Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “bible

Mind the gap

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gap-4-cropped-400px“Mind the gap” is a warning phrase to take caution while crossing the spacial gap between a train doorway and the station platform. It’s used by many train and rapid transport systems. This gap is wider at stations with curved platforms, which increases the likelihood of passengers or luggage falling into the gap between the train and the platform.

In this blogpost we look at the temporal gaps between the events described in the New Testament and their communication to us today. We will see that as the memory gap (from an event to the original written account) is less than one generation and the copy gap (from the original written account to the oldest manuscript available today) is significantly less than for other ancient documents, we can trust the historical accuracy of the New Testament.

According to scholars, the New Testament was written between AD 50 and AD 95. And most of the events described in the New Testament occurred between 5 BC and AD 65. But why was the New Testament written so long after the events it describes (up to about 65 years)?

Oral communication

The major way in which events and ideas were communicated in the ancient world was through the spoken word. It was an oral society. Many people were illiterate and writing materials were scarce. There were few books (scrolls) and they were very expensive to produce. So information was passed on by word of mouth and oral accounts were valued above written accounts.

In oral communication, the accuracy of a message received by a listener depends on the reliability of the speaker (sender) and the reliability of the information that the speaker wants to communicate. A reliable speaker tells the truth (instead of lying) and the information they communicate is more reliable if the speaker has access to the original source of the information, such as eyewitnesses.

A message can become unreliable if it passes through many intermediate speakers between the original speaker and the final listener. This is demonstrated in the telephone (Chinese whispers) game in which one person whispers a message to the ear of the next person through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. What usually happens is that the statement announced by the last player differs significantly from that of the first player. Obviously, if a message (or story) has been retold by many people, some of it can change if people forget parts of what they are told.

But the telephone (Chinese whispers) game doesn’t apply to the New Testament, because the time period when it was communicated orally was less than 65 years, which is one lifetime, and not many lifetimes. I call the gap to the first written account of the New Testament “the memory gap”, because in this case the accuracy of the message is dependent on the accuracy of the messenger’s memory.

The memory gap

The New Testament was written by the apostles and their associates who were eyewitnesses to the events they described.  An apostle had accompanied Jesus Christ during His 3-year ministry (from His baptism to His ascension) and had been with the other apostles when Christ was resurrected (Acts 1:21-22). So they knew Jesus very well. This means they had accurate source of the information.

The memory gap for the gospels is 30-55 years. Mark, Matthew and Luke were probably written in the AD 60s, and John about AD 85. Some skeptics claim that, even with eyewitnesses, memory isn’t trustworthy over that period of time and that all kinds of things can contaminate the message. But the accuracy of the New testament message is enhanced by the fact that:
– there were multiple witnesses. According to the Old Testament, there must be at least two witnesses to establish the truth in a court case (Dt. 17:6; 19:15). For example, the accounts of four separate witnesses are given in the gospels (Matthew, Mark. Luke and John).
– there were 12 apostles who could oversee (control) the accuracy of the message. In this was there was corporate control of the message.
– When it’s all you’ve got, memory works well. For example, children have good memories for stories and the words and tunes of songs.
– Memory works well if you have a stake in what took place. The apostles had a stake in the gospel message because they had given up everything else to follow Jesus and most of them were martyred for their Christian faith.
– Corporate repetition is important for retaining stories and memories. The Christian message was repeated at weekly church gatherings.

It seems as though the message in the gospels was put in writing when the eyewitnesses were near the end of their lives. This enabled an accurate record to be passed on to subsequent generations. In a eulogy children recollect events that occurred in their family up to 50 years earlier. When they do this, the gist of their accounts will be the same, although they will recollect different details. Likewise, the gospels have the same core message, but each writer records different details. Most alleged contradictions in the gospels are just minor variations in the account. One eyewitness will include a piece of information, while another one will leave it out. If the accounts were identical, then there could have been collusion or plagiarism.

As Paul was in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion, he knew what had happened. So when he was writing letters between 50 and 66 AD (20 to 26 years later), he knew what he was writing about. Paul was probably converted a few years after the resurrection. He summarized the gospel as “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance; Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4NIV). He received this message orally from other apostles (Gal. 1:18-19) and passed it on to others. That’s an example of oral communication.

Oral transmission was done very carefully in ancient times. For example, Paul commended the Corinthians “for following the teachings I passed on to you” (1 Cor. 11:2NLT). These teachings were prescribed standards for Christian living.

The copy gap

The Bible is like a library (or anthology) – it’s a collection of books written by different authors. The text of each book was originally written on a manuscript (written be hand) called an “autograph”, which in the case of the Bible would have been a scroll. The memory gap is the period of time between the writing of the autograph and the events described in the autograph.

We don’t have the autograph (original manuscript) of most ancient documents. Instead we have copies that were made at a later time. Textural critics use the available copies to reconstruct the original autograph. I will refer to the time gap between a copy and the autograph, as the “copy gap”. Obviously, other things being equal, a longer copy gap provides more opportunity for copy errors to accumulate in the manuscript.

Ancient texts were written on papyrus scrolls which may have had a useful life of about 100 years (and up to 500 years in dry climates). However, some papyrus codices (books) from the third century AD survive today (such as the Chester Beatty Papyri written about AD 200). Between the late 3rd century and the 5th century AD, papyrus scrolls and codices were replaced by parchment pages in a codex (book). Parchment (or vellum; made from animal skins) was more durable and could have a lifetime of about 1,000 years. For example, marginal notes in the Codex Sinaiticus indicate that it was still being used by scholars about 300 years after it was written.

codex-vaticanus-2-400pxAccording to classical scholars, the oldest surviving complete copies of single New Testament books were written around AD 200, and the oldest surviving (nearly) complete copy of the New Testament, was written about AD 350 (see below). And the oldest surviving fragments of manuscripts of the New Testament were written in the second century AD (such as the John Rylands Papyrus written about AD 125). The fragments and books could be 1st and 2nd generation copies of the autograph, while the whole New Testament (copied in the mid 4th century AD) could be a 2nd or 3rd generation copy of the autographs. It should be understood that “complete manuscript” when used by a textual critic does not necessarily mean 100% of it has survived. “Complete” is a technical term meaning that the manuscript has the beginning and end of the book in question. For example, a “complete copy of John” would be required to have John 1:1 and John 21:25 and substantial portions of those verses between.

It’s instructive to look at the “copy gap” (between the original autograph and the oldest complete manuscript) for other historical documents. The copy gap is about:
– 1,400 years for the Histories of Herodotus (written in the 5th century BC),
– 800 years for the works of Josephus in their original language of Greek (written about AD 90),
– 1,000 years for the Annals of Tacitus (written about AD 115),
– 750 years for the letters of Pliny the Younger (written AD 112),
– 700 years for the “The Twelve Caesars” by Suetonius (written AD 120).
It has been stated that the copy gap (for the oldest complete manuscript) for most non-biblical classical sources is about 700-1400 years.

On the other hand, for the New Testament, the copy gap is about 300 years – Codex Vaticanus was written in about 325-350 AD and Codex Sinaiticus in about 330-360 AD. So the gap is significantly shorter for the New Testament. A longer gap means more copies of copies, which means more potential for copy errors to appear in the text. So the version of the New Testament we have today should be a more accurate copy of the original than is the case for most other ancient historical documents.

The scholar Sir Frederic Kenyon concluded, “The interval then between the data of original composition and the earliest extant (complete) evidence becomes so small to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scripture have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”

Conclusion

An investigation of the gaps between the events described in the New Testament and their communication to us today shows that as the memory gap (from an event to the original written account) is less than one generation and the copy gap (from the original written account to the oldest complete manuscript available today) is significantly less than for other ancient documents, we can trust the historical accuracy of the New Testament.

Appendix: Dating the New Testament

We can infer that most of the NT was written before AD 70, because there is no mention of the invasion of Jerusalem by the Romans and the destruction of the Jewish temple. This event was prophesied in Matthew, Mark and Luke. So these gospels were written before AD 70.

Also, the martyrdoms of James in 62 AD, Paul in 64 AD, and Peter in 65 AD, which would have had a significant impact on the Christian community aren’t mentioned in the New Testament. So Acts was written before 64 AD, and Luke was written before Acts (Acts 1:1-2). This is consistent with Paul quoting from Luke in 1 Timothy (Lk. 10:7; 1 Tim. 5:18).

Most scholars agree that John was written after Matthew, Mark and Luke because it seems to build on and supplement these. The fact that the destruction of Jerusalem is not mentioned in John may be because the book was written 15-20 years later, when the shock had worn off. Also, church fathers thought that John wrote Revelation in about AD 95 (during Domitian’s reign over the Roman Empire).

Written, January 2017

Also see: Is the New Testament reliable?
Can we trust our Bibles? How the Bible came to us.


Is the New Testament reliable?

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website-evaluation-2-400pxA US assistant professor of communication and media has compiled a list of about 134 unreliable news sites. The list has four categories of truthfulness. Category one includes fake, false or regularly misleading websites, which use distorted headlines or dubious information. Category two covers websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information. Category three is used for websites that employ clickbait-headlines, while category four covers sites that are purposefully fake with the intent of satire/comedy, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news. The best thing to do to combat unreliable and untrustworthy web sites is to read/watch/listen widely and often, and to be critical of the sources we share and engage with on social media.

I have received the following comment.
“Explain 1 john 5:7-8 and why roman church admittedly added this idolatry to the koine Greek original scriptures? Why was Mark 16:9-20 and hundreds of other passages added into the bible by roman church fathers? Maybe James was belittled since he said to maintain all the laws as did Jesus.
Jesus says in Mathew 15:24 and 10:5-6 his movement was for Jews only…not for gentiles or Samaritans …Paul comes along and re invents the entire movement into “Paulianity” calling all laws of God a curse …Many people are now asking these questions.”

The commentator seems to be saying that the New Testament isn’t reliable. This post addresses the topics raised by the commentator and concludes that the New Testament is a reliable document.

Explanation of 1 John 5:7-8

6This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement” (1 Jn. 5:6-8NIV).

The author, the apostle John wrote this letter in about 90 AD to combat Gnostic heresy whose central teaching was that the spirit is good and matter is evil. Gnostics believed that the human body (being matter) is evil and God (being spirit) is good. Salvation is the escape from the body, which is achieved not by faith in Christ but by special knowledge (gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge). They denied Christ’s humanity. Some believed that the divine Christ joined the man Jesus at baptism and left Him in the Garden of Gethsemane before He died. This means that it was only the man Jesus who died.

John opposed this heresy by stressing that Jesus was truly divine and truly human (1 Jn. 1:1; 2:22; 4:2-3; 5:1; 5:5). Then he says that Jesus “came by water and blood” (5:6). Water probably symbolizes Christ’s baptism and blood symbolizes His death. Jesus was just as much Christ when He died as when He was baptized.

In verses 7-8 John mentions three sources of testimony for believing the divinity of Christ. These are the Holy Spirit, Christ’s baptism and Christ’s death. The witness of the Holy Spirit is the message of the apostles recorded in the New Testament. The witness at His baptism was when God the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17). The witness of Christ’s substitutionary death is that it fully paid the penalty for our sins. No one took His life from Him; He gave it up by Himself. If He was only a man, He couldn’t have done this. All of these witnesses are united in their testimony of the divinity and work of Christ.

