Who do you follow on social media? We can choose between lots of people and causes to follow. And everyone follows something: friends, popular culture, family, selfish desires, or God. As Bob Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. It may be the Devil or it may be the Lord. But You’re gonna have to serve somebody”. Christians follow Jesus Christ.
Christianity is the largest religion in the world. It is the predominant religion in Europe, Russia, North America, South America, the Philippines, East Timor, Southern Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, and Oceania. It is declining in developed countries and growing in under-developed countries.
This post is one in a series on major religions. It shows that Christianity is a way of life that involves beliefs and practices that are taught by Jesus and His apostles as recorded in the Bible.
The largest branches of Christianity are the Roman Catholic church, the Orthodox church, and the Protestant churches.
Roman Catholic churches believe that scripture must be interpreted within the tradition of the church. Their Bible includes an extra 7 deuterocanonical books. And Mary the mother of Jesus is considered an object of devotion and veneration. And the Pope may pronounce dogma (doctrine required to be obeyed by all members) infallibly. Seven sacraments are believed to convey saving grace. And baptism and communion are believed to be necessary to gain eternal life.
Orthodox churches believe that scripture must be interpreted by sacred tradition. Their Bible includes an extra 10 deuterocanonical books. Icons (images of Christ, Mary, or the saints) are objects of veneration through which God is to be worshipped.
Protestant churches believe in scripture alone (and not tradition), justification by faith alone (and not works) and the universal priesthood of believers (because Christ mediates like a high priest).
The “Old Covenant” is God’s agreement or treaty made with the nation of Israel about 3,500 years ago.
Christianity is named after Jesus Christ. It began in Jerusalem (on the Day of Pentecost) after Christ’s death. The first Christians were mainly Jews. It developed under the leadership of the apostles. Christianity is based on the teaching of Christ and the apostles, which is recorded in the Bible. As a result of persecution, Christians moved away from the Middle East across the Roman Empire.
The early followers of Jesus were called “disciples” and followers of “the Way” and “Christians” (Acts 9:2; 11:26; 19:9, 23; 22:4, 14; 1 Pt. 4:16). His followers are now known as Christians.
Armenia was the first nation to accept Christianity in AD 301. And in AD 380, Christianity was made the religion of the Roman Empire. Since this time, Christianity has played a prominent role in the shaping of Western civilization.
In the 11th century AD, there was a division between the Roman Catholic Church in the west and the Orthodox church in the east. In the 16th century the Protestant churches separated from the Roman Catholic church.
Here are some of the major Christian beliefs according to the Bible. They are core beliefs of Christianity.
Seven major beliefs
We learn about Jesus in the Bible, which is God’s special revelation to humanity. The Old Testament describes history up to the time of Christ and the New Testament describes the time of Christ (in the Gospels) and then the early church. In fact, Jesus is the key person in the Bible.
Creation shows that God is intelligent, powerful and supernatural. But the clearest way that God has revealed Himself to us is in the Bible. It’s God’s record of history because He miraculously guided the authors of Scripture to correctly record His message to humanity (2 Pt. 1:21). “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17NIV). Because the Bible is “God-breathed”, it’s completely reliable.
Paul said, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Christian faith is based on the message about Jesus Christ which is recorded in the Bible. It gives us everything we need for a godly life (2 Pt. 1:3).
When many followers were deserting Jesus, He asked His disciples “Are you also going to leave?”. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life” (Jn. 6:67-68NLT). The Bible contains words that give eternal life. That’s what makes it different to other books and other messages.
Hebrews says, “The word of God is active and alive … it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Bible judges us. We need to respond faithfully to its message, because the Bible exposes unbelief.
So, the Bible is our authority for belief (faith) and practice. And it’s the best source of our knowledge about God. That’s why we are looking at Christianity according to the Bible and not according to a particular church. All the beliefs and practices described below come from the Bible.
Overall history is visualized in this schematic diagram. In the beginning God created a perfect world where there was no sin. But this world was changed and spoiled when humanity sinned. From that time there is sin, suffering and death. But God promised deliverance and salvation from this. When this is finalized in the future, God’s perfect world will be restored. We now live under the curse of sin between the Fall and the restoration.
History is linear. It’s sequential from a beginning to an end. The end is the new creation where Jesus rules in the kingdom of God. Here’s the events in the previous diagram rearranged in a line.
God’s plan of salvation has two parts, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant and introduced the New Covenant. That’s why His name appears between them in the diagram. He marks the center and turning point in history. The purpose of the Old Covenant was to accomplish a rescue plan for the world: God becoming a Jewish man and dying for humanity’s crimes against God. The Old Covenant no longer applies because its purpose was achieved. It has been replaced by the New Covenant. Christians are those who have trusted in God’s rescue plan and they live under the New Covenant. They are part of His coming new creation.
So we live in a world where there is tension between sin and salvation, between the past fall and the future restoration, and between following Satan and following Jesus.
The triune God
The Bible teaches that there is only one God, yet it calls three Persons “God” – the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. The word “trinity” explains the eternal relationship between them. This form of monotheism is indicated in the diagram by the green circle.
Other beliefs (or worldviews), such as those indicated in the diagram by a blue circle, differ from the Bible. These are:
– There is no God (atheism). There is no spiritual world – it’s only physical. Like humanism and naturalism.
– There is one God (monotheism), but no trinity.
Jesus was a great teacher, but he wasn’t divine. Like lslam.
– There are many gods (polytheism). Like Hinduism, and the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.
– Everything is god (pantheism). Like New Age spirituality, and animism.
These are different worldviews. Christianity is the Biblical worldview. It teaches that God is a spiritual being without a physical body who is eternal (has no beginning or end). God is great – He created the universe out of nothing. And God is good – although we rebelled against Him, He offered salvation to humanity. He is personal and involved with people.
How do we get to know God? Only through a relationship with Jesus Christ that involves believing and following Him.
Are people basically good or evil? Adam and Eve were created good in the beginning, and in the image of God, but they disobeyed God. Because of this, humanity and the rest of creation were cursed with sin, suffering and death (Rom. 5:12-15). The Bible says we are all sinners who are spiritually dead and separated from God (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 3:23, 5:12). And Satan is a spiritual being who tempts us to sin. Humanity now has a fatal flaw. We need help. Unless we do something about it we face eternal punishment in hell (Mt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 19:20). It’s more important than global warming or poverty or inequality or terrorism or the Middle East conflict or anything else you can think of. So, we have a big problem. And only God can fix it. We need outside help. That’s where Jesus comes into history.
Jesus is fully God and fully human (1 Jn. 4:1-3). As God, He always existed and was never created. And He created the universe (Col. 1:16). His conception was unique. He lived a sinless life. He was executed on a cross, was buried, but He rose back to life and is spiritually and physically immortal. When He ascended to heaven, He promised to return to earth again.
Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of humanity as described in the New Testament, whose coming as the Messiah (the Christ) was prophesized in the Old Testament.
Jesus was sent to earth to solve the big problem of our hopeless situation of sinfulness and separation from God
God had a plan to forgive sinful people like us. Because God is loving and just, His plan was loving and just. The idea was that Jesus would be our substitute. He would take our punishment (that’s justice), and we would be offered forgiveness (that’s loving). So, Jesus died as the sacrifice and payment for our sins.
God’s plan of salvation was offered to people as a gift (Eph. 2:8-9) that could be accepted by acknowledging our sin and the fact that it separates us from God, and believing that Jesus died for our sins and physically rose again. We just need to trust in Jesus alone as the way of salvation because He has done all the work for us. There’s two aspects:
– Admit you are a sinner – that’s the problem (Rom. 3:23; 1 Jn. 1:9)
– Believe that Jesus died for you – that’s the solution (Acts 16:31).
Jesus is like the bridge to eternal life in this diagram. Unbelievers are separated from God and on the road to hell. If they trust in what Jesus has done for them, they cross over the bridge to the road to heaven. That’s the only solution. The only rescue plan.
That’s how God made a way for people to have a relationship with Him. Paul said, “Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin (Jesus) to be sin for us, so that in Him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:20). What a great exchange of our sin for Christ’s righteousness!
Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). Peter preached, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts. 4:12). That’s why Christians follow and worship Jesus and not someone else who is a sinner like us.
Those who follow Jesus are promised a wonderful future. At death their invisible soul is separated from the body. That’s when believers go to be with Jesus. Later at the rapture their bodies are resurrected and reunited with their souls. So believers will live with Jesus for eternity (Jn. 11:25, 26; 2 Cor. 5:6). They will also reign with Jesus in His coming kingdom.
If you want to drive a car in Australia you need to pass a knowledge test to get a learner licence. Then you need to pass a driving test for a provisional licence. You can’t get a learner licence without passing the knowledge test. And you can’t get a provisional licence without passing a driving test. There’s information to know and things you need to be able to do. Likewise to follow Jesus, there are both beliefs to know and practices to do.
Now we have looked at the major beliefs of those who follow Jesus, here are some of their major practices. All these practices can be applied in a Christian’s individual life, in their family life, and in their corporate life (as in the church). And they were practiced by the early church (Acts 2:42; 4:33).
Five major practices
It’s important to connect with the Bible every day as it is God’s main message to us. Christians read it to understand the message and to apply it to their daily lives.
Regularly reading the Bible is one of the most important things they can do. It can influence their lives and help them develop godly attitudes and behavior. And they can learn more about God and draw nearer to God. Victory over sin comes from the Bible (Mt. 4:4). As physical food gives us energy, the words of scripture give us spiritual energy and power. Devotions like “Our Daily Bread” and Bible Apps can help.
Christians should study the Bible because there is so much false teaching around. Test any teaching against what the Bible says (Acts 17:11). Be careful to correctly interpret scripture (2 Tim. 2:15). There are many poor interpretations on the internet. Some things that can help to keep you on the right track are – Study Bibles and the “Believer’s Bible commentary” by William MacDonald.
Christians are commanded to pray regularly and when facing trouble (Col. 4:2; 1 Th. 5:17; Heb. 5:13). It’s important to connect with God every day. Jesus prayed regularly and not just on special occasions (Mt. 14:23; Mk. 1:35; Lk. 11:1). He “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Lk. 5:16).
Many of Paul’s prayers are recorded in the New Testament. He prayed for things like godly living, his ministry, strengthening, increased knowledge, more love, grace and peace, Israel’s salvation, Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith, more hope and for the fullness of God. A Christian’s prayers are offered to the Father through Jesus because Jesus is the only mediator between people and God the Father (1 Tim. 2:5).
James said, “Come near to God and He will come near to you” (Jas. 4:8). If Christians come to God in prayer with humility, He will answer their prayers. God is accessible to those in fellowship with Him. They can stay right with God by confessing our sins (1 Jn. 1:9).
People are encouraged by knowing that others are praying for them. Peace is another benefit of prayer, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
Praise and worship
God alone is worthy of our devotion, praise and worship. He is our Creator and our Savior. Praise is linked with thanksgiving, while worship is linked to surrender.
Christians should praise God for His goodness even when life is difficult. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess His name” (Heb. 13:15). The joy of salvation can be expressed in songs of praise (Acts 16:25; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 5:13). Their praise is offered to the Father through Jesus.
Jesus said that His followers should “worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23-24). Worship is different under the New Covenant. The location isn’t important anymore. But who and how Christians worship is important. They worship the Father for sending the Son and Jesus for carrying out God’s plan of salvation. Its God centered. One’s attitude needs to be right (in spirit; engaging our hearts). And it needs to be consistent with Scripture and the kind of God we worship (in truth; engaging our minds).
Serving God is a form of individual worship (Rom. 12:1). It’s a response to all that God has done for them. And the Lord’s Supper is an expression of corporate worship.
Sharing the good news about Jesus
Before Jesus ascended back to heaven He told the apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20). He also told them, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
In the book of Acts there are many accounts of people sharing the good news of God’s plan of salvation though Jesus. This began in Jerusalem and extended to elsewhere in the Middle East and across the Roman Empire to Rome. Paul and Silas were so passionate about telling people about Jesus that they continued sharing even when they were imprisoned.
Godly attitudes and behavior
Children grow up to be like their parents in many ways. Christians are called “children of God” (Jn. 1:12)
The Bible says, “His (God’s) divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pt. 1:3-4).
The power of God gives Christians new life (Col. 2:12-13; Ti. 3:4-5) and the power of God gives them the ability to live godly lives (Phil. 2:12-13; 4:13). The better they know God’s Word the better they can apply God’s principles in their lives. The Christian lives by the promises of God in Christ.
Christians have two natures. A selfish sinful nature like unbelievers and a new divine nature, which transforms them to become more like Christ (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). This process isn’t complete until they get to heaven when they “see Him (Jesus) as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2). The divine nature is God’s provision to counteract the sinful nature.
Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:31 – 11:1). He put the welfare of others first. God should be glorified in all that Christians do. He didn’t want to stumble anyone so that unbelievers may be saved.
Following Jesus is a transformation from within. Paul changed from being self-centered to being Christ-centered (Phil. 3:4-16). His mind was set on heavenly things, not earthly things (Phil. 3:17-20).
The godly attitudes and behavior mentioned in the New Testament include:
Opposed to sin
What a wonderful list of attributes! Wouldn’t it be great to be more like this?
The Bible encourages Christians to meet together regularly for mutual encouragement (Heb. 10:24-25). Collective worship and service is one of the characteristics of Christianity. This is difficult in countries where Christians are persecuted. Groups of people that meet together are referred to as a local church and the building they meet in can also be called a “church”. Since the middle ages some grand churches have been constructed, particularly in Europe. These were significant landmarks because of their great size and splendor. Cathedrals are impressive church buildings that symbolize the glory of God. In an age when the vast majority of the people were illiterate, the images on the stained-glass windows were like an illustrated Bible.
Christianity had a significant impact on education, science and medicine. And it has also had an impact on art, music and literature. The contents of the Bible influenced artists such as Michelanglo and Leonardo da Vinci, composers such as Bach and Handel, and writers such as Shakespeare and CS Lewis.
