Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “prophecy

What does Acts 2:17-18 mean?

Tasmania power crisis 400pxTasmania’s electrical power shortage has reached crisis levels. 30% of the power usually comes from Victoria by cable, but the cable has been broken since December 2015. 60% of the power usually comes from hydro-electric systems, but dam levels are at a record low capacity of 14% and falling. An old gas-fired power station has been brought back into operation and temporary diesel generators acquired. And major manufacturers have cut production to conserve power.

After Jesus died and rose again, He told His apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16; Acts 1:4, 5, 8). When the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, the church era commenced replacing the era of the law of Moses. In this post we look at the meaning of a passage from Joel, quoted by Peter as an explanation to the Jews.
“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 (slaves), both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18NIV).
We will see from this passage that God now empowers all His followers with the Holy Spirit.

Context of Acts 2

Luke wrote the books of Luke and Acts in the Bible. Acts, written about AD 63, is a selective history of the first 30 years of the church. It describes the church in Jerusalem (Ch 1-7), in Judea and Samaria (8:1 – 9:31), and elsewhere in the Roman Empire (9:32 – 28:31). It was written for Theophilus who was probably Luke’s patron (Lk. 1:3-4; Acts 1:1). The main theme of the book is to describe the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem across the Roman Empire and to indicate the major challenges to this.

After His resurrection, the Lord Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to His followers, so they could be His witnesses (1:3-8). Then the Lord ascended into the sky and the disciples were promised that He would return in a similar manner (1:9-11). While they waited in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas (1:12-26).

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and indwelt the disciples (2:1-13) and Peter addressed the crowd of Jews and Jewish proselytes who were in Jerusalem (1:14-41). As a result of Peter’s message about 3,000 people came to faith in Christ and joined the infant church. Then Luke summarized the activities of this pioneer church (2:42-47).

Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost included:
– an explanation of recent events (v.14-21)
– the gospel of Jesus Christ; His death, resurrection and exaltation (v.22-36)
– an exhortation to repentance and baptism (v. 37-40).

Peter explained what happened on the Day of Pentecost by saying they weren’t drunk and quoting from the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32).

Context of Joel

Joel was a prophet of God to Judah prior to the Jewish exile (his book is difficult to date more precisely). The key phrase of the book is “the day of the Lord”, found five times (Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14). It’s a time when the wicked are judged and the repentant are saved (Joel 3:15-16).

Up to 2:18 Joel addresses the desolation that would come on Judah. After that the repentant are promised deliverance. The book is structured as follows:
– Plague of locusts (Ch 1). This probably also symbolized the Lord’s army on the day of the Lord.
– An army is approaching (2:1-11)
– Call to repentance (2:12-17)
– They are promised material prosperity (2:18-27)
– They are promised an outpouring of God’s Spirit (2:28-29)
– Wonders in the heavens and earth (2:30-32)
– Judgement of the Gentile nations (3:1-16a)
– Promises restoration and blessing for the Jews (3:16b-21).

The people of Judah had turned away from the Lord (Joel 2:12-14). They had broken their covenant with the Lord. Consequently, the locust plague and drought was God’s judgement. Joel urges Judah to repent, but when they continually resist, God’s judgement is inevitable. Those who repented were promised prosperity, restoration, and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Old Testament Jewish prophets had two main messages about the future: God’s judgement (the “day of the Lord”) and God’s blessing—the Messiah will come and lead their nation. The passage quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost mentioned God’s blessing (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18) and God’s judgment (Joel 2:30-32; Acts 2:19-21).

Joel 2: 28-29

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29).

As the context is “afterward”, these verses may apply after the day of the Lord. So after God punishes the rebellious, He rewards repentant Jews with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit is generally among the community of Israel, but not in the individuals (Is. 63:11). Instead, the Holy Spirit only came upon particular people for particular tasks. For example:
– The Holy Spirit empowered Joseph (Gen. 41:38), Moses and Joshua.
– The Holy Spirit empowered craftsman (Ex. 31:2-5) and Gideon and Samson (Jud. 6:34; 14:6)
– The Holy Spirit empowered prophets (Ezek. 11:5; Mic. 3:8; Zech. 7:12; Acts 28:25)
– 70 elders prophesied when the Spirit of the Lord came on them (Num. 11:24-30).
– The Spirit of the Lord came on David and departed from Saul (1 Sam. 16:13-14).

When the task was accomplished, the Holy Spirit would leave the person. David said, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11). So, in Old Testament times the empowering of individuals by the Holy Spirit was selective and temporary.

Joel 2:28-29 predicts a change where the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all kinds of people. Instead of selected individuals, God says it will regardless of gender (“sons and daughters”, age (old and young), or social class (includes slaves) and maybe race (includes Gentile slaves). The example given is prophesy which was a message from God enabled by the Holy Spirit. This is different to the rest of the Old Testament because it indicates the Holy Spirit coming on people in general and not only particular individuals. Instead, it’s similar to the promised new covenant, which included “I will put my Spirit in you” (Ezek. 36:26-27).

Of course, the Holy Spirit’s current role of indwelling believers and abiding with them “forever” is also a great contrast to the Old Testament situation (Jn. 14:16).

Joel 2: 30-32

On the day of Pentecost, Peter also quoted from, “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:30-32).

The day of the Lord is the time of judgment associated with the blessing given in Joel 2:28-29.

What did Joel 2:28-32 mean then?

Joel was given a revelation of a future time when a period of judgment (v.30-32) is followed by a time of blessing (v.28-29). Wonders in the heavens and on earth precede the judgment (day of the Lord). As judgment was often associated war, the meaning to the Israelites of that time could be that they will by invaded by an enemy, but God would deliver the faithful who would be empowered by the Holy Spirit. As afterwards “all people” have faith in God, it seems as though all the unfaithful people are destroyed in the judgment. Or it could mean that Israel is physically delivered from God’s judgment and its enemies destroyed. When the prophecy was given their enemies were the Phoenicians, Philistines, Egyptians and Edomites (Joel 3:4, 19).

The phrase “all people” (Strongs #3605, #1320) could mean every person, people from all categories in society, or all nations. As the context is “Your sons and daughters”, “Your old men” and “Your young men”, it probably means every Israelite. To call “on the name of the Lord” meant to trust and respond to God the Father (Mt. 7:21; Jn. 6:29). It shows God’s mercy in offering a way of escape to those facing judgment. They will survive the day of the Lord.

The principle of Joel 2:28-29 is that in future God will empower all the faithful Israelites with the Holy Spirit.

What does Joel 2:28-32 mean now?

With the benefit of additional revelation in the New Testament and the benefit of hindsight, we can understand more about Joel’s prophecy.

The law of double reference helps to understand some of these Old Testament prophecies—some of them had both an immediate partial fulfilment and a distant complete fulfilment. Some of the Jewish prophecies about the “day of the Lord” were partially fulfilled when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C and by the Romans in AD 70. But John also prophesised about the day of the Lord in AD 95 (Rev. Ch. 6-20). So the final day of the Lord is yet to come. It’s associated with Christ’s second advent.

What about times of blessing? It’s difficult to identify periods when Israel has been blessed since Joel’s time. The only clear application of Joel’s prophecy to times of blessing is that made on the day of Pentecost by Peter, which is the subject of this post. Soon after this Peter said that the promised time of blessing was still future (Acts 3:21). It’s associated with Christ’s millennial kingdom.

So we understand that Joel 2:28-32 is a prophecy about events associated with Christ’s second coming and His millennial kingdom.

Acts 2:17-18

When Peter quoted from Joel, he changed the introduction from “And afterward”, to “In the last days”. As he is speaking to Jews and it was before the New Testament was written, they would have understood the “last days” from the Old Testament where it can mean the coming tribulation or the Millennial kingdom (Dt. 4:30; Isa. 2:2; Dan. 10:14; Hos. 3:5; Mic. 4:1).

Peter also added “God says” to the quotation to emphasise that these were the words of God written by the prophet Joel. This is like a prophet saying “The word of the Lord came to me, saying” (Jer. 1:4).

Peter changed the word “dreadful” to “glorious” when describing the day of the Lord (Joel. 2:31; Acts 2:20). The reason for this maybe that He was associating this occasion with Christ’s second coming (Ti. 2:13).

Peter also added “and they will prophesy” at the end of v.18. This phrase is repeated from the previous verse for emphasis. Also he stopped half way through Joel 2:32 omitting, “for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls”. This could be so he could finish the quote with “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” to indicate what his audience needed to do when they were convicted of their sin (Rom. 10:13). In this context, they are spiritually saved from God’s judgment. And “the Lord” is Jesus Christ. Also, he didn’t want to make the application to deliverance from an army.

There is another difference between what happened on the day of Pentecost and Joel’s prophecy. The spiritual gift that occurred on the day of Pentecost was speaking in other languages, while Joel referred to prophecy. So the emphasis is on the Holy Spirit who gives the gift, not on the particular spiritual gift.