Addition to 1 John 5:7

A few very late manuscripts of the (Vulgate) Bible add to the end of v.7 “in heaven—the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth”. Erasmus added these words about the trinity to later editions of his Greek New Testament under pressure from the Pope (they occur in the official Roman Catholic Latin Bible, the Vulgate). These words are included in the Textus Receptus Greek text (e.g. NKJV), but not in the Critical (e.g. most modern translations) or Majority Greek Texts. But this passage isn’t found in any Greek manuscript before the fourteenth century AD (see Appendix A). Please note that the doctrine of the trinity does not rest upon this single passage because, as shown below, it is mentioned in many other Scriptures.

The commentator calls the late addition of the trinity to 1 John 5:7, “idolatry”. So is belief in the trinity of God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and the God Holy Spirit, Scripturally correct or heresy? Here’s what God says (2 Tim. 3:16) about this topic:
“As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he (John) saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him. And a voice (of God the Father) from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:16-17).
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:18-20).
“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33).
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God (the Father), and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better” (Eph. 1:17).
“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal (Holy) Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God (the Father), cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Heb. 9:14).
“who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ” (1 Pt. 1:2).

As each of these seven Bible passages refer to the members of the trinity as being part of the triune God, the trinity is a fundamental belief of the Christian faith. So, it’s not idolatry to believe in the trinity. Instead, it’s heresy to claim to be a Christian and not believe in the trinity.

Other additions to the Bible

The commentator askes, “Why was Mark 16:9-20 and hundreds of other passages added into the bible by roman church fathers?” The original manuscripts of the Bible are no longer in existence. What we do have is tens of thousands of copies of the original New Testament manuscripts dating from the 1st to the 15th centuries A.D. There are many more manuscripts than for any other ancient document and the oldest manuscripts are closer in time to the original than for all other documents. This means that the Bible is the most accurate document we have from antiquity. Yet historians believe the account of other ancient documents, which are not as reliable as the New Testament.

In these manuscripts, there are many minor differences. Textual criticism is the linguistic study of these manuscripts in an attempt to determine what the original reading actually was. For example, see a discussion of Mark 16:9-20 in Appendix B. This is the only addition to the New testament that involves several verses. All the others only involve one or a few words. Consequently, the New Testament available to us today is a reliable reconstruction of the original manuscripts.

It is important to keep in mind that even though there are textual variations in the Bible manuscripts, they are all of minor significance. None of the discrepancies affect the Bible’s crucial teachings. No significant Christian doctrine is affected by any textual variants. Even if all the “additional” verses were completely removed, the Bible’s message would not be altered.

The King James Bible was translated over 400 years ago and many Biblical manuscripts have been discovered since then. Many of the more recent discoveries are older than anything the KJV translators had access to and are considered more accurate. So, today’s Bible translators have the benefit of greater knowledge and better manuscripts than the translators of the KJV had in the early 1600s.

Contradictory or consistent?

The commentator also says, “Maybe James was belittled since he said to maintain all the laws as did Jesus. Jesus says in Mathew 15:24 and 10:5-6 his movement was for Jews only…not for gentiles or Samaritans …Paul comes along and re invents the entire movement into “Paulianity” calling all laws of God a curse …” These comments relate to the Jews, the Jewish laws, and alleges contradictions between different characters and authors of the New Testament. The answer depends on an understanding of the old Jewish covenant and the new Christian one. The Old Mosaic covenant applied until the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Christ’s death. Jesus lived under this covenant and His ministry was to Jews, and not to Gentiles. So Jesus kept the old Mosaic covenant.

But the letter of James was written under the new covenant. James was a leader in the early church in Jerusalem. James mentions some of the ten commandments (Jas. 2:8-13). But Christians are not under the law of Moses. Believers are delivered from the law and its penalty through Christ’s death. However, 9 of the 10 commandments are repeated in letters written to the church. They are not given as laws but as instructions in right living. And they affect one’s reward, but not one’s salvation. So it’s wrong to claim that James urges Christians to follow the laws of Moses. There is no record of him doing this. This means that he wasn’t belittled by Judaizers.

Like James, Paul’s letters were also written under the new covenant. That’s why he condemned those who were trying to live under the old covenant.

The main differences between James and Paul relate to the place and time of their ministry. James ministered in Jerusalem where there were more Jews than Gentiles and Paul ministered in countries around the Mediterranean Sea where there were more Gentiles than Jews. And James wrote in about 50 AD, whereas Paul wrote in about 50-68 AD.

Conclusion

If “many people are now asking these questions”, then they need to read these answers. Because of linguistic studies of the numerous ancient New Testament manuscripts, the New Testament available to us today is a reliable reconstruction of the original manuscripts. This means that it’s reliable and can be trusted.

When reading the New Testament it’s important to realize that the Christian church commenced after Christ’s death. So the books of Acts to Revelation cover Christianity, whereas the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) describe a period when the Jews were the people of God. So, the gospels record events under the old covenant and the change of covenant needs to be taken into account before we can apply their principles to the church today. When this is taken into account, and there is competent exegesis (interpretation), the messages brought by different characters and authors of the New testament are consistent and not contradictory.

Appendix A: NET Translation notes on the late addition to 1 John 5:7-8

This passage is found only in nine late manuscripts (mss), four of which have the words in a marginal note. Most of these mss (221 2318 [18th century] {2473 [dated 1634]} and [with minor variations] 61 88 429 629 636 918) originate from the 16th century; the earliest ms, codex 221 (10th century) includes the reading in a marginal note, added sometime after the original composition. The oldest ms with the passage in its text is from the 14th century (629), but the wording here departs from all the other mss in several places. The next oldest mss, 88 (12th century) 429 (14th) 636 (15th), also have the reading only as a marginal note. The remaining mss are from the 16th to 18th centuries. Thus, there is no sure evidence of this reading in any Greek ms until the 14th century (629), and that ms deviates from all others in its wording; the wording that matches what is found in the Textus Receptus (TR) was apparently composed after Erasmus’ Greek NT was published in 1516. Indeed, the passage appears in no Greek witness of any kind (either ms, patristic, or Greek translation of some other version) until a.d. 1215 (in a Greek translation of the Acts of the Lateran Council, a work originally written in Latin). This is all the more significant since many a Greek Father would have loved such a reading, for it so succinctly affirms the doctrine of the Trinity. The reading seems to have arisen in a 4th century Latin sermon in which the text was allegorized to refer to members of the Trinity. From there, it made its way into copies of the Latin Vulgate, the text used by the Roman Catholic Church. The Trinitarian formula made its way into the third edition of Erasmus’ Greek NT (1522) because of pressure from the Catholic Church. After his first edition appeared, there arose such a furor over the absence of the passage that Erasmus needed to defend himself. He argued that he did not put in the passage because he found no Greek mss that included it. Once one was produced (codex 61, written in ca. 1520), Erasmus apparently felt obliged to include the reading. He became aware of this ms sometime between May of 1520 and September of 1521. In his annotations to his third edition he does not protest the rendering now in his text, as though it were made to order; but he does defend himself from the charge of indolence, noting that he had taken care to find whatever mss he could for the production of his text. In the final analysis, Erasmus probably altered the text because of politico-theologico-economic concerns: He did not want his reputation ruined, nor his Novum Instrumentum to go unsold. Modern advocates of the TR and KJV generally argue for the inclusion of the passage on the basis of heretical motivation by scribes who did not include it. But these same scribes elsewhere include thoroughly orthodox readings – even in places where the TR/Byzantine mss lack them. Further, these advocates argue theologically from the position of divine preservation: Since this verse is in the TR, it must be original. (Of course, this approach is circular, presupposing as it does that the TR = the original text.) In reality, the issue is history, not heresy: How can one argue that the passage goes back to the original text yet does not appear until the 14th century in any Greek mss (and that form is significantly different from what is printed in the TR; the wording of the TR is not found in any Greek mss until the 16th century)? Such a stance does not do justice to the gospel: Faith must be rooted in history. Significantly, the German translation of Luther was based on Erasmus’ second edition (1519) and lacked the passage. But the KJV translators, basing their work principally on Theodore Beza’s 10th edition of the Greek NT (1598), a work which itself was fundamentally based on Erasmus’ third and later editions (and Stephanus’ editions), popularized the passage for the English-speaking world.

Appendix B: NET Translation notes on the ending of the gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark ends at Mark 16:8 in some witnesses (א B 304 sys sams armmss Eus Eusmss Hiermss), including two of the most respected mss (א B). The following shorter ending is found in some manuscripts (mss): “They reported briefly to those around Peter all that they had been commanded. After these things Jesus himself sent out through them, from the east to the west, the holy and imperishable preaching of eternal salvation. Amen.” This shorter ending is usually included with the longer ending (L Ψ 083 099 0112 579 al); k, however, ends at this point. Most mss include the longer ending (vv. 9-20) immediately after v. 8 (A C D W [which has a different shorter ending between vv. 14 and 15] Θ Ë13 33 2427 Ï lat syc,p,h bo); however, Jerome and Eusebius knew of almost no Greek mss that had this ending. Several mss have marginal comments noting that earlier Greek mss lacked the verses, while others mark the text with asterisks or obeli (symbols that scribes used to indicate that the portion of text being copied was spurious). Internal evidence strongly suggests the secondary nature of both the short and the long endings. Their vocabulary and style are decidedly non-Markan (for further details, see TCGNT 102-6). All of this evidence strongly suggests that as time went on scribes added the longer ending, either for the richness of its material or because of the abruptness of the ending at v. 8. (Indeed, the strange variety of dissimilar endings attests to the probability that early copyists had a copy of Mark that ended at v. 8, and they filled out the text with what seemed to be an appropriate conclusion. All of the witnesses for alternative endings to vv. 9-20 thus indirectly confirm the Gospel as ending at v. 8.) Because of such problems regarding the authenticity of these alternative endings, 16:8 is usually regarded as the last verse of the Gospel of Mark. There are three possible explanations for Mark ending at 16:8: (1) The author intentionally ended the Gospel here in an open-ended fashion; (2) the Gospel was never finished; or (3) the last leaf of the ms was lost prior to copying. This first explanation is the most likely due to several factors, including (a) the probability that the Gospel was originally written on a scroll rather than a codex (only on a codex would the last leaf get lost prior to copying); (b) the unlikelihood of the ms not being completed; and (c) the literary power of ending the Gospel so abruptly that the readers are now drawn into the story itself. E. Best aptly states, “It is in keeping with other parts of his Gospel that Mark should not give an explicit account of a conclusion where this is already well known to his readers” (Mark, 73; note also his discussion of the ending of this Gospel on 132 and elsewhere). The readers must now ask themselves, “What will I do with Jesus? If I do not accept him in his suffering, I will not see him in his glory.”

Written, December 2016

Also see: Can we trust our Bibles? How the Bible came to us
Mind the gap


Were prophets infallible?

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all-sinners-400pxThere is no such thing as sin. It’s an outmoded religious idea. Sin is an illusion. A perception. A mental creation. It is not real outside of your head. Morals are evolved responses. Humans are hardwired by evolution to behave the way they do. That’s what some people think about sin. Another idea is that some people are sinless.

