Hezekiah and Prayer

Thus says the LORD: ‘set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live’” (2 Kings 20:1; Isaiah 38:1).

Hezekiah was about 39 years old (2 Kings 20:6 cf. 2 Kings 18:1-2).  He had accomplished many good things in his 14 years as King of Judah.  He had cleansed the temple, restored worship, and removed idols and idolatrous worship sites from the land (2 Kings 18; 2 Chronicles 29-31).  He trusted in the LORD when threatened by Assyria (2 Kings 18-19; 2 Chronicles 32). 

Hezekiah was sick and near death.  Isaiah, the prophet delivered the news from the LORD.  “Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.”

Then he turned his face toward the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, ‘Remember now, O LORD I prayer, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight.’  And Hezekiah wept bitterly” (2 Kings 20:2; Isaiah 38:2).

Hezekiah prayed.  This is not Hezekiah’s only recorded prayer.  There are three [(1) 2 Kings 19:14-19; 2 Chronicles 32:20; Isaiah 37:14-20; (2) 2 Kings 20:1-2; 2 Chronicles 32:24; Isaiah 38:1-2; (3) Isaiah 38:9-20].  

Thus says the LORD, the God of David your Father: ‘I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you… And I will add to your days fifteen years” (2 Kings 20:4-6; Isaiah 38:4-8).

Hezekiah’s prayer resulted in 15 years being added to his life.  Isaiah delivered the news.  Here is something that will puzzle the mind.  Manasseh had not yet been born (2 Kings 18:1-2 cf. 20:6 cf. 20:21-21:1).  The seed-line had to continue (2 Samuel 7:12-16; 1 Chronicles 17:11-14).  Jesus’ genealogy includes Hezekiah and Manasseh (Matthew 1:10).

Consider these questions: (1) Did God lie when he said that Hezekiah would die?  Certainly not (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18).  (2) Did Hezekiah’s prayer make a difference?  The record indicates that it did (2 Kings 20:4-6; Isaiah 38:4-5).  (3) How can this be when Manasseh had not yet been born?  It must be that God already knew that Hezekiah would pray (cf. Isaiah 46:10). 

The fact that God knows what we will do does not mean that we do not need to do it.  Just because God knew that Hezekiah would pray does not mean that Hezekiah did not need to pray.  Martin Luther made this remark, “And here you must repel such thoughts as: What does my prayer matter?  This is just the same as if a son were to say to his father: What does it matter whether I am obedient or not?” (Martin Luther, On Prayer, Sermons on the Catechism, 1528). Consider this: Does obedience matter to God? If He knows whether I will obey, does this mean that I need not obey? It does not.

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In The News: Dennis Prager

Dennis Prager is a wise man.  I enjoy his weekly Fireside Chats.  Rarely do I miss viewing this weekly program.  His Rational Bible Commentary series on the Torah contains some good thoughts.

However, no one should be blindly followed.  All teaching should be tested by God’s word (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Dennis Prager has raised quite a bit of controversy in recent weeks.  In a panel discussion hosted by Jordan Peterson, Prager said, “looking with lust is not a sin in Judaism.”  When asked about pornography he said, “if pornography is a substitute for one’s wife, it is awful.  If it is a substitute for adultery, it is not awful.” 

Is it true that the Tanakh (or Hebrew Bible) only addresses behavior and not thought?  It is not true.  The Ten Commandments read, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).  Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman” (Job 31:1).  In Proverbs we are warned, “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it springs the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).    Jesus is more explicit.  He says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28).  Again, “You had heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22 cf. 1 John 3:15).  He desires that the inside of man be clean (Matthew 23:26).  He teaches, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

In a PragerU video entitled Judaism v. Christianity, Dennis Prager says, “Judaism holds that God judges people by their behavior, not by their theology, their beliefs, their faith.” 

Is it true that in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) God is unconcerned about theology, belief, or faith?  It is not true.  He cares about theology.  The Ten Commandments read, “You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image…” (Exodus 20:3-4).  The Shema says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one; You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Belief (or faith) matter.  Of Abraham, we are told, “he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15: 6).  The book of Habakkuk declares “the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).

The New Testament is more explicit.  Theology matters.  Paul declares, “We ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising” (Acts 17:29).  Belief matters.  Jesus said, “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).  The writer of Hebrews says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). 

There are others who go to another extreme.  They believe that God is only concerned with our faith, not with our actions.  This is also wrong.  John says, “He wo says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4 cf. 1 John 1:6).  Again, “Little children, let no one deceive you.  He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7).