With the benefit of additional revelation in the New Testament and the benefit of hindsight, we can understand more about Peter’s sermon. He was announcing to the Jews that what they saw on the day of Pentecost was a fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. But this is only a partial fulfilment because John also prophesised about the day of the Lord in AD 95 (Rev. Ch. 6-20). Also, the Holy Spirit was poured out on believers, not “on all people”. Also, there were no wonders in the heavens on the day of Pentecost (Mt. 24:29; Acts 2:19-20). Although some argue they were fulfilled at the crucifixion or figuratively on the day of Pentecost. So the final day of the Lord is yet to come. This is associated with Christ’s second advent and His millennial kingdom.

Peter was announcing to the Jews that through Jesus Christ, God had now brought in the promised new covenant. This meant that the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all kinds of people regardless of gender (“sons and daughters”, age (old and young), or social class (includes slaves) and maybe race (includes Gentile slaves). The example given is prophesy which was enabled by the Holy Spirit. Updating the principle from Joel 2:28-29 to the day of Pentecost gives: God now empowers all His followers with the Holy Spirit.

Who were “all people” who received the Holy Spirit? It wasn’t every Israelite. Afterwards, Peter preached, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children (Jews) and for all who are far off (Gentiles)—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39). So, on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given to those who repented and were baptized. Although they were mainly Jews, Gentiles weren’t excluded. They were people of every gender, age and social class.

It was also a fulfilment of Christ’s promises to send the Holy Spirit (Lk. 24:49; Jn. 7:37-39; 14:16-26; 15:26 – 16:15; Acts 1:3-5; 2:33).

What does Acts 2:17-18 mean?

It meant that from that time onwards, all those who accepted God’s gift of salvation through Christ would receive the Holy Spirit. This was the new era of the church age which replaced the era when the Israelites lived under the Law of Moses. It doesn’t mean that all will prophesy. Instead the New Testament teaches that each believer will have at least one spiritual gift.

Today, we are still in the church era, and the Holy Spirit still indwells all believers. But the church’s foundation was laid almost 2,000 years ago. It is founded on Christ’s completed work (1 Cor. 3:11) as taught by the apostles and New Testament prophets (Eph. 2:20; 3:5). This work was completed in the first century AD and we have a record of this foundation in the New Testament. So, in this sense, we no longer have apostles or prophets in the church today because these gifts are no longer required now the church’s foundation has been laid.

Peter was pointing out a similarity between what happened on the day of Pentecost and events associated with the second coming of Christ. This involved the activity of the Holy Spirit.

What doesn’t it mean today?

Be careful of using Acts 2:17-18 to over-ride other verses in the New Testament. For example, it doesn’t mean that:
–  every Christian has the gift of prophecy regardless of gender, age, or social class and maybe race, or
– every Christian can prophesy (or preach or teach) at a church meeting regardless of gender, age, or social class and maybe race.

Instead, prophecy was used to illustrate the fact that every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit regardless of gender, age, or social class and maybe race.

Similar passages

There are similar messages to this in other New Testament Scriptures. For example, when the household of Cornelius accepted the gospel message, “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles” (Acts 10:45). Now Gentiles could be God’s people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Also, in the church people of various genders, ages, social classes and races are empowered by the Holy Spirit:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11).

Quotation from the Old Testament

According to Fruchtenbaum, Peter’s quotation in Acts 2 of Joel 2 is a literal fulfilment of an application from the Old Testament.
“Virtually nothing that happened in Acts 2 is predicted in Joel 2. Joel was speaking of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the nation of Israel in the last days. However, there was one point of similarity, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in unusual manifestations. Acts 2 does not change or reinterpret Joel 2, nor does it deny that Joel 2 will have a literal fulfilment when the Holy Spirit will be poured out on the whole nation of Israel. It is simply applying it to a New Testament event because of one point of similarity.”

Summary

We have seen that Acts 2:17-18 shows that Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-29) had a partial fulfilment on the day of Pentecost, but the complete fulfilment is still future. The thing they had in common was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Since the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit indwells all believers. But in a coming day after the wicked have been judged, everyone will be empowered by the Holy Spirit as prophesised by Joel.

The fact that God now empowers all His followers with the Holy Spirit is a challenge and an encouragement. Do you have this power in your life? If the answer is yes, does the presence of the Holy Spirit encourage you to live for Jesus Christ?

Reference:
Fruchtenbaum A.G (1992) “Israelology: The missing link in Systematic theology”, p. 844-845

Written, March 2016


Order and disorder in the church

Correcting disorder at Corinth

Cape Town council chaos 2 400pxIn December 2014 a Santa Cruz City Council meeting was shut down because of disorder. After council approved a bulletproof vehicle for the police department the discussion got out of hand when people spoke up during the public comment portion, several of them speaking over the mayor. After everyone was asked to leave, some people continued to knock on the windows in protest.
Let’s look at God’s commands for orderly church meetings at Corinth. In particular, what is the good behavior for Christian women given in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 and how does this relate to us today? This article is based on an assessment of the text and context of this passage.

Context

In 55 AD Paul (who was in Ephesus) wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians to the church in Corinth. Paul established a church at Corinth in 52 AD during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-17) and he stayed there for about 18 months (Acts 18:11).

At that time Corinth was the chief city in Greece. It was in southern Greece on the trade route between western Europe and places further east such as Asia Minor, Phoenicia, and Egypt. Its people worshipped at pagan temples and there was a Jewish synagogue.

The church at Corinth was plagued by factions and spiritual immaturity. When he was in Ephesus, Paul received a letter from Corinth informing him of their difficulties and asking questions about Christian behavior. So Paul wrote this letter to address the problems in the church and to answer 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 on spiritual gifts deals with: testing the spirits (12:1-3); unity of the spiritual gifts (12:4-11); diversity of the spiritual gifts (12:12-31a); the necessity of exercising the gifts in love (12:31b – 13:13); the superiority of prophecy over tongues (speaking in foreign languages) (14:1-25); and participation in meetings (14:26-40). It’s preceded by correcting abuse at the Lord’s Super (11:17-34) and followed by instruction on the resurrection (15:1-58).

The Christians in Corinth had overemphasised the gift of tongues (speaking in foreign languages) (Ch. 12). Apparently this caused strife in the local church. There was also jealousy, confusion and argument. Paul corrected this by insisting that all spiritual gifts be exercised in a spirit of love (Ch. 13). He also showed that prophecy was superior to speaking in other languages, particularly when there was no interpretation (translation) of the latter (14:1-25). After 25 verses of doctrine, Paul begins to explain what this means in practice.

The context of 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 is a meeting of Christians. It says “When you come together” (v.26NIV). The subheading in the HCSB is “Order in church meetings”. Paul uses the same Greek verb sunerchomai (Strongs #4905) to describe when the church came together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-18, 20, 33-34) and when the “whole church” comes together to hear messages interpreted from other languages and prophesy (messages from God) (1 Cor. 14:23). Men (husbands) and women (wives) are present (v.35).

Christian meetings (1 Cor. 14:26, 40)

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
… But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way”.

Paul describes a meeting where there was singing, teaching (teachers instruct and teach) prophecy (prophets receive revelations) and other languages with interpretation. Anyone in the congregation could participate (”each of you”). But because it was disorderly, Paul puts some regulations in place. If these are followed the meeting will be carried out in a peaceful (v.33) and “in a fitting and orderly way” (v.40).

What does “fitting” and “orderly” mean (v.40)? The Greek adverbeuschémonós (#2156) means properly, or decently (Rom. 13:13). It’s something that is presentable (1 Cor. 12:24) and respectable (1 Th. 4:12) and harmonious. The Greek noun taxis (#5010) means due or right order. For example, Paul said that the church in Colossae was “in good order” (ESV) or “disciplined” (NIV).

The first regulation for their meetings at Corinth is that “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up”. Paul has already used the Greek noun translated “built up” oikodomé (#3619) three times in this chapter (14:3, 5, 12). So it’s a major theme of the chapter. This means that everything they do in their meetings must promote spiritual growth. The NET translation says the objective is “the strengthening of the church”. Of course, this means the people of the church.

Foreign languages (1 Cor. 14:27-28, 39)

If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
… Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.

The gift of tongues is the ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak a foreign language without ever having learned it. “Tongue” glóssa (Strongs #1100) means tongue, language or nation. In this case it means miraculously speaking in other languages. The word is used many times in this way in 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14. It is also used in this sense in Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6.

Obviously the meetings at Corinth were disorderly with more than one person speaking at once and using words that no one could understand. So Paul gives them three regulations for the use of other languages in a Christian meeting at Corinth:
• No more than three people (men, see below) should speak in other languages.
• They should speak in turn (“one at a time”) and not at the same time. This makes the message clear and not confusing.
• No one should speak in another language unless the message is interpreted (translated). The interpretation enables those in the congregation who don’t know the language to understand the message. If there is no interpretation, they must be silent with regard to speaking in the other language (because most of the congregation wouldn’t understand the message). This is a conditional temporary silence.
As long as these regulations are followed, Paul didn’t prohibit speaking in other languages in the early church (v.39).

Prophecy (1 Cor. 14:29-33, 39)

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.
… Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.

The gift of prophecy is the ability given by the Holy Spirit to receive messages (revelations) directly from God and communicate these to others. They were God’s spokesmen before the Bible was available in written form. The objective of prophecy is that “everyone may be instructed (learn) and encouraged” (v.31).