The Shia branch of Islam says that prophets of Allah (God) are infallible. They claim that “All the prophets and messengers of Allah, with no exception, are sinless and infallible”, while some others say they were protected from major sins but not from minor ones. What does the Bible say on this topic?

In the Bible, a prophet (nabi in Hebrew, Strongs #5030) is one who speaks on behalf of someone else. For example, Aaron was Moses’ spokesman (Ex. 7:1). So he was a prophet of Moses. The word is usually used in the Old testament for a spokesman for God, a person chosen by God to speak to people on His behalf. God’s prophets brought messages from God. They were God’s messengers to humanity who were enabled by the Holy Spirit (2 Chr. 15:1; Neh. 9:30; Mic. 3:8). They guided the nation of Israel spiritually and wrote the Old Testament. In this post, we list some of their sins and shortcomings which are mentioned in the Bible. Sin is rebellion against God which is a part of human nature that’s inherited from Adam and Eve (Dt. 9:7; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1-3).

Abraham

Abraham is the first man to be given the title “prophet” in the Bible (Gen. 20:7). During his life, he deceived both Pharaoh and King Abimelek by saying that his wife was his sister instead of saying that she was his wife (Gen. 12:10-20; 20:1-13). On both of these occasions, which were 20 years apart, he didn’t trust God’s promise that he would have a son (Isaac). Instead he thought that they would kill him to take his beautiful wife for their harems.

Moses

God spoke indirectly to prophets by visions and dreams, but He spoke to Moses directly, face to face (Num. 12:4-8; Dt. 34:10). Also, “No one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Dt. 34:12NIV). That’s why Moses has been called the greatest prophet. He also complied and wrote most of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). By the way, John the Baptist was the prophet with the greatest privilege because he announced the arrival of the Messiah (Mt 11:9-11).

God commissioned Moses to lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt northwards to Canaan (Ex. 3:1-22). Previously God had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that their descendants would occupy Canaan (Ex. 6:8). But Moses died before Israel reached Canaan. This was God’s judgment because he “broke faith with me (God) in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the desert of Zin and because you (Moses) did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites” (Dt. 32:51NIV). This occurred when there was no water for the Israelites and their livestock and they complained to Moses and Aaron (Num. 20:1-13). God told Moses to take his staff and gather the people together and speak to a rock and water would pour out of it. But Moses didn’t obey God. Instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it twice with his staff. Because of this sin, God told him “you will not bring this community into the land (Canaan) I give them”.

A prophet from Judah

After King Jeroboam set up an idolatrous system of worship in the kingdom of Israel, God sent a prophet from Judah to denounce their idolatry (1 Ki. 13:1-32). Because of God’s judgement of their apostate worship, the prophet was commanded not to eat or drink while he was in Israel. But when an old man said, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’ (But he was lying to him.) So the man of God (prophet) returned with him and ate and drank in his house” (1 Ki. 13:18-19). This was a lie because although the old man may have been a true prophet in his younger days, he was now living in Bethel where there was a golden calf idol. While they were eating together, the old man from Bethel received a message from God saying that because of his disobedience, the prophet would die and would not be buried with his family. On his way home, the prophet was killed by a lion and buried in Bethel.

David

Peter said that David was a prophet (Acts 2:30). King David wrote many of the psalms. But he exploited his positional power in adultery with Bathsheba and arranging the killing of Uriah her husband (2 Sam. 11:1-27).

Jonah

When God told Jonah to preach to the Assyrians in Nineveh, he disobeyed by boarding a ship travelling in the opposite direction (Jon. 1:1-3; 4:1)!

Jeremiah

Jeremiah predicted the Babylonian invasion of the kingdom of Judah and demise of the Babylonian empire about 70 years later and the return of the Jews to their homeland. He also wrote the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. But at times Jeremiah regretted his unpopular ministry. This led to depression and suicidal thoughts (Jer. 20:14-18).

What about Enoch and Elijah?

The Bible says that sin leads to death (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, people die because of sin. Did any prophets not die? Yes, Enoch and Elijah (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5). Does this mean that they never sinned?

James used Elijah to illustrate the prayer of a righteous person. He emphasized that Elijah had the same human nature as us:
“Elijah was a human being, even as we are” (Jas. 5:17NIV).
“Elijah was a human being like us” (Jas.5:17NET).
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (Jas. 5:17ESV, HCSB)
So Elijah had a sinful nature like us: He wasn’t infallible and sinless.
For example, after he was threatened by Queen Jezebel, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”. He ran from Jezebel travelling at least 160 km (100 miles) to Beersheba! Then he was depressed and suicidal (1 Ki. 19:1-14). So Elijah was like us when he experienced fear, discouragement and dismay.

We know very little about Enoch, except that his father was Jared and Methuselah was one of his sons (Gen. 5:18-24). “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Gen. 5:24). And Jude records a prophesy by Enoch (Jude 14-15). As Enoch had two human parents; according to Romans 5:12 he inherited the sin of Adam. This is a characteristic of humanity. The only exception is Jesus, who didn’t have a human father (Joseph was His step-father).

Jesus

After Jesus miraculously fed over 5,000 people and taught at the festival of tabernacles, they thought He was the prophet who was promised in the Old Testament (Jn. 6:14; 7:40). The Samaritan woman, the blind man, and those who saw Him raise the widow’s son thought that Jesus was a prophet (Jn. 4:19; 9:17; Lk. 7:16). So some people thought He was a prophet (Mk. 6:15; 8:28). When some Pharisees advised Jesus to escape from Jerusalem, He said “no prophet can die outside Jerusalem” (Lk. 13:33). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the people said He was “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mt. 21:11). And the two travelling to Emmaus after Christ’s death called Him a prophet (Lk. 24:19). God had promised Moses “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him” (Dt. 18:18). This prophet would be a mediator between God and people. In the context of Christ’s coming reign on earth, Peter said that Jesus would be a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:21-23). The similarity is that both are raised up by God (Dt. 18:15, 18).

But Jesus was unique. He didn’t have a biological (human) father like all other people. And He is the only sinless infallible person to have lived on earth. The Bible says “He committed no sin”; He “had no sin”; and “in Him is no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pt. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5). He made no mistakes or errors. He was greater than Moss (Heb. 3:1-6). Also see, “Ten reasons Jesus was more than a prophet”. These reasons are all consistent with Jesus being the divine Son of God who is equal with God and is alive today.

Discussion

All the Old Testament prophets were sinners because they had a sinful nature (being born of human parents) and so they weren’t infallible. Likewise, people like Mary the mother of Jesus, the Pope, and Muhammad are sinners and so they weren’t (or aren’t) infallible. Also, the originators and leaders of all religions (except for Jesus Christ) are sinners and so they weren’t (or aren’t) infallible.

However, a biblical prophet’s revelations were divinely authoritative and infallible. David wrote, “the Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Peter said that a prophetic message is “completely reliable” and “prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Pt. 1:19-21). A prophet’s words were God’s words. What a prophet said, God said.

What about prophets who lived after 33 AD? Those whose message is not consistent with Jesus being the Son of God and the only mediator between God and humanity are false prophets: because “In the past God spoke to our (Jews) ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son (Jesus), whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe” (Heb. 1:1-2). In fact, “many false prophets have gone out into the world” and they can be recognized by their false view of Jesus (1 Jn. 4:1-3).

What about Christians today? The Bible says, “If we claim to be without sin (a sinful nature), we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins (individual sins), He (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned (individual sins), we make Him (God) out to be a liar and His word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8-10). Conversion doesn’t eradicate our sinful nature. But it gives us a new divine nature with power to live victoriously over the sinful nature. One of the ways to do this is to confess our individual sins and through God’s parental forgiveness (based on Christ paying the penalty for us) our fellowship with God and each other is restored. If anyone claims to be sinless, they make God out to be a liar and deny the reason Jesus come to earth to die. This applies to both the Gnostics of John’s era and todays atheists who deny that immoral actions are sinful.

Summary

The Bible shows that prophets like Abraham, Moses, a prophet from Judah, David, Jonah, Jeremiah were sinners and so they aren’t infallible. Even a prophet who didn’t die (Elijah) was a sinner. In fact, all the descendants of Adam and Eve were sinners except for Jesus Christ who wasn’t conceived in the usual way. He is the only infallible person.

So the Shia Islamic view that prophets of Allah (God) are infallible isn’t consistent with the Bible. Also, the atheist and Buddhist view that there is no such thing as sin isn’t consistent with the Bible. This means that they are human ideas that don’t come from God.

Written, November 2016

Also see: Ten reasons Jesus was more than a prophet


Environmentalism: Idolatry or Stewardship?

Greens election

Greens electionToday there is a national election in Australia. Key election issues include: the economy, jobs, health, education and the environment. The political parties seeking election included the Greens, the Renewable Energy Party, the Animal Justice Party, and the Sustainable Australia Party. This post looks at the foundation of the ethics and morals of the environmental movement.

I gave this message at a conference in 1998. It’s based on the situation over 18 years ago. Although the examples are now historical, most modern examples would be similar in many ways. Many people are still concerned about the natural environment.

Concern for the environment and pollution affects us all: we see and hear about it in the daily news media, it’s taught at all levels of education, it affects all businesses in some way, governments pass more and more laws about it, and in 1996, the first national “State of the Environment” report said that, “Australians are among the most environmentally aware people in the world”.

My background is in science (physics and mathematics) and environmental science. I am a certified environmental auditor, who audits environmental management systems for industry and businesses. In this message I will present the results of an audit of the foundations the environmental movement and of modern science. So we are looking at basic beliefs, values, viewpoints and assumptions.  The findings will be compared to the Bible, which I believe is God’s guidebook for humanity.

Environmentalism involves concern for the physical world, such as advocating protection and conservation of the natural environment. It’s a complex and recent subject that has developed over the past 30 years.

Model of aspects of environmentalism

A schematic diagram of aspects of environmentalism provides a framework for this message. The two main aspects of environmentalism are the principles, which are what we believe, and the practices, which are what we do. Our principles (assumptions and values) have a strong influence on our behavior. That’s why they are sometimes called “guiding principles”. This message is focused on the principles that can drive environmentalism.

Aspects cropped 400pxAccording to the Bruntland Report, “Our common future” (1987), “to achieve the goals of sustainable development, good environment, and decent standards of life for all involves very large changes in attitude”. Where do these attitudes come from? Our minds. If we are consistent, they are the principles that drive our practices. For example, if we believed in the golden rule (treat others as we would like them to treat us), then we would help others. Or, if we are selfish, we may ignore others or exploit them. But other things besides our principles can influence our behavior.

The schematic diagram shows how our assumptions and circumstances can also influence our behavior. For example, in the case of global warming; the principles are our worldview, values and ethics; the science is the mathematical models that predict temperatures and sea levels; the assumptions are those made in the scientific predictions; the circumstances are the technology available and the particular situation in each nation; and the practices are what each nation does in response to this issue.

In environmental auditing we begin by checking compliance with the organisation’s environmental policy because it contains their guiding principles, including philosophy, values, and ethics.

This message is focused on the principles of environmentalism and the assumptions of science. What are they? And, how do they compare with the Bible?