Our entire being should be dedicated to God.  “May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). James Burton Coffman suggests that this means intellect, spiritual nature, and physical being. Albert Barnes suggest that this means immortal spirit, affections or emotions, and material body. It could also mean inward man, life, and outward man. Leon Crouch comments, “It is sufficient here to say that the use of the three nouns, spirit, soul and body is to give more emphasis to the completeness of the sanctification for which the writer prays. The statement means something like: ‘may every part of your being be kept entirely without fault'” (Leon Crouch, Commentary on 1&2 Thessalonians, p.95). This refers to complete sanctification.

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What Would That Look Like?

I once had a conversation with a member about her commitment to Christ and her involvement in the local church.  I was asked: What would proper involvement look like?

This is an excellent question to ask.  Let’s try to answer this.  First, true Christianity involves discipleship.  Christianity is more than being baptized.  Jesus did not say “Go baptize” but “Go make disciples” (Matthew 28:19).  What is a disciple?  W.E. Vine says, “lit. a learner… A ‘disciple’ was not only a pupil, but an adherent; hence they are spoken of as imitators of their teacher; cf. John 8:31; 15:8.”  Joseph Henry Thayer says, “a learner, pupil, disciple… one who follows one’s teaching.”  Clearly, discipleship involves more than intellectual learning.  It involves following Christ (e.g. Luke 14;25-33; Luke 9:57-62).

Second, true Christianity involves becoming Christlike.  Paul writes, “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you (Galatians 4:19 cf. 2:20).  We are to imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).  Thayer indicates that the name Christian means “a follower of Christ.”  C.S. Lewis famously writes, “Every Christian is to become a little Christ” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Good Infection, p. 177).  Again, “Men are to be mirrors or carriers of Christ to other men” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Let’s Pretend, p. 190).  

Third, true Christianity bears fruit with patience (Luke 8:8, 15).  Some hearts are hard; the word of God never finds a place in their hearts (Luke 8:5, 12).  Some are shallow; they have no depth of commitment (Luke 8:6, 13).  Some are of divided interest; they produce little or no fruit (Luke 8:7, 14).  Those with good hearts are productive fruit bearers.  Moreover, they are enduring in this characteristic (Luke 8:8, 15).   

Fourth, true Christianity requires the proper priorities.  Consider: (1) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).  (2) “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).  (3) “He who loves father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37).  (4) “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).  (5) “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

Fifth, true Christianity involves genuine love.  Consider: (1) “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  (2) Without love, we profit nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  (3) “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). 

The above may be considered some general principles of Christianity.  These are broad strokes.

However, the person, with whom I spoke, seemed to be wanting specific details.  Let’s now paint with a finer brush.  First, the true Christian wants to assemble with other Christians (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7; Hebrews 10:24-25).  They not only assemble, but they worship with joy and thanksgiving (cf. Philippians 4:4; Colossians 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 9:7).  Moreover, they assemble not simply to benefit themselves, but with the aim of edifying other (Hebrews 10:24-25).  Some ask, “do I have to be there every time the church meets?  To ask this question may reveal a heart issue.  Does a husband ask, “Do I have to come home every night to my wife?”  Does a wife ask, “How much time do I have to spend with my husband?  What is the minimum I can get away with?”  We should want to be together.  It is encouraging to many for you to be present.  Your absence also says something.  Marshall Keeble used to say that your automobile could preach.  Its presence tells others of your interest.  Its absence also tells the world something.  Imagine a visitor showing up because of you, but you are not there.  Imagine a visitor showing up with children, but no children are present.  They all had more important things to do.  What would the visitor think?

Second, the true Christian genuinely cares about other members.  It is not just a once-a-week relationship.  We are to “exhort one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).  We are to “warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Third, the true Christian is a serious Bible student.  We are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).  We are to become knowledgeable enough to teach others (Hebrews 5:12).  I am afraid that many Christians never develop the knowledge and skills necessary to adequately defend what they believe.  I am referring to things like: inspiration of scriptures; the completeness of scripture (sola scriptura); the doctrine of the Godhead; the deity of Christ; the one church; who a Christian is; the plan of salvation; why we worship the way we do.  The typical Muslim and Jehovah Witness, I suspect, could embarrass some of us in a one-on-one discussion.

Fourth, a true Christian is a busy B.E.E.  (1) Benevolence.  “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).  “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble…” (James 1:27).  (2) Evangelism.  “Therefore those who were scattered with everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).  “By this time you ought to be teachers” (Hebrews 5:12).  “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).  (3) Edification.  “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).  “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  “Warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).  We should actively be doing these things.  We are to be “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).  We are to be “careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8).  We are to “learn to maintain good works to meet urgent needs… not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14). 