The Greek noun translated “prophet” prophétés (#4396) means a person who brings a message from God. In the Old Testament, a prophet was a messenger of God. He delivered God’s messages. They wrote most of the Old Testament. Abraham was the first to be called a prophet and John the Baptist was the last one before Christ.

Like the apostles, the New Testament prophets were concerned with the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). An apostle was also a prophet because what they wrote are called “prophetic writings” (Rom. 16:26). Their message is preserved for us in the New Testament.

“The one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:3). Prophecy also builds up believers and convicts unbelievers of their sin (1 Cor. 14:4; 24-25).

The Greek verb translated “revelation” apokaluptó (#601, verb) means to uncover or reveal. For example, God used the Holy Spirit to reveal to the writers of the New Testament things previously unknown to humanity (1 Cor. 2:10). Also, the value of the work of preachers and teachers will be revealed at the Judgment Seat of Christ when their service for the Lord will be reviewed (1 Cor. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:10). That is why the prophets were said to receive a revelation from God (v.30).

The noun form of this word apokalupsis (#602), which means uncovering or revealing, is used to describe Christ’s visible return at the second advent (1 Cor. 1:7) and the disclosure of truth concerning divine things that were previously unknown (1 Cor. 14:6, 26).

Another problem at Corinth was speakers saying things they shouldn’t and stopping others from speaking by going too long. So Paul gives them four regulations for prophecy in a Christian meeting at Corinth:
• No more than three people (men, see below) should prophesy
• The other prophets should “weigh carefully (evaluate) what is said” as they are responsible to ensure it is indeed a message from God. They were to detect false prophets. Maybe they had the gift of “distinguishing between spirits” (1 Cor. 12:10).
• They should speak “in turn” and not at the same time. This makes the message clear and not confusing.
• A prophecy should stop when another person receives a revelation from God. In this case, the first prophet must be silent with regard to prophecy (also the longer one speaks, the greater the chance of using one’s own words instead of God’s words). This is also a conditional temporary silence.

As long as these regulations are followed, Paul encouraged prophecy in the early church (v.39).

As Biblical Greek has no punctuation, the phrase “as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people” (v.33) may relate to what goes before or what comes after it. But because they are all God’s command (v.36-38), its location doesn’t affect the interpretation. So I think the phrase applies to both what goes before and what comes after it. All congregations were to obey these commands.

Women (1 Cor. 14:34-35)

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.

The word for “woman” and “wife” is the same in Greek. Because of the reference to husbands in v.35, the word may be translated “wives” here. But in a passage governing conduct in church meetings the general meaning “women” is more likely.

Before we list the regulations for women in a Christian meeting at Corinth, we will look at the meaning of the Greek words for “silence”, “speak”, “submission” and “law”.

The Greek verb for “silence” sigao (#4601) means to keep silent or to keep secret. Paul uses it for the secret truth that through the gospel believing Gentiles and believing Jews would be fellow members of the church (the Body of Christ) and share together in the promise in Christ (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:6). He also uses the same word in v.28, 30 and 34. We have seen above that it is used for conditional temporary silence in the contexts of speaking in other languages and of prophecy (v.28, 30). Therefore is seems that the women are also to be conditionally temporarily silent (v.34). But in what context? As the passage (v.26-40) is devoted to speaking in other languages and prophecy in a general church meeting, this would be the context.

The Greek verb translated “speak” laleó (#2980) means “to speak or say”. It is mentioned 24 times in this chapter. The cases that are closest to v.34 mean speaking in another language (v. 27, 28, 39) and speaking a prophecy (v.29). They are in the context where one person is addressing the whole church. Therefore, the best interpretation of v.34 is that Paul is prohibiting women from speaking in another language and speaking a prophecy in a meeting of Christians when men and women are present. This is in the context where one woman is not to publicly address the whole church. It refers to public speaking, not private speaking (conversation).

The Greek verb translated “submission” hupotassó (#5293) means to submit, to place under, or to obey. Paul uses it in five verses in this letter. Everything will be subject to Christ (15:27) and Christ will be subject to God the Father in an administrative sense (15:28). Paul urged them to submit to those who were serving God’s people (16:16). In our passage, a prophet was subject to the control of the other prophets (14:32). Likewise, the women were to be in submission (v.34). Who or what are they to be submissive to? Their husbands? The church elders? Those speaking at the meeting (prophets and teachers)? Or to the Scripture being taught?

The Greek noun translated the “law” nomos (#3551) means the Pentateuch (the law of Moses, 1 Cor. 9:8-9) or the Old Testament. Paul used this word twice in chapter 14. It means the Old Testament when a quotation is from Isaiah (v.21). In v.34 the law may be referring to Adam’s leadership over Eve (Gen. 2:18), which Paul quoted in chapter 11 (11:8-9). As this is only three chapters before our passage, Paul doesn’t need to repeat the reference. Furthermore, the Old Testament teaches that wives were to be submissive to their husbands (1 Pt. 3:5-6). Also, men were the leaders in Israelite/Jewish society, religion and family.

What does v.35 mean? It seems that women were disrupting a meeting by asking questions. As it refers to learning, the context is probably prophecy or teaching. The situation seems to be when a woman wants to ask a question in order to help her understand the message. Rather than disrupting the meeting, they were advised to ask their husbands at home. In this scenario, the disgrace/shame would be to interrupt the meeting with a question. Also, this prohibition stops women making comments or teaching via questioning.

Is v.35 an explanation of v.34 or an additional requirement? It begins with the Greek words for “if moreover” ei de (#1487, #1161). These are two conjunctions that mean “if on the other hand” and imply that the restriction in v.35 is different to that in v.34. This idea is expressed as “And if” in the HCSB.

Some think that the restriction in v.34 is the same as in v.35 and that it stopped the women interrupting church meetings by making remarks or asking questions (or chattering). Because of the two conjunctions , I consider this is poor exegesis (interpretation of the text).

Some think that the prohibition in v.34-35 relates to evaluating the prophets (v.29, 32). In this case, female questioning during an evaluation would violate their submission to male leadership, but female prophecy and speaking in other languages in a general church meeting wouldn’t violate their submission to male leadership. Is this consistent? After all, those who evaluated the prophets were fellow prophets (v.29, 32). This would mean that male prophets could prophesy and evaluate, and female ones could prophesy, but not evaluate! Also, the women were asking questions, not making judgments (v.35) and the solution was to do this at home.

Some think that the restriction in v.34-35 is due to women being uneducated at that time. But if that is the reason, why does Paul ignore the men who were uneducated?

As it related to when they wanted to “inquire about something” and the solution was to “ask their husbands”, it seems as though the women were asking questions. And Paul says that this was “disgraceful”. He used the same word to describe a short hair cut for women (11:6). We don’t know why this was disgraceful. Were they interrupting the meeting? Were they disrespecting the speakers? Was this disrespectful in their society?

Therefore, the best explanation seems to be that there were three regulations for women in a Christian meeting at Corinth when men are present:
• Don’t speak in other languages. This is a conditional silence.
• Don’t prophesy. This is a conditional silence.
• Don’t disrupt the meeting by asking questions. Instead they should ask them at home (that’s the place for spiritual discussions). This is also a conditional limit on speaking in church.

What about when Paul wrote “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (11:5)? Doesn’t this mean that women prophesied in church meetings at Corinth? The subheading of 11:2-16 is “On covering the heads in worship” (NIV). But there is no reference to a church meeting until v.17, which is outside the passage! The focus of this passage is on the need for a head-covering when they prophesised, not on “worship”. And there is no definite reference to a meeting. So from 11:2-16 it is debateable as to whether women prophesised in meetings at Corinth or not. In this case, the best exegesis is to use the clearer example of 14:34 which definitely implies that women didn’t prophesy in meetings when men were present at Corinth.

Another possible interpretation is that the conditional silence applies to all instances when one woman would publicly address the whole church like speaking in other languages or prophesy. This would extend the restriction to all other such spiritual activities. However, this changes the meaning of the silence sigaó (#4601) from conditional to absolute, which is out of context (being inconsistent with the rest of the passage). Also, note that prayer (speaking to God, which is another verbal spiritual activity) isn’t mentioned in this case as it was in 11:4-5.

God’s command (1 Cor. 14:36-38)

Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.”

Next Paul asks two rhetorical questions in an ironic, satirical and sarcastic manner. These absurd questions matched their absurd behavior. The Corinthians were acting as though they were the authority on this subject and that they wrote the Bible. They were also acting as though they were the only Christians on earth. So they were independent of Paul and the other churches. Paul says that any spiritually gifted person would recognize his God-given authority. He has been given the Lord’s command on this topic. He is the authority, not them. They are God’s commands for the church and not just Paul’s viewpoint.

Any who disobey this command will be ignored by Paul, by the churches and by God because they don’t have the spiritual gift they claim. They won’t be recognized as a godly prophet or as a spiritual person, but as false prophet.

What about Galatians 3:28?

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Some use this verse to claim that as the gospel eradicates the differences between men and women, there should be no restrictions on women’s ministry in church. But this verse doesn’t address the roles of men and women in church meetings. It has a different context which is the unity that salvation in Christ brings to a diverse group of people. Race, social status and gender make no difference in terms of salvation (one’s standing before God) and its blessings. In the promised inheritance there is no distinction between male and female. There is now no division in Christ Jesus (also see: 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11).