Principles of environmentalism

Environmentalism is based on a viewpoint that nature should be valued and protected. This is a pro-environment/conservation world view. Many world views have been explored in attempts to develop an ethical basis for environmentalism. There is range of viewpoints and philosophies within the environmental movement which overlap and can lead to conflicts. The three main categories of principles are based on the three main parts of our world. They are: human-centered, nature-centered, and God-centered.

Human-centered environmentalism

Nature is our life support system; we depend on it for survival. So people have a self-interest in the preservation of their environments. It’s important because of its impact on people. For example, ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere can increase risk of skin cancer. So we want to protect stratospheric ozone.

The two main ideas in this approach are conservation and preservation. Nature is a resource that needs to be conserved for human needs. So, Government Forestry Services manage forests to maintain productivity. Nature also needs to be protected for the enjoyment of all people. For example, zoos and nature parks.

Sometimes people can have a negative impact on the environment. For example, the exploitation of nature without consideration for sustainability.

Nature-centered environmentalism

This introduces the idea that nature has intrinsic value – it should be preserved unless it conflicts with something of greater value. In this category we will look at two approaches: species centered and ecosystem centered.

The first approach says that species have rights or intrinsic value. For example, animal rights are promoted – as they have a value of their own, we should seek to minimise our impact on animals. This can lead to treating other species as though they were human. Stephen Gould advocates applying the golden rule to nature and the environment, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk. 6:31NIV). Similar rules exist in other religions as well. This means treating nature as we would want to be treated. But try applying this to an ant! It would be difficult avoiding killing an ant as we walk around.

The second approach acts for the good of all nature, not just human interests. This is more holistic as it involves the whole ecosystem/biosphere. This can lead to reverence for nature and wilderness, such as deep ecology. Here all natural things (ecosystems, life, landscape) have an intrinsic right to exist and there is a feeling of being connected with nature. This in turn can lead to Gaia theory (which is named after the ancient Greek earth goddess), where the earth is viewed as a single organism, like a living thing. It claims that evolution is not random, but is directed by Gaia.

These modern ideas are similar to ancient ones where nature has a spirituality. Animism is the belief that all natural objects and the universe possesses a soul. And pantheism is the belief that: God is not a personality, but a force; the universe exists of itself; all natural happenings are God, and that God is everything and everything is God; and Mother Nature replaces God.

Examples of these principles of environmentalism are given in the Appendix 1.

Problems with these principles of environmentalism

Human-centered environmentalism is not sufficient, as it omits much of the ecosphere. So most environmentalists have stopped using this approach.

Nature-centered environmentalism also has limitations, particularly with regard to species rights, sanctity of life and intrinsic value. For example: How can we determine priority between species? Is there a hierarchy of rights? Catastrophes (e.g. fires, droughts, storms, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes) that kill huge numbers of organisms are a part of nature. So nature can be destructive. It does not act as a perfect God, unless you believe in a God who can be evil. As species are interdependent (can be linked by a chain of dependence), this leads to saying that “all aspects of nature have intrinsic value” – but it is impossible to preserve everything. And it doesn’t help to solve day-to-day environmental problems.

God-centered environmentalism

We now turn to the Biblical viewpoint of the physical environment (values, principles, truths). We need to realize that the Bible contains basic principles which can be applied to all areas of our life. It contains God’s plans for the natural world (its history and its destiny) and how He intends us to live in it.

We will look at three Biblical principles here: creation, the gospel, and stewardship.

Doctrine of creation

This has two parts: God as creator, and God as sustainer. First, God created everything. “God made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24-28). “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:3).  So God is the sole source of all that exists. “Everything God created is good” (1 Tim. 4:4). Jesus is “the author of life” (Acts 3:15), “He made the universe” (Heb. 1:2). “All things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16). “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen 1:31) – Eden was paradise.

Creation is separate to the Creator. “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25).

God owns creation. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1).

The awe and beauty of nature. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–His eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

The relationship between God, people and nature can be summarized as follows. God is infinite and personal. People are finite and personal. Animals, plants and machines are finite and impersonal. So humanity has special value, we share personality with God. We were made in God’s image, and people still have some of God’s image (Gen 9:6). Also, God came to earth as a man. So the Bible says that humans are both a part of nature (but not on the basis of biological unity), and apart from nature (like God). Nature is not our Mother, it is our brother and sister (as we are both created things).

“For this is what the LORD says– He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited” (Isa 45:18). So, creation has value because God made it and owns it.

Second, God sustains everything.

Jesus – “sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3). “In Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight” (Heb. 4:13). So the bible teaches that God sustains natural processes. The creation is dependent on the Creator for its continuing existence.

This includes the forces that hold things together (such as nuclear forces and gravity). Without Him all things would fly apart! God also cares for birds and vegetation. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Mt. 6:26). “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.” (Mt.6:28). “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you – you of little faith?” (Mt. 6:30).

We can view God’s power and presence in nature, like electricity flows through a wire.  The wire is not the electricity, but it can be the vehicle through which the electricity flows.  God is not nature and nature is not God. To think that would be a to think like a pantheist and not a Christian. But in this sense, God is in nature.

“Your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you … Therefore, honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Our bodies and senses should be used and appreciated for God. Similarly, all creation has been made by God and He sustains it, therefore, honor God as you interact and appreciate the physical world.

“Do not offer any part of yourself to sin, as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to Him as an instrument of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13). So the body and the physical world can be viewed as an instrument (or tool) which can be used for good or bad. We should honor God in our way of living in the material world – and work out what this means in the various areas of our life.

The gospel

The gospel is the good news, that addresses the bad news. God created a perfect universe, but because of the fall into sin when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the universe is now flawed. To fix the situation, God sent Jesus to enable redemption and restoration. Those who accept what Jesus did are promised eternal life in the new heaven and new earth, while those who reject it face eternal punishment.

The fall into sin led to suffering, decay and death (Gen. 3; Rom. 8). Genesis 3 is one of the most important chapters in the Bible. God cursed not only people, but also nature, because of human sin. It explains the problem of evil in our world, in both humanity and in nature. It’s the ultimate cause of environmental problems. We live in a fallen world, different to the original condition of “very good”. Nature is abnormal, and it can be destructive. Environmentalist try to stop death in the environment. The fall explains death.

Now looking at redemption and restoration. Christians are seen as being part of a new creation, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17). Through Jesus, people can be reconciled to God. The biblical visions of the kingdom of God are visions of people in harmony with nature. The Bible teaches that the effects of the curse on nature will end and nature will be restored to its original splendor (it will be a sinless, deathless paradise, reconciled to God). Nature will also enjoy with Christians the effects of redemption.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Rom. 8:18-25). So all of creation is looking for redemption by God; not by people like us.

Christians share the gospel message with many people, even though they know that probably only a few will respond. Likewise, Christians ought to be willing to care for the created world, even though they know that they can’t bring full restoration.

Our bodies and the physical world will be transformed one day (like Jesus after His resurrection). The restoration will be through Jesus; “to reconcile to Himself (God) all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col. 1:20). “Heaven must receive Him (Christ) until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets” (Acts 3:21). When God judges the ungodly, the earth will be destroyed by fire and replaced by a new heaven and a new earth (2 Pt. 3:7-13). And we “are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells”.

God will then live with mankind as in the Garden of Eden, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:1-8).

Doctrine of Stewardship

God told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen 1:28). “Subdue” (“kabask” in Hebrew) means to conquer. “Rule” (“radah” in Hebrew) is generally used to describe the righteous and loving rule of a good and kind king. For example, King Solomon “ruled over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza, and had peace on all sides. During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree” (1 Ki. 4:24-25).

God told Adam how this rule is to be carried out. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work (“abad” in Hebrew) it and take care (“shama” in Hebrew) of it” (Gen. 2:15). Elsewhere “abad” is translated to “serve” (e.g. “we will serve the Lord”, Josh. 24:15) and “sharma” is translated to “keep”, “watch” or “preserve” (e.g. “The Lord bless you and keep you”, Num. 6:24).  God keeps His people in such a way to demonstrate His great love and care. All this was given before the fall of man, so there is no suggestion of evil or exploitation of nature here. So, Adam managed the garden of Eden. Before the fall there was perfect harmony between humanity and the environment.

As God owns the world, Christians can be seen as His stewards (or managers, a delegated authority). A “steward” is a manager of a household (e.g. Lk. 16:1-9). Peter also used it as a metaphor for believers, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pt. 4:10).

Stewardship means caring for creation as God would. And we are accountable to God. For example, in the Old Testament there was a Sabbath rest for animals and a Sabbath year rest for agricultural land (Ex. 20:10; 23:10-11).

The assumptions of modern science

Science provides a useful method for finding out things about the way the world works. The assumptions and boundaries of “science” largely determine the findings of science. Only theories consistent with these are acceptable to science. We will look at three major assumptions of science.

Doctrine of Naturalism

Science assumes a naturalistic world where the physical universe is all that exists. Nature is all there is. So, everything is explained in terms of mechanical processes. God only exists as an idea in the minds of religious believers. Naturalism is associated with: materialism -there is only matter (no unseen world of souls, spirits or deities) and atheism – there is no God. This limits science to naturalistic theories. As science excludes the supernatural (by definition), a model or explanation that incorporates supernatural intervention (e.g. creative intelligence), cannot be called “scientific”. Therefore, “Creation science” is impossible. As a result, science is unable to disprove the spiritual, as whatever it discovers is “natural” by definition.

Doctrine of Evolution

Science assumes an evolving world (mainly because the only alternative is an act of creation by a God). Mutation and selection are assumed to be the driving forces of evolution. As naturalism and evolution are assumptions of science, science cannot be used to prove these.

Examples of these doctrines of science are given in the Appendix 2.

Doctrine of Uniformity

Science usually assumes the present is the key to the past and the future. Sometimes there is immense extrapolation into the past (e.g. speculation on the origin of life) and into the future (e.g. speculation on global warming), without proper consideration of assumptions and uncertainty. I call this speculative science. It fails to recognize that many deep questions are unanswered and will probably never be definitively answered, given the limits of science. For example, how was the universe created?

Consequences for Christianity

Once science was based on what was able to be observed, repeated and tested. But these assumptions have been added in such a way that anything outside this scope is deemed to be unscientific and false. When applied to situations outside the scope of observational science, this approach renders all other viewpoints false. For example, it means that there is no need to prove that evolution happened. Instead they just say that it happened with no need for a rigorous proof. In this way, science has used evolution to destroy Christianity. This is explained below.

Biblical viewpoint of evolution

Putting the doctrine of evolution (one of the assumptions of modern science) to the test.  The Bible contains three clear tests for determining what is true and false:

The Jesus test: Who was Jesus Christ?
“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: 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 how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:2-6).

The gospel test: Is it a different gospel?
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gal. 1:6-8).

The fruit test: What kind of fruit is evident?
“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. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. …  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:15-20).

Here’s how evolution goes in these tests.

The Jesus test

According to evolution, there is no need for a Savior. Jesus was only a human being, not divine. He was not the Creator (as there is no need for one), or the “second Adam”, as there was no Adam who disobeyed God in the first place. So, it fails the Jesus test.

The gospel test

Gospel test.cropped 400pxThe gospel according to evolution is compared with the gospel according to the Bible in the schematic diagram. This shows they are totally different. And evolution undermines all aspects of the gospel – all basic Biblical truths.