This is what true Christianity looks like!

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It’s The LORD’s Day!

Gospel preacher, Steve Higginbotham wrote on the week before last Christmas an article entitled, “Do You Know What Next Sunday Is?”  In it, he said, “As you already know, next Sunday, just eight days from now will be… ‘The Lord’s Day!’  Yes, I said, ‘The Lord’s Day.’  Oh, I know that next Sunday also happens to be ‘Christmas,’ but to the followers of Jesus, that social holiday should pale in comparison to the Lord’s Day” (preachinghelp.org). 

The Lutheran magazine Gottesblog recently contained an article by Burnell Eckardt entitled, “It’s Not So Much That We Have to Go; We Get to Go!”  In it, he said, “It’s pretty common for people to think they need to attend Sunday worship at least once in a while if they’re members of the church.  But that kind of thinking is at odds with the thinking of the first witnesses of the resurrection.  They, says the very last sentence in the Gospel of Luke, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God (Luke 24:52-53).  That doesn’t sound like to me as though they worshipped out of obligation… but out of joy, the joy of knowing and being convinced that they Lord Jesus, who was given into death, had been raised from the dead…”

What is your attitude about worship?  We are to sing “with grace in (our) hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).  We are to give cheerfully (1 Corinthians  9:7).  We are to give thanks (1 Corinthians 14:15-16).  We are to remember Jesus and the price paid for our sins (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).  We are to seek to edify one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).  This does not sound like disengaged, uninterested members gathering together merely out of obligation. 

What is it that makes the first day of the week significant?  (1) It was on the first day of the week Jesus’ tomb was found empty (Matthew 28:1-2; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1-2; John 20:1-2).  (2) It was on the first day of the week that Jesus appeared to his disciples, following his resurrection (Matthew 28:9-10; Mark 16:9-10; Luke 24:13-35, 36-43; John 20:11-18, 19-23).  (3) The church began on the first day of the week (Acts 2:1 cf. Leviticus 23:15-16).  (4) The church worshipped on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2). 

Why do we call the first day of the week the Lord’s Day?  The words “the Lord’s Day” appear in Revelation 1:10 but are not explained.  Elsewhere, the Bible speaks of “the Lord’s Table” (1 Corinthians 10:21), and “the Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20).  This is partaken on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Furthermore, this language is used in history.  The Didache (80-120 A.D.): “On the Lord’s own day, when you gather together, break bread and give thanks after you have confessed your unlawful deeds, that your sacrifice may be pure” (14:1).  Ignatius of Antioch (death c. 107-110 A.D.) “…no longer observing the Sabbath but living according to the Lord’s day, in which our life arose through him…” (Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, p. 67, quoting Magnesian 9).  Eusebius (4th Century A.D.).  “They (Ebionites – B.H.) also observe the Lord’s day very much like us, in the commemoration of his resurrection” (Ecclesiastical History Book 3, Chapter 27).  It is his special day. Some suggest that this designation may have been used in response to Rome. James Burton Coffman comments, “‘There is every reason to believe the church used the day in protest against Caesar-worship'(R.T. Randell) … According to Deissmann, from A.D.30 and continuing till 98-117, one day of every month was called ‘Augustus Day’ … and it certainly could have been that the Christians started referring to the first day of the week as “the Lord’s day’ in opposition to the current idolatry directed toward Roman emperors”(James Burton Coffman, Commentary on Revelation, p.29)

How do we treat the Lord’s Day?  Let us truly make it about him.  Let us keep it with joy.  Tertullian (c. 150-222 A.D.).  “It is well known that… we regard Sunday as a day of joy” (Everett Ferguson, p. 68, Quoting To the Nations I:13).

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Who Did It?

Many enjoy a good “whodunnit” story. Many have enjoyed Agatha Christie novels. Some grew up reading The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. When I was young, Columbo was one of my favorite television series.  Later, there was Murder, She Wrote.

Let’s ask “whodunnit” with a couple of major events in the Bible.  It is not so difficult.  However, perhaps, there is a need to examine things a bit more closely. 