But does Galatians 3:28 abolish all sexual distinctions? Can Christians now approve same-sex marriages? No! It doesn’t address these topics and others like husband-wife roles at home or male-female roles in the local church.

But how do these commands apply to us today? Let’s look at what’s changed since then.

Lessons for us

As 1 Corinthians was probably written about AD 55, it describes the early days of the church. The only earlier books in the New Testament are James, Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians and events described in the gospels and Acts chapters 1-19. When applying the principles in it to us today we need to consider the changes since then. There is Scriptural evidence that the frequency of speaking in other languages and prophecy changed later in the first century AD.

Speaking in tongues

Speaking in other languages is only mentioned in two books of the Bible (Acts and 1 Corinthians). Also, it isn’t mentioned in any Scripture written after 55 AD (or in the case of Acts, events that occurred after 55 AD). Therefore, it appears that this gift was primarily for the early church. So I will not apply the principles for speaking other languages to us today.

Prophecy

Prophecy is mentioned in the book of Acts up to AD 57 (Acts 21:9-10). Paul mentions prophecy in his books written in AD 55-60 but not his last six books (written AD 60-66). The only biblical record of prophecy 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 prophecy 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, I will apply the principles for prophecy to preaching and teaching.

The church is founded on Christ’s completed work (1 Cor. 3:11) as taught by the apostles and New Testament prophets (Eph. 2:20; 3:5). This work was completed in the first century AD and we have a record of this foundation in the New Testament. So, in this sense, we no longer have apostles or prophets in the church today. As Paul links speaking in tongues with prophecy (1 Cor. 14), both of these gifts are no longer required now the church’s foundation has been laid.

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 NT 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).

Asking questions

As we don’t know why it was disgraceful for women to ask questions during a church meeting at Corinth, we will look at what Paul says elsewhere on this topic.

1 Timothy 2:11-12

Nine years after correcting disorderly meetings at Corinth, Paul described appropriate behaviour for Christian women in Ephesus. We need to take this into account here as God’s will is revealed progressively in the Bible. The relevant passage is, “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” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). This means that within the context of the Christian church, women are not to preach/teach men or to lead the church as a whole, and to respect the men that do this.

This instruction about preaching/teaching is consistent with the one reached above with regard to the principles for prophecy. Also, to “learn in quietness and full submission” may help explain why it was disgraceful for women to ask questions during a church meeting at Corinth. Maybe they weren’t submissive to the male teachers in the church.

Application

Therefore, from this passage we can deduce that the principles for women in a church meeting today when men are present are:
• Women are not to preach or teach as this is a male role.
• Women are to respect the male teachers in the church. If they have any questions, it’s best to ask them after a meeting instead of disrupting the meeting (that’s the best time for spiritual discussions).
These are conditional silences as other verbal activities are acceptable. It’s orderly (v.33, 40) and enables the church to be built up (v.26). They are God’s commands for all churches (v.33, 37).

The restriction in preaching and teaching men in a church meeting can be difficult to accept because it goes against our culture today where women are encouraged to do everything a man does.

In January 2014, there was a disorderly meeting of Auckland Council. After the applications to speak of five members of the public were refused the crowd erupted and the Mayor made an adjournment in an attempt to restore order. He said that the only people who should be speaking at the meeting are those sitting around the councillor’s table. Two campaigners tried to speak despite being denied. Likewise, breaching God’s regulations has an adverse impact on our church meetings.

The ability to do something doesn’t come with the right to do it. Do we encourage Christian women with the ability to preach or teach to use this with women and children? Do we train both men and women to preach and teach? Are our preachers and teachers prepared and willing to answer spiritual questions? Is a prime objective of our church meetings to build up (strengthen) believers? Do we explain what we say and do in our meetings so that everyone can understand? Do we evaluate the messages against Scripture?

Conclusion

From an assessment of the text and context of 1Corinthians 14:26-40 we have found God’s commands for orderly church meetings in AD 55. These involved restrictions on the participation of both men and women. After taking account of changes since then, we have developed equivalent commands for today. Because some of these are counter-cultural today, they can be difficult for us to accept. The main principle is that women are not to preach or teach in a church meeting when men are present as this is a role for males with this gift.

Written, December 2015

Also see: Respect and disrespect in the church
How do we show respect for authority?
Gender roles in the family and the church


How do we show respect for authority?

Correcting disrespectful behavior at Corinth
Bernard Tomic 400px

In July 2015 Bernard Tomic was axed from Australia’s Davis Cup team after a scathing attack on Tennis Australia officials. TA said “Bernard’s disparaging and disrespectful post-match comments to the media at Wimbledon effectively ruled him out of contention. His behaviour was unacceptable. The allegations are misinformed and untrue and he publicly derided some outstanding people”. Soon after Tomic was arrested in Miami after refusing to turn down loud music while partying in the early hours of the morning.

Let’s look at God’s commands for respectful behaviour for Christians involved in spiritual activities like praying and prophesying at Corinth. In particular, what is the good behavior given in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and how does this relate to us today? This article is based on an assessment of the text and context of this passage.

Context

In 55 AD Paul (who was in Ephesus) wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians to the church in Corinth. Paul established a church at Corinth in 52 AD during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-17) and he stayed there for about 18 months (Acts 18:11).

At that time Corinth was the chief city in Greece. It was in southern Greece on the trade route between western Europe and places further east such as Asia Minor, Phoenicia, and Egypt. Its people worshipped at pagan temples and there was a Jewish synagogue.

The church at Corinth was plagued by factions and spiritual immaturity. When he was in Ephesus, Paul received a letter from Corinth informing him of their difficulties and asking questions about Christian behavior. So Paul wrote this letter to address the problems in the church and to answer 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 passage is preceded by a discussion on whether to eat meat that had been offered to idols (8:1 – 11:1) and followed by correcting abuse at the Lord’s Super (11:17-34).

The subheading of this passage is “On covering the heads in worship” (NIV). But there is no reference to a church meeting until v.17, which is outside the passage! Therefore, this instruction may not be limited to church meetings. So a more general subheading such as “Head coverings” (ESV) or “Instructions about head coverings” (HCSB) is preferable.

The passage implies that when they prayed and prophesised in Corinth, men weren’t respecting God, wives weren’t respecting their husbands, and daughters weren’t respecting their fathers. They brought shame on themselves and their relational heads. This respect was to be shown by whether they wore head coverings or not. Paul writes to correct their behaviour.

Before we look at the passage it is instructive to summarise the practices with regard to head coverings when it was written.

First century culture

In the first century when in public Jewish women bound their long hair and covered it with a veil. Uncovered hair in public was viewed as equivalent to adultery and could be punished by having her hair shorn or shaven. Since the congregation at Corinth met next door to the synagogue and was composed of both Jewish and Gentile women, universal veiling of women would cause the least offense.

Jewish priests wore turbans on their heads when they served in the temple (Ex. 39:28). It is an ancient practice for male Jews to cover their heads during prayer as a symbol of being ashamed and unworthy before God. This probably derives from the fact that in Eastern cultures, it is a sign of respect to cover the head, which is opposite to the custom in Western cultures.

Female slaves were recognized by their short hair or shaved heads; they weren’t allowed to have long hair. Therefore women in the church at Corinth who were slaves would have had short hair.

In the Roman Empire women generally had their heads covered in public while men’s heads were uncovered. This was the normal culture of that time. All respectable married women wore a veil outside their home. If a woman’s head was shorn or shaven it usually denoted slavery, mourning the dead, or adultery.

The Gentile Christians at Corinth had converted from pagan religions and needed instruction on meat that had been offered to idols (8:1-11:1) and sacrificial meals at pagan temples (10:18-2). It seems as though they also needed instruction on appropriate attire and hairstyle for men and women. This may be because these conventions weren’t followed by some pagan worshippers. For example images of female worshippers of Dionysus show uncovered heads and unbound hair, which has been interpreted as rebellion against the oppression of women.

Introduction (1 Cor. 11:2)

Paul begins by commending them for obeying the instructions he had passed onto them. These weren’t human ideas but teachings that Paul had received from God – as expressed by the NLT, “I am so glad that you always keep me in your thoughts, and that you are following the teachings I passed on to you”.

He then states a biblical principle.

Headship (1 Cor. 11:3NIV)

“But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God”.

The Greek noun translated “man” (aner Strongs #435) means a male human being or a husband, with the preference being indicated by the context. It occurs 14 times in our passage. In 1 Corinthians 7, aner is translated “husband”.

The Greek noun translated woman (gune #1135) means a female human being or a wife, with the preference being indicated by the context. It occurs 16 times in our passage. In 1 Corinthians, gune is translated “wife” 17 times and “woman” 4 times.

So v.3 says that:
• God is head over Christ.
• Christ is head over a man/husband
• Man/husband is head over a woman/wife. The ESV states “the head of a wife is her husband”.