Christians usually celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas and Christ’s death and resurrection at Easter. These are cultural and traditional events as neither of them is mentioned in the Bible.
Comparison with Judaism
Jesus, the apostles and the majority of the early church were Jewish. As Judaism is based on the Old Covenant (Old Testament), it’s a precursor of Christianity. Because Jesus fulfilled the purpose of the Old Testament about 2000 years ago, Christianity is the successor of Judaism.
The Jewish faith is monotheistic, but not trinitarian – they don’t accept that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah awaited by the Jews, while the Jews believe that the Messiah will come in the future. The Jewish Messiah is a person (who isn’t divine) who will restore the physical kingdom of Israel, rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and bring earthly peace.
Both Judaism and Christianity teach that God has a special plan for the nation of Israel and the Jewish people. But Christianity does not accept that Mosaic Law has any authority over Christians, while Judaism does not accept that the New Testament has any religious authority over Jews. Besides the Old Testament, Judaism also considers the Oral Torah (written in the Mishnah and the Talmuds) to be a sacred text. Christians generally worship collectively of Sunday while Saturday is the day of worship in Judaism.
Christianity is a way of life that involves beliefs and practices that are taught by Jesus and His apostles as recorded in the Bible. This post has summarized aspects of the history, major beliefs, major practices and culture of the Christian faith. These beliefs, practices and culture impact everyday life for about 2 billion people across the world.
Written, January 2017
Did you know that archaeology has confirmed the existence of many people mentioned in the Bible? In articles in the Biblical Archaeology Review, Purdue University scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk lists 53 people from the Old Testament who have been confirmed archaeologically. These include Israelite kings and Mesopotamian monarchs as well as lesser-known figures. Their names appear in inscriptions written during the period described by the Bible and in most instances during or quite close to the lifetime of the person identified.
This list excludes persons in two categories. The first category includes those about whom we know so little (from the Biblical record) that we cannot identify them with anyone named in an inscription. The second category includes identifications that do not come to us from archaeology (such as the writings in the first century AD of Flavius Josephus).
|Number||Name||Who was he?||Date (BC)||Bible reference|
|1||Shishak (= Sheshonq I)||pharaoh||945–924||1 Kings 11:40, etc.|
|2||So (= Osorkon IV)||pharaoh||730–715||2 Kings 17:4|
|3||Tirhakah (= Taharqa)||pharaoh||690–664||2 Kings 19:9, etc.|
|4||Necho II (= Neco II)||pharaoh||610–595||2 Chronicles 35:20, etc.|
|5||Hophra (= Apries)||pharaoh||589–570||Jeremiah 44:30|
|6||Mesha||king||early to mid-ninth century||2 Kings 3:4–27|
|7||Hadadezer||king||early ninth century to 844/842||1 Kings 11:23, etc.|
|8||Ben-hadad, son of Hadadezer||king||844/842||2 Kings 6:24, etc.|
|9||Hazael||king||844/842–c. 800||1 Kings 19:15, etc.|
|10||Ben-hadad, son of Hazael||king||early eighth century||2 Kings 13:3, etc.|
|11||Rezin||king||mid-eighth century to 732||2 Kings 15:37, etc.|
|Northern Kingdom of Israel|
|12||Omri||king||884–873||1 Kings 16:16, etc.|
|13||Ahab||king||873–852||1 Kings 16:28, etc.|
|14||Jehu||king||842/841–815/814||1 Kings 19:16, etc.|
|15||Joash (= Jehoash)||king||805–790||2 Kings 13:9, etc.|
|16||Jeroboam II||king||790–750/749||2 Kings 13:13, etc.|
|17||Menahem||king||749–738||2 Kings 15:14, etc.|
|18||Pekah||king||750(?)–732/731||2 Kings 15:25, etc.|
|19||Hoshea||king||732/731–722||2 Kings 15:30, etc.|
|20||Sanballat “I”||governor of Samaria under Persian rule||c. mid-fifth century||Nehemiah 2:10, etc.|
|Southern Kingdom of Judah|
|21||David||king||c. 1010–970||1 Samuel 16:13, etc.|
|22||Uzziah (= Azariah)||king||788/787–736/735||2 Kings 14:21, etc.|
|23||Ahaz (= Jehoahaz)||king||742/741–726||2 Kings 15:38, etc.|
|24||Hezekiah||king||726–697/696||2 Kings 16:20, etc.|
|25||Manasseh||king||697/696–642/641||2 Kings 20:21, etc.|
|26||Hilkiah||high priest during Josiah’s reign||within 640/639–609||2 Kings 22:4, etc.|
|27||Shaphan||scribe during Josiah’s reign||within 640/639–609||2 Kings 22:3, etc.|
|28||Azariah||high priest during Josiah’s reign||within 640/639–609||1 Chronicles 5:39, etc.|
|29||Gemariah||official during Jehoiakim’s reign||within 609–598||Jeremiah 36:10, etc.|
|30||Jehoiachin (= Jeconiah = Coniah)||king||598–597||2 Kings 24:6, etc.|
|31||Shelemiah||father of Jehucal the royal official||late seventh century||Jeremiah 37:3, etc.|
|32||Jehucal (= Jucal)||official during Zedekiah’s reign||within 597–586||Jeremiah 37:3, etc.|
|33||Pashhur||father of Gedaliah the royal official||late seventh century||Jeremiah 38:1|
|34||Gedaliah||official during Zedekiah’s reign||within 597–586||Jeremiah 38:1|
|35||Tiglath-pileser III (= Pul)||king||744–727||2 Kings 15:19, etc.|
|36||Shalmaneser V||king||726–722||2 Kings 17:3, etc.|
|37||Sargon II||king||721–705||Isaiah 20:1|
|38||Sennacherib||king||704–681||2 Kings 18:13, etc.|
|39||Adrammelech (= Ardamullissu = Arad-mullissu)||son and assassin of Sennacherib||early seventh century||2 Kings 19:37, etc.|
|40||Esarhaddon||king||680–669||2 Kings 19:37, etc.|
|41||Merodach-baladan II||king||721–710 and 703||2 Kings 20:12, etc.|
|42||Nebuchadnezzar II||king||604–562||2 Kings 24:1, etc.|
|43||Nebo-sarsekim||official of Nebuchadnezzar II||early sixth century||Jeremiah 39:3|
|44||Nergal-sharezer||officer of Nebuchadnezzar II||early sixth century||Jeremiah 39:3|
|45||Nebuzaradan||a chief officer of Nebuchadnezzar II||early sixth century||2 Kings 25:8, etc. & Jeremiah 39:9, etc.|
|46||Evil-merodach (= Awel Marduk = Amel Marduk)||king||561–560||2 Kings 25:27, etc.|
|47||Belshazzar||son and co-regent of Nabonidus||c. 543?–540||Daniel 5:1, etc.|
|48||Cyrus II (= Cyrus the Great)||king||559–530||2 Chronicles 36:22, etc.|
|49||Darius I (= Darius the Great)||king||520–486||Ezra 4:5, etc.|
|50||Tattenai||provincial governor of Trans-Euphrates||late sixth to early fifth century||Ezra 5:3, etc.|
|51||Xerxes I (= Ahasuerus)||king||486–465||Esther 1:1, etc.|
|52||Artaxerxes I Longimanus||king||465-425/424||Ezra 4:7, etc.|
|53||Darius II Nothus||king||425/424-405/404||Nehemiah 12:22|
Appendix: The Biblical and archaeological evidence
1. Shishak (= Sheshonq I), pharaoh, r. 945–924, 1 Kings 11:40 and 14:25, in his inscriptions, including the record of his military campaign in Palestine in his 924 B.C.E. inscription on the exterior south wall of the Temple of Amun at Karnak in Thebes. See OROT, pp. 10, 31–32, 502 note 1; many references to him in Third, indexed on p. 520; Kenneth A. Kitchen, review of IBP, SEE-J Hiphil 2 (2005), http://www.see-j.net/index.php/hiphil/article/viewFile/19/17, bottom of p. 3, which is briefly mentioned in “Sixteen,” p. 43 n. 22. (Note: The name of this pharaoh can be spelled Sheshonq or Shoshenq.)
Sheshonq is also referred to in a fragment of his victory stele discovered at Megiddo containing his cartouche. See Robert S. Lamon and Geoffrey M. Shipton, Megiddo I: Seasons of 1925–34, Strata I–V. (Oriental Institute Publications no. 42; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939), pp. 60–61, fig. 70; Graham I. Davies, Megiddo (Cities of the Biblical World; Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 1986), pp. 89 fig. 18, 90; OROT, p. 508 n. 68; IBP, p. 137 n. 119. (Note: The name of this pharaoh can be spelled Sheshonq or Shoshenq.)
Egyptian pharaohs had several names, including a throne name. It is known that the throne name of Sheshonq I, when translated into English, means, “Bright is the manifestation of Re, chosen of Amun/Re.” Sheshonq I’s inscription on the wall of the Temple of Amun at Karnak in Thebes (mentioned above) celebrates the victories of his military campaign in the Levant, thus presenting the possibility of his presence in that region. A small Egyptian scarab containing his exact throne name, discovered as a surface find at Khirbat Hamra Ifdan, now documents his presence at or near that location. This site is located along the Wadi Fidan, in the region of Faynan in southern Jordan.
As for the time period, disruption of copper production at Khirbet en-Nahas, also in the southern Levant, can be attributed to Sheshonq’s army, as determined by stratigraphy, high-precision radiocarbon dating, and an assemblage of Egyptian amulets dating to Sheshonq’s time. His army seems to have intentionally disrupted copper production, as is evident both at Khirbet en-Nahas and also at Khirbat Hamra Ifdan, where the scarab was discovered.
As for the singularity of this name in this remote locale, it would have been notable to find any Egyptian scarab there, much less one containing the throne name of this conquering Pharaoh; this unique discovery admits no confusion with another person. See Thomas E. Levy, Stefan Münger, and Mohammad Najjar, “A Newly Discovered Scarab of Sheshonq I: Recent Iron Age Explorations in Southern Jordan. Antiquity Project Gallery,” Antiquity (2014); online: http://journal.antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/levy341.
2. So (= Osorkon IV), pharaoh, r. 730–715, 2 Kings 17:4 only, which calls him “So, king of Egypt” (OROT, pp. 15–16). K. A. Kitchen makes a detailed case for So being Osorkon IV in Third, pp. 372–375. See Raging Torrent, p. 106 under “Shilkanni.”
3. Tirhakah (= Taharqa), pharaoh, r. 690–664, 2 Kings 19:9, etc. in many Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions; Third, pp. 387–395. For mention of Tirhakah in Assyrian inscriptions, see those of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal in Raging Torrent, pp. 138–143, 145, 150–153, 155, 156; ABC, p. 247 under “Terhaqah.” The Babylonian chronicle also refers to him (Raging Torrent, p. 187). On Tirhakah as prince, see OROT, p. 24.
4. Necho II (= Neco II), pharaoh, r. 610–595, 2 Chronicles 35:20, etc., in inscriptions of the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal (ANET, pp. 294–297) and the Esarhaddon Chronicle (ANET, p. 303). See also Raging Torrent, pp. 189–199, esp. 198; OROT, p. 504 n. 26; Third, p. 407; ABC, p. 232.
5. Hophra (= Apries = Wahibre), pharaoh, r. 589–570, Jeremiah 44:30, in Egyptian inscriptions, such as the one describing his being buried by his successor, Aḥmose II (= Amasis II) (Third, p. 333 n. 498), with reflections in Babylonian inscriptions regarding Nebuchadnezzar’s defeat of Hophra in 572 and replacing him on the throne of Egypt with a general, Aḥmes (= Amasis), who later rebelled against Babylonia and was suppressed (Raging Torrent, p. 222). See OROT, pp. 9, 16, 24; Third, p. 373 n. 747, 407 and 407 n. 969; ANET, p. 308; D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (626–556 B.C.) in the British Museum (London: The Trustees of the British Museum, 1956), pp. 94-95. Cf. ANEHST, p. 402. (The index of Third, p. 525, distinguishes between an earlier “Wahibre i” [Third, p. 98] and the 26th Dynasty’s “Wahibre ii” [= Apries], r. 589–570.)
6. Mesha, king, r. early to mid-9th century, 2 Kings 3:4–27, in the Mesha Inscription, which he caused to be written, lines 1–2; Dearman, Studies, pp. 97, 100–101; IBP, pp. 95–108, 238; “Sixteen,” p. 43.
7. Hadadezer, king, r. early 9th century to 844/842, 1 Kings 22:3, etc., in Assyrian inscriptions of Shalmaneser III and also, I am convinced, in the Melqart stele. The Hebrew Bible does not name him, referring to him only as “the King of Aram” in 1 Kings 22:3, 31; 2 Kings chapter 5, 6:8–23. We find out this king’s full name in some contemporaneous inscriptions of Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria (r. 858–824), such as the Black Obelisk (Raging Torrent, pp. 22–24). At Kurkh, a monolith by Shalmaneser III states that at the battle of Qarqar (853 B.C.E.), he defeated “Adad-idri [the Assyrian way of saying Hadadezer] the Damascene,” along with “Ahab the Israelite” and other kings (Raging Torrent, p. 14; RIMA 3, p. 23, A.0.102.2, col. ii, lines 89b–92). “Hadadezer the Damascene” is also mentioned in an engraving on a statue of Shalmaneser III at Aššur (RIMA 3, p. 118, A.0.102.40, col. i, line 14). The same statue engraving later mentions both Hadadezer and Hazael together (RIMA 3, p. 118, col. i, lines 25–26) in a topical arrangement of worst enemies defeated that is not necessarily chronological.
On the long-disputed readings of the Melqart stele, which was discovered in Syria in 1939, see “Corrections,” pp. 69–85, which follows the closely allied readings of Frank Moore Cross and Gotthard G. G. Reinhold. Those readings, later included in “Sixteen,” pp. 47–48, correct the earlier absence of this Hadadezer in IBP (notably on p. 237, where he is not to be confused with the tenth-century Hadadezer, son of Rehob and king of Zobah).
