul had told them about the future. This shows the importance of being reminded of the truths of scripture. Just because we have heard or read them in the past, doesn’t mean that we will remember them in the future. We can be reminded by personal Bible study and by listening to teaching from the Bible.
Two of our greatest resources are God and the truths of scripture. Like the Thessalonians we should also “stand firm and hold fast” to the principles of God’s Word. Let’s live by the true teachings, so we won’t be deceived by the false ones. This will lead to maturity and being able to distinguish between what is true and what is false.
When we hear new teachings, don’t ignore them. Instead check with the Bible as we may have forgotten what we have learnt from it. If you are uncertain about a particular teaching consult with someone who is “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2).
Chapter 3: Don’t be lazy
There are different attitudes to work. Some work long hours, while others work as little as possible. Is work a vital part of our lives or just a consequence of the fall into sin? Next we see how Paul addressed laziness at Thessalonica. The third problem in Thessalonica was that some had stopped working because they thought the Lord was returning soon. Instead of working they were being lazy and disruptive in the local church. Paul had told them in his first letter to return to work, but evidently his directions had not been obeyed.
Paul now balances God’s provision for the Thessalonians with their responsibility to keep doing the things that Paul had commanded. It’s not good enough to relax and think that because God will look after us, then we can be lazy and ignore His commands. Christians need to be active, not passive. It’s doing the things God has commanded and continuing to do these things.
Ever since the days of Adam, people must work for a living. Adam had to work and take care of the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). After the fall into sin this work became arduous (Gen. 3:17-19).
Paul now addresses the third major problem in the church at Thessalonica (3:6-13). It seems as though some of the Thessalonians thought the Lord was returning soon, so they stopped working and relied on others to support them. So they were idle instead of working and this lead to them interfering with other people’s affairs. What is a Paul’s solution to this problem? First, he says these people are out of line with what he had taught them (3:6).
Paul, Silas and Timothy had worked hard while they preached in Thessalonica so they would not be a burden to others (1 Th. 2:9). Paul was a tent maker by trade. Although he could have relied on the support of others for food, accommodation and money, he worked night and day to pay his expenses and not be dependent on them. When he was not preaching, teaching and shepherding the new believers, he was probably making and repairing tents. Paul was self supporting; he didn’t seek funds from those to whom he was preaching the gospel. The reason he worked was so he wouldn’t be a burden to those who were poor and persecuted and he didn’t want to hinder the gospel message in any way.
Now he urges those who had stopped working to follow his example (3:7-9). Although he had the right to financial help, Paul “did not use this right” of support in Corinth so that the gospel would not be hindered (1 Cor. 9:12, 14). Instead, he offered the gospel “free of charge” (1 Cor. 9:18). He then gives another reason for supporting himself: Paul wanted to be a model for them to imitate; an example to be followed.
Next Paul gives further instructions about these people who were minding everybody’s business but their own (3:11-12). When they could no longer find any meaning in their work, they started messing in other people’s business, criticizing, grumbling, gossiping, and trying to control others. Paul commanded and urged them to get back to work to support themselves and their families. How they behaved would have affected their witness for the Lord. How could they urge people to get their spiritual lives in order, if they couldn’t get their physical lives in order?
Now we will look at how Paul advised then to deal with those who refused to obey his instructions (3:10). Paul said don’t help them by feeding and supporting them; instead let them experience the consequences of their behavior. This is addressed to those who are “unwilling to work”, not those who cannot work. If an able-bodied Christian refused to work, neither should they eat. This rule was to stop them becoming busybodies that disrupt the local church. Does this conflict with the fact that Christians should be kind and loving? No, it is a tough love that draws a boundary against encouraging laziness. That’s why this section is titled, “Don’t be lazy”.
This was followed by further instructions on how to deal with those who refused to obey his instructions (3:6, 13-15). Finally, Paul commands them in Christ’s name not to socialise with believers who refused to work and who were disrupting the local church. The Greek words used mean to “withdraw” from or “avoid” and to not keep company with them. It was to be a more distant relationship instead of a close one. This let them know that this behavior was not acceptable. The purpose of this discipline was to awaken their conscience to make them feel ashamed of their behavior and give them a reason to change it. They can still have some of the benefits of the church family, but their part is restricted until they repent and are restored to the close relationship.
Paul warns them not to take it too far, so they feel like an enemy. Don’t make them feel like an unbeliever, as they don’t deserve to be expelled from the church. In the case of expulsion, people are to be treated as an unbeliever; as though they are not in the family (Mt. 18:17). Note that the instruction was addressed to the behavior of fellow believers, not to the behavior of unbelievers.
Paul finishes reminding them of the Lord’s peace, presence and grace (3:16-18). They could have “peace at all times and in every way”, including when they faced the problems created by those who refused to work for a living. They needed this peaceful attitude as they addressed these problems. The Lord of peace was with all of them, including those who were idle and disruptive.
Paul worked hard night and day to support himself while he preaching the gospel. He was an example to be followed. Are we? What sort of a witness is our work? Do we support our families? Work is important because it gives a sense of worth and meaning in our lives. But there were believers at Thessalonica who refused to work and were disruptive busybodies in the local church. Are we idle?
Today we don’t face the problem that people are so ardently looking forward to the Lord’s return that they abandon their daily duties. Instead we are so busy with our business and money-making that we forget that the Lord could return at any moment. Nevertheless, the same principles apply in cases of disobedience. What would Paul say to us? Would it be that we work too much instead of not enough? Are we so busy with our things that there is little time for God’s things? Are we lazy, busy or too busy supporting our families?
Paul wasn’t lazy. Are we lazy or busy for God? Let’s be like Paul by being busy for God and busy supporting our families.
Lessons for us
Like 1 Thessalonians, this letter is occupied with the second coming of Christ and the day of the Lord. The anticipation of this time when justice will prevail, alleviates our suffering. It helps to know about the future. Let’s remind ourselves of the time when the Lord is going to return to right all the wrongs and end all the suffering. An eternal perspective can help us get through our daily life.
Paul also warned them not to be deceived by false teaching that twists the plain meaning of scripture to something inconsistent with the original meaning. How do we distinguish between what is true and what is false? Let’s compare any new teachings with what the Bible says. Using reliable exegesis (interpretation) of scripture – see “Understanding the Bible”. And distinguishing between what a Bible passage meant when it was written and its application today.
What is “the lie” that Satan is spreading today? You can run your own life. You can do whatever you want to without any adverse consequences. It’s called humanism; the worship of humanity. It is opposite to the gospel, which says we should hand our life over to the Lord, who will encourage and strengthen us to live with Him.
Written, November 2016