The Greek noun translated “head” (kephale #2776) means either the physical head of a person or animal or metaphorically anything supreme, chief, prominent (master or lord). Here it is used metaphorically. Paul uses this word elsewhere to describe these relationships:
• Christ over the church (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:19)
• Christ over the angels (Col. 2:10)
• A husband over his wife (Eph. 5:23)

Some say that kephale means “source”. In this verse, the Greek noun theos (#2316) is translated “God”. In this letter Paul often uses the title theos for God the Father in a passage that also mentions Jesus Christ (1:1; 1:9; 6:14; 8:6; 9:21). As this is also the case in 11:3, in this verse the word “God” means God the Father. But how is God the Father the source of Jesus Christ when they are both eternal? Such a meaning doesn’t make sense. A better interpretation is that Christ submitted Himself to the Father’s leadership. This was demonstrated when He prayed and when He said “not my will, but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). It’s a functional authority and leadership that Christ willingly submitted to (Jn. 4:34; 5:19; 7:16; 1 Cor. 15:24-28).

In what sense is God is head over Christ? Christ was sent to earth by God the Father and Christ was obedient to God the Father. So although they have equality within the godhead, God is seen as the initiator and Christ the responder. God has authority and Christ is subordinate. Together they fulfilled the plans of the Godhead.

In what sense is Christ head over a man/husband? As Creator and Redeemer, Christ is head over all humanity. As a man/husband is part of humanity, Christ is head over a man/husband. In this case they share a divine nature, but not divinity (This is why Jesus is called “Lord”). Together they can fulfil God’s plans for humanity.

In what sense was a man/husband head over a woman/wife in the first century? As a husband over his wife (Eph. 5:23). As a father over his daughter. As the leader of a household over the women in the household. Together they can fulfil God’s plans for marriage and the family. By the way, in first century Corinth, most unmarried women probably lived in a household where their father or another male was the leader.

He then gives an example of how this biblical principle was practiced by men at that time.

Male dishonor (1 Cor. 11:4)

“Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head”
“Every man who prays or prophesies with something on his head dishonors his head” (HCSB)

The Greek preposition translated “covered” (kata #2596) means “down from” like a veil.

The second “head” in v.4 and v.5 is metaphorical. It’s a play on words indicating that they were bringing dishonour on themselves and their relational heads (Christ in v.4 and husbands etc. in v.5).

Prayer is speaking to God and prophecy is speaking for God. They are examples of spiritual activities. Paul is saying that when they pray or prophesy, men should honor Christ (their metaphorical head) and not dishonor (disrespect or disgrace or shame or irreverence) Him. He says that a male shows honor (or respect) to Christ when they pray or prophesy by not having their head covered. Conversely a covered head implies dishonor (or disrespect). Paul doesn’t explain this custom, as he assumes the readers understand it.

This is similar to the cultural practice in the Roman Empire. It was a way of showing proper respect at the time. In the era when men usually wore hats when outdoors, they removed their hats when being introduced to someone. But this symbolism is not common in the western world today.

This is followed by an example of how women practiced this biblical principle at that time.

Female dishonor (1 Cor. 11:5-6)

“But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved” (v.5). The ESV uses “wife” in verse 5-6.

The Greek adjective translated “uncovered” (akatakaluptos #177) means “unveiled” or “uncovered”. It also occurs in v.13.

Prayer is speaking to God and prophecy is speaking for God. They are examples of spiritual activities. Paul is saying that when they pray or prophesy, women should honor their man (their metaphorical head, such as husband or father or head of the household) and not dishonor (disrespect or disgrace) him. He says that a female shows honor (or respect) to their man (husband or father or head of the household) when they pray or prophesy by having their head covered. It indicated that she was acting under authority. Conversely an uncovered head implies dishonor. As mentioned above, at that time it was a disgrace for a woman to have her head shaved. Once again, Paul doesn’t explain this custom, as he assumes the readers understand it.

Showing respect to a male via a head covering may be similar to Middle Eastern practices, but it is foreign to western culture. Likewise, a shaved head would be unusual, but not disgraceful in western culture today. So this symbolism is foreign to the western world.

“For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head” (v.6).

The Greek verb translated “cover” (katakalupto #2619), which occurs twice in v.6 and once in v.7, means to veil or cover oneself.

The message of this verse is similar to that of v.5, but it adds having “her hair cut off”. The other occurrences of the Greek word for having one’s hair cut off (#2751) are:
• Acts 8:32. To shear a sheep (a quotation of Isaiah 53:7). In this case, the shearer removes as much of the wool as possible without cutting the skin of the sheep. It’s like a crew cut!
• Acts 18:18 Having one’s hair cut short in association with a Jewish vow.

In this instance, a short hair cut (a crew cut) would have a similar appearance to being shaved. As mentioned above, at that time it was a disgrace before society for a woman to have a short hair cut. However, a woman with a short haircut (a crew cut) would be unusual, but not disgraceful in western culture today. So this symbolism is foreign to the western world.

In this article I assume that general principle behind this passage is to maintain a distinction in authority between males and females (v.3). Other options are to maintain a distinction in appearance between males and females or to use culturally appropriate expressions of gender (instead of being disgraceful).

He then gives seven reasons for this practice by Christians at that time.

Reasons

Glory (1 Cor. 11:7)

“A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man” (v.7).

This states that the man/husband is the image and glory of God and the woman/wife is the glory of the man/husband. Unfortunately, we don’t understand Paul’s reasoning here.

The Greek noun translated “glory” (doxa #1391) means something that has inherent, intrinsic worth. It often means the unique majesty and worthiness of God. The word is used 12 times in the book of 1 Corinthians. Glory is an attribute of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 2:8). As co-heirs with Christ, believers will share His future glory (1 Cor. 2:7; Rom. 8:17). Their resurrected bodies will be glorious (1 Cor. 15:43). Everything we do should bring glory to God (1 Cor. 10:31). Long hair is a woman’s glory (v.15). And glory (or brightness) is an attribute of the sun moon and stars. It is also used 19 times in the book of 2 Corinthians as an attribute of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, Christians and the radiant face of Moses after seeing God’s goodness at the giving of the law at Mount Sinai.

The verb form of this word (#1392) occurs twice in 1 Corinthians to describe how we can honor God (1 Cor. 6:20) and when a Christian is honored (1 Cor. 12:26). It also occurs three times in 2 Corinthians to describe the glory of the old covenant (2 Cor. 3:10) and the praises given to God for people’s generosity in times of need (2 Cor. 9:13).

Mankind is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). As this verse applied to both Adam and Eve, both male and female were made in the image of God. However, in 1 Corinthians 11:7 it is only applied to the man. Maybe Paul is alluding to how the original man and woman were created. God made Adam from the dust of the ground and He made Eve from Adam’s rib. Adam brings glory and honor to his creator (God) and Eve brings glory and honor to the one she came from (Adam). This is explained by the order and purpose of their creation (v.8-9).

Why is the glory of God and of a man/husband linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? Is the head a symbol of the person (by synecdoche – a figure of speech in which a part is put for the whole)? Does it relate to whether the glory is public (for all to see) or private (hidden from sight)? If this is so, then the uncovered head symbolises that the man/husband is visible so everyone can see the glory of God. As God is the focus of prayer and prophecy, it would be good to be reminded of His glory when engaged in these activities. On the other hand, the covered head symbolises that the woman/wife is hidden so people can’t see the glory of the man/husband. As God is the focus of prayer and prophecy, it’s not appropriate to be reminded of a man’s/husband’s glory when engaged in these activities.

Order of creation (1 Cor. 11:8)

“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man”

This verse describes the order and method God used to create the first couple, Adam and Eve. Adam was made first and Eve second. Adam wasn’t made from Eve, but Eve was made from Adam.

Why is the order of creation linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? As Eve came from Adam, she would have respected him as the source of her life (Paul balances this in v.11-12 where he states that mothers are the source or life for all other men). Paul implies that women should show the same respect to men when they pray or prophesy. And at that time such respect was shown by having their head covered in public.

Purpose created (1 Cor. 11:9)

“neither was man created for woman, but woman for man”

This verse describes the reason why God created Eve. Before Eve was created, Adam was given instructions to care for the Garden of Eden, to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and to name the animals and birds (Gen. 2:15-20). Adam would have observed that all the animals and birds were either males or females and each had a mate, but he was alone. And God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). So Eve was made for Adam. She was his companion and helper (#5828 noun). Moses used this word elsewhere in the Pentateuch to describe how God helped to protect him from Pharaoh’s sword (Ex. 18:4); in a prayer for God to help Judah against his enemies (Dt. 33:7); and in referring to God’s help for Israel against their enemies (Dt. 33:26, 29). So Eve provided Adam with aid, assistance and support.

Why is the purpose of Adam and Eve’s creation linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? As Eve was made for Adam, she would have respected him as the senior partner in their marriage. Paul implies that women should show the same respect to men when they pray or prophesy. And at that time such respect was shown by having their head covered in public.

Symbol of authority (1 Cor. 11:10a)

“It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head”

Why is the word “authority” linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? In this context the word “authority” probably stands, by metonymy, for “a sign of authority”. So the NIV gives an alternative translation, “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have a sign of authority on her own head”. Also, the ESV uses the word “wife” instead of “woman”.