8. Ben-hadad, son of Hadadezer, r. or served as co-regent 844/842, 2 Kings 6:24, etc., in the Melqart stele, following the readings of Frank Moore Cross and Gotthard G. G. Reinhold and Cross’s 2003 criticisms of a different reading that now appears in COS, vol. 2, pp. 152–153 (“Corrections,” pp. 69–85). Several kings of Damascus bore the name Bar-hadad (in their native Aramaic, which is translated as Ben-hadad in the Hebrew Bible), which suggests adoption as “son” by the patron deity Hadad. This designation might indicate that he was the crown prince and/or co-regent with his father Hadadezer. It seems likely that Bar-hadad/Ben-hadad was his father’s immediate successor as king, as seems to be implied by the military policy reversal between 2 Kings 6:3–23 and 6:24. It was this Ben-Hadad, the son of Hadadezer, whom Hazael assassinated in 2 Kings 8:7–15 (quoted in Raging Torrent, p. 25). The mistaken disqualification of this biblical identification in the Melqart stele in IBP, p. 237, is revised to a strong identification in that stele in “Corrections,” pp. 69–85; “Sixteen,” p. 47.
9. Hazael, king, r. 844/842–ca. 800, 1 Kings 19:15, 2 Kings 8:8, etc., is documented in four kinds of inscriptions: 1) The inscriptions of Shalmaneser III call him “Hazael of Damascus” (Raging Torrent, pp. 23–26, 28), for example the inscription on the Kurbail Statue (RIMA 3, p. 60, line 21). He is also referred to in 2) the Zakkur stele from near Aleppo, in what is now Syria, and in 3) bridle inscriptions, i.e., two inscribed horse blinders and a horse frontlet discovered on Greek islands, and in 4) inscribed ivories seized as Assyrian war booty (Raging Torrent, p. 35). All are treated in IBP, pp. 238–239, and listed in “Sixteen,” p. 44. Cf. “Corrections,” pp. 101–103.
10. Ben-hadad, son of Hazael, king, r. early 8th century, 2 Kings 13:3, etc., in the Zakkur stele from near Aleppo. In lines 4–5, it calls him “Bar-hadad, son of Hazael, the king of Aram” (IBP, p. 240; “Sixteen,” p. 44; Raging Torrent, p. 38; ANET, p. 655: COS, vol. 2, p. 155). On the possibility of Ben-hadad, son of Hazael, being the “Mari” in Assyrian inscriptions, see Raging Torrent, pp. 35–36.
11. Rezin (= Raḥianu), king, r. mid-8th century to 732, 2 Kings 15:37, etc., in the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III, king of Assyria (in these inscriptions, Raging Torrent records frequent mention of Rezin in pp. 51–78); OROT, p. 14. Inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III refer to “Rezin” several times, “Rezin of Damascus” in Annal 13, line 10 (ITP, pp. 68–69), and “the dynasty of Rezin of Damascus” in Annal 23, line 13 (ITP, pp. 80–81). Tiglath-pileser III’s stele from Iran contains an explicit reference to Rezin as king of Damascus in column III, the right side, A: “[line 1] The kings of the land of Hatti (and of) the Aramaeans of the western seashore . . . [line 4] Rezin of Damascus” (ITP, pp. 106–107).
NORTHERN KINGDOM OF ISRAEL
12. Omri, king, r. 884–873, 1 Kings 16:16, etc., in Assyrian inscriptions and in the Mesha Inscription. Because he founded a famous dynasty which ruled the northern kingdom of Israel, the Assyrians refer not only to him as a king of Israel (ANET, pp. 280, 281), but also to the later rulers of that territory as kings of “the house of Omri” and that territory itself literally as “the house of Omri” (Raging Torrent, pp. 34, 35; ANET, pp. 284, 285). Many a later king of Israel who was not his descendant, beginning with Jehu, was called “the son of Omri” (Raging Torrent, p. 18). The Mesha Inscription also refers to Omri as “the king of Israel” in lines 4–5, 7 (Dearman, Studies, pp. 97, 100–101; COS, vol. 2, p. 137; IBP, pp. 108–110, 216; “Sixteen,” p. 43.
13. Ahab, king, r. 873–852, 1 Kings 16:28, etc., in the Kurkh Monolith by his enemy, Shalmaneser III of Assyria. There, referring to the battle of Qarqar (853 B.C.E.), Shalmaneser calls him “Ahab the Israelite” (Raging Torrent, pp. 14, 18–19; RIMA 3, p. 23, A.0.102.2, col. 2, lines 91–92; ANET, p. 279; COS, vol. 2, p. 263).
14. Jehu, king, r. 842/841–815/814, 1 Kings 19:16, etc., in inscriptions of Shalmaneser III. In these, “son” means nothing more than that he is the successor, in this instance, of Omri (Raging Torrent, p. 20 under “Ba’asha . . . ” and p. 26). A long version of Shalmaneser III’s annals on a stone tablet in the outer wall of the city of Aššur refers to Jehu in col. 4, line 11, as “Jehu, son of Omri” (Raging Torrent, p. 28; RIMA 3, p. 54, A.0.102.10, col. 4, line 11; cf. ANET, p. 280, the parallel “fragment of an annalistic text”). Also, on the Kurba’il Statue, lines 29–30 refer to “Jehu, son of Omri” (RIMA 3, p. 60, A.0.102.12, lines 29–30).
In Shalmaneser III’s Black Obelisk, current scholarship regards the notation over relief B, depicting payment of tribute from Israel, as referring to “Jehu, son of Omri” (Raging Torrent, p. 23; RIMA 3, p. 149, A.0. 102.88), but cf. P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., “‘Yaw, Son of ‘Omri’: A Philological Note on Israelite Chronology,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 216 (1974): pp. 5–7.
15. Joash (= Jehoash), king, r. 805–790, 2 Kings 13:9, etc., in the Tell al-Rimaḥ inscription of Adad-Nirari III, king of Assyria (r. 810–783), which mentions “the tribute of Joash [= Iu’asu] the Samarian” (Stephanie Page, “A Stela of Adad-Nirari III and Nergal-Ereš from Tell Al Rimaḥ,” Iraq 30 : pp. 142–145, line 8, Pl. 38–41; RIMA 3, p. 211, line 8 of A.0.104.7; Raging Torrent, pp. 39–41).
16. Jeroboam II, king, r. 790–750/749, 2 Kings 13:13, etc., in the seal of his royal servant Shema, discovered at Megiddo (WSS, p. 49 no. 2; IBP, pp. 133–139, 217; “Sixteen,” p. 46).
17. Menahem, king, r. 749–738, 2 Kings 15:14, etc., in the Calah Annals of Tiglath-pileser III. Annal 13, line 10 refers to “Menahem of Samaria” in a list of kings who paid tribute (ITP, pp. 68–69, Pl. IX). Tiglath-pileser III’s stele from Iran, his only known stele, refers explicitly to Menahem as king of Samaria in column III, the right side, A: “[line 1] The kings of the land of Hatti (and of) the Aramaeans of the western seashore . . . [line 5] Menahem of Samaria.” (ITP, pp. 106–107). See also Raging Torrent, pp. 51, 52, 54, 55, 59; ANET, p. 283.
18. Pekah, king, r. 750(?)–732/731, 2 Kings 15:25, etc., in the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III. Among various references to “Pekah,” the most explicit concerns the replacement of Pekah in Summary Inscription 4, lines 15–17: “[line 15] . . . The land of Bit-Humria . . . . [line 17] Peqah, their king [I/they killed] and I installed Hoshea [line 18] [as king] over them” (ITP, pp. 140–141; Raging Torrent, pp. 66–67).
19. Hoshea, king, r. 732/731–722, 2 Kings 15:30, etc., in Tiglath-pileser’s Summary Inscription 4, described in preceding note 18, where Hoshea is mentioned as Pekah’s immediate successor.
20. Sanballat “I”, governor of Samaria under Persian rule, ca. mid-fifth century, Nehemiah 2:10, etc., in a letter among the papyri from the Jewish community at Elephantine in Egypt (A. E. Cowley, ed., Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1923; reprinted Osnabrück, Germany: Zeller, 1967), p. 114 English translation of line 29, and p. 118 note regarding line 29; ANET, p. 492.
Also, the reference to “[ ]ballat,” most likely Sanballat, in Wadi Daliyeh bulla WD 22 appears to refer to the biblical Sanballat as the father of a governor of Samaria who succeeded him in the first half of the fourth century. As Jan Dušek shows, it cannot be demonstrated that any Sanballat II and III existed, which is the reason for the present article’s quotation marks around the “I” in Sanballat “I”; see Jan Dušek, “Archaeology and Texts in the Persian Period: Focus on Sanballat,” in Martti Nissinen, ed., Congress Volume: Helsinki 2010 (Boston: Brill. 2012), pp. 117–132.
SOUTHERN KINGDOM OF JUDAH
21. David, king, r. ca. 1010–970, 1 Samuel 16:13, etc. in three inscriptions. Most notable is the victory stele in Aramaic known as the “house of David” inscription, discovered at Tel Dan; Avraham Biran and Joseph Naveh, “An Aramaic Stele from Tel Dan,” IEJ 43 (1993), pp. 81–98, and idem, “The Tel Dan Inscription: A New Fragment,” IEJ 45 (1995), pp. 1–18. An ancient Aramaic word pattern in line 9 designates David as the founder of the dynasty of Judah in the phrase “house of David” (2 Sam 2:11 and 5:5; Gary A. Rendsburg, “On the Writing ביתדיד [BYTDWD] in the Aramaic Inscription from Tel Dan,” IEJ 45 , pp. 22–25; Raging Torrent, p. 20, under “Ba’asha . . .”; IBP, pp. 110–132, 265–77; “Sixteen,” pp. 41–43).
In the second inscription, the Mesha Inscription, the phrase “house of David” appears in Moabite in line 31 with the same meaning: that he is the founder of the dynasty. There David’s name appears with only its first letter destroyed, and no other letter in that spot makes sense without creating a very strained, awkward reading (André Lemaire, “‘House of David’ Restored in Moabite Inscription,” BAR 20, no. 3 [May/June 1994]: pp. 30–37. David’s name also appears in line 12 of the Mesha Inscription (Anson F. Rainey, “Mesha‘ and Syntax,” in J. Andrew Dearman and M. Patrick Graham, eds., The Land That I Will Show You: Essays on the History and Archaeology of the Ancient Near East in Honor of J. Maxwell Miller. (JSOT Supplement series, no. 343; Sheffield, England:Sheffield Academic, 2001), pp. 287–307; IBP, pp. 265–277; “Sixteen,” pp. 41–43).
The third inscription, in Egyptian, mentions a region in the Negev called “the heights of David” after King David (Kenneth A. Kitchen, “A Possible Mention of David in the Late Tenth Century B.C.E., and Deity *Dod as Dead as the Dodo?” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 76 , pp. 39–41; IBP, p. 214 note 3, which is revised in “Corrections,” pp. 119–121; “Sixteen,” p. 43).
In the table on p. 46 of BAR, David is listed as king of Judah. According to 2 Samuel 5:5, for his first seven years and six months as a monarch, he ruled only the southern kingdom of Judah. We have no inscription that refers to David as king over all Israel (that is, the united kingdom) as also stated in 2 Sam 5:5.
22. Uzziah (= Azariah), king, r. 788/787–736/735, 2 Kings 14:21, etc., in the inscribed stone seals of two of his royal servants: Abiyaw and Shubnayaw (more commonly called Shebanyaw); WSS, p. 51 no. 4 and p. 50 no. 3, respectively; IBP, pp. 153–159 and 159–163, respectively, and p. 219 no. 20 (a correction to IBP is that on p. 219, references to WSS nos. 3 and 4 are reversed); “Sixteen,” pp. 46–47. Cf. also his secondary burial inscription from the Second Temple era (IBP, p. 219 n. 22).
23. Ahaz (= Jehoahaz), king, r. 742/741–726, 2 Kings 15:38, etc., in Tiglath-pileser III’s Summary Inscription 7, reverse, line 11, refers to “Jehoahaz of Judah” in a list of kings who paid tribute (ITP, pp. 170–171; Raging Torrent, pp. 58–59). The Bible refers to him by the shortened form of his full name, Ahaz, rather than by the full form of his name, Jehoahaz, which the Assyrian inscription uses.
Cf. the unprovenanced seal of ’Ushna’, more commonly called ’Ashna’, the name Ahaz appears (IBP, pp. 163–169, with corrections from Kitchen’s review of IBP as noted in “Corrections,” p. 117; “Sixteen,” pp. 38–39 n. 11). Because this king already stands clearly documented in an Assyrian inscription, documentation in another inscription is not necessary to confirm the existence of the biblical Ahaz, king of Judah.
24. Hezekiah, king, r. 726–697/696, 2 Kings 16:20, etc., initially in the Rassam Cylinder of Sennacherib (in this inscription, Raging Torrent records frequent mention of Hezekiah in pp. 111–123; COS, pp. 302–303). It mentions “Hezekiah the Judahite” (col. 2 line 76 and col. 3 line 1 in Luckenbill, Annals of Sennacherib, pp. 31, 32) and “Jerusalem, his royal city” (ibid., col. 3 lines 28, 40; ibid., p. 33) Other, later copies of the annals of Sennacherib, such as the Oriental Institute prism and the Taylor prism, mostly repeat the content of the Rassam cylinder, duplicating its way of referring to Hezekiah and Jerusalem (ANET, pp. 287, 288). The Bull Inscription from the palace at Nineveh (ANET, p. 288; Raging Torrent, pp. 126–127) also mentions “Hezekiah the Judahite” (lines 23, 27 in Luckenbill, Annals of Sennacherib, pp. 69, 70) and “Jerusalem, his royal city” (line 29; ibid., p. 33).