1.  The Exodus

Who is it that led the children of Israel out of Egypt and to the Promised Land?  The easy answer is that God did it (Deuteronomy 4:35-38).    However, let’s look closer.  (1) The Angel of the LORD is said to have done this (Exodus 23:20-21; Judges 2:1-4).  Is this language of agency?  Or, is this Angel (messenger) actually God?  The angel seems to be called “God” and “LORD” or “Jehovah” (Exodus 3:2 cf. 3:4; Judges 6:12 cf. 6:14, 16, 20).  This Angel seems to call himself “God” (Genesis 31:11 cf. 31:13; Exodus 3:22 cf. 3:5).  This Angel is named “Wonderful” (Judges 13:16-17 cf. Isaiah 9:16-17).  The Angel seems to say that where he is present is holy ground (Exodus 3:1-5; Joshua 5:13-14).  (2) Jesus is said to have done this (Jude 5 ESV).  There is a textual variant in this verse.  Some manuscripts read “Jesus.”  Other manuscripts read “Lord.”  In context, “Lord” seems to refer to Jesus (cf. Jude 4).  The word “Lord” appears several times in the book of Jude (v. 4, 5*, 9, 14, 17, 21, 25* – * in some manuscripts).  All, but v. 5 and v. 9 are clear and undisputable references to Jesus.

Here are a few observations.  First, Jesus existed before his incarnation (Jude 5, cf. John 1:1-3, 14; John 8:58; Micah 5:2).  Second, Jesus was actively working in this world before his incarnation.  Third, it seems likely that the Angel of the LORD is the pre-incarnate Jesus.

2.  The Resurrection of Jesus

Christianity rests upon the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Paul summed it up saying, “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

Who raised Jesus from the dead?  The easy answer is that God raised him from the dead.  Peter affirmed this (Acts 2:22-24; 2:32; 10:38-40).  Paul likewise affirmed this (Acts 13:29-30). 

However, let’s look closer.  (1) The Father is said to have raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 6:4; Galatians 1:1).  (2) The Spirit of God is said to have raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11 cf. 8:9).  Furthermore, (3) Jesus said that he would raise himself.  Consider: “ ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” …He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:19-21).  Again, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down, and I have power to take it again.  This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17-18). 

Here are a few observations.  First, Jesus did not cease to exist when he died.  He could not raise himself, if he ceased to exist.  Second, Jesus has authority over death.  He later would say, “I am the first and the last.  I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.  Amen.  And I have the keys of Hades and death” (Revelation 1:17-18).  Note: The words “the first and the last” is language used of Jehovah God (cf. Isaiah 41:4; 44:6-8; 48:12-13).  Third, Jesus claim to be able to do that which only God could do.  Is this the language of agency? Or, is this the language of deity?  Language of deity is used of Jesus (Revelation 1:10; 1:17-18; 2:8; 22:12-13 cf. Isaiah 41:4; 44:6-8; 48:12-13, etc.).  Fourth, there is unity between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  While distinction in person may be made, unity is emphasized.  They worked together.  Jesus said, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30).  Jesus desires Christians to be so united (John 17:20-21).

Posted in Angels, exodus, Godhead, Holy Spirit, Jesus, resurrection, Textual varients, Unity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Am A Good Person

“You don’t have to be a member of a church to be good.  You don’t have to be a regular attender of the church assembly to be good.  There are good people and bad people everywhere.”  This is the way that some reason.  This is the way that some try to excuse themselves.

How do we respond?  First, in an absolute sense, God alone is wholly good (Mark 10:18; Ecclesiastes 7:20).  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Second, God will not judge by weighing our good deeds and bad deeds in a scale.  “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).  It is not a matter of one’s good deeds outweighing one’s bad deeds.  “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). 

Third, none will be saved by his own goodness (Ephesians 2:8-9).  If we could be counted as righteous by our own goodness, then Christ died in vain (Galatians 2:21).

Fourth, God’s grace is found “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3, 7, 11; 2 Timothy 2:1; 1 John 5:11).  One gets into Christ by baptism (Galatians 3:26-28). 

Fifth, Christ is the Savior of the body (Ephesians 5:23).  There is one body (Ephesians 4:4).  The body is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23).  “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into the one body (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Sixth, the New Testament teaches that we are to assemble.  “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching.  For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment…” (Hebrews 10:24-27).  The disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7). 

Seventh, there are acts of worship which are to be done together in an assembly with other Christians.  (1) The Lord’s Supper – the disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7).  (2) Giving – it was also to be done on the first day of the week.  It was to be done in such a way that it would not need to be collected when Paul came (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).  (3) Singing – we are to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).  (4) Preaching and (5) prayer are to be done in such a way that others in the assembly may be able to understand and be edified (1 Corinthians 14).  Paul says, “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Corinthians 14:26b); “Let all things be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40).  Implied is that the church assembled.  Moreover, some items of worship are designed to be done together (e.g. The Lord’s Supper, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs).