So the head covering is a symbol of authority. At that time it showed that the wife is under the authority of her husband, and the daughter is under the authority of her father, and the unmarried woman is under the authority of the head of her household.

The angels are watching (1 Cor. 11:10b)

“because of the angels”.

Why are the angels linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? The angels watch the activities of humanity and the church (1 Cor. 4:9; Eph. 3:10). They saw how Eve made the decision that Adam should have made when sin entered humanity. She took the leadership role and acted as the head over Adam. God wants wives to respect their husbands, and daughters to respect their fathers, and unmarried women to respect the heads of their households. At that time, this respect was shown by the head covering during prayer and prophesy. That’s what He wants the angels to see.

Human reason (1 Cor. 11:13-15)

“Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering”
Note that, the ESV uses “wife” instead of “woman” in v.13.
The Greek adjective translated “uncovered” (akatakaluptos #177) means “unveiled” or “uncovered”. It also occurs in v.5.

The Greek noun translated “covering” (peribolaion #4018) means a covering that is thrown around, a mantle or a veil. Note that it is different to that in v.6-7 (#2619).

At that time it was respectful for a Corinthian woman to have her head covered in public and disrespectful to have it uncovered. So the instruction for women/wives about head coverings in this passage corresponded to the current cultural practice.

Why is “long hair” linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? As he then discusses hair length, some think that the women’s covering is her 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”. If her long hair was already cut, it can’t be cut off again! Also the only time a women’s head was to be covered and a man’s head uncovered was when praying and prophesying. So the covering was temporary not permanent, but long hair isn’t something that can be put back on after it is taken off! Furthermore, Paul used the word “nature” when describing hair (v.14) and “custom” or “practice” when describing the head covering (v.16).

When Paul says “For long hair is given to her as a covering” (v.15b), he is drawing a parallel between long hair (a natural covering) and a veil (a fabric covering). Long hair is a natural covering paralleling the veil. Previously he said, “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him” (v.14). This means that long hair and a head covering are appropriate for women, but not for men. So the instruction for women/wives and men/husbands about hair length in this passage corresponded to the current cultural practice.

Uniformity (1 Cor. 11:16)

“If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God”

Paul’s final reason for this practice by the Christians at Corinth is that this was the practice in other churches in the Roman Empire. He wanted uniformity amongst the churches at that time in how males and females showed respect when they prayed and prophesied.

So we have seen what this passage meant to those it was written to at Corinth in the first century. But what does it mean to us today?

How does it apply today?

Two views

The main difference between now and then is that we live in a different culture. And cultures differ across the world. Women and men often wear head coverings in some cultures and not in others. And the accepted hair length for men and women varies in different cultures. Also, there are differences in how respect is shown between people. In some places women show respect by a head covering, while in others a head covering has nothing to do with respect.

Generally the principles given to the church in the New Testament are written in a way that enables them to be practiced in different ways in different cultures. This is because the church is comprised of people from all nations and not primarily one as was the case in the Old Testament.

If a culture with respect to head covering and hair length matched that of Corinth in the first century then the application of this passage will probably be the same. But what if the local culture is different?

Obviously the principle in v.3 is universal. God is head over Christ, Christ is head over a man/husband, and a man/husband is head over a woman/wife. If a woman lives in a household without a husband or father, then it may be difficult to identify the males she is to respect. Maybe they are relatives or church leaders.

There are two main views on how the practices in v.4-6 apply today. One is to say that the application is universal because some of the reasons are universal (v.7-9) and it was to apply universally across the Roman Empire (v.16). In this case the application today is the same as at Corinth in the first century. This would mean that Christian attire may have to differ from what is culturally acceptable.

The other view says that because the culture is different, the application can be different. The symbol is meaningless in societies where it is not disgraceful for a wife to have her head uncovered in public. Like with the holy kiss and drinking wine for indigestion (1 Cor. 16:20; 1 Tim. 5:23), we need to distinguish between the principle and its cultural expression. Today we use culturally acceptable greetings and medicines, instead of a holy kiss and wine. We translate Biblical practices into their equivalent modern practices. The need for respect and honor remains (v.4-5), but how this is expressed depends on the local culture. For example, if it isn’t shameful for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved, the reasoning in v.5-6 collapses. If it isn’t improper for a woman to pray with her head uncovered, the reason given in v.6 collapses. If long hair isn’t disgraceful for a man, the reason given in v.14 collapses. Also. if long hair isn’t glorious for a woman, the reason given in v.15 collapses. So how can one’s demeanour indicate submission to God’s leadership (for men) or submission to male leadership (for women)?

In Western culture there are few recognized symbols of a husband’s headship. One such symbol is when the wife takes the husband’s family name. And a wedding ring signifies marriage. But, veils are a sign of subservience and inequality (as in the Muslim culture). And hats are worn for shading or fashion.

Respect

If you are a man, how do you bring glory and honor to God? How do you respect God and reflect His goodness? Are you serving Christ to fulfil God’s plans for humanity? If you are married, how do you lead your wife and children to help them respect you? Do you welcome her contribution to your marriage and family? Do you need to step up and speak up and take more responsibility?

If you are a woman, how do you bring glory and honor to your father? Do you respect your father? If you are married, how do you bring glory and honor to your husband? Do you respect your husband and reflect God’s goodness evident in a godly husband? Do you support his leadership in the family? What do you contribute to your marriage and family? Do you need to step down and be quieter and take less responsibility?

Prophecy

As 1 Corinthians was probably written about AD 55, it describes the early days of the church. The only earlier books in the New Testament are James, Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians and events described in the gospels and Acts chapters 1-19. When applying the principles in it to us today we need to consider the changes since then. There is Scriptural evidence that the frequency of speaking in other languages and prophecy changed later in the first century AD.

Speaking in other languages is only mentioned in two books of the Bible (Acts and 1 Corinthians). Also, it isn’t mentioned in any Scripture written after 55 AD (or in the case of Acts, events that occurred after 55AD). Therefore, it appears that this gift was primarily for the early church.

Prophecy is mentioned in the book of Acts up to AD 57 (Acts 21:9-10). Paul mentions prophecy in his books written in AD 55-60 but not his last six books (written AD 60-66). The only biblical record of prophecy 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 prophecy 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, I would apply these instructions for prophecy to preaching and teaching.

The church is founded on Christ’s completed work (1 Cor. 3:11) as taught by the apostles and New Testament prophets (Eph. 2:20; 3:5). This work was completed in the first century AD and we have a record of this foundation in the New Testament. So, in this sense, we no longer have apostles or prophets in the church today. As Paul links speaking in tongues with prophecy (1 Cor. 14), both of these gifts are no longer required now the church’s foundation has been laid.

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 NT 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).

Conclusion

From an assessment of the text and context of 1Corinthians 11:2-16 we have looked at God’s commands for respectful behavior for Christians involved in spiritual activities like praying and prophesying at Corinth in the first century. This respect and honor was to be shown by males having their head uncovered and females having their head covered.

There are two main views on what this means today. First, is that this practice is universal for all cultures. When they are involved in spiritual activities like praying, preaching or teaching, males should have their head uncovered and females having their head covered. Second, is that 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.

Paul says to “Judge for yourselves” on this topic based on the information he has given (v.13). So how do you think this passage applies today? How would you show respect for authority?

Written, December 2015

Also see: Order and disorder in the church
Respect and disrespect in the church

Gender roles in the family and the church


Jeremiah’s prophecies fulfilled

Melb cup 2015 400pxThe Melbourne Cup, a popular Australian horse race, was held today. Just before the race, the news media showed predictions of the first five horses, which were based on betting information. But these horses came 13th, 20th, 4th, 22nd and 11th respectively, and the race was won by an outsider! So the predictions were wrong! This shows how difficult it is to predict the future. In this post we see that Jeremiah was a prophet to whom God revealed the future.

Jeremiah was an Israelite prophet who was born about 650 BC and preached for about 40 years (626 BC to 586 BC). God used prophets to send messages to the Israelites and many of these messages are included in the Old Testament of the Bible. In this article we are looking at the final chapter of the book of Jeremiah, chapter 52.

Context

The previous 51 chapters have described Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet (Ch 1), his messages to Judah (Ch 2-35), his sufferings and persecution (Ch. 36-38), the fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath (Ch. 39-45) and his messages to other nations (Ch 46-51).

Jeremiah warning 400pxHis messages are mainly about four topics (see diagram): people’s sinfulness; God’s punishment for this sinfulness; and two responses. Firstly, if people repent, the punishment is delayed and deliverance/restoration is possible. And secondly, if people don’t repent, then punishment is inevitable. In particular, he reminds Judah of their disobedience and rebellion demonstrated by their ongoing idolatry.

Chapter 52 follows a message to Babylon in chapters 50-51, which was read out aloud to the inhabitants of Babylon. It predicted the invasion of Babylon by an army, which was fulfilled in 539 BC by the Medes and Persians.

What more can Jeremiah say? Nothing! At the end of Chapter 51 it says “The words of Jeremiah end here” (NIV). This looks like a scribal note saying that chapter 52 was written or compiled by someone else. No one knows exactly who. Was it Baruch? Was it Ezra? Or another compiler of the book of Jeremiah?