During 2009, a royal bulla of Hezekiah, king of Judah, was discovered in the renewed Ophel excavations of Eilat Mazar. Imperfections along the left edge of the impression in the clay contributed to a delay in correct reading of the bulla until late in 2015. An English translation of the bulla is: “Belonging to Heze[k]iah, [son of] ’A[h]az, king of Jud[ah]” (letters within square brackets [ ] are supplied where missing or only partly legible). This is the first impression of a Hebrew king’s seal ever discovered in a scientific excavation.
See the online article by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, “Impression of King Hezekiah’s Royal Seal Discovered in Ophel Excavations South of Temple Mount in Jerusalem,” December 2, 2015; a video under copyright of Eilat Mazar and Herbert W. Armstrong College, 2015; Robin Ngo, “King Hezekiah in the Bible: Royal Seal of Hezekiah Comes to Light,” Bible History Daily (blog), originally published on December 3, 2015; Meir Lubetski, “King Hezekiah’s Seal Revisited,” BAR, July/August 2001. Apparently unavailable as of August 2017 (except for a rare library copy or two) is Eilat Mazar, ed., The Ophel Excavations to the South of the Temple Mount 2009-2013: Final Reports, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Shoham Academic Research and Publication, c2015).
25. Manasseh, king, r. 697/696–642/641, 2 Kings 20:21, etc., in the inscriptions of Assyrian kings Esarhaddon (Raging Torrent, pp. 131, 133, 136) and Ashurbanipal (ibid., p. 154). “Manasseh, king of Judah,” according to Esarhaddon (r. 680–669), was among those who paid tribute to him (Esarhaddon’s Prism B, column 5, line 55; R. Campbell Thompson, The Prisms of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal [London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1931], p. 25; ANET, p. 291). Also, Ashurbanipal (r. 668–627) records that “Manasseh, king of Judah” paid tribute to him (Ashurbanipal’s Cylinder C, col. 1, line 25; Maximilian Streck, Assurbanipal und die letzten assyrischen Könige bis zum Untergang Niniveh’s, [Vorderasiatische Bibliothek 7; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1916], vol. 2, pp. 138–139; ANET, p. 294.
26. Hilkiah, high priest during Josiah’s reign, within 640/639–609, 2 Kings 22:4, etc., in the City of David bulla of Azariah, son of Hilkiah (WSS, p. 224 no. 596; IBP, pp. 148–151; 229 only in  City of David bulla; “Sixteen,” p. 49).
The oldest part of Jerusalem, called the City of David, is the location where the Bible places all four men named in the bullae covered in the present endnotes 26 through 29.
Analysis of the clay of these bullae shows that they were produced in the locale of Jerusalem (Eran Arie, Yuval Goren, and Inbal Samet, “Indelible Impression: Petrographic Analysis of Judahite Bullae,” in The Fire Signals of Lachish: Studies in the Archaeology and History of Israel in the Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Persian Period in Honor of David Ussishkin [ed. Israel Finkelstein and Nadav Na’aman; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2011], p. 10, quoted in “Sixteen,” pp. 48–49 n. 34).
27. Shaphan, scribe during Josiah’s reign, within 640/639–609, 2 Kings 22:3, etc., in the City of David bulla of Gemariah, son of Shaphan (WSS, p. 190 no. 470; IBP, pp. 139–146, 228). See endnote 26 above regarding “Sixteen,” pp. 48–49 n. 34.
28. Azariah, high priest during Josiah’s reign, within 640/639–609, 1 Chronicles 5:39, etc., in the City of David bulla of Azariah, son of Hilkiah (WSS, p. 224 no. 596; IBP, pp. 151–152; 229). See endnote 26 above regarding “Sixteen,” pp. 48–49 n. 34.
29. Gemariah, official during Jehoiakim’s reign, within 609–598, Jeremiah 36:10, etc., in the City of David bulla of Gemariah, son of Shaphan (WSS, p. 190 no. 470; IBP, pp. 147, 232). See endnote 26 above regarding “Sixteen,” pp. 48–49 n. 34.
30. Jehoiachin (= Jeconiah = Coniah), king, r. 598–597, 2 Kings 24:5, etc., in four Babylonian administrative tablets regarding oil rations or deliveries, during his exile in Babylonia (Raging Torrent, p. 209; ANEHST, pp. 386–387). Discovered at Babylon, they are dated from the tenth to the thirty-fifth year of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylonia and conqueror of Jerusalem. One tablet calls Jehoiachin “king” (Text Babylon 28122, obverse, line 29; ANET, p. 308). A second, fragmentary text mentions him as king in an immediate context that refers to “[. . . so]ns of the king of Judah” and “Judahites” (Text Babylon 28178, obverse, col. 2, lines 38–40; ANET, p. 308). The third tablet calls him “the son of the king of Judah” and refers to “the five sons of the king of Judah” (Text Babylon 28186, reverse, col. 2, lines 17–18; ANET, p. 308). The fourth text, the most fragmentary of all, confirms “Judah” and part of Jehoiachin’s name, but contributes no data that is not found in the other texts.
31. Shelemiah, father of Jehucal the official, late 7th century, Jeremiah 37:3; 38:1 and 32. Jehucal (= Jucal), official during Zedekiah’s reign, fl. within 597–586, Jeremiah 37:3; 38:1 only, both referred to in a bulla discovered in the City of David in 2005 (Eilat Mazar, “Did I Find King David’s Palace?” BAR 32, no. 1 [January/February 2006], pp. 16–27, 70; idem, Preliminary Report on the City of David Excavations 2005 at the Visitors Center Area [Jerusalem and New York: Shalem, 2007], pp. 67–69; idem, “The Wall that Nehemiah Built,” BAR 35, no. 2 [March/April 2009], pp. 24–33,66; idem, The Palace of King David: Excavations at the Summit of the City of David: Preliminary Report of Seasons 2005-2007 [Jerusalem/New York: Shoham AcademicResearch and Publication, 2009], pp. 66–71). Only the possibility of firm identifications is left open in “Corrections,” pp. 85–92; “Sixteen,” pp. 50–51; this article is my first affirmation of four identifications, both here in notes 31 and 32 and below in notes 33 and 34.
After cautiously observing publications and withholding judgment for several years, I am now affirming the four identifications in notes 31 through 34, because I am now convinced that this bulla is a remnant from an administrative center in the City of David, a possibility suggested in “Corrections,” p. 100 second-to-last paragraph, and “Sixteen,” p. 51. For me, the tipping point came by comparing the description and pictures of the nearby and immediate archaeological context in Eilat Mazar, “Palace of King David,” pp. 66–70, with the administrative contexts described in Eran Arie, Yuval Goren, and Inbal Samet, “Indelible Impression: Petrographic Analysis of Judahite Bullae,” in Israel Finkelstein and Nadav Na’aman, eds., The Fire Signals of Lachish: Studies in the Archaeology and History of Israel in the Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Persian Period in Honor of David Ussishkin (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2011), pp. 12–13 (the section titled “The Database: Judahite Bullae from Controlled Excavations”) and pp. 23–24. See also Nadav Na’aman, “The Interchange between Bible and Archaeology: The Case of David’s Palace and the Millo,” BAR 40, no. 1 (January/February 2014), pp. 57–61, 68–69, which is drawn from idem, “Biblical and Historical Jerusalem in the Tenth and Fifth-Fourth Centuries B.C.E.,” Biblica 93 (2012): pp. 21–42. See also idem, “Five Notes on Jerusalem in the First and Second Temple Periods,” Tel Aviv 39 (2012): p. 93.
33. Pashhur, father of Gedaliah the official, late 7th century, Jeremiah 38:1 and
34. Gedaliah, official during Zedekiah’s reign, fl. within 597–586, Jeremiah 38:1 only, both referred to in a bulla discovered in the City of David in 2008. See “Corrections,” pp. 92–96; “Sixteen,” pp. 50–51; and the preceding endnote 31 and 32 for bibliographic details on E. Mazar, “Wall,” pp. 24–33, 66; idem, Palace of King David, pp. 68–71) and for the comments in the paragraph that begins, “After cautiously … ”
35. Tiglath-pileser III (= Pul), king, r. 744–727, 2 Kings 15:19, etc., in his many inscriptions. See Raging Torrent, pp. 46–79; COS, vol. 2, pp. 284–292; ITP; Mikko Lukko, The Correspondence of Tiglath-pileser III and Sargon II from Calah/Nimrud (State Archives of Assyria, no. 19; Assyrian Text Corpus Project; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2013); ABC, pp. 248–249. On Pul as referring to Tiglath-pileser III, which is implicit in ABC, p. 333 under “Pulu,” see ITP, p. 280 n. 5 for discussion and bibliography.
On the identification of Tiglath-pileser III in the Aramaic monumental inscription honoring Panamu II, in Aramaic monumental inscriptions 1 and 8 of Bar-Rekub (now in Istanbul and Berlin, respectively), and in the Ashur Ostracon, see IBP, p. 240; COS, pp. 158–161.
36. Shalmaneser V (= Ululaya), king, r. 726–722, 2 Kings 17:2, etc., in chronicles, in king-lists, and in rare remaining inscriptions of his own (ABC, p. 242; COS, vol. 2, p. 325). Most notable is the Neo-Babylonian Chronicle series, Chronicle 1, i, lines 24–32. In those lines, year 2 of the Chronicle mentions his plundering the city of Samaria (Raging Torrent, pp. 178, 182; ANEHST, p. 408). (“Shalman” in Hosea 10:14 is likely a historical allusion, but modern lack of information makes it difficult to assign it to a particular historical situation or ruler, Assyrian or otherwise. See below for the endnotes to the box at the top of p. 50.)
37. Sargon II, king, r. 721–705, Isaiah 20:1, in many inscriptions, including his own. See Raging Torrent, pp. 80–109, 176–179, 182; COS, vol. 2, pp. 293–300; Mikko Lukko, The Correspondence of Tiglath-pileser III and Sargon II from Calah/Nimrud (State Archives of Assyria, no. 19; Assyrian Text Corpus Project; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2013); ABC, pp. 236–238; IBP, pp. 240–241 no. (74).
38. Sennacherib, king, r. 704–681, 2 Kings 18:13, etc., in many inscriptions, including his own. See Raging Torrent, pp. 110–129; COS, vol. 2, pp. 300–305; ABC, pp. 238–240; ANEHST, pp. 407–411, esp. 410; IBP, pp. 241–242.
39. Adrammelech (= Ardamullissu = Arad-mullissu), son and assassin of Sennacherib, fl. early 7th century, 2 Kings 19:37, etc., in a letter sent to Esarhaddon, who succeeded Sennacherib on the throne of Assyria. See Raging Torrent, pp. 111, 184, and COS, vol. 3, p. 244, both of which describe and cite with approval Simo Parpola, “The Murderer of Sennacherib,” in Death in Mesopotamia: Papers Read at the XXVie Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, ed. Bendt Alster (Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1980), pp. 171–182. See also ABC, p. 240.
An upcoming scholarly challenge is the identification of Sennacherib’s successor, Esarhaddon, as a more likely assassin in Andrew Knapp’s paper, “The Murderer of Sennacherib, Yet Again,” to be read in a February 2014 Midwest regional conference in Bourbonnais, Ill. (SBL/AOS/ASOR).
On various renderings of the neo-Assyrian name of the assassin, see RlA s.v. “Ninlil,” vol. 9, pp. 452–453 (in German). On the mode of execution of those thought to have been conspirators in the assassination, see the selection from Ashurbanipal’s Rassam cylinder in ANET, p. 288.
40. Esarhaddon, king, r. 680–669, 2 Kings 19:37, etc., in his many inscriptions. See Raging Torrent, pp. 130–147; COS, vol. 2, p. 306; ABC, pp. 217–219. Esarhaddon’s name appears in many cuneiform inscriptions (ANET, pp. 272–274, 288–290, 292–294, 296, 297, 301–303, 426–428, 449, 450, 531, 533–541, 605, 606), including his Succession Treaty (ANEHST, p. 355).
41. Merodach-baladan II (=Marduk-apla-idinna II), king, r. 721–710 and 703, 2 Kings 20:12, etc., in the inscriptions of Sennacherib and the Neo-Babylonian Chronicles (Raging Torrent, pp. 111, 174, 178–179, 182–183. For Sennacherib’s account of his first campaign, which was against Merodach-baladan II, see COS, vol. 2, pp. 300-302. For the Neo-Babylonian Chronicle series, Chronicle 1, i, 33–42, see ANEHST, pp. 408–409. This king is also included in the Babylonian King List A (ANET, p. 271), and the latter part of his name remains in the reference to him in the Synchronistic King List (ANET, pp. 271–272), on which see ABC, pp. 226, 237.
42. Nebuchadnezzar II, king, r. 604–562, 2 Kings 24:1, etc., in many cuneiform tablets, including his own inscriptions. See Raging Torrent, pp. 220–223; COS, vol. 2, pp. 308–310; ANET, pp. 221, 307–311; ABC, p. 232. The Neo-Babylonian Chronicle series refers to him in Chronicles 4 and 5 (ANEHST, pp. 415, 416–417, respectively). Chronicle 5, reverse, lines 11–13, briefly refers to his conquest of Jerusalem (“the city of Judah”) in 597 by defeating “its king” (Jehoiachin), as well as his appointment of “a king of his own choosing” (Zedekiah) as king of Judah.