Evolution provides a new creation story, “As a story of creation, the book of Genesis long ago crumbled under the weight of science, notably Darwin’s theory of natural selection (Time, 4 Nov. 1996, p80).

If evolution is true, then death and suffering is not the result of sin. “According to Genesis, nature is in essence benign … But according to Darwinism, the evil in nature lies at its very roots, instilled by its creator, natural selection” (Time, 4 Nov. 1996, p81). The biological roots of sin are attributed to impulses that arose by natural selection and that were then inherited as they enhanced the chances of survival and reproduction. This means that sin, death and suffering are an inherent part of nature from the beginning of time.

So there is no need for a Savior and heaven and hell don’t exist. Its message is that “salvation comes through science”.

The fruit test – the fruits of evolution

The idea of evolution supports and is associated with: naturalism, materialism, atheism, humanism (humanity is self-sufficient; capable of solving all his difficulties), and pantheism.

Acceptance of the idea of evolution leads to the following:
Less value on human life (practices such as abortion and euthanasia are more acceptable).  Another example from the past is racism (e.g. Australian Aboriginals were considered to be biologically inferior to Europeans. This was justified by biological determinism promoted by evolutionary anthropology).
Less value on family life (marriage less important, divorce is more acceptable)
Less value on morals (truth is now relative, not absolute).
A “might is right” attitude, which supports the strong, but not the weak (survival of the fittest, a competitive world, compassion involves saving “weak genes”).

These are fruits of the sinful nature, not the divine nature. So the doctrine of evolution is a major cause behind many of the problems in our society.

Results of the tests

So the “doctrine of evolution” fails all three Biblical tests. This means it’s a false doctrine, an idol, the creation story and religion of modern science.

Summary

Modern environ cropped 400pxSecular environmentalism represents a new religion (see schematic diagram). By trying to introduce ethics and morals into a world that has discarded the Bible, most environmentalists adopt ethics which are centered on humanity or nature and they follow the idols of: humanism, atheism or pantheism. These are all justified by belief in evolution (which is also an idol). Idolatry is following ideas that replace the Creator God. Although they claim to be wise, such environmentalists are foolish because their actions are based on a lie (a false idea) (Rom. 1:22, 25). Due to the influence of these philosophies, claims are often made in the name of science that go far beyond the available evidence.

Biblical environ cropped 400pxBut the Bible gives us a God-centered view of the world, it reveals the Creator, and gives us responsibility to care for the creation as God’s stewards. Biblical environmentalism (see schematic diagram) can be based on Biblical principles and assumptions. The principles include: creation, sustenance, the fall (these three show that in some respects, the past is the key to the present), redemption, restoration and stewardship. Besides the natural world, this assumes the supernatural (there is more than the physical world), special creation (which can’t be explained by current laws), and possible catastrophes (so we need to be careful when extrapolating). Let’s care for creation as God’s stewards (or managers).

Appendix 1
Examples of principles of environmentalism

The Rio declaration on Environment and development (1992) has 27 principles, including:
Principle 1 “Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature” – Human centered
Principle 3 “The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet development and environmental needs of present and future generations” – Human centered
Principle 7 “States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the earth’s ecosystem” – Ecosystem centered

Agenda 21 is the program to implement the Rio declaration. It proposes a program for action for sustainable development. Its Preamble says:
“Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future” – Human centered

The National “State of the Environment” report says, “Preserving Australia’s biodiversity is important for four reasons”. One of these is Ethics which means that “no species and no generation has the right to remove earth’s resources solely for its own benefit” – Nature centered

The objectives of the NSW EPA include:
“reduce the risks to human health and prevent the degradation of the environment” – Human centered, and “achieve Ecologically Sustainable Development by implementing: the precautionary principle (being cautious), intergenerational equity (protect the environment for future generations)” – Human centered, “conservation of biological diversity & ecological integrity” – Species & ecosystem centered and “improved valuation & pricing of environmental resources” (using economics).

Greenpeace’s philosophy is:
“Ecology teaches us that humankind is not the center of life on the planet. Ecology has taught us that the whole earth is part of our body, and that we must learn to respect it as we respect ourselves. As we feel for ourselves, we must feel for all forms of life – the whales, the seals, the forests, the seas. The tremendous beauty of ecological thought is that it shows us a pathway back to an understanding and an appreciation of life itself – and understanding and appreciation that is imperative to that very way of life” – Ecosystem centered, leading to pantheism.

The Australian Conservation Foundation Mission is loaded with evolutionary assumptions:
“The conservation ethic reveres the enormous sweep and splendor of life, through three million millennia of geological time and its spread into many millions of diverse species and habitats. It is conscious that Homo sapiens is but a relative newcomer. From this perspective, it seeks to approach other species and their environments with humility and without arrogance” – Nature centered, reveres evolution
“It seeks to sustain diverse and active living communities in which non-human life can resume, in comparative tranquillity, the ponderous process of evolution which has been so disrupted and confused by the interruption of man” – Nature centered
“Intrinsic to the ethic is the recognition that human life is an integral part of this slow, inexorable and continuing evolutionary process; that our own adaption results from it and our destiny is tied to its continuance; our genes carry chemical messages shared with many other species now living and with many progenitors extending back to the beginning of life. Consequently, conformity with the conservation ethic confers benefits on humanity in terms of greater efficiency and satisfaction in meeting basic human needs and producing more resilient, supportive and fulfilling communities” – link to Human centered via evolution
Against these threats, conservation seeks to hold the earth in trust for future generations, both human and non-human” – Ecosystem centered,

The UN Environment Program: “Caring for natural resources and promoting their sustainable use is an essential response of the world community to ensure its own survival and well-being” – Human centered

The Director General of UNESCO: “Unlike modern industrial society, many traditional cultures promote not only the need but the sacred duty for people to live in symbiosis with their natural environment … Our greatest need at the present time is perhaps for a global ethic – transcending all other systems of allegiance and belief – rooted in the consciousness of the interrelatedness and sanctify of all life. Such an ethic would tamper humanities acquired knowledge and power with wisdom of the kind found at the heart of the most ancient human traditions and cultures – in Taoism and Zen (Buddhist), in the understandings of the Hopi and the Maya Indians, in the Vedas (Hindu scripture) and the Psalms, in the very origins of human culture itself” – Ecosystem centered, leading to pantheism & other religions

“The theme of Theodore Roszak’s book The Voice of the Earth is our relationship to the natural world  … He proposes a new relationship to nature, one based on modern science which regards the world as a living organism, a dynamic system with the capacity to self-regulate  … possible solutions which Roszak envisions in an ecologically-grounded form of animism  …  The motivation for change on a planetary level must rise from deep within. This is where we must hear the voice of the earth, as she expresses herself through us as a genuine person need for a new quality of life. Her voice can bring us in contact with the ecological unconscious, the parts of the soul that we have lost touch with. What are needed are ‘ecological goals that can heal the psyche, psychological values that can heal the planet’” (Habitat May 94, p53) – Pantheism

Appendix 2
Examples the doctrines of science (
in the field of ecology)

Nature in its infinite wisdom gave our animals soft feet so they would be gentle on Australia’s fragile soils” (Habitat, Dec 96, p5).

“Throughout evolution, only two kinds of eyes have ever been invented. One is the vertebrate eye, which works like a single-lens camera; the other is the compound eye of insects and crustaceans” (NA, Winter 97, p34).

“Some animals have evolved to look like other animals or even plants, thereby reducing predator pressure” (NA, Autumn 96, p8).

“We’re the dominant species on the planet; at the top of the food chain; at the top of the evolutionary tree. The way we got there is by being incredibly ruthless and self-centered” (NA, Autumn 96, p47).

“Frogs worldwide have evolved almost 30 different ways of reproducing” (NA, Summer 94-95, p64).

“As a group, spiders have developed an astounding array of techniques to capture and immobilize their prey” (NA, Spring 94, p17).

“The ‘apeman’ – australopithecines – did not die out. We are those apemen, just as living apes are members of the group from which they descended. In the same way, dinosaurs didn’t die out – they are still alive and kicking as birds. All that’s happened is an evolutionary change through time in the shape of the creatures in these long-lasting lineages” (NA, Winter  94, p68).

An academic – Judith Kinnear (Sydney University Gazette, Apr 96, p25)
“The Darwinian model of evolution by natural selection enriches many of my everyday experiences: my walks in the Australian bush make me ponder a unique flora that evolved after the break-up of the Gondwana super-continent; my visits to the zoo reveal the living products of divergent evolution that fall into an orderly pattern; my viewing of a TV program on the appearance of antibiotic resistance in harmless bacteria transforming them into untreatable killers reminds me of the ongoing impact of evolutionary forces”. This shows that the doctrine of evolution is now embedded in our society. Everyone is indoctrinated in it so that it’s a worldview or paradigm and like a religion.

Written, January 1998; Posted, July 2016

Also see: Recognizing false teachers


Strong and weak spiritual foundations

Storm 2 400px

Storm 2 400pxHeavy rain, strong winds and high tides battered the eastern coast of Australia recently. Sections of some seaside homes in Sydney were washed into the ocean during huge swell. And floods caused extensive damage in Tasmania.

This reminds me of the story that Jesus told about two builders (Mt. 7:24-27; Lk. 6:47-49). The wise one built their house on a strong rock foundation, while the foolish one built their house on a weak sandy foundation. When a storm came, the house on the strong foundation wasn’t damaged, but the one on the weak foundation collapsed and was destroyed.

This blogpost looks and our spiritual foundations and how these can be strong or weak.

Types of spiritual foundations

An awareness of the spiritual aspect of life can help us get through tough times. This can give us a different perspective on life and help us see the big picture. But what sort of foundation is our spirituality based on? Obviously, strong robust and reliable foundations are better that weak fragile and unreliable foundations. As a building’s foundations affect the building, so our spiritual foundations affect our spiritual life and thereby our physical life.

In many ways our spirituality and our interpretation of doctrine and theology is based on what we believe is the source or foundation of our spiritual authority. This authority or foundation depends on our assumption about God’s revelation to humanity. There are two main viewpoints or paradigms. The first is that God has revealed Himself only in the Christian Bible. And the second is that God continues to reveal Himself by means outside the Bible.

The Bible also says that God is revealed in a general sense in His physical creation (Rom. 1:20) and in the human conscience (Rom. 2:15). But these types of general revelation aren’t addressed in this post.

Only Biblical revelation

The first main viewpoint about how God reveals himself to us is based on the historical record in the Bible, which was written between 1430 BC and AD 95. There are two main sections in the Bible. The Old Testament is God’s revelation before the birth of Christ, when the Israelites were God’s people. It was written by prophets who received the message from God “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:20-21NIV). The New Testament is God’s revelation in the first century AD. It has two subsections: the gospels describe the final years of the old Jewish covenant, while the remainder describes the early church, when Christians were God’s people. The Bible teaches that together the Old and New Testaments provide all we need to know about God and His interaction with humanity.

Although the Bible wasn’t written to us, it contains information and principles that are still relevant today. When we apply a Bible passage to our lives we need to discern who it was written to, the era being described and the universal principle being taught. In particular, we need to be careful interpreting and applying passages written about the Jewish era because we live in the Christian era, not the Jewish one. We will now look at some Bible passages that support this viewpoint.