Let’s return to the idea of being a good person.  The Bible does speak of good people.  The word “good” is used in different ways in different contexts.  (1) It is used of being fair and kind to others (e.g. Psalm 112:5; Romans 5:7; 1 Peter 2:18).  (2) It is used of relationship with truth, and with God.  Jesus spoke of good trees (Matthew 7:17), good men (Matthew 12:35), good hearts (Luke 8:15), and good servants (Luke 19:16-17; Matthew 25:20-23).  Joseph of Arimathea is referred to as a good man (Luke 23:50-53).  Does this refer to his willingness to be identified with Jesus?  Or, does it refer to His justness and fairness?  Barnabas is referred to as a good man (Acts 11:22-24).  This seems to refer to spiritual connection with God and His word.  It is my belief that true goodness can only be found in relationship with God and His word.  Let us be truly good.

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Did the Catholic Church Give Us the Bible?

A common refrain by Catholics is that the Roman Catholic Church gave the canon of scripture to man.  It is reasoned that without the Roman Catholic Church the world would not even know which books to accept as scripture.  This is used to argue for the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

Consider these statements.  “Yes, the Catholic Church did give the world the Bible.  The Catholic Church wrote the New Testament.  Then, took the Jewish scriptures and combined them with the New Testament to form the Bible” (Did the Catholic Church Give us the Bible? By De Maria, catholic365.com).  “The Old Testament books were written well before Jesus’ incarnation, and all of the New Testament books were written by roughly the end of the first century A.D.  But the Bible as a whole was not officially compiled until the late fourth century, illustrating that it was the Catholic church who determined the canon…” (Who Compiled the Bible and When? By Tom Nash, catholic.com).    

Is this true?  How do we respond to this?  Here is my brief reply.  First, there is a distinction between what God has determined and what man recognizes or declares.  Norman Geisler and William Nix have well stated, “Canonicity is determined by God.  A book is not inspired because men made it canonical; it is canonical because God inspired it… canonicity is determined or established authoritatively by God; it is merely discovered by man. The incorrect view places the church over canon whereas the proper view places the church under canon” (Norman Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, p. 221-222).  Let me illustrate, when Paul wrote an epistle to the church, it had authority whether or not the church accepted what was written.  J.I. Packer said this, “The church no more gave us the New Testament canon than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity.  God gave us gravity, by His work of creation, and similarly He gave us the New Testament canon, by inspiring the books that make it up” (Geisler and Nix, p. 211).

Second, the Hebrew scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, were in use long before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence.  These books were authoritative before any Roman councils occurred.  This is admitted by Roman Catholics. 

Third, New Testament writings were being circulated among local churches long before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence (e.g. Colossians 4:16; 1 Timothy 5:18 cf. Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7; 2 Peter 3:14-16).  I realize that the Roman Catholic Church claims that it existed at this point, and was the first church.  However, there is no historical evidence that its organizational structure existed at this time (e.g. Universal Bishop, Separate Priesthood, Clergy – laity) or many of its practices (e.g. prayer to Mary, sprinkling, etc.).     Four, there was acceptance of the New Testament books before any Roman councils declared their acceptance.  Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 A.D.).  “On the day called Sunday all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read…” (First Apology of Justin, Chapter 67).  This sounds like Ephesians 2:19-20.  Origen (c. 185-254 A.D.) compared the New Testament writers and their writings to the trumpets at Jericho.  He said, “Matthew first sounded the priestly trumpet in his Gospel; Mark also; Luke and John each played their own priestly trumpets.  Even Peter cries out with trumpets in two of his epistles; also James and Jude.  In addition, John also sounded the trumpet through his epistles, and Luke, as he describes the Acts of the Apostles.  And now that last one comes, the one who said, ‘I think God displays us apostles last’ (1 Corinthians 4:9 B.H.), and in fourteen of his epistles, thundering with trumpets, he casts down the walls of Jericho and all the devices of idolatry and dogmas of philosophers, all the way to the foundations” (Origen, Homilies on Joshua, Homily 7 nd.edu).  Origen does acknowledge that some disputed the books of Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, James and Jude (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable, p. 25).  Most of the books were received without dispute. They were regarded as homologoumena (acknowledged). The books which some disputed were regarded as antilegomena (disputed). Eusebius (c. 265-340 A.D.)  “mentions as generally acknowledged all the books of our New Testament except James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 2 & 3 John which were disputed by some, but recognized by the majority” (F.F. Bruce, p. 25 cf. Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History Book 3, Chapters 3, 24, 25).  Athanasius (c. 367 A.D.) listed the New Testament books as the same 27 in use today.                        