43. Nebo-sarsekim, chief official of Nebuchadnezzar II, fl. early 6th century, Jeremiah 39:3, in a cuneiform inscription on Babylonian clay tablet BM 114789 (1920-12-13, 81), dated to 595 B.C.E. The time reference in Jeremiah 39:3 is very close, to the year 586. Since it is extremely unlikely that two individuals having precisely the same personal name would have been, in turn, the sole holders of precisely this unique position within a decade of each other, it is safe to assume that the inscription and the book of Jeremiah refer to the same person in different years of his time in office. In July 2007 in the British Museum, Austrian researcher Michael Jursa discovered this Babylonian reference to the biblical “Nebo-sarsekim, the Rab-saris” (rab ša-rēši, meaning “chief official”) of Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 604–562). Jursa identified this official in his article, “Nabu-šarrūssu-ukīn, rab ša-rēši, und ‘Nebusarsekim’ (Jer. 39:3),” Nouvelles Assyriologiques Breves et Utilitaires2008/1 (March): pp. 9–10 (in German). See also Bob Becking, “Identity of Nabusharrussu-ukin, the Chamberlain: An Epigraphic Note on Jeremiah 39,3. With an Appendix on the Nebu(!)sarsekim Tablet by Henry Stadhouders,” Biblische Notizen NF 140 (2009): pp. 35–46; “Corrections,” pp. 121–124; “Sixteen,” p. 47 n. 31. On the correct translation of ráb ša-rēši (and three older, published instances of it having been incorrect translated as rab šaqê), see ITP, p. 171 n. 16.
44. Nergal-sharezer (= Nergal-sharuṣur the Sin-magir = Nergal-šarru-uṣur the simmagir), officer of Nebuchadnezzar II, early sixth century, Jeremiah 39:3, in a Babylonian cuneiform inscription known as Nebuchadnezzar II’s Prism (column 3 of prism EŞ 7834, in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum). See ANET, pp. 307‒308; Rocio Da Riva, “Nebuchadnezzar II’s Prism (EŞ 7834): A New Edition,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie, vol. 103, no. 2 (2013): 204, Group 3.
45. Nebuzaradan (= Nabuzeriddinam = Nabû-zēr-iddin),
a chief officer of Nebuchadnezzar II, early sixth century, 2 Kings 25:8, etc. & Jeremiah 39:9, etc., in a Babylonian cuneiform inscription known as Nebuchadnezzar II’s Prism (column 3, line 36 of prism EŞ 7834, in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum). See ANET, p. 307; Rocio Da Riva, “Nebuchadnezzar II’s Prism (EŞ 7834): A New Edition,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie, vol. 103, no. 2 (2013): 202, Group 1.
46. Evil-merodach (= Awel Marduk, = Amel Marduk), king, r. 561–560, 2 Kings 25:27, etc., in various inscriptions (ANET, p. 309; OROT, pp. 15, 504 n. 23). See especially Ronald H. Sack, Amel-Marduk: 562-560 B.C.; A Study Based on Cuneiform, Old Testament, Greek, Latin and Rabbinical Sources (Alter Orient und Altes Testament, no. 4; Kevelaer, Butzon & Bercker, and Neukirchen-Vluyn, Neukirchener, 1972).
47. Belshazzar, son and co-regent of Nabonidus, fl. ca. 543?–540, Daniel 5:1, etc., in Babylonian administrative documents and the “Verse Account” (Muhammed A. Dandamayev, “Nabonid, A,” RlA, vol. 9, p. 10; Raging Torrent, pp. 215–216; OROT, pp. 73–74). A neo-Babylonian text refers to him as “Belshazzar the crown prince” (ANET, pp. 309–310 n. 5).
48. Cyrus II (=Cyrus the great), king, r. 559–530, 2 Chronicles 36:22, etc., in various inscriptions (including his own), for which and on which see ANEHST, pp. 418–426, ABC, p. 214. For Cyrus’ cylinder inscription, see Raging Torrent, pp. 224–230; ANET, pp. 315–316; COS, vol. 2, pp. 314–316; ANEHST, pp. 426–430; P&B, pp. 87–92. For larger context and implications in the biblical text, see OROT, pp. 70-76.
49. Darius I (=Darius the Great), king, r. 520–486, Ezra 4:5, etc., in various inscriptions, including his own trilingual cliff inscription at Behistun, on which see P&B, pp. 131–134. See also COS, vol. 2, p. 407, vol. 3, p. 130; ANET, pp. 221, 316, 492; ABC, p. 214; ANEHST, pp. 407, 411. On the setting, see OROT, pp. 70–75.
50. Tattenai (=Tatnai), provincial governor of Trans-Euphrates, late sixth to early fifth century, Ezra 5:3, etc., in a tablet of Darius I the Great, king of Persia, which can be dated to exactly June 5, 502 B.C.E. See David E. Suiter, “Tattenai,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), vol. 6, p. 336; A. T. Olmstead, “Tattenai, Governor of ‘Beyond the River,’” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 3 (1944): p. 46. A drawing of the cuneiform text appears in Arthur Ungnad, Vorderasiatische Schriftdenkmäler Der Königlichen Museen Zu Berlin (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1907), vol. IV, p. 48, no. 152 (VAT 43560). VAT is the abbreviation for the series Vorderasiatische Abteilung Tontafel, published by the Berlin Museum. The author of the BAR article wishes to acknowledge the query regarding Tattenai from Mr. Nathan Yadon of Houston, Texas, private correspondence, 8 September 2015.
51. Xerxes I (=Ahasuerus), king, r. 486–465, Esther 1:1, etc., in various inscriptions, including his own (P&B, p. 301; ANET, pp. 316–317), and in the dates of documents from the time of his reign (COS, vol. 2, p. 188, vol. 3, pp. 142, 145. On the setting, see OROT, pp. 70–75.
52. Artaxerxes I Longimanus, king, r. 465-425/424, Ezra 4:6, 7, etc., in various inscriptions, including his own (P&B, pp. 242–243), and in the dates of documents from the time of his reign (COS, vol. 2, p. 163, vol. 3, p. 145; ANET, p. 548).
53. Darius II Nothus, king, r. 425/424-405/404, Nehemiah 12:22, in various inscriptions, including his own (for example, P&B, pp. 158–159) and in the dates of documents from the time of his reign (ANET, p. 548; COS, vol. 3, pp. 116–117).
Symbols and Abbreviations
ANEHST Mark W. Chavalas, ed., The Ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation (Blackwell Sources in Ancient History; Victoria, Australia: Blackwell, 2006).
ABC A. Kirk Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2000).
ANET James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969).
B.C.E. before the common era, used as an equivalent to B.C.
BASOR Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research
c. century (all are B.C.E.)
ca. circa, a Latin word meaning “around”
CAH John Boardman et al., eds., The Cambridge Ancient History (2nd ed.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970).
CIIP Hanna M. Cotton et al., eds., Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae, vol. 1: Jerusalem, Part 1 (Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2010). Vol. 1 consists of two separately bound Parts, each a physical “book.”
“Corrections” Lawrence J. Mykytiuk, “Corrections and Updates to ‘Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 B.C.E.,” Maarav 16 (2009), pp. 49–132, free online at docs.lib.purdue.edu/lib_research/129/.
COS William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, eds., The Context of Scripture, vol. 2: Archival Documents from the Biblical World (Boston: Brill, 2000).
Dearman, Studies J. Andrew Dearman, ed., Studies in the Mesha Inscription and Moab (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989).
IBP Lawrence J. Mykytiuk, Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 B.C.E. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004). This book is a revised Ph.D. dissertation in Hebrew and Semitic Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1998, which began with a 1992 graduate seminar paper. Most of IBP is available on the Google Books web site: www.google.com/search?tbo=p&tbm=bks&q=mykytiuk+identifying&num=10
ibid. (Latin) “the same thing,” meaning the same publication as the one mentioned immediately before
idem (Latin) “the same one(s),” meaning “the same person or persons,” used for referring to the author(s) mentioned immediately before.
IEJ Israel Exploration Journal
ITP Hayim Tadmor, The Inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III, King of Assyria (Fontes ad Res Judaicas Spectantes; Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 2nd 2007 printing with addenda et corrigenda, 1994).
n. note (a footnote or endnote)
no. number (of an item, usually on a page)
OROT Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003).
P&B Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1990).
Pl. plate(s) (a page of photos or drawings in a scholarly publication, normally unnumbered,)
Raging Torrent Mordechai Cogan, The Raging Torrent: Historical Inscriptions from Assyria and Babylonia Relating to Ancient Israel (A Carta Handbook; Jerusalem: Carta, 2008).
RlA Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie (New York, Berlin: de Gruyter, ©1932, 1971).
RIMA a series of books: The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia: Assyrian Periods
RIMA 3 A. Kirk Grayson, Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium BC, II (858–745 BC) (RIMA, no. 3; Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1996).
“Sixteen” Lawrence J. Mykytiuk, “Sixteen Strong Identifications of Biblical Persons (Plus Nine Other Identifications) in Authentic Northwest Semitic Inscriptions from before 539 B.C.E.,” pp. 35–58 in Meir Lubetski and Edith Lubetski, eds., New Inscriptions and Seals Relating to the Biblical World (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), free online at docs.lib.purdue.edu/lib_research/150/.
Third Kenneth A. Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100–650 B.C.) (2nd rev. ed. with supplement; Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 1986).
WSS Nahman Avigad and Benjamin Sass, Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Israel Exploration Society, and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Institute of Archaeology, 1997).
This table uses Kitchen’s dates for rulers of Egypt, Pitard’s for kings of Damascus (with some differences), Galil’s for monarchs of Judah and for those of the northern kingdom of Israel, Grayson’s for Neo-Assyrian kings, Wiseman’s for Neo-Babylonian kings and Briant’s, if given, for Persian kings and for the Persian province of Yehud. Other dates follow traditional high biblical chronology, rather than the low chronology proposed by Israel Finkelstein.
Kenneth A. Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100–650 B.C.) (2nd rev. ed. with supplement; Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 1986), pp. 466–468.
Wayne T. Pitard, Ancient Damascus: A Historical Study of the Syrian City-State from Earliest Times until its Fall to the Assyrians in 732 B.C.E. (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1987), pp. 138–144, 189.
Gershon Galil, The Chronology of the Kings of Israel and Judah (SHCANE 9; New York: Brill, 1996), p. 147.
A. Kirk Grayson, Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium BC, II (858–745 BC) (RIMA 3; Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1996), p. vii; idem, “Assyria: Ashur-dan II to Ashur-nirari V (934–745 B.C.),” in CAH, vol. III, part I, pp. 238–281; idem, “Assyria: Tiglath-pileser III to Sargon II (744–705 B.C.),” in CAH, vol. III, part II, pp. 71–102; idem, “Assyria: Sennacherib and Esarhaddon (704–669 B.C.),” in CAH, vol. III, part II, pp. 103–141; idem, “Assyria 668–635 B.C.: The Reign of Ashurbanipal,” in CAH, vol. III, part II, pp. 142–161.
Donald J. Wiseman, “Babylonia 605–539 B.C.” in CAH, vol. III, part II, pp. 229–251.
Pierre Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander : A History of the Persian Empire (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2002), “Index of Personal Names,” pp. 1149–1160.
This post has been sourced from the Biblical Archaeology Society.
Posted November 2017
Also see: Does archaeology support the Bible?
Here’s a systematic approach to start or restart reading the Bible. The challenge is to read 100 key Bible passages – 50 from the Old Testament and 50 from the New Testament. The passages are usually one to two chapters in length and can easily be read in 10 minutes or less. They include the Historical books, Poetry and Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles (Letters) and Revelation. This gives a big picture of the Bible. And it’s designed to develop a daily Bible reading habit. It works because it’s simple, flexible, and achievable.
The Challenge, which is published by Scripture Union, is available on the the E100 Challenge app and the YouVersion app. A version has also been developed for children, which is called “The Big Bible Challenge”.
After completing the challenge, you can try to “Read the Bible in one year”, where two passages are given for each day, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.