Jeremiah isn’t mentioned in chapter 52. Instead the focus in on the fate of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. Also, it includes an event in Babylon that Jeremiah wouldn’t have been aware of because he would have either been elderly (almost 90 years of age) or dead, and well away in Egypt.

Content

There are two main sections in chapter 52: the fall of Jerusalem (v.1-30), and Jehoiachin released (v.31-34).

There are 5 paragraphs about the fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath: Zedekiah captured (v.1-11), Jerusalem destroyed (v.12-16), temple articles taken (v.17-23), execution of leading citizens (v.24-27a), and Jewish prisoners taken into exile (v. 27b-30).

The fall of Jerusalem isn’t in chronological order. The most likely sequence of events is: city walls breached (v.7), prisoners taken (v.8-11, 15-16, 24-27a), plunder removed (v.17-23), and city destroyed (v.12-14).

Most of the content in chapter 52 isn’t unique; it’s repeated elsewhere in the Bible. Verses 4-27 are summarised in 39:1-10. Why is it repeated with more detail? The extra information is: the Babylonians took all the gold, silver and bronze from the temple; and the execution of 74 senior officials. It seems to show the fulfilment of the many predictions made by Jeremiah.

Verses 1-27, 31-34 are virtually the same as 2 Kings 24:18 – 25:21, 27-30. So Jeremiah has the same ending as 2 Kings! Again, this material is probably included here because it is a record of the fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophesies. There are many references in Jeremiah 52 to earlier passages of the book that confirm the prophet’s predictions. It enables one to read his prophecies and their fulfilment in the same scroll or book.

The writers of 2 Kings and Jeremiah 52 probably had access to the same written sources. According to the NIV Study Bible, it’s unlikely they copied from each other since each has peculiarities characteristic of the book they conclude. In a few passages, Jeremiah is fuller than Kings. The minor differences in the two accounts may be due to either copy errors (v.12, 22, 25) or to different ways of reckoning (counting or measuring). As this chapter is much closer to the 2 Kings account than to Jeremiah 39, this is consistent with it being added by an editor or compiler and not written by Jeremiah.

Zedekiah captured (v.1-11)

This is the same account as in 2 Kings 24:18 – 25:7. King Zedekiah was another wicked king. After he rebelled against the king of Babylon, the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem for 18 months from 588 BC. When the food ran out the city wall was breached, and the Judean army escaped. But Zedekiah was captured and taken to king Nebuchadnezzar. They killed his sons and then put out his eyes and took him to Babylon where he was a prisoner until he died. So Zedekiah was punished when Jerusalem was destroyed. Note that Zedekiah could have prevented the destruction of Jerusalem if he had listened to Jeremiah (Jer. 38:14-28).

Jerusalem destroyed (v.12-16)

This is the same account as in 2 Kings 25:8-12. The Babylonians burned all the houses in Jerusalem including the temple, which was about 424 years old. They pulled down the city walls and took more prisoners, leaving only the poorest to work the vineyards and fields. The upper class had been taken into exile with king Jehoiachin in 597 BC. They destroyed the city to make it beyond repair.

Temple articles taken (v.17-23)

This is a similar account to 2 Kings 25:13-17, but with more detail of the pillars. The Babylonians took to Babylon all the gold, silver and bronze from the temple as plunder. The items taken are listed and described. It was robbery of valuable items. But in the mind of the Babylonians, it also signified a victory of the Babylonian gods over the God of Israel.

Execution of leading citizens (v.24-27a)

This is the same account as in 2 Kings 25:18-21a. 74 senior officials and “people of the land” (probably the landed gentry) are taken to king Nebuchadnezzar and executed. The Babylonians ruthlessly destroy the influential people and potential leaders.

Jewish prisoners taken into exile (v. 27b-30)

This account isn’t matched in 2 Kings, but some numbers are given there of the people deported. There were four main phases of deportation of prisoners of war to Babylon (605 BC, 598 BC, 587 BC, and 582 BC). The Hebrew word heglah (Strongs #1540), translated “exile”, is mentioned twice (v.28, 30). It says that 4,600 people went into exile as prisoners. This is different to the 10,000 mentioned in 2 Kings 24:14. Maybe the lower number is male adults.

So because they continually disobeyed God, the kingdom of Judah was destroyed. The land was conquered and the people killed or deported to Babylon. Perhaps 20,000 Jews were taken into captivity. This is the fulfilment of Jeremiah’s predictions.

Jehoiachin released (v.31-34)

This is the same account as in 2 Kings 25:27-30. King Jehoiachin was exiled in 597 BC and released in 561 BC when Awel-Marduk replaced Nebuchadnezzar as king of Babylon. So, after 37 years in prison, Jehoiachin was released to live in Babylon. He was given a position of honor above the other vassal kings in Babylon. Apparently it was a common practice for a victorious king to keep captive kings at his court as a reminder of his victories and as a warning to the subjects of that king not to rebel.

As it includes this incident in 561 AD, the book of Jeremiah must have been finalised after this date. But Jeremiah would have finished his part when he was taken to Egypt 20-25 years before this date (Ch 44).

The endings of 2 Kings (25:27-30) and Jeremiah 52:31-34) are the same! They have a happy ending! Jehoiachin was released to eat at the king’s table. The Jews aren’t destroyed or the line of David. And Jehoiachin is included in Joseph’s genealogy (Mt. 1:11-12).

Why was it written?

Why is this chapter in the book of Jeremiah? It serves the following three purposes.

First to show that Jeremiah’s predictions were fulfilled. Nearly every verse in this chapter is a fulfilled prophecy. Jeremiah was vindicated. He was right and the false prophets were wrong. It proves that he was a true prophet of God (Dt. 18:21-22).

Second it contrasts the fate of king Zedekiah and his nephew king Jehoiachin. Zedekiah died in prison (v.11), while Jehoaichin was released and ate regularly with the king of Babylon. So all wasn’t lost.

Third it provides a glimmer of hope at the end. Some were saved in captivity, including the line of David. Is this a hint of better days ahead?

Themes

Three themes can be identified in chapter 52.

The predictions made by a true prophet are fulfilled. It happened like Jeremiah predicted.

God punishes sinfulness. Continual sin by the people of Judah led to the destruction of their civilization and their deportation to a foreign land. “It was because of the Lord’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end He thrust them from His presence” (v.3). The sin led to God’s anger, which was expressed in the punishment. That’s what Jeremiah was warning them about.

God always offers hope. Although it looked like the end, they weren’t obliterated. Because they weren’t all destroyed, and the line of David was preserved, there was a glimmer of hope for the future. It would have helped the exiles believe Jeremiah’s prediction that they would be able to return after 70 years of captivity (25:11; 29:10-14).

Questions that arise

Jehoiachin seems to be criticized in Chapter 22, which is headed “Judgment against wicked kings”, but he is rewarded in Chapter 52. This doesn’t seem to be consistent. As Jeremiah predicted, Jehoiachin died in Babylon without going back to Judah (22:24-27). But who does 22:30 apply to? It says, “none of his offspring will prosper; none will sit on the throne of David, or rule anymore in Judah”. It follows a paragraph on Jehoiachin (22:24-28), but seems to be part of an address to Zedekiah (Ch 21-22 and maybe further). One commentator thinks that along with 22:1-9 it applies to Zedekiah. But maybe it can apply to either.

Is there a glimmer of hope in chapter 52 or not? The future seems uncertain. Will the glimmer of hope come to anything? Immigrants are usually assimilated into their new nation within a few generations by intermarriage. In Ezra and Nehemiah we see how some returned to their homeland 70 years later.

Application

What does it mean to us today? Let’s look at each of the themes.

The predictions made by a true prophet are fulfilled. Because Jeremiah’s predictions about the Babylonian conquest were fulfilled, those that haven’t yet been fulfilled will be fulfilled in future. So the predictions of national unity and restoration for Israel will be fulfilled in a coming day (Rom. 11).

Because God’s prophets in the Old Testament were true prophets, the writers of the New Testament were also true prophets and all they wrote is true. So the promises made to Christians in the New Testament will be fulfilled. They are reliable. They can be trusted.

God punishes sinfulness. The conquest of Jerusalem and the Jewish exile were God’s punishment for their sinfulness. This truth still applies today. God still punishes sinfulness: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23NLT). Sin has consequences in this life and afterwards if we haven’t accepted God’s gift of salvation. We reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7). We harvest what we plant. But the outcome isn’t always bad because a major loss can shock people into returning to the Lord.

God always offers hope. Even though it seems that ungodliness is prevalent, some are still faithful to God. After facing opposition in Corinth, Paul was told “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). There are always some people who are faithful to God.

Looking ahead. Although life was difficult after the fall of Jerusalem, the Jews who knew Scripture could look forward to the coming of their Messiah. Likewise, although life is difficult for Christians today, we who know Scripture can look forward to the Lord’s second coming.

Written, November 2015


The Day of the Lord. Part 1: The past

The Bible teaches that God rules over everything—He’s the Boss. He is also holy, good, loving and just. Yet we live in a world where there is much suffering and evil and God’s justice and His other attributes are not evident to all. People ask, if there is a God, “Why doesn’t He do something about it?”. Well, He will.