This was before the councils of Hippo in 393 A.D. and of Carthage in 397 A.D. (Geisler and Nix, p. 293).     

Fifth, the Catholic Church has not been in sole possession of the Bible.  David J. Riggs has written, “The Catholic claim of giving the Bible to the world cannot be true because they have not been the sole possessor of the Bible at any time.  Some of the most valuable Greek Bibles and versions have been handed down to us from non-Roman Catholic sources.  A notable example of this is the Codex Sinaiticus which was found in the Monastery of St. Catherine (of the Greek Orthodox Church) at Mount Sinai in 1844 and is now found in the British Museum.  It contains all of the New Testament and all but a portion of the Old Testament.  Scholars are certain that this manuscript was made early in the fourth century, not later than 350 A.D…. this manuscript has never been in the hands of the Roman Catholic Church.  Another valuable manuscript that has never been possessed by the Roman Catholic Church is Codex Alexandrianus.  It too is now on exhibit in the manuscript room of the British Museum in London.  It was a gift from the Patriarch of Constantinople (of the Greek Orthodox Church) to Charles I in 1628… scholars are certain that this manuscript was also made in the fourth century” (David J. Riggs, Did The Catholic Church Give Us the Bible?). 

Sixth, even if the Roman Catholic Church could prove that they were responsible for compiling the canon of scriptures this would not prove that they are the true church.  If a cult leader hands me a Bible, would that make him a true Christian? If the town drunk gives me a Bible, does that make him a true Christian? David Riggs points out, “God has at times used evil agencies to accomplish His purpose (Jeremiah 27:6-8; 43;10; Habakkuk 1:5-11; John 11:49-52).” 

Why did it take time for an official list to come forth?  Geisler and Nix provides these thoughts: “First, communication and transportation were slow in those days. Hence, it took much longer for the believers in the West to become fully aware of the evidence for books first written and circulated in the East, and vice versa. Second, the first centuries of the church (prior to A.D. 313) were times of great persecution that did not provide the resources nor allow for research … Third, there was no widespread need to list the precise books of the canon until there was a serious challenge to the canonical books, which had already been accepted for centuries. That challenge did not become acute until Marcion published his heretical canon (with only Luke and ten of Paul’s epistles) in the middle of the second century … Along with his gnosticism there were many apocryphal gospels and epistles written in the second and third centuries … Since those books claimed divine authority, it was necessary for the universal church to define precisely the limits of the canon that had been determined by God and recognized earlier by the people of God” (Geisler and Nix, p. 231).

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When I Survey…

Isaac Watts (1674-1748), from a young age, had a way with words.  He once frustrated his father by his continual rhyming.  When his father scolded him, he quickly replied, “Oh, father, do some pity take, and I will no more verses make” (Isaac Watts, songsandhymns.org).  When he was about twenty, he complained to his father about the songs they were singing.  His father said, “Well, then, young man, why don’t you give us something better to sing?” (ibid).  He arose to the challenge and began to compose hymns. 

He is credited with composing over 700 hymns.  Here are some which may be familiar to you: Alas and Did My Savior Bleed, At the Cross, Joy to the World, We’re Marching to Zion, I Sing the Mighty Power of God, Our God Our Help in Ages Past, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.  This last may be my favorite of all hymns.  “Charles Wesley… is reported to have said that he would have traded his own entire output if he could have written that one hymn” (Isaac Watts, encyclopedia.com). 

Let’s consider this meaningful hymn.

1.  When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss and our contempt on all my pride.    Meditating on the cross can humble and change a person.  It has the power to change one’s priorities.  It had this effect on Paul.  He had a resume most Israelites could only dream of having.   

However, the cross changed his priorities.  He wrote, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Yet, indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).  The love of Christ changed him.  There was no place for pride.  He reasoned, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

2.  Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my Lord; All the vain things that charmed me most I sacrifice them to His blood.

Meditating on the cross takes the focus off of self.  It has the power to remove the boasting and the trusting in other things.  It did this for Paul.  He wrote, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:21).  Again, “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has be crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).  Once more, he said, “Not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, by that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9). 

3.  See, from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down; Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Meditating on the cross help remind us what true love is.  The cross is about love.  “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.  And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

4.  Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; Love so amazing so divine, demands my soul my life, my all.