In the Beginning
1. Creation. Genesis 1:1-2:25
2. The Fall. Genesis 3:1-24
3. The Flood. Genesis 6:5-7:24
4. God’s Covenant with Noah. Genesis 8:1-9:17
5. Tower of Babel. Genesis 11:1-9
Abraham, Issac and Jacob
6. The Call of Abram. Genesis 12:1-20
7. God’s Covenant with Abram. Genesis 15:1-21
8. Issac’s Birth and Sacrifice. Genesis 21:1-22:19
9. Jacob and Esau Conflict. Genesis 27:1-28:22
10. Jacob and Esau Reconcile. Genesis 32:1-33:20
The Story of Joseph
11. Joseph Sold Into Slavery. Genesis 37:1-36
12. Prison and a Promotion. Genesis 39:1-41:57
13. Ten Brothers Go to Egypt. Genesis 42:1-38
14. The Brothers Return. Genesis 43:1-44:34
15. Joseph Reveals His Identity. Genesis 45:1-46:7
Moses and the Exodus
16. Birth of Moses. Exodus 1:1-2:25
17. Moses and the Burning Bush. Exodus 3:1-22
18. The Ten Plagues. Exodus 6:28-11:10
19. Passover and Exodus. Exodus 12:1-42
20. Crossing the Red Sea. Exodus 13:17-14:31
The Law and the Land
21. The Ten Commandments. Exodus 19:1-20:21
22. The Golden Calf. Exodus 32:1-34:35
23. Joshua Succeeds Moses. Joshua 1:1-18
24. Crossing the Jordan. Joshua 3:1-4:24
25. The Fall of Jericho. Joshua 5:13-6:27
26. Israel’s Disobedience. Judges 2:6-3:6
27. Deborah Leads Israel. Judges 4:1-5:31
28. Gideon Defeats Midianites. Judges 6:1-7:25
29. Samson Defeats the Philistines. Judges 13:1-16:31
30. The Story of Ruth. Ruth 1:1-4:22
The Rise of Israel
31. Samuel Listens to God. 1 Samuel 1:1-3:21
32. King Saul. 1 Samuel 8:1-10:27
33. David and Goliath. 1 Samuel 16:1-18:16
34. David vs. Saul. 1 Samuel 23:7-24:22
35. King David. 2 Samuel 5:1-7:29
The Fall of Israel
36. David and Bathsheba. 2 Samuel 11:1-12:31
37. King Solomon. 1 Kings 2:1-3:28
38. Solomon’s Temple. 1 Kings 6:1-8:21
39. Elijah and the Prophets of Baal. 1 Kings 16:29-19:18
40. The Fall of Jerusalem. 2 Kings 25:1-30
The Psalms and Proverbs
41. The Lord is My Shepherd. Psalm 23
42. Have Mercy on Me. Psalm 51
43. Praise the Lord. Psalm 103
44. Godly Wisdom. Proverbs 1:1-4:27
45. The Proverbs of Solomon. Proverbs 16:1-18:24
46. The Suffering Servant. Isaiah 51:1-53:12
47. Jeremiah’s Call and Message. Jeremiah 1:1-3:5
48. Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Daniel 6:1-28
49. The Story of Jonah. Jonah 1:1-4:11
50. The Day of Judgement. Malachi 2:10-4:6
The Living Word
51. The Word Became Flesh. John 1:1-18
52. Gabriel’s Message. Luke 1:1-80
53. The Birth of Jesus. Luke 2:1-40
54. John the Baptist. Luke 3:1-20
55. The Temptation of Jesus. Matthew 4:1-17
The Teachings of Jesus
56. Sermon on the Mount – Part 1. Matthew 5:1-6:4
57. Sermon on the Mount – Part 2. Matthew 6:5-7:29
58. The Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 13:1-58
59. The Good Samaritan. Luke 10:25-37
60. The Prodigal Son. Luke 15:11-32
The Miracles of Jesus
61. Feeding the Five Thousand. Luke 9:1-17
62. Walking on Water. Matthew 14:22-36
63. Healing a Blind Man. John 9:1-41
64. Healing a Demon-Possessed Man. Mark 5:1-20
65. Raising Lazarus from the Dead. John 11:1-44
The Cross of Christ
66. The Last Supper. Luke 22:1-46
67. Arrest and Trial. John 18:1-40
68. The Crucifixion. John 19:1-42
69. The Resurrection. John 20:1-21:25
70. The Ascension. Acts 1:1-11
The Church is Born
71. The Day of Pentecost. Acts 2:1-47
72. Growth and Persecution. Acts 3:1-4:37
73. The First Martyr. Acts 6:8-8:8
74. Sharing the Word. Acts 8:26-40
75. Good News for All. Acts 10:1-11:18
The Travels of Paul
76. The Road to Damascus. Acts 9:1-31
77. The First Missionary Journey. Acts 13:1-14:28
78. The Council at Jerusalem. Acts 15:1-35
79. More Missionary Journeys. Acts 16:6-20:38
80. The Trip to Rome. Acts 25:23-28:31
Paul to the Churches
81. More Than Conquerors. Romans 8:1-39
82. The Fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:1-26
83. The Armor of God. Ephesians 6:10-20
84. Rejoice in the Lord. Philippians 4:4-9
85. The Supremacy of Christ. Colossians 1:15-23
Paul to the Leaders
86. Elders and Deacons. 1 Timothy 3:1-16
87. The Love of Money. 1 Timothy 6:3-21
88. Good Soldiers of Christ. 2 Timothy 2:1-26
89. All Scripture is God-breathed. 2 Timothy 3:10-4:8
90. The Coming of the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
The Apostles’ Teaching
91. The Most Excellent Way. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
92. A New Creation in Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6:2
93. Be Holy. 1 Peter 1:13-2:12
94. Faith and Works. James 1:1-2:26
95. Love One Another. 1 John 3:11-4:21
96. A Voice and a Vision. Revelation 1:1-20
97. Messages to the Churches. Revelation 2:1-3:22
98. The Throne of Heaven. Revelation 4:1-7:17
99. Hallelujah!. Revelation 19:1-20:15
100. The New Jerusalem. Revelation 21:1-22:21
© Scripture Union 2010
Posted, October 2017
This month Australia faces a postal survey on marriage law. The survey form asks the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” If the law was changed in this way, it would change the current meaning of the word “marriage”. In this context, a recent article in the local media claims that the Bible “never condemns same-sex marriage, partly because it simply does not address the issue directly”. So what does the Bible say about same-sex marriage?
The term “same-sex marriage” or “marriage equality” is a modern term for “homosexual marriage” (a long-term homosexual relationship). What does the Bible say about homosexual relationships? We will look at the portion of the New Testament written to the church (Acts to Revelation) in the first century AD because the principles given in this part of the Bible are directly relevant to today. Homosexuality is mentioned specifically in three such passages and we will now look these in turn.
The book of Romans was written by Paul to the church in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire (v,7). After the introduction (v.1-15), the theme is given as God’s plan of salvation for humanity (v.16-17). This is the gospel (good news) about Jesus Christ and His resurrection “that brings salvation to everyone who believes”. Then Paul shows that everyone is a sinner in need of this salvation. He considers Gentiles who haven’t heard the gospel (1:18-32), self-righteous moralists (2:1-16), Jews (2:17 – 3:8) and then all humanity (3:9-20). He then shows how this salvation must be received by faith in what Christ has done (3:21 – 5:21).
The passage we are looking at describes Gentiles who reject God’s revelation:
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
The steps involved in understanding a passage in the Bible begin with finding the original meaning and then considering what has changed since that time before applying it to our situation today.
What did it mean in the 1st century AD?
Those who reject God’s revelation (which is available to everyone), are said to be ungodly and wicked, and they “suppress the truth” (v.18). As God reveals Himself in His creation these “people are without excuse” (v.20). The consequences of their choice to reject God’s revelation in creation are that they foolishly worship idols (instead of God) and behave wickedly (Rom. 1:18-23). Then Paul describes some of this behavior, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another (sexual immorality) … Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations (heterosexual marriage) for unnatural ones (homosexual sexual activity). In the same way, the men also abandoned natural relations with women (heterosexual marriage) and were inflamed with lust for one another (homosexual sexual activity). Men committed shameful acts with other men (homosexual sexual activity), and received in themselves the due penalty for their error…. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (Rom. 1:24-27, 32).
Losing a proper view of God (v. 23) leads to sexual immorality (v.24), including homosexuality (v.26-27). In particular, homosexual sexual activity is described as “shameful lusts”, “unnatural” and “shameful acts”. It’s an unnatural sexual activity because it’s an abnormal sexual activity. Natural (normal) sexual activity is in heterosexual marriage, which is fruitful (can produce new life). This was God’s order in creation (Adam and Eve were the first husband and wife). If Adam was homosexual, there would be no humanity!
This passage says that homosexual sexual activity (which was prevalent in the Roman Empire) was one of the characteristics of an ungodly lifestyle. The other characteristics of an ungodly lifestyle were idol worship (v.23, 25), other sexual immorality (v.24) and “every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (v. 29-31). This list of sins identifies those who were not Christians.
God’s judgement for these people who reject His revelation is given in v.32 as eternal separation from God (spiritual “death”). What a sad outcome of going one’s own way. So rejecting God’s truth has eternal consequences. The only way for such people to avoid God’s judgment is to repent (stop this behavior) and turn to God.
So what did this passage mean in the 1st century AD? The characteristics of ungodly behavior are given and idolatry and homosexual sexual activity are condemned in particular. It meant that anyone who practiced idolatry was under God’s judgment. And anyone who practiced homosexual sexual activity was under God’s judgment. And the same applied to the behaviors listed in v.29-31. Everyone was condemned! All were sinners who deserved eternal punishment in hell. The only way to avoid this punishment was to accept the good news about Jesus.
So homosexual sexual activity was one of the characteristics of the flesh (sinful nature; Gal. 5:19-21). This means that the Bible condemned homosexual sexual activity in the 1st century AD. As there are no qualifications given, any and all homosexual sexual activity was condemned. They were all sinful.
How does it apply in the 21st century AD?
What has changed since the 1st century AD? The biblical principles for the church to follow (including those in Romans) haven’t changed. And people still reject God’s revelation in creation. So human rebellion against God hasn’t changed. And idolatry, sexual immorality, homosexual sexual activity, wickedness, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice and gossip, slander still occur. And people are still God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, promise-breakers, cruel, and ruthless. So human nature hasn’t changed. But history, society and technology have changed. Given these similarities, the application of this passage is like what it was in the first century. Any and all homosexual sexual activity is unnatural and against God’s order of creation.
What about same-sex attraction? This passage is addressing homosexual sexual behavior and not just homosexual attraction. There is a difference between being a practicing homosexual and having a homosexual tendency. It is the sexual practice that the Bible condemns, not the orientation. There are many who have an attraction to their own gender but refuse to give in to it. By the power of the Spirit, they have disciplined themselves to resist the temptation and to live in purity.
What about loving homosexual relationships? These are what’s being addressed in the marriage survey. If they include homosexual sexual activity (such as same-sex marriage), then they come under God’s condemnation.
Isn’t it outdated to say that gays are “shameful”? In some societies homosexuality is promoted as an “alternative lifestyle” that should be accepted in a spirit of tolerance. And there is “gay pride” and rainbow festivals celebrating cultural diversity. This is not in God’s order of things but is an indication of humanity’s rebellion against God and against His order in creation. In God’s sight such behavior is shameful, and not something to be proud of. The difference is that the Bible presents God’s viewpoint and the alternative views are those of sinful humanity. On the other hand, the Bible says that heterosexual marriage is honorable (Heb. 13:4).
What did the media article claim about this passage?
In Romans 1:26-27, Paul condemns people swapping out their usual partner for one of the same gender. He claims this is a result of idolatry and uses it as part of his argument for why one should only follow (his) God.
This is a wrong assumption and an attempt to narrow the application of this passage. The passage was written to all at the church at Rome and not just to those who were married heterosexually. It isn’t restricted to any one part of society and not another. Instead, according to this passage any and all homosexual sexual activity was unnatural and against God’s order of creation. This includes so called “same-sex marriage” and “marriage equality” if it includes homosexual sexual activity.
Where is the evidence that the passage is about “swapping out their usual partner for one of the same gender”? There is none! This is pure speculation. It comes from the writer’s alleged context of “Even if married (to a woman) and often prior to marriage, a wealthy man might have a young male lover or male partner”.
It is typical of the strong “them and us” rhetoric of the ancient world, serving a larger argument and is not a statement on sexuality per se.
Who are the “them and us”? The passage isn’t comparing Gentiles against Jews or Christians, because this section of Romans is showing that all are sinners. It’s showing similarities, not differences. The larger argument is that all the Gentiles were sinners. This means that all the items listed (including homosexual sexual activity) were sinful.
If it’s not a statement on sexuality, and homosexual sexual activity (in a loving relationship) is deemed to be acceptable to God, then can aspects of the other items listed (such as: idolatry, sexual immorality, wickedness, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice) be acceptable lifestyles in God’s eyes as well? According to this line of argument, murder is acceptable sometimes!
As New Testament scholar Sean Winter summarizes: “Paul shares a stereotypical Jewish distrust of Graeco-Roman same sex activity, but is simply not talking about loving partnerships between people with same sex orientation.”
If “loving partnerships between people with same sex orientation” include homosexual sexual activity, then they are included in the scope of this passage because that is the topic being addressed. According to this passage any and all homosexual sexual activity is unnatural and against God’s order of creation.
The statement that “Paul shares a stereotypical Jewish distrust of Graeco-Roman same sex activity” is a very low view of scripture. This is God’s view, not just Paul’s! It’s not just his cultural bias.
It is unlikely Paul had any concept of sexual orientation and he was certainly not describing a committed adult relationship.
As shown above, Paul was addressing homosexual sexual activity. If “sexual orientation” implies homosexual sexual activity, then what Paul says applies to such sexual orientation. And if “a committed adult relationship” implies homosexual sexual activity, then what Paul says applies to such relationships.
1 Corinthians 6
This letter was written by Paul to the church at Corinth. It deals with problems in the church about Christian conduct. One of the problems was that they were cheating and wronging other Christians when they were trying to resolve disputes in court. Paul says that they were behaving like unbelievers and he lists some other behaviors that are under God’s judgment. The only way for such people to avoid God’s judgment is to repent (stop this behavior) and turn to God (v.11).
“Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:8-10).
What did it mean in the 1st century AD?
This list of sins identifies those who were not Christians. People who practice any of these (and similar) sins are not true Christians. Paul says, “do not be deceived” because the sexually immoral love to deceive others about their sexual immorality, idolaters about their idolatry, adulterers about their adultery, homosexuals about their homosexuality, thieves about their theft, the greedy about their greed, drunkards about their drunkenness, slanderers about their slander, and swindlers about their swindling.
In this passage, “men who have sex with men” is a translation of two Greek words “malkos” (Strongs #3120) and “arsenokoites” (Strongs #733). The NET translation notes for these words are given in the Appendix.
The Greek word “malkos” (Strongs #3120) means “soft or effeminate” (Strongs concordance). According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon it means “soft, soft to touch or metaphorically, and in a bad sense: effeminate, of a catamite (a boy kept for homosexual practices) or a male who submits his body to unnatural lewdness”. This word occurs four times in the New Testament (Mt. 11:8 (twice); Lk. 7:25; 1 Cor. 6:9).
The Greek word “arsenokoites” (Strongs #733) means “a male engaging in same-gender sexual activity” (Strongs concordance). According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon it means “a male who lies with a male as with a female, a sodomite”. This word occurs twice in the New Testament (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10).
These words are translated in 1 Cor. 6:9 as follows:
NIV: “men who have sex with men” (Comment: the translation of two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts).
ESV: “men who practice homosexuality” (Comment: The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts).
HCSB: “anyone practicing homosexuality” (Comment: literally “passive homosexual partners, active homosexual partners”).
NET: “passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals” (Comment: see translation notes in the Appendix).
This means any and all male homosexual sexual activity is sinful and bars one from the kingdom of God. There are no qualifications.
How does it apply in the 21st century AD?
The other behaviors listed in this passage can still occur today; wrongdoing, sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling. So human nature hasn’t changed. But history, society and technology have changed. Given these similarities, the application of this passage is like what it was in the first century. Any and all male homosexual sexual activity is sinful and its practice bars one from the kingdom of God. Ongoing male homosexual sexual activity is one of the characteristics of unbelievers.
What did the media article claim about this passage?
Paul is using a standard list of vices here to make a wider rhetorical point.