In the context of persecution of Christians and dealing with false teachers, Paul told Timothy, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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. 3:15-17). So the words of the Bible are the words of God Himself. Also, the Bible is both necessary and sufficient to show us the way of salvation and to equip us for Christian living. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, not via any of the teachings given below under “Continual revelation”. The gospel of Jesus Christ described in the New Testament is the only strong spiritual foundation (1 Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:20).

In the context of disunity within a local church, Paul quoted the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written” (2 Cor. 4:6). He wanted the believers in Corinth to evaluate everything and everyone by the Scriptures. He didn’t want them to put other teachers or other teachings above Scripture. Their authority was to be Scripture and nothing else or no-one else.

Canon complete

The last commandment in the Bible is a warning, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll” (Rev. 22:18-19). There are similar warnings in the Old Testament (Dt. 4:2; Prov. 30:5-6). As the subjects of the book of Revelation are woven throughout the Bible, this passage condemns any tampering with Scripture. Since the book of Revelation was completed, no new written or verbal prophecy has ever been universally recognized by Christians as divine truth from God. The Scriptures are final and complete.

Jesus told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things” and “guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 14:26; 16:13). We have this truth recorded by the apostles and their associates in the New Testament. Today the Holy Spirit can use Scripture to guide us into all the truth. Paul told the Ephesians “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27), which was “revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets” and written down in Scripture (Eph. 3:4-5).

Jude said that the Christian faith documented by the apostles was “once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3). This means it’s complete and not subject to change. So the Bible is a closed system of truth, with no new revelation being given through inspired prophets or apostles. It’s God’s complete revelation, containing all the spiritual truth that God wants us to know. Through it, God has revealed everything He wants us to know about spiritual matters. And nothing has been lost from God’s revelation.

go-kart-tragedy 2 400pxIn April 2010, a 26-year-old woman was driving a go-kart at Port Stephens, when part of her clothing became entangled in the drive axle of her vehicle, strangling her and resulting in her death. The operator was fined $32,000 with costs of $18,000 for failing to comply with two Australian Standards for amusement rides and devices. The standard says go-kart riders were required to “not wear loose fitting clothing that could become entangled in any part of the kart” and the moving parts of the go-kart must be covered. Failing to follow this safety standard was physically dangerous. Likewise, failing to follow the Bible is spiritually dangerous because the Bible is God’s spiritual standard for us.

Continual revelation

The second main viewpoint is that God continues to reveal Himself by means outside the Bible. These extra-biblical revelations may include religious teachings, religious books, traditions, or ongoing revelation via dreams, visions or prophecies.

In this case it is assumed that Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all the truth” implies that new truth will continue to be revealed after the Bible was complete (Jn. 16:13). However, this promise was written to people who attended a Jewish synagogue, so it wasn’t written directly to us today (Jn. 16:2). Instead the new truth was revealed after the day of Pentecost and written in the New Testament for us to learn about today.

Other religious teachings

Some religious teachings aren’t consistent with the teachings of the Bible. For example, the teachings: that salvation is by grace plus works, that salvation can be obtained after death, that Jesus isn’t God, that God isn’t a trinity, that baptism is necessary for salvation, that infants should be baptized, that hell isn’t eternal punishment, that Sabbath worship is for the churches today, that Revelation 6-22 is not about the future, that God has finished with Israel and the church has replaced Israel, that Mary was sinless, that the Pope is infallible, that prophets are infallible, and that God decides who will be saved and who will be condemned.

Because they differ from what the Bible teaches, these beliefs should be rejected. To accept such teachings as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. In the previous section we saw that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to these other religious teachings, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all religious teachings should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Other religious books

Religious books like the Book of Mormon, the Muslim Koran, the Hindu Shruti, the Buddhist Tripitaka, “Science and health with key to the Scriptures” of Christian Science, Education in the New Age, and the Scientology Handbook, claim to be the word of God. And the evolutionary ideas of Darwin’s “On the Origin of species” are used to promote atheism. But these books always contradict the Bible in some way. For example, the Koran teaches that Jesus was just another prophet, whereas the Bible teaches that He was the divine Son of God -– the way, the truth and the life. Only one of these can be right. They can’t both be right! If you try to combine the two, then you must disregard some of the teachings of the Bible. So to accept another religious book as a spiritual authority or foundation, means giving it more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to the other religious books, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

None of these sacred books can meet even one of the standards on which the canon of the Bible was established. For example, their authors don’t satisfy the biblical definition of a prophet or an apostle or have a direct link to such a person (like Mark, Luke and James).

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all religious books should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Other human traditions

After the Jewish religious leaders asked “why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders” … Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Mt. 15:1-6). So Jesus placed Scripture above tradition. In this case, a tradition had been developed to avoid supporting aged parents.

Paul warned, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8). Here he writes against religious teachings that aren’t based on the Bible. These human speculations become traditions when they are adopted as customs.

To accept such traditions as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to other traditions, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all traditions should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Extra-biblical visions

Paul warns those in Colossae: “a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind” (Col. 2:18-19). They loved talking on and on about their spiritual experiences (which probably included visions of angels), but in reality these were only coming out of their own mind. Dreams and visions are subjective experiences. In those days, the Gnostics entered into ecstatic experiences which had no basis in biblical revelation. Since the canon of Scripture (the list of books that belong in the Bible) has closed, there is no further need for more revelation from God.

In contrast to the written word of God, spiritual experiences and feelings are also subjective and can’t be verified. And when interpreting Scripture, we need to ensure our experiences and biases don’t distort the process. Instead, we should test our experience against the Bible.

To accept dreams, visions and spiritual experiences as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to dreams, visions and experiences, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all dreams, visions, and experiences should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Extra-biblical prophecies

The Bible says that prophecy is a direct message from God (Dt. 18:18). In the chapter on love, Paul wrote “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease … For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears” (1 Cor. 13:8-10). The Corinthians had been occupied with spiritual gifts like prophecy but Paul says love is more important because it lasts longer than prophecy.

So, before the completion of the New Testament, God gave messages to the church by prophecies, but sometime after that the prophecies would cease and disappear. When is that time? The Bible says it’s “when completeness comes”. There are two main views about this.
– When there is perfection, which occurs when we go to heaven.
– Or when the New Testament was complete, which was about 40 years after Paul wrote this letter.

The second view is the best explanation. Two situations are being compared in this passage, the “partial” and the “complete”; the “now” and the “then” (v.9-10, 12). The gift of prophecy in the New Testament church was God’s partial revelation before His full revelation was available when the Bible was completed. Paul gives two illustrations of this (v.11-12). The first compares childhood to adulthood (or immaturity to maturity). The second compares seeing something in a dim mirror to seeing it in a clear mirror (or limited sight to full sight, or indistinct to distinct). Then he says, “now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (v.12). As the “know in part” was individual prophecies, the “know fully” was the complete collection of prophecies. So at a future time this knowledge changes from being partial to being complete. The complete revelation in the New Testament gives us all we need to know from a divine viewpoint.

Then he says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (v.13). So, after prophecy has “ceased”, faith hope and love “remain”. They last longer than prophecy. How long? Faith and hope last in our lifetime; that is until we get to heaven, which means when we die or when Christ returns at the rapture. That’s when our faith will be replaced by sight and our hope will be realized (Rom. 8:24; Heb. 11:1). But love is the greatest because it goes on for eternity when we will be with God, who is love.

Why is this a better explanation than saying that prophecy continues until the rapture? First, it’s obvious that all physical activities such as spiritual gifts finish when we die. That’s a no-brainer! So if this was the meaning, why mention it all? Second, the text implies that prophecy ceases before faith and hope. They don’t cease at the same time. Third, it’s consistent with the canon of the Bible being complete. Because new revelations (or prophecies) would be adding to what’s in the Bible. Fourth, the context is revelation from God, not fellowship with God. Fifth, “complete” (or “whole”) is a better match for “partial” (they are both quantitative words), whereas “perfect” (or “unblemished”) doesn’t match “partial” (one is quantitative and the other is qualitative). Sixth, the Greek word translated “complete” (teleios Strongs #5046) is also used in James 1:25 to describe Scripture.

So the spiritual gift of prophecy was temporary for when the apostles were writing the New Testament. During this period divine guidance was provided through gifts such as prophecy. Each prophecy provided only a part of the complete revelation given in the New Testament. For example, Paul didn’t have the writings of John. In the Bible, the Old Testament is called a “prophetic message” and the New Testament “prophetic writings” (Rom. 16:26; 2 Pet. 1:19-20).

Going back to the builders mentioned at the beginning of this message. The wise builder is like those who obey Scripture, while the foolish builder is like those who disobey Scripture (Mt. 7:24, 26). In the same passage, Jesus also said that true and false prophets are distinguished by their fruit, where good fruit symbolizes those who obey Scripture and bad fruit symbolizes those who disobey Scripture (Mt. 7:15-20). So Jesus taught the Jews to use Scripture to test prophecies. Likewise, we should use Scripture to test prophecies.

As the Scriptures are final and complete, there is no need for new prophecy (direct revelation from God) today. The revelation God has given in Scripture is totally adequate to instruct us in the things of God now. As Scripture is complete, any teaching or revelation that’s not consistent with the Bible is not God-given. There’s no ongoing new revelation.

To accept new prophecies as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to these prophecies, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all prophecies should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Lessons for us

In the age of the internet and the credit card, we are warned about financial scams. Recently one of our credit cards was cancelled because of a rouge transaction of $970. But what about spiritual scams? Are we spiritually intelligent to distinguish the true from the false? Or are we gullible? Do we reject error?

We have seen that the only strong, robust and reliable spiritual foundation is the Christian Bible. Do we base our spiritual life on Scripture? Do we trust objective Scripture more than we trust our subjective feelings? This is the only spiritual foundation that can help us survive the storms of life. It’s important because our view of Scripture can affect our eternal destiny.

Other spiritual foundations which rely on religious teachings, religious books, traditions, dreams, visions, experiences or modern prophecies and are inconsistent with Scripture are weak, fragile and unreliable. Are we confused with all the foundations available in the spiritual supermarket? Do we test everything against Scripture? Do we only accept what is consistent with the Bible? Or in the spirit of tolerance (which is the spirit of our age), do we accept these weak foundations and risk our lives collapsing in the storms of life?

Let’s take the safe option of a strong spiritual foundation (Eph. 2:20).

Written, June 2016


The role of women in the church

hillary-clinton

hillary-clintonFor the first time, a major political party has a woman, Hillary Clinton, as the front runner for President of the United States. Gains in educational achievement and advances in the economic and social standing of women have been noticeable over the past 50 years. Their changing roles and status has an impact on the family, the church and society.

This blogpost is a survey of what some key passages in the Bible teach about the role of women in the church. These passages are commonly used to determine whether there are any limits to this role. After looking at what they meant in the first century, we present the range of meanings taken to apply today. These notes relate to a church meeting when men are present. So they don’t apply to an activity where men are absent, such as women’s ministries or children’s ministries.

  1. Galatians 3:28 (written AD 50)

ESV: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
HCSB: “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
NET: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.
NIV: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

Context

The letter to the Galatians is about the contrast between the law of Moses and faith in Christ and whether new Christians needed to follow Jewish practises such as male circumcision.