Meditating on the cross should remind us how much we owe to our God and Savior, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1-2).  “He has shown you, O man what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6:8).   His people should be “zealous for Good works” (Titus 2:14). 


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Three Roles to Consider

I want to highlight three roles which are mentioned in the book of Ezekiel.  These roles are: the watchman, the hearers, and the shepherds.

1.  The Watchman (Ezekiel 3, 33).

The prophet or preacher is compared to a watchman.  It is his duty to warn.  Many ancient cities were enclosed by walls.  Watchmen were posted on the walls to look for danger and warn (cf. 2 Samuel 18:24-33; 2 Kings 9:16-20).  The preacher is to hear God’s word and warn of spiritual danger (Ezekiel 3:16-17). 

(1) If a spiritual watchman fails to give warning, the consequences are grave.  (a) The wicked will have no warning.  He will not be saved.  He will die in his inquiry (Ezekiel 3:18).  Think of the song: You Never Mentioned Him to Me by James Rowe.  “You never mentioned Him to me, You helped me not the light to see; You met me day by day and knew I was astray, Yet never mentioned Him to me.”  (b) The righteous may not continue in their righteousness (Ezekiel 3:20-21).  The message preached may motivate one to stay on the right path.  (c) The preacher will be held accountable (Ezekiel 3:18, 20).    (2) If a spiritual watchman is faithful to give warning, the results may be beautiful.  (a) People may be saved (Ezekiel 3:21; 33:5b).  God pleaded with Israel, “Turn, turn from your evil ways!  For why should you die, O house of Israel?”  (Ezekiel 33:11).  (b)  The preacher may save himself, whether or not other listen (Ezekiel 3:19, 21).  Paul exhorted Timothy, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine, continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).  He also said of his own work, “Therefore I testify that I am innocent of the blood of all men.  For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27 cf. Ezekiel 3:17-18; 33:8). 

2.  The Hearers (Ezekiel 33).

The hearers also have responsibility.  They are to adjust their lives to God’s word.  God says, “He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself.  But he who takes warning will save his life” (Ezekiel 33:5).Hearing alone is not enough.  God told Ezekiel, “So they come to you as a people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them.  For with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain.  Indeed, you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.  And when this comes to pass – surely it will come – then they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 33:31-33).

People assemble for all kinds of reasons.  For some, it is for culture or family tradition.  For others, it is for social interaction.  For others, it is entertainment, or controversy – “Let’s see what that crazy preacher says today.”  For some, it is about worshipping God learning His word, and edifying the saints. 

What do we do with the message proclaimed?  (1) Do we test it by scripture? (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21).  (2) Do we listen in order to put it into practice (James 1:22; Ezra 7:10). (3) Do we listen so that we can teach others (2 Timothy 2:2; Ezra 7:10).

3.  The Shepherds (Ezekiel 34).

The shepherds of Israel refer to the leaders of Israel (e.g. Prophets, Priests, Kings, Judges).  Israel had a failure in leadership (cf. Isaiah 9:16; 56:9-12; Micah 3:11; Jeremiah 6:13-14; 8:10-11; 23:11; Ezekiel 22:23-31).  Far from protecting and properly leading the people, they were much of the problem. 

Their sins include: (1) They did not care for the flock, but for themselves (Ezekiel 34:1-2).  (2) They did not help the weak or the sick (Ezekiel 34:4).  (3) They did not seek the lost or protect the sheep (Ezekiel 34:5-6, 8). 

Brother Franklin Camp provides these remarks on Ezekiel 34.  (1) Ezekiel 34:2, “These shepherds were abusing the privilege and the authority given to them. No elder has the right to act as though a congregation were his private property.”  (2) Ezekiel 34:3, “Elders have the responsibility of seeing that the congregation is fed the milk and the meat of the word… Many congregations are living on a starvation diet.  They are being fed entertainment and illustration, but not the word of truth.”  (3) Ezekiel 34:4, “Attention needs to be given to the spiritual condition of people.  The weak need help, and many times the weakest in a congregation receive the least attention…  The average congregation has on its roll backsliders and quitters… How often does a person quit the assembly and then it may be months before any effort is made… to bring him back into the fold?… When a Christian begins to slip, is losing interest in Bible study and Sunday night services, it is time to do something.  Delay may be fatal… When elders seek to bring back the lost, in many instances, it is too little and too late.”  (4) Ezekiel 34:4-5,  “Leadership is far more than demanding that a thing be done.”  (5) Ezekiel 34:20, “While the church is a collective unit, it is made up of individuals with all their differences and peculiarities… Elders need to keep this in mind in overseeing the flock… our personalities are different.  Our problems are different… The only way to learn people’s personalities and peculiarities is by association.”  (6) Ezekiel 34:24, “Here is a picture of safety.  A faithful shepherd guards against false teachers…”  (7)  Ezekiel 34:26, “It is the responsibility of the shepherds to lead those under their oversight in ways that cause them to be a blessing.  In the community, Christians are to let their light shine by good works.”  (8) Ezekiel 34:27, “A faithful shepherd leads the flock to be fruitful.  Elders must lead the church in developing the fruit of the spirit… Fine buildings and padded pews can never be a substitute for joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance” (9) Ezekiel 34:29, “Faithful shepherds are interested in leading the flock in spiritual growth and development so the church will be respected in the community.  How tragic for the church to be so worldly, divided, and back-biting that the world has no respect for it!”  (10) Ezekiel 34:30, “One of the great needs in the church is for the Christian to appreciate the value of being a Christian.  A faithful shepherd leads the flock to realize that the greatest privilege of life is being a Christian” (Franklin Camp, Principles and Perils of Leadership, p. 54-61). 