The main point of this passage is that the Corinthians should stop behaving like unbelievers. This list of sins (wrongdoing, sexually immorality, idolatry, adultery, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling) identifies those who were not Christians. As each of these is a sin in God’s eyes, then homosexual sexual activity is also a sin in God’s eyes.
Where some English translations might include “homosexuality” on this list, the translation is not that simple, which is why various English words are used (adulterer, immoral persons, prostitutes).
The ESV, HCSB and NET translations use the words “homosexuality” and “homosexual” and the NIV says “men who have sex with men”, which is equivalent. See the Appendix for detailed translation notes. In this context, the two Greek word seem to mean “the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts”.
The Greek word malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 means “soft” or “effeminate” and captures the Graeco-Roman distaste at a man taking a “female” role. In the Bible it is commonly used to describe fancy clothing, and outside the Bible was a term for cult prostitutes.
See the Appendix for detailed translation notes. In this context, the Greek word seems to mean “the passive partner in consensual homosexual acts”.
The word arsenokoites is rarer. Scholars have debated whether it refers to male prostitution or pederasty or something else. To translate it as “homosexual” is problematic for two reasons: it is unlikely Paul had any concept of sexual orientation and he was certainly not describing a committed adult relationship.
See the Appendix for detailed translation notes. In this context, the Greek word seems to mean “the active partner in consensual homosexual acts”. Paul’s treatment is so general that it includes “sexual orientation” and “a committed adult relationship”.
1 Timothy 1
This letter was written by Paul to Timothy to instruct him about the care of the church at Ephesus, including to oppose false teachers of legalism and Gnosticism. Some of the false teachers were teaching about the law, but they didn’t know what they were talking about (v.7). Paul then explains that the purpose of the law is to reveal people’s sin and to produce conviction of sin. The passage we are looking at has a list of sins that keep people from God.
“We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which He entrusted to me” (1 Tim. 1:8-11).
What did it mean in the 1st century AD?
This list of sins identifies ungodly behavior. It includes: those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, the sexually immoral, those practicing homosexuality, slave traders, liars, and perjurers (lying under oath).
The Greek word translated “those practicing homosexuality” is “arsenokoites” (Strongs #733), which means “a male engaging in same-gender sexual activity” (Strongs concordance). According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon it means “a male who lies with a male as with a female, a sodomite”. So it means homosexual sexual activity. This word occurs twice in the New Testament (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10).
The fact that “arsenokoites” is included in the same list as murder means that in God’s sight homosexual sexual activity is a serious sin. This was how it was to be viewed by the early church.
How does it apply in the 21st century AD?
The other behaviors listed in this passage can still occur today; murderer, sexual immorality, slave trading, and lying. So human nature hasn’t changed. But history, society and technology have changed.
Given these similarities, the application of this passage is like what it was in the first century. Any and all male homosexual sexual activity is sinful.
We may think that we are going well because we aren’t involved in homosexual sexual activity. And we may condemn the sinful behavior of others. But often we can’t see our own sin. We neglect what is sinful in our lives. Paul told the self-righteous, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same (kind of) things” (Rom. 2:1). It’s easy to be a hypocrite.
Paul also challenged the Jews about hypocrisy, “you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law (Rom. 2:21-23)?
Likewise, do we lapse into idolatry (anything that replaces God), greed, deceit, gossiping, and lying? These are all listed alongside homosexuality in the passages we have looked at (Rom. 1:22-31; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). The Bible says that people who practice any of these (and similar) sins are not true Christians. The solution is to confess our failures and repent (change behavior) and turn to follow God once again (1 Jn. 1:9). So let’s always try to honor God and follow His will, be content and generous, and be honest,
How should we deal with instances of homosexual sexual activity? We can look at how Jesus responded to adultery and how Paul responded to incest (Jn. 8:1-11; 1 Cor. 5:1-13). Jesus didn’t condemn or pardon the adulteress, but He told her to “leave your life of sin” (Jn.8:11). And Paul said that ongoing sexual immorality amongst church members, including homosexual sexual activity, is to be judged by excommunication (1 Cor. 5:9-11). If the offender is sorry and repentant of such a serious sin, they should be lovingly restored to church fellowship (2 Cor. 2:5-11). This means that Christians should not tolerate homosexual sexual activity or same-sex marriage amongst church members.
Also, Paul says that Christians are not to judge the sins of unbelievers because God will judge them at the great white throne (1 Cor. 5:12-13; Rev. 21:11-15). This means that Christians should tolerate homosexual sexual activity and same-sex marriage (if it is legalized) amongst people who aren’t church members.
Note that although textural scholars believe that John 8:1-11 wasn’t included in the original biblical text (autograph), it’s probably an accurate saying of Jesus Christ.
We have seen that the statement that the Bible “never condemns same-sex marriage, partly because it simply does not address the issue directly” is untrue and deceptive. It is true that the Bible doesn’t specifically address “same-sex marriage”. But it does condemn homosexual sexual activity, which is a broader subject than same-sex marriage. Therefore, by simple logic, same-sex marriage is condemned as a lifestyle for the New Testament church. Likewise, same-sex marriage is condemned as a lifestyle for the church today.
Appendix: Translation notes, NET Bible
- “malkos” (Strongs #3120)
This term is sometimes rendered “effeminate,” although in contemporary English usage such a translation could be taken to refer to demeanor rather than behavior. BDAG 613 s.v. μαλακός 2 has “pert. to being passive in a same-sex relationship, effeminate esp. of catamites, of men and boys who are sodomized by other males in such a relationship.” L&N 88.281 states, “the passive male partner in homosexual intercourse – ‘homosexual.’ …As in Greek, a number of other languages also have entirely distinct terms for the active and passive roles in homosexual intercourse.” See also the discussion in G. D. Fee, First Corinthians (NICNT), 243-44. Many modern translations have adopted the phrase “male prostitutes” for μαλακοί in 1 Cor. 6:9 (NRSV, NLT) but this could be misunderstood by the modern reader to mean “males who sell their services to women,” while the term in question appears, at least in context, to relate to homosexual activity between males. Furthermore, it is far from certain that prostitution as commonly understood (the selling of sexual favors) is specified here, as opposed to a consensual relationship. Thus the translation “passive homosexual partners” has been used here.
- “arsenokoites” (Strongs #733)
On this term BDAG 135 s.v. ἀρσενοκοίτης states, “a male who engages in sexual activity w. a pers. of his own sex, pederast 1 Cor. 6:9…of one who assumes the dominant role in same-sex activity, opp. μαλακός…1 Tim, 1:10; Pol 5:3. Cp. Rom. 1:27.” L&N 88.280 states, “a male partner in homosexual intercourse – ‘homosexual.’…It is possible that ἀρσενοκοίτης in certain contexts refers to the active male partner in homosexual intercourse in contrast with μαλακός, the passive male partner.” Since there is a distinction in contemporary usage between sexual orientation and actual behavior, the qualification “practicing” was supplied in the translation, following the emphasis in BDAG.
Written, September 2017
It’s the best way to: transform yourself; find lasting happiness; clear your mind; find inner peace and relaxation; reduce stress and normalize blood pressure; develop awareness, ethics, mindfulness, insight and wisdom; find meaning to what would otherwise be a senseless life; understand the true nature of reality; be more understanding of others; improve relationships; be calmer when strong emotions arise; be kinder to ourselves and others; be more caring, and skillful; be freed from difficulties and problems; attain a state of purity and perfection; end one’s suffering; and gain insight into the true nature of life. These benefits have been attributed to Buddhist practices such as meditation.
It’s estimated that about 10% of the world’s population is Buddhist. This increases to at least 50% in Mongolia and Laos, at least 70% in Sri Lanka and Bhutan, at least 80% in Myanmar, and at least 90% in Thailand and Cambodia. However, the Buddhist population of China has been estimated at 20-80%, which is a huge uncertainty. The Buddhist faith is atheistic, although polytheism is also evident in many countries. In this way Buddhism is different to Christianity. But is Buddhism 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 Buddhism. These tests will now be used to assess the Buddhist faith.
Testing the Buddhist faith
The Jesus test
Buddhism is a religion of the mind, which advocates present moment awareness, inner purity, ethical conduct, freedom from the problem of change, impermanence and suffering, and reliance upon one’s own experience and discernment on the Eightfold path as the teacher and guide, rather than an external authority (such as God) other than the dharma (teachings of Buddha).
Buddha found enlightenment in mediation. This is achieved by human effort, not through belief in any god. Buddha didn’t claim deity and didn’t attribute his teachings to any deity. So his teachings are not theistic. Instead they are a human system of self-discipline. Buddhism does not involve the worship of gods nor require a belief in gods. Buddha believed that if the world was created by a God, there would be no suffering. One doctrine agreed upon by all branches of modern Buddhism is that “this world is not created and ruled by a god”. In this sense, Buddhism is atheistic.
Buddhism applies the law of cause and effect to people’s lives (karma). But the Bible says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies (heavens) proclaim the work of His (God’s) hands” (Ps. 19:1). The heavens that David saw were the sun, moon and stars. He realized that they were made (created) by God. So the Bible applies the law of cause and effect to all creation, not just to people’s lives. According to the law of cause and effect, creation (including the sun, moon and stars) demands a creator and the design (of the universe) demands a designer. By looking at our universe, anyone can know that there is a Creator God. Creation shows that God is intelligent and powerful. The Bible’s message to those who reject this knowledge is: “They know the truth about God because He has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky (including the sun, moon and stars). Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:19-20 NLT).
More evidence of the Creator God is the fact that each person has a knowledge of right and wrong through their conscience. For those who are ignorant of God’s moral laws the Bible says: “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Rom. 2:15NLT).
The two main ways that God reveals himself to people who haven’t heard about Jesus are creation and conscience (Rom. 1:19-20; 2:15). The conscience proves that they are all sinners because they don’t always follow their conscience. The Bible says they will be judged according to their response to the revelation of God in creation and to their guilty conscience. However, as mentioned above, Buddhists generally believe that “this world is not created and ruled by a god”.
The Bible also says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good” (Ps. 14:1NIV; 53:1). Also, “In his pride the wicked man does not seek Him (God); in all his thoughts there is no room for God” (Ps. 10:4). And “fools mock You (God) all day long” (Ps. 74:22). So it’s foolish to deny the existence of God. And it’s foolish to feel no need for God and live as if He never existed. This means that the Buddhist belief that the world is not created and ruled by a god is foolish!
Jesus isn’t mentioned in any of the numerous Buddhist scriptures and none of their gods is like Jesus. So, Buddhism says nothing directly about Jesus Christ. But Buddhists may think that Jesus was a holy man, or a guru (teacher). However, they wouldn’t see Jesus as the only way to God. At best, He would be one guru amongst the many gurus that they follow.
Except in matters of ethics and moral conduct, there is very little in common between the teachings of Jesus and the main teachings of Buddhism. So, Buddhism clearly fails the Jesus test. Buddhists 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.
But what about the supernatural beings believed by Buddha and in Mahayana Buddhism? These are gods with a small “g”. Although they are like superhumans their power is limited. They are not all powerful. Although Buddha was a polytheist, he focused on suffering rather than on a god. See the Appendix for the what the Bible says about polytheism. As these gods aren’t relevant to Buddhist practice, they are generally discarded by Buddhists in western countries. Some Buddhists also believe in a non-personal god who is evident in acts of love, compassion, and kindness.
The gospel test
The ultimate goal of Buddhist religious life is liberation from the cycle of birth and death (endless rebirth) and to escape from suffering. We will look at each of these in turn. One goal is liberation from suffering, fear and danger. The means of achieving this is to exert great effort to follow Buddhist teachings. If our sufferings are like a disease, then the teachings are like medicine, Buddha is like a doctor and Buddhist monks and nuns are like nurses. For example, Buddha taught that desire is the root of suffering and ignorance is the root of all evil. So he taught his followers to be detached and not to desire anything.
The Bible describes where the world came from, what has gone wrong in it, and what God is doing to set it right. It has four parts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. Suffering begins with the entrance of evil in part two and suffering ends with the judgement of evil in part four. So suffering is not permanent. The Bible says that sin (rebellion against God) is the source of our suffering and pain (Gen. 3:16-19; Rom. 6:23). This is the opposite of Buddhism which says that both we and our world are basically good (this claim is debatable or unreliable, see comments below).
Our body responds with pain when it is subject to injury or illness. This is a normal reaction. It’s an indicator that lets us know something is wrong. Painlessness is the root cause of the damage leprosy (Hansen’s disease) patients incur. Although pain is something that none of us want; none of us can live a normal life without it.
From the beginning of time God has warned humanity about the relationship between sin (disobeying God’s will / word / laws) and the pain and death that are a result of it. Whether innocent or guilty, the reason for pain and death is sin. Sometimes it is the direct result of our own sin; sometimes it’s the indirect result of the cumulative sinfulness of the world. So Buddha made a poor diagnosis; He tried to fix a symptom (suffering) while he was ignorant of the root cause (sin)!
When God called Moses, He said: “I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt … I have heard them crying out … and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them … So now go. I am sending you … I will be with you” (Ex. 3:7-12). After this, Moses rescued the Israelites from their suffering in Egypt. Likewise, God has seen humanity’s suffering and sent Jesus Christ to rescue us from our sin and suffering. The Bible says “Surely He (Jesus) took up our pain and bore our suffering … He was crushed for our iniquities (sins) (Isa. 53:4-5; Mt. 8:17). And God also sees our suffering today and is concerned for us!
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 Buddhism is based on salvation by works.
The other Buddhist goal is liberation from the seemingly endless cycle of birth and death (rebirth). There are two problems with this goal: the problem being addressed and the solution that is offered.
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 (rebirth) episodes”.
We have seen that the idea of rebirth is a false teaching. 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 a Buddhist’s place of birth and their status in the next life is believed to be based on rebirth and karma, good works and striving to keep the rules of Buddhism play an important role in a Buddhist’s way of life. A Buddhist tries to follow many rules to live a moral life. 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).