The paragraph (3:26-29) is about all Christians about being children (or “sons” in ESV, HCSB, NET) of God through faith in Christ. Paul describes how it happens (v.26), when it happens (v.27), what is changed from being under the law of Moses (v.28) and the resultant inheritance (v.29). Consequently, they share a kind of unity and the inheritance promised to Abraham which was fulfilled in Christ.

Meaning then

In Christianity there is a unity between people that was absent under the law of Moses. The diverse believers in Galatia were united in oneness in Christ. Regardless of race, social class or gender, now they all had the same spiritual status before God.

Note that as human role distinctions have nothing to do with our spiritual significance before God, these aren’t being addressed in this verse. However, because of belief in gender equality, today some people include gender roles in the scope of this verse.

Universal principle

Because they are united through their common relationship with Christ, God does not recognize human distinctions amongst true believers. All true Christians are equal with regard to salvation, our position before God and our inheritance. Every Christian, regardless of race, social class or gender, has the same spiritual status before God.

Those passionate about gender equality, extend the spiritual unity to equality in gender roles in the church.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today.

  • Accept all fellow Christians without showing bias, discrimination or favoritism. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7NIV). In this case, the role of women in the church is outside the scope of this verse.
  • Or, a more recent application is that women can take the same roles in the church as men. This assumes that women and men are equal in all respects, including participation in all church meetings.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2016/03/02/what-does-galatians-328-mean/

  1. 1 Corinthians 11:5 (written AD 55)

ESV: “but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven”.
HCSB: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved”.
NET: “For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hair. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should cover her head”.
NIV: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.”

Context

The letter of 1 Corinthians addresses the problems in the church in Corinth and answers their questions. It addresses topics such as factions, sexual immorality, marital difficulties, lawsuits, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts.

The section (11:2-16) is about whether the head should be covered or not during prayer or prophesy (See Appendix). Paul describes their practice (v.2-5), and the reasons for it (v.6-16). He begins with a biblical principle (v.3) and then applies it to men (v.4) and women (v.5).

Many assume that the context is a church meeting, but this isn’t clear. Maybe “prayer and prophesy” imply a church meeting. The next section deals with the meeting of the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34). And a church meeting involving singing, teaching, prophesy, speaking in other languages and interpretation of these is addressed in 14:23-39.

Meaning then

When they pray or prophesy (see Appendix), women were to honor their man by having their head covered (11:5). In those days the man could be their husband or father or head of the household. To not do this would be to dishonor (disrespect or disgrace) him. It indicated that she respected the man’s authority over her.

The corollary for men was that when they pray or prophesy, they were to honor Christ by having their head uncovered (11:4).

Some say that the covering is long hair. But the covering in v.15 (Strongs #4018) is a different word to that in v.6-7 (#2619). If the covering was long hair, then v.6a wouldn’t make sense, “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off”.

Universal principle

The principle behind the practice of head-coverings is said to be, “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (11:3NIV). This means that a man is the head (in terms of leadership and authority) of a woman as God the Father is the head of Christ.

Verse 5 addresses the need to show respect to leaders and those with authority while engaged in spiritual activities.

The Greek words used in v.5 may mean man/husband or woman/wife, with the translation being chosen from the context. The ESV uses “wife” in verses that deal with wearing a veil, because they say it was a sign of being married in first-century culture. So their translation is “the head of a wife is her husband” (11:5).

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today with regard to prayer and prophesy.

  • Whether women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in church meetings when men are present is determined by other passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12.
  • Or, assuming the context is a church meeting, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings

The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today with regard to head-coverings.

  • Because of the range of interpretations of this verse, whether a women wear head-coverings whenever they pray or preach or teach (or there is prayer or preaching or teaching) is best left up to each woman’s personal conscience/conviction.
  • Or, because head-coverings are no longer related to dishonor or shame, the application in the first century can’t be transferred to our modern world.
  • Or, the principle of respect and honor is essential when people are involved in spiritual activities such as praying, preaching or teaching but because the culture is different, the way this is shown can be different to the first century.
  • Or, women should wear head-coverings whenever they pray or preach or teach (or there is prayer or preaching or teaching) as the application is universal because some of the reasons are universal (v.7-9).
  • Or, some say that the covering is long hair. But the covering in v.15 (#4018) is a different word to that in v.6-7 (#2619). If the covering was long hair, then v.6a wouldn’t make sense, “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off”.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2015/12/09/how-do-we-show-respect-for-authority/

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (written AD 55)

ESV: “the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church”.
HCSB: “the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting”.
NET: “the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands”.
NIV: “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

Context

The letter of 1 Corinthians addresses the problems in the church in Corinth and answers their questions. It addresses topics such as factions, sexual immorality, marital difficulties, lawsuits, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts.

The section (14:26-40) is about correcting disorder in their church meetings. In this case the meeting involved singing, teaching, prophesy (see Appendix), speaking in other languages and interpretation of these (14:23-39).

Paul addresses speaking in foreign languages (v.27-28, 39), prophesy (v.29-33, 39), and women (v.34-35). Then he emphasises that these were God’s commands (v.36-38).

Meaning then

As the “silence” in v.28 and v.30 is conditional and temporary, so the “silence” in v.34 is also conditional and temporary. What is prohibited? From the context, some say critiquing (judging) prophecies (v.29), or it could be the main topic of speaking in other languages (v.27-28, 39) and prophesy (v.29, 39). And not disrupting the meeting by asking questions (v.35).

As the speaking in v.27, 28, 29 and v.30 was public speaking, the speaking in v.34 was public speaking, not chatting (or conversation).

“The law” may mean Adam’s leadership over Eve (Gen. 2:18), which Paul quoted in 11:8-9.

Universal principle

The passage placed some conditional and temporary restrictions on women’s participation in church meetings so as to keep the meetings orderly. Several options have been suggested as to what was restricted.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply to church meetings today when men are present.

  • Women shouldn’t preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in these church meetings. This is similar to the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12, which was written at another time to another place.
  • Or, women shouldn’t speak during the evaluation of prophecies at these church meetings
  • Or, wives shouldn’t ask questions at these church meetings
  • Or women shouldn’t speak authoritatively at these church meetings.
  • Or, women shouldn’t speak publicly at these church meetings.
  • Or, women shouldn’t chatter in these church meetings.
  • Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Corinth that can’t be applied today. This interpretation relies on extra-biblical sources, such as the nature of pagan worship in Corinth.
  • Or, because 11:5 overrides 14:34-35, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings.
  • Or, because Galatians 3:28 overrides 14:34-35, there should be no restrictions on women’s participation in church meetings.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2015/12/11/order-and-disorder-in-the-church/

  1. Acts 2:17-18

ESV: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
HCSB: “And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy.”
NET: “‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
NIV: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy”.

Date written 

AD 63. But reports an event that occurred on the day of Pentecost about AD 30.

Context

This is part of Peter’s sermon given on the day of Pentecost after the disciples were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. On this occasion they miraculously spoke in other languages. As he was speaking to Jews (2:22), he used Joel 2:28-32 to explain what had happened. Then he told them that Jesus was the Messiah promised by David and that they needed to repent of their sins and over 3,000 people did this.

The book of Joel is about the restoration and blessing of Israel after judgement and repentance. God promises to judge their enemies (Joel 2:20) and bring prosperity (2:21-27) and pour out His Holy Spirit (2:28-29). Then the signs of the day of the Lord are given, when God intervenes in history (2:30-32).

Meaning then

Peter was applying a prediction in Joel to what happened on the day of Pentecost. The point of similarity was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in unusual manifestations. This was only a partial fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy because there were no signs in the heavens and on the earth (Joel 2:30-31; Acts 2:18-19). The change concerned the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit only came on particular people on a temporary basis. For example, the Holy Spirit came on prophets to enable them to bring messages from God (2 Chr. 15:1; Neh. 9:30; Joel 2:28; Mic. 3:8). But now the Holy Spirit came to permanently live in those who trusted in Christ to pay the penalty for their sinfulness. The main point is that the Holy Spirit indwells “all people” who trust in Christ, regardless of gender (“sons and daughters”), age (old and young), or social class (includes slaves) and maybe race (includes Gentile slaves).

Universal principle

The Holy Spirit indwells anyone who trusts in Christ.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply in the church today.

  • The role of women in the church is outside the scope of this verse.
  • Or, women can preach or teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings like men.
  • Or, women can participate in all church meetings like men.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2016/03/24/what-does-acts-217-18-mean/

  1. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (written AD 64)

ESV: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet”.
HCSB: “A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent”.
NET: “A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness.  But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet”.
NIV: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”.

Context

The letter of 1 Timothy was written to Timothy who was in Ephesus on a temporary mission to help correct problems in the church (1:3). The main topics addressed in the letter are false teachers (1:3-1; 4:1-16; 6:3-10) and Christian behavior. After urging evangelistic prayer (2:1-7), Paul looks at problems at Ephesus related to men (2:8) and women (2:9-10). Then he addresses women teaching and exercising authority over men (2:11-15). This is followed by instruction on church leadership by elders (3:1-7) and deacons (3:8-13).

Meaning then

A woman can learn Scripture (such learning is not restricted to the man) and when they do, they should be quiet and submissive. In this context it meant not teaching men and not leading men as an elder in the local church (v.12). Instead she was to be submissive/obedient to the teacher (and to the Scripture being taught) and to the elders in the same way she submits herself in marriage.

So, a woman was not to teach Scripture to a man or exercise authority over a man. From the context it’s clear that the authority mentioned here is that of an elder in the local church (eldership is the next topic in the letter). An elder is a male who can teach, and who exercises authority (3:1-7).

Universal principle

Christian women shouldn’t preach/teach men or lead the church, but respect the men that do this preaching/teaching and leading.

Women may be highly gifted teachers and leaders, but those gifts are not to be exercised over men in the context of the church. The reason isn’t because women are spiritually inferior to men, but because the Bible commands it.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply in the church today.

  • Women shouldn’t teach men or be elders of the church. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing two activities (teaching and authority), not one activity (teaching). This is consistent with the meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which was written at another time to another place.
  • Or, women shouldn’t teach men or be elders of the church or take other leadership roles (including praying) in a church meeting.
  • Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Ephesus that can’t be applied today. This interpretation relies on extra-biblical sources, such as the nature of pagan worship in Ephesus.
  • Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Ephesus because the women had been deceived (v.14) by false teachers and were teaching heresy (1:3-7). However, this is speculative and the women were the victims and not the propagators of heresy (2 Tim. 3:6-7).
  • Or, because “authentein” (authority) refers to abusive or destructive authority (but most Bible translations don’t accept this interpretation), women can preach and teach men, as long as they aren’t abusive or destructive. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing one activity (teaching), not two (teaching and authority). But the insistence on being quiet seems to rule out this option.
  • Or, because “authentein” (authority) has a sense of usurping authority, as long as a woman operates under a man’s (or elders’) authority, she can preach and teach men. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing one activity (teaching), not two (teaching and authority). But the insistence on being quiet seems to rule out this option.
  • Or, because 1 Corinthians 11:5 overrides 1 Timothy 2:11-12, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings.
  • Or, because Galatians 3:28 overrides 1 Timothy 2:11-12, there should be no restrictions on women’s preaching, teaching in the church or leading the church as an elder.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2015/12/13/respect-and-disrespect-in-the-church/

  1. Male leadership

Jesus selected and trained 12 disciples who were all male. He sent them out to preach to the Jews and heal the sick. Did Jesus only choose men to do this because He was following the cultural practices of that era? No! In fact, during His ministry He broke many social customs by mixing with tax collectors and prostitutes, speaking to women in public, eating without ceremonial hand washing, condemning Pharisees, and condemning merchandise at the temple. He also corrected teachings of the religious leaders on divorce and the Sabbath. So, Jesus was willing to break social customs.