In this article we will look at a major topic of Scripture that few Christians understand—“the day of the Lord”. This phrase occurs at least 20 times in the Bible between Isaiah and Revelation; it’s always in a prophetic passage that addresses the future.

Old Testament Prophecies

God made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants. These were physical and spiritual blessings which God will always keep. They included things such as prominence, prosperity and the promised land. However, whether the Jews experienced these promises at a particular time depended on their obedience to God’s laws. When they obeyed, they would prosper “in the land He has given you” (Deut. 28:1-14). When they disobeyed they would be punished and driven out of the promised land (Deut. 28:15-68; 29:1-29). If they turned back to the Lord, then the blessings would resume and they would return to the promised land (Deut. 30:1-20).

According to Scripture, after Abraham’s time there were two categories of people: Jews (God’s chosen people) and Gentiles (those who were not Jews). The 17 books on prophecy in the Old Testament are addressed to the Jews. The phrase the “day of the Lord” occurs in the prophetic books between Amos (which was written earlier than Isaiah) and Malachi (see timeline). In this period the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem in about 586 BC and the Jews were captured and scattered to other nations.

The themes addressed by the Jewish prophets (Isaiah to Malachi) that are relevant to our topic include:

  • The sin and failure of God’s chosen people
  • A call to repentance
  • God’s judgement on them if they didn’t repent, which included captivity and being dispersed among other nations
  • God’s judgement on the surrounding nations
  • The coming Messiah and His rejection and power and glory. They didn’t realize that there would be two comings of Christ with the church period between these comings.
  • The restoration of God’s chosen people, which included returning to the promised land
  • The Messiah’s universal reign

Let’s look at what some of the passages that mention the “day of the Lord” say:

“Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty” (Isa. 13:6).

“See, the day of the LORD is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it” (Isa. 13:9).

“For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near—a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations (Ezek. 30:3).

“The LORD thunders at the head of His army; His forces are beyond number, and mighty is the army that obeys His command. The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?” (Joel 2:11).

“I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Joel 2:30-31).

“The great day of the LORD is near—near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the LORD is bitter, the Mighty Warrior shouts His battle cry. That day will be a day of wrath—a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness—a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. I will bring distress on all people and they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath. In the fire of His jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth” (Zeph. 1:14-18).

The “day of the Lord” refers to any time when God puts down evil and rebellion. In these cases it was referring to immediate judgements (such as their captivity in Babylon) and those that had not yet been fulfilled (which we will look at in Part 2 of this series). In particular it refers to a time of persecution and trials for the Jews—Jeremiah called it a time of trouble for Jacob (or Jacob’s trouble; Jer. 30:7).

The law of double reference helps to understand some of these Old Testament prophecies—some of them had both an immediate partial fulfilment and a distant complete fulfilment. Some of the Jewish prophecies about the “day of the Lord” were fulfilled when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. It happened like they said. This was a “day of the Lord” for the Jews. But Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi prophesied about the “day of the Lord” after the captivity (see the Old Testament timeline).

The Old Testament Jewish prophets had two main messages about the future: God’s judgement (the “day of the Lord”) and God’s blessing—the Messiah will come and lead their nation.

The Fall of Jerusalem

Now we move ahead by over 400 years in time (see timeline). In the week before His death, the Lord prophesied about great tribulation (“pressure” or suffering or distress) (Mt 24:21-22) and the return of the Lord to the earth in great power (v.29-31) that is associated with the day of the Lord.

“As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (Mk. 13:1). Apparently, Herod’s Temple was ten stories high and adorned with gold, silver, and other precious items. But Jesus predicted that is would be reduced to rubble, with not one stone left on another: “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Mk. 13:2).

Furthermore, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Lk. 21:20-24).

In AD 70, it happened like He said—the ungodly Jews were scattered. The sign of this was armies of the Roman Empire around Jerusalem. According to the Bible, Jerusalem will remain under Gentile control until the Lord returns to the earth.

Some of the Jewish and Christ’s prophecies about the “day of the Lord” were fulfilled when Jerusalem was conquered by the Romans in AD 70. This was a “day of the Lord” for the Jews. However, it is clear from the Lord’s Olivet discourse (Mt 24, 25; Mk 13; Lk 21), that at this time there were still unfulfilled prophecies about the “day of the Lord”. Similar prophecies are also given in 1&2 Thessalonians and Revelation, which was written after AD70 (see timeline).

The day of Pentecost

The day of Pentecost is an example of the law of double reference.

“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. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Act 2:17-21).

Here Paul applies a prophecy of Joel (Joel 2:28-32) to the day of Pentecost. Joel’s prophecy was given to Jews and “Your sons and daughters”, which meant that the prophecy applied to descendants of the Jews.  We will see in Part 2 of this series that the complete fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy is when the Lord returns to the earth in great power and glory (v.30-31; 19-20) and the faithful of that time will be rescued to go into the Millennium (v.32; v.21). The gift of the Holy Spirit will be given to all the faithful, not just the chosen few as was the case in Joel’s time—they will receive prophetic messages; which will be revealed by dreams and visions (v.28-29; v.17-18).

How does this apply to the day of Pentecost? Well, those who were “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4), were all Jews (Acts 2:22). The Holy Spirit indwelt all believers on that day, not just the chosen few as had been the case beforehand. Also, they were given prophetic messages (God had used dreams and visions to bring messages to the Old Testament prophets). So, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was active, as He will be in the Millennium.

After the day of Pentecost, there were three categories of people: Jews, Gentiles and the Church: “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32). The promises given to the Jews are primarily earthly, and those given to the church are primarily heavenly. When interpreting Scripture, we need to be careful to note who is being addressed: the Jews or the Church.

Summary

The “day of the Lord” is a theme that is particularly applied to the Jews and their enemies in the prophetic Scriptures from Amos and Isaiah to Revelation. The “day of the Lord” is a period of time when God intervenes in the world, primarily for judgement. Some of the prophecies concerning the “day of the Lord” concerned the Jewish captivity in Babylon and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans. As these prophecies all came true, there is no reason to doubt that the remaining prophecies about the “day of the Lord” will also come true. This gives us confidence in the prophetic Scriptures yet to be fulfilled.

Written, May 2007

See the other article in this series:
The Day of the Lord. Part 2: The future


An outline of future events

Revelation is the major prophetic book in the New Testament.  It is the best reference that Christians have on future events because:

  • the Bible is a progressive revelation of God’s dealings with humanity;
  • John wrote down what was revealed to him by God (Revelation 1:19); and
  • It is the Bible’s final prophecy – the words are not to be changed in any way (by addition or subtraction) (Revelation 22:18-19).

Timeline

The timing of future events is evident from the sequence of topics in the book of Revelation (see below).

At present the church is on earth (Revelation 2-3) and the next event is the “rapture” when all believers (dead and alive) will be resurrected to heaven.  The rapture is not mentioned specifically in Revelation; but in Revelation 4, the church is in heaven.  While the church is in heaven (Revelation 4-5), there will be a period of tribulation on earth (Revelation 6-18), which will end with the “appearing” of the Lord Jesus Christ in great power and glory (Revelation 19:11-21).  This will be followed by the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth (the millennium) (Revelation 20:1-10), and then the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21-22).

The key to understanding the second coming of the Lord is that the second coming is associated with a series of events, not one event and these occur over a period of time, not all at once. From the order of events in Matthew 24:15-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11, it is clear the “rapture” is before the tribulation and the “appearing” is at the end of the tribulation. Jesus said the great distress (tribulation) occurs immediately before His second advent (Mat.24:21-31). Also, the judgements in Rev. 6 – 18 are associated with the great tribulation (Rev. 7:14), and they conclude with Christ appearing as “King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16).

“The Tribulation” will be a time of suffering for those on the earth.  The church is not mentioned during this period because it is in heaven (Revelation 6-18). Instead there are 144,000 Jewish witnesses (Rev. 7 and 14), a Jewish temple (Rev. 11:1-13), and Jewish persecution (Rev 12). Also, the advice “Whoever has ears, let them hear” is addressed to Christian churches in Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22 whereas in Revelation 13:9, it is addressed to believers, but there is no mention of the church.

As the following events haven’t happened yet, they are still in the future, as they were for John in 95 AD when he called them “what will take place later” (Rev. 1:19):

  • At the Rapture, all true Christians will be taken from the earth.
  • There will be a Jewish temple in Jerusalem during the tribulation (Rev. 11:1-13), whereas this has not been the case since it was destroyed in AD70.
  • At the Appearing, Jesus Christ will return to the earth and defeat all His enemies (Rev. 19:11-21).
  • During the millennium, Satan will be bound so he can’t deceive people (Rev. 20:1-3).

Learning from the past

Prophecy about the future will be fulfilled literally, just as has prophecy of the past. For example, when the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah predicted that the Jewish captivity would be 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12), it turned out that this prediction was literal, not symbolic.

Since the prophecies about Christ’s first coming were fulfilled literally, then the prophecies relating to His second Coming will also be fulfilled literally.  Although symbols and figures of speech are used in giving both of these prophecies, this does not affect their historical and prophetic fulfillment.

Written, March 2010