Paul told Christians, “why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires” (Col. 1:20-23NLT). Paul is saying that Christianity is not a religion of rules. Taboos fail in their purpose. They are futile. They do not restrain evil. God wants us to avoid such human religious systems. We cannot control the sinful nature by rules. Following strict rules, like in Buddhism, is worthless because it fails to control sinful desires.
A Buddhist’s salvation is never guaranteed; they don’t know how much meditation they need to do or how many lives they will live before reaching nirvana (Buddhist 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).
Some Buddhists 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 Buddhist teachings, which we have shown to be false. Like Judah in Jeremiah’s time, Buddhists 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 Buddhist mantras. But repetition doesn’t increase the truthfulness of a statement! In Buddhism’s case, the deceptive words come from Buddhist teachings which are false. Because of false prophets, Judah followed “other gods” (Jer. 7:9) apart from the real God, while because of Buddhist teachings, Buddhists follow many “other gods”.
So, Buddhism fails the gospel test.
The fruit test
Buddhism is often said to be a tolerant religion. But Laos is included in the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. It was ranked 24, between Palestinian Territories and Brunei. Christians make up about 2% of the population in Laos. There is some freedom for Christians to meet in more developed areas, but in the rural regions many find themselves harassed, isolated and even imprisoned. Buddhism plays a big part in society and is central to Lao culture. Christianity is seen as something foreign and a threat to their way of life. Believers must be very careful when living out their faith. Building new churches is almost impossible as you need government approval and extensive amounts of paperwork must be submitted. Worshipping or reading the Bible in illegal places can result in jail time, fines or violent punishment. Since their homes are so small, trying to worship in secret is impossible. If someone converts to Christianity their spouse can threaten divorce, and their families can cut them off from their inheritance. Because of the negative views of Christianity, believers are often limited when accessing resources. They can be denied employment and acceptance into schools.
Myanmar was ranked 28 in the World Watch List, between Jordan and Tunisia. Christians and other minorities have been under attack from government forces for many years. Pressure comes from both radical Buddhist groups and the government. Buddhism is the majority religion, and could be used to instigate nationalism and further marginalize every other religion. The Buddhist majority have put in place attempts to try and curb the spread of Islam. Christians are also viewed with suspicion. The government promotes Buddhism over Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Minority populations that adhere to these and other faiths are denied building permits, banned from proselytizing and pressured to convert to the majority faith. Religious groups must register with the government, and Myanmar’s citizens must list their faith on official documents. Myanmar’s constitution provides for limited religious freedom, but individual laws and government officials actively restrict it. Also, in 2014 the U.S. State Department named Myanmar amongst eight “Countries of Particular Concern” that severely violate religious freedom rights within their borders. For example, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights has called the current Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” of Muslims and Hindus.
Bhutan was ranked 30 in the World Watch List, between Tunisia and Malaysia. Christianity is seen as a foreign and dangerous religion. No congregation has ever been allowed to build a church. All Christian fellowship remains underground. Christians are monitored and their meetings can be threatened and closed. Many Christians have not been issued with an electronic identity card. They therefore cannot access government services like healthcare. They cannot travel, enrol at a school or apply for jobs. This puts immense pressure on the struggling underground church.
Sri Lanka was ranked 45 in the World Watch List, between United Arab Emirates and Indonesia. In Sri Lanka the idea of Buddhist supremacy is on the rise. Dangerous attitudes continue to grow, especially in rural areas. Buddhist monks regularly attack believers. Pastors feel unequipped to face persecution and are left traumatized and unsure. Christians are exposed to acts of extreme violence and discrimination. If believers want to worship, they can only do so in registered houses. They are regularly visited by angry mobs and Buddhist monks. There was even discussion of a new law to make converting people illegal. School is difficult for Christian children. Religious education is compulsory, but due to the lack of Christian teachers, most kids are left attending Buddhist classes. If they do not want to, they are punished and even fined. They are subject to harassment, bullying and bad grades. Some children are even denied entry to a school because of their faith. Christians are often prevented from accessing wells or electricity. They’re treated like second class citizens. The pressure to deny Jesus is relentless. Christian businesses are often boycotted and families’ livelihoods suffer.
Although it’s difficult to assess attitudes and behavior objectively, these reports mention persecution of religious minorities and a lack of religious freedom in some Buddhist countries.
Buddha taught that there would be no social classes (like castes) in the Buddhist monastic order. They would be like a humanistic society. However, when Buddha created the monastic order he divided society into two social classes, a practice that Buddhism intended to do away with!
What type of attitudes and behavior do you think Buddhism encourages?
We have tested Buddhism 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, Buddhists don’t worship the same God as Christians.
Appendix: What the Bible says about polytheism
Buddhism arose in northeastern India in about the 5th century BC when their religion was polytheistic. During this period, the deities of Babylon, and Greece were also polytheistic. In fact, this was probably a characteristic of all the Gentile nations at that time. It was also characteristic of previous nations (such as Egypt and Phoenicia) and following nations (such as the Roman Empire).
What does the Bible say about such polytheistic religions?
– About 2000BC Abraham left the polytheistic 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 polytheistic household gods (Gen. 31:19, 30, 32, 35). When he arrived back in Canaan, Jacob buried all their foreign polytheistic gods (Gen. 35:2-4).
– About 1450BC when the Israelites left Egypt in the exodus, God told them to stop practicing the polytheistic 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 polytheistic 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 polytheistic religion of the peoples around them (Jud. 2:10-13). They intermarried with these peoples and served their polytheistic 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 polytheistic 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 polytheistic 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 polytheistic 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 polytheistic religion of the Roman Empire.
Since 2000BC God has distinguished Himself from polytheistic religions. By reading the Bible we can see repeated warnings against polytheistic 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 polytheistic 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 polytheism are the numerous commands against idolatry. 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 greatly distressed to see that the city (of Athens) was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).
So, the Bible forbids the worship of idols, angels, celestial objects, and items in nature. The Bible’s clear and consistent denunciation of idolatry is a conclusive argument against polytheism.
Written, August 2017
According to the Macquarie dictionary a sense of humor is appreciating what’s amusing, funny or comical. A joke is an amusing or ridiculous circumstance. Laughter is usually normal and healthy, but there are times when it is not. For example, it can mask and trivialize sin (Jas. 4:9).
Of all God’s creatures, human beings alone possess a sense of humor. As they are also made in the image and likeness of God, I suggest that God is capable of humor as well (Gen. 1:26). But of course God doesn’t share all our attributes (such as sinfulness).
Solomon said that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Eccl. 3:4NIV). For example, we laugh at the things that children do. I wonder whether God (as our Father) laughs at some of the things that we do?
God created some funny creatures. For example, the distinctive call of the laughing kookaburra. And it looks like God was having fun when he designed the Australian platypus and bilby. The first English scientists to see a specimen of a duck-billed platypus thought it was a hoax because it had a bill and webbed feet like a duck, which is a bird. They thought the bill of a duck had been attached to the body of an otter, beaver or mole! The bilby is called a “rabbit-eared bandicoot” because it has ears like a rabbit. And its back legs look like those of a kangaroo, but it gallops like a horse!
Recently I went to the zoo with a grandson. We saw lots of God’s creatures. I’m sure God had fun designing all the animals in the web of life. From bacteria to whales. Will they walk, fly or swim? Adding a long neck or stripes. Which would be companions, predators and prey? They are so diverse, but integrated.
Funny incidents in the Bible
There are some funny incidents in the Bible. As “all-Scripture is God-breathed”, it means that God has caused these to be recorded (2 Tim. 3:16). At Babel the builders constructed a tower “that reaches to the heavens”. Ironically God had to “come down” to see the tower they were building (Gen. 11:4-5)! So it wasn’t very high according to God! Such delusions of grandeur would have made God laugh.
Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachael. She was veiled during the wedding and unrecognized in the darkness of the wedding night and the Bible says, “When morning came, there was Leah!” (Gen. 29:25). What a surprise! Did Jacob drink too much wine at the wedding?
God used a talking donkey to warn and rebuke Balaam for planning to curse Israel (Num. 22:21-35)! And he used a fish to get Jonah to Nineveh!
When the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant they added it to their gods by placing it in the temple beside the god Dagon. But next day Dagon was flat on the ground before the ark. So they put Dagon upright once again. But the following day the idol was flat on the ground once again with his head and hands broken off (1 Sam. 5:1-5)! It was obvious who was the stronger God.
When Saul was pursuing David, he went into a cave to relieve himself. It happened that David and his followers were also in the cave and David crept up and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe (1 Sam. 24:1-4). Saul looked ridiculously vulnerable!
After being told that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathaniel says “Can anything good come from there?”. Then Jesus says that Nathaniel was without deceit! And accepts him as a disciple!
The disciples took a metaphor literally. When Jesus said to them, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees”, they said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread” (Mt. 16:5-12)! They were dumb!
Funny sayings in the Old Testament
When describing a stork, the book of Job says “God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense” (Job 39:17). That’s not very flattering!
God used irony and sarcasm when He answered Job. Where were you when I created the earth? Surely you’re old enough to answer my questions about the creation (Job 38:4, 21)? Of course the answer is no! Job wasn’t there in the beginning, but God was.
Jehoram, was an evil king of Judah who lead the nation into idolatry. The Bible says that “He passed away, to no one’s regret”, didn’t have a funeral fire and wasn’t buried in the tombs of the kings (1 Chr. 21:19-20). That’s a colorful way of saying what people thought about Jehoram.
Some of Solomon’s proverbs are funny:
– “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion” (11:22)
– “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (21:9). And “A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm” (27:15).
– “The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside!”” (22:13). That sounds like a good excuse to stay home!
God mocks idols. They had mouths, but can’t speak. Eyes, but can’t see. Ears but can’t hear. And mouths, but can’t breathe. They seem to be useless and dead! And then He adds the punch line: “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Ps. 135:15-18)! Idols are a fraud and worthless (Jer. 10:14-15). They were just a dead stone or block of wood (Isa. 44:9-20; Hab. 2:18-10).
God can use wordplay in serious situations. For example, the Lord showed Jeremiah the branch of an almond tree and said “I am watching” (Jer. 1:11). The Hebrew word for almond (saqed) sounds like the word for watching (soqed).
Funny sayings in the New Testament
Jesus used some funny illustrations:
– He said to the hypocrites, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Mt. 7:3). This hyperbole is hilarious!
– After He spoke with a rich man, Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt. 19:24). This is another exaggeration.
– He said the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders were “like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Mt.23:27).
– He said to the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Mt. 23:24). They were leading people into danger like blind guides (Lk. 6:39). And by concentrating on minor matters (like gnats), they missed dealing with major matters (like camels). Jesus also used a pun here as the Aramaic word for gnat is galma and for camel is gamla.
– He also mentions lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket, building a house on sand, and a father giving their child stones instead of bread. All of which are ridiculous.
– And He makes a Samaritan behave better than a priest and Levite (Lk. 10:30-35).
The common people would have laughed at these comical images.
Jesus also used puns like saying “on this rock I will build my church” when he was speaking to Peter (whose Greek name meant detached stone) (Mt. 16:18).
When describing Abraham, the writer of Hebrews says, “from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Heb. 11:12). That’s a colourful way of saying that he was very old when Isaac was conceived.
There are probably lots of other incidents and sayings in the Bible that would have been shocking or amusing in the culture of the time, but are lost on us today. For example, there is wordplay in the names of people and places in the Old Testament.
The Bible says that God laughs when nations rebel against Him (Ps. 2:4; 59:8). He scoffs at them. God also laughs when the wicked plot against the righteous (Ps. 37:12-13). They don’t realize it’s impossible to defeat the omnipotent God. It’s ludicrous because of the great difference in power.
We may say that God has the last laugh. It may be delayed; and evil may appear to have prevailed. But in the end, God will be victorious.
God is happy and joyful
When the Jews are delivered from their enemies in the future, the Bible says that God “will take great delight in you … will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17). This is similar to Paul saying that God is happy (“makariou” is translated as “blessed”) (1 Tim. 1:11; 6:15). This is lasting joy and not just a transient emotion.
Jesus used wordplay
Large crowds of people followed Jesus to hear Him speak and see Him do miracles. Obviously He was a skilled orator. And He would have seen the humor in life – that which is ludicrous or incongruous. He used exaggeration, irony, sarcasm, and satire to help communicate His message. It may have been like street theater with subtle wit and wordplay, but with a serious message.
Jesus also welcomed children and children usually see the funny side of life (Mt. 19:13-14; Mk. 10:13-16; Lk. 18:15-17).
Lessons for us
Humor is cultural and situational and doesn’t always translate into other languages. For this reason, much of the humor in the Bible is probably lost to us today. But we have seen that there is evidence that God has a sense of humor. This is consistent with a God who is personal and who sustains the world.
Coarse jokes are ungodly (Eph. 5:4). And some comedy relates to sinful behavior. This is not part of God’s character. It has been said that:
God is serious because sin is serious. God finds nothing funny about the state of the world. How could a God so holy and righteous be funny in a world where sin is still present? Jesus was a serious person because He was on a serious mission. Our eternal life was a serious issue to Him. Leaving His glory in heaven to come into the world was no fun. The death on the cross was no fun at all. He didn’t come to put people down, but to lift them up.
This is true, but it is clear that God is joyful and Jesus used wordplay. God is serious and He has a sense of humor. He has both attributes, not just one or the other. So, let’s have a balanced view of God.
The joy of the Christian life can be expressed in humor. While worldly humor glorifies sin, puts down others, ridicules righteousness, and hurts the soul – Godly humor encourages others, honors the Lord, and restores the soul. And humor helps us get through life by providing relief from the seriousness of life. So, let’s balance the seriousness and humor of life. And, like Jesus, let’s use appropriate humor to promote our communication with other people.
Although we are usually unaware of it, God is capable of good humor and there is evidence of this in the Bible and in creation. And the carrying out His plan of salvation and His coming exaltation bring Him much joy. Do we share in this joy?
Written, June 2017