The 12 apostles were the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:2; 9:27). When churches were established in other places, elders were appointed to lead them (Acts 14:23). As the church grew in Jerusalem, elders were added to the leadership team (Acts 15:4, 6, 23). The qualifications of such an elder include being “a husband”, so women are excluded from this role (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:6)   So, the leaders of New Testament churches (called elders or overseers) were all men. This means that although Hillary Clinton is the front running Democratic candidate for the US presidency, as a woman she couldn’t be on the eldership team of a church that functioned according to biblical teaching.

  1. Discussion

From the above summary it is evident that, according to various interpretations, some of these biblical passages seem to imply no restrictions on women in the church (Acts 2:17-18; Gal. 3:28), while others seem to imply some restrictions (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 1:12). These two viewpoints are called “egalitarian” and “complementarian”, respectively.

Of course some people also use extra-biblical sources to develop their viewpoint on this topic. For example, feminists tend to reject bible passages that they claim are based on a patriarchal system. In this case, the biblical meaning can be modified and over-ruled according to tradition, reason, experience or post-biblical revelation. I don’t use this approach because of the dominant impact of the extra-biblical factors.

Because of the clear biblical instructions on male leadership in the church (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:6) and male leadership in the family/marriage (Eph. 5:22-24), I take a complementarian viewpoint. Here’s a link to more detailed article on this topic:
https://georgesjournal.net/2016/01/25/gender-roles-in-the-family-and-the-church/

But there are a range of options within the complementarian viewpoint. For example, in a church meeting where men are present, should a women be allowed to:

  • Chair/Compere/Lead the meeting?
  • Lead the singing?
  • Preach and teach the sermon?
  • Pray?
  • Read Scripture?

The only one of these that is clearly prohibited in Scripture is preaching and teaching the sermon (1 Tim. 1:12). So there are plenty of other opportunities for women’s participation. What do you think?

  1. Appendix – What about “prophesy”?

Prophesy is mentioned in the book of Acts up to AD 57 (Acts 21:9-10). Paul mentions prophesy in his books written in AD 55-60 but not his last six books (written AD 60-66). The only biblical record of prophesy after this time is the apostle John (Rev. 1:3; 10:7, 11; 19:10; 22:6, 9, 10, 18-19). He also mentions false prophets (1 Jn. 4:1). Therefore, it seems as though the prevalence of prophesy decreased significantly after AD 60. We now have the record of God’s revelation to the prophets in the early church in the New Testament. These truths are now communicated to us by preachers and teachers who also build up (strengthen), encourage and comfort believers and convict unbelievers. Therefore, today we apply the biblical principles for prophesy to preaching and teaching.

The revelation given to the writers of the New Testament finished in the first century AD (Jude 3, Rev. 22:18-19). Just as the close of the Old Testament canon was followed by a 400-year silence (no prophecies from God), so the close of the New Testament has been followed by a 1,900-year silence. Since the book of Revelation was completed, no new written or verbal prophecy has ever been universally recognized by Christians as divine truth from God. The Scriptures are final and complete. According to Scripture, God will speak again with new prophecies, visions and revelations after the rapture, during the tribulation and Christ’s millennial kingdom (Acts 2:16-21; Rev. 11:1-13).

Written, May 2016

Also see: What does Galatians 3:28 mean?
What does Acts 2:17-18 mean?
How do we show respect for authority?
Order and disorder in the church
Respect and disrespect in the church
Gender roles in the family and the church


Songs in the Bible

Singing 2 400px

Singing 2 400pxSinging is good for you. It can have physical and psychological benefits and help you to feel good. Singing improves the memory and can alleviate depression. It involves the mind, the emotions and the body. It’s been said that, “Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought”. In ancient times, when few people could read or write, stories were passed down through song, because songs are memorable.

Group singing has three benefits. It enables the expression of our emotions, which can increase our confidence. It requires a flexible mind in order to make the correct sounds, which can make us more creative and adaptable to life’s challenges. And it connects us socially to others with a common purpose. So group singing can enhance our wellbeing.

In this post we look at some songs in the Bible. We know that Jesus sang with His disciples and Paul and Silas sang in prison (Mt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26; Acts 16:15). And there are songs throughout the Bible.

About one third of the Bible is poetry. For example, the Wisdom books of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs and the Prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations are all poetic. Some of these poems are the lyrics of songs. For example, Psalms, Song of Songs and Lamentations. There are 150 songs in the book of Psalms. It was the Israelites song book. They must have been passionate singers. In all, there are about 185 songs mentioned in the Bible. Let’s look at a few of them.

The first song – after a great victory

The first song mentioned in the Bible happens after one of its greatest miracles. God delivers the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by parting the Red Sea, allowing them to escape from Pharaoh’s army. When the Egyptians pursue them, the sea flows back over them, washing away their chariots and horsemen. Not one of them survived. This was a display of God’s power over nature and a picture of salvation.

What was the people’s response? The Bible says, “when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses His servant” (Ex. 14:31NIV). They then had a great celebration that included music, singing and dancing. It was like after victory in battle (1 Sam. 18:6-7; 2 Sam. 1:20). The lyrics of the song they sang are in the Bible. It had five parts.

The chorus is (Ex. 15:1, 21):
“Sing to the Lord,
for He is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
He has hurled into the sea”
Here they are summarizing and praising God for what He had done.

Who God is (v.2-3). They praise God as a strong warrior and say “He is my God”.

What God has done (v.4-12). They retell the defeat of the powerful Egyptian army. How they “drowned in the Red Sea”. Only their God had such power.

What God would do in future (v. 13-17). They predict that God will lead them in the conquest and occupation of Canaan. When the Edomites, the Philistines and the Canaanites hear what God had done, they would be terrified. This was later confirmed by Rahab (Josh. 2:9-11).

Conclusion (v.18). “The Lord reigns for ever and ever”. His powerful rule is eternal.

So the first song in the Bible celebrated a great military victory over their enemies. The lesson for us is that as God delivered the Israelites from slavery, through Jesus He can deliver us from the slavery of our sinfulness.

The last song – anticipates a great victory

The last song mentioned in the Bible happens in heaven when there is a time of great tribulation on earth. It’s sung by those who were martyred for their faith in God. They sang the song “of Moses and of the Lamb”.
“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev. 15:3-4).

The song is comprised of quotations from the Old Testament. The context is God’s judgement of the ungodly. Those martyred in the tribulation are celebrating God’s coming victory over the ungodly. When Jesus returns in power and glory, He will right the wrongs on our world (2 Th. 1:6-9). Justice will be administered by our mighty God (“Lord God almighty”) over all the nations (He’s “King of the nations”).  He is unique (“You alone are holy”). And in the millennial kingdom, He will be worshipped by all nations.

Because of His sacrificial death, Jesus is worthy to execute judgment, as described earlier in Revelation in the new song also sung in heaven:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).

So the last song in the Bible celebrates the final victory over Satan and those who oppose God. They anticipate deliverance from the presence of sin. The lesson for us is that in future all the wrongs and injustice in our world will be made right through Jesus and justice will be done.

The longest song – All about the Bible

Psalm 119 is a massive acrostic poem of 176 verses. There are 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Moreover, the eight verses in each stanza begin with the same Hebrew letter.

The theme of Psalm 119 is the Hebrew Bible which is called by names such as: “law”, “statutes”, “precepts”, “commands”, “laws”, “decrees”, “word”, and “promise”. It’s mentioned in almost every verse. For example, Psalm 119:89-96 can be titled “God’s enduring word”:
89 Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
91 Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
94 Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
95 The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
96 To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.

This stanza begins by saying that God’s word is eternal and ends by saying that it’s boundless. So, God’s word is a reliable enduring foundation for our faith. God also established and sustains creation. Through exposure to the Scriptures we can be saved from the penalty of sin. Peter wrote, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pt. 1:23). An acquaintance with God’s word reminds us to confess our sins a daily basis in order to maintain our relationship with God (1 Jn. 1:9).

So the longest song in the Bible celebrates God’s word, which is available to us in the Bible. The heading that I’ve given it is “All about the Bible”. It’s about how important the Bible is and how it can guide and help us in our daily life. The lesson for us is that we can trust God’s unchanging word.

The shortest song – God keeps His promises

The two shortest songs in the Bible, which are comprised of five Hebrew words, are in 2 Chronicles.

After Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem (about 958 BC), the priests carried the ark of the covenant into the Most Holy Place of the temple. Then “Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
‘He is good;
His love endures forever’
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God” (2 Chr. 5:13-14). So they celebrated the ark’s transfer from the tabernacle to the temple with this song. God had kept His promise to bring them into the Promised Land.

About 100 years later, Jehoshaphat was king of Judah (860 BC). When the Moabite and Ammonite armies came to attack, Jehoshaphat prayed to God for help. He was told to go to the pass of Ziz near the end of the gorge in the desert of Jeruel. “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you” (2 Chr. 20:17).

Early the next morning they set out and Jehoshaphat “appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise Him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:
‘Give thanks to the Lord,
for His love endures forever’” (2 Chr. 20:21).
So the army was led by the singers! As they began to sing and praise God, the Lord caused the enemy to kill themselves. So the Israelites showed they trusted God to deliver them from their enemies by singing this song.

A verse based on these two short songs occurs six times in the Bible (1 Chr. 16:34; Ps. 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1). It says,
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His love endures forever”.
Two reasons are given to give thanks to the Lord. First, “He is good”. That’s a part of God’s nature. Second “His love endures forever”. Under the old covenants, God promised to love the Israelites (Dt. 7:8-9, 12-13; 23:5; 2 Sam. 7:15). So this covenant love never ends. It goes on and on.

The last sentence of this verse, “His love endures for ever” occurs 43 times in the Bible. 26 of these are in Psalm 136 where it is repeated as a chorus or refrain. Under the old covenant, the Israelites knew that God loved them eternally.

So the shortest songs in the Bible reminded God’s Old Testament people that God keeps His promises and He helps them. Today Christians live under the new covenant of God’s grace. Likewise, He will keep His promises to us and help us as His New Testament people.

Summary

Songs are a powerful way to express our Christian faith and to remind us of what God has done for us.

The first and last songs in the Bible are songs of deliverance from enemies and the ungodly. They are songs of salvation. So let’s sing songs of Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer.

The longest song in the Bible emphasised the importance of God’s word. Let’s use the Bible to guide and help us in our daily life. So let’s sing songs that remind us of Scriptural events and Scriptural truths.

The shortest songs in the Bible were reminders of God’s covenants with His people. So let’s sings songs about God’s promises to us.

Christians are told to sing “to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Col. 3:16). So, let’s “Give thanks to the Lord (our Creator and Redeemer), for He is good; His love (shown by Christ’s sacrifice) endures forever”.

Written, April 2016