How are we doing?  Let us all do our part.

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Drink Ye All of It and Other Reflections

It has been over three years since Covid-19 was first reported in the U.S.A.  January 20, 2020 was the date of the first lab-confirmed case in the United States, according to the CDC (CDC Museum Covid-19 Timeline, cdc.gov).

Here are a few reflections on my observations as a preacher.

  1. It is easy to misuse scripture.  Care is needed.

Someone asked me to preach a lesson on “Drink ye all of it” (Matthew 26:27 KJV).  The person was concerned about germs.  A partially drank from cup could be confused for a non-drank from cup.  It then could be drank from, and germs passed.  I can appreciate the concern for safety.

However, this is a misunderstanding of the passage.  “All” does not refer to the contents of the cup, but to those addressed.  (1) In the Greek, an adjective must agree with the word that it modifies in case, number, and gender.  “All” is nominative, plural, masculine.  “It” is genitive, singular, neuter.  Consider these comments, “It (all-B.H.) does refer back to ‘drink’ because ‘drink’ … is a second person plural verb (the pronoun “ye” or “you” is inherent in the Greek verb B.H.).  In turn ‘drink’ refers back to the disciples when Jesus gave the cup to them” (“Is ‘Drink from it, all of you’ an accurate translation of Matthew 26:27? ,” lavistachurchofchrist.org).  (2) Consider how others translate the passage: “Drink from it, all of you” (NKJV, NASB, NIV).  “Drink of it, all of you” (ESV).

Care is needed. Before we apply a scripture to a situation, we should be careful to make sure that we understand the passage. We are told “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NKJV). Consider some other translations: “handling accurately the word of truth” (NASB); “rightly handling the word of truth” (ESV); “correctly handles the word of truth” (NIV).

2.  It is easy to misunderstand others.  Patience and love are needed.

Someone intentionally avoids getting too close and shaking hands with people with health issues.  There is concern over making the person ill.  However, this can easily be misunderstood as lack of concern.  He is aloof and unfriendly.  He did not shake my hand.

Love is needed.  Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).  We need to be “bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3).

3.  It is easy to forget why we come together.  Focus is needed.

I have heard the stories more than once.  Someone, while making announcements, leading singing, or preaching gives some unsolicited medical advice, or opinion on Covid.  This offends a visitor or member who leaves angry.

We all have opinions on many things.  We have political opinions, financial opinions, investment opinions, medical opinions, sports opinions, fashion opinions, entertainment opinions, ad nauseum.  Someone has said, “Opinions are like elbows, most people have a couple of them.” 

It is important for us to stay focused.  When we come together, it is to worship God (Ephesians 5:17-20 cf. John 4:24), remember Jesus’ death (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Acts 20:7), and edifying one another (1 Corinthians 14, especially verse 26; Hebrews 10:24-25).  Let us not get distracted from what should be our focus.

It is also important that we be longsuffering with one another (1 Corinthians 13:4). Love and patience are needed in order to keep the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.

4.  It is easy to let weeds grow.  Weeding is necessary.

Attendance patterns have changed in many churches.  Involvement has also changed in many churches.  It seems that some are now content to do little more than attend on Sunday morning during the worship service (no Bible class, no fellowship outside the assembly). Most are still busy. However, priorities seem to have changed.

Jesus said, “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.  But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:14-15).  Let’s be the good ground.

Posted in Fellowship, Lord's Supper, Love, Priorities, Textual study, worship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment