Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, liberal, or conservative, I am sure you have reasons for your political views. I am not going to argue for or against any, nor am I going to identify one as the “true” Christian view. What concerns me more is the divisiveness that some Christians show to those who hold opposing views. Some of the nastiest, most hateful, dehumanizing comments I have read have come from professing Christians. Comments that devalue a person insult the God who made them (Prov. 14:31, 17:5). I promise you that there are real-life, flesh and blood persons behind the text on your computer screen.
I feel like we have forgotten that the imago Dei applies to all people (Gen. 1:26-27). Our value and worth do not come from our political views, they come from the God whose image we bear. Politicizing things creates an ingroup/outgroup, “us vs. them” mentality, and we forget that we are all one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Now, don’t let that lead you to think that it is acceptable to treat those who are not “in Christ” any less than you would those who are. We may not hold non-Christians to the same standards we hold ourselves to, but if we claim to hold to the Christian worldview, then they too are created in God’s image.
Listen, friends; It is never “good” when someone dies, nor when persons suffer. It does not “serve them right.” I would even go so far say that all people have the right not to be insulted that extends beyond death. If someone has a right, then you have the correlative obligation not to violate that right. Whether they hear it or not, when you insult someone you violate that right, the right does not disappear when the person dies, you still have the obligation. However, even if you disagree with this view, the person who died has most likely left behind people who care about them, and your insults harm them.
What does it mean to love God and neighbor (Mt. 22:36-40)? Among many other things to love and know someone involves caring about the matters, they care about. God loves justice and righteousness (Ps. 33:5, 37:28; Isa 61:8), He cares about all people (Rom. 5:8; Jn. 3:16). To know and love God then, is to be committed to the things he values, so why do we devalue one another over politics? Why do we criticize the person instead of the argument? Maybe we can listen to one another, and perhaps we will never agree on some matters, but let’s give other people the respect they deserve on account of their inherent worth as human beings created in the image of God. I think Paul captured it well when he wrote:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (ESV, Rom. 12:9-18)
I started working with close-up magic in my teens and into college. I was pretty serious about it, and I even had a few restaurant gigs and performed at a couple of parties. However, as I started getting closer to graduation, I stopped practicing. I sporadically picked it up over the years but nothing major. After I came to Christ, I thought it would be cool to blend close-up and the Gospel, but the thought never went any further than that.
Last semester I took a class where my professor was interested in magic and had a few tricks on his YouTube page. It rejuvenated my interest in magic. For part of that course, I had to teach Romans 12:1-3 to upper elementary students, for which I created a card trick to illustrate verse 2. Despite not having practiced for over a decade I think it turned out pretty well. I would be interested in knowing what you think.
Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 8:29 – For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Colossians 1:15 – He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Do the people who commit suicide go to hell? I’ve written about suicide in the past, and that I have had three persons who were close to me take their own lives. The death of a loved one is devastating, the suicide of a loved one is even worse. The teaching that the act of suicide is an irrevocable sin that damns a person to hell only adds hurt to an already overwhelming situation. It is a question that looms in the back of our minds and one we are often afraid to ask for fear that the answer would be yes. However, I am confident that it is not the case that to commit the act of suicide condemns a person to hell.
When coming to this question, I think it is helpful to ask more questions.
Is it Biblical? I do not believe so. Not all Christians universally hold it, because it is not stated explicitly in the Bible. I find this quite compelling; not once does the Bible read that if you take your own life, you will go to hell. But what about implicitly? If you take your life, you can’t repent. However, here I think this conclusion is a stretch and requires a follow-up question. Does salvation come from Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone (Eph. 2:8), or is it by your work of repentance (v. 9)? To believe the latter would mean that most people who die suddenly are also headed to hell, and probably even me, for I am not sure if I have repented of every single sin in my life. It is also worthwhile to ask yourself how effective Jesus’ atonement is? Did he die for all sins; past, present, and future or only some sins? I think the former is the case.
Does not killing yourself guarantee your salvation? No. Salvation is entirely dependent belief in Jesus (Jn. 3:16-18). I am not going to pretend to know what revelation the suicide victim responded to, but I do know God is righteous and just, and He will do what is right by them (Ps. 145:17).
Why does someone take their own life? I won’t even pretend to know! If I did maybe I could have recognized the signs that didn’t become painfully evident until after the fact. However, there has been a lot of research done on neurotransmitters and suicide, suggesting that there may, at least in some cases, be a biological cause. In light of this, to hold to the belief that the suicide victim goes to hell, you must also hold that anyone who dies from a terminal illness also goes to hell.
In light of these questions and their answers, I believe the teaching to be false and unbiblical. Asking these questions has helped me put my thoughts and friends to rest, and I hope it helps whoever is reading this.
As a Biblical Studies major and someone who loves the Bible, an issue I am rather passionate about is when people twist the words of Scripture to fit their desires. This twisting can occur in a variety of ways, but I feel the two most common occurrences of abuse come from;
Removing a selected passage from its literary and/or historical context.
Forcing a meaning on the passage in a manner in which it is never intended.
These two methods are employed by cults who read their theology into the text (eisegesis). These schemes are also used by skeptics to justify their unbelief (i.e. alleged contradictions between Paul and James’ concepts of justification by faith or works in Rom. 3:28 & Jas 2:17). Sadly, this faulty hermeneutic is also used by Christians (i.e. John 16:23 for selfish motives).
I thought to start this series out I would begin with something rather lighthearted; Ezekiel 4:9 bread from the Food For Life Baking Company.
The bread itself is flourless and made with organic sprouted grains. You can find it in the freezer section of most grocery stores as it has no preservatives. I bought the sesame loaf for the picture; it tastes good and is quite filling. Per slice, this bread offers 4g of protein and 3g of fiber. You can find more specific nutrition information on their website.
From both their website and the package Food for Life uses the name Ezekiel 4:9 on this line of products because the ingredients are “crafted in the likeness of the Holy Scripture verse Ezekiel 4:9 to ensure unrivaled honest nutrition and pure, delicious flavors.” The company then quotes a portion of Ezekiel 4:9a:
And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer, and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them… (English Standard Version).
One might assume that because the grains are in the Bible, it is an ancient and wholesome recipe from God. This assumption would not be too far off base as it is God speaking these instructions to Ezekiel. However, the questions we should always ask are:
Why is God giving instructions?
What other instructions are there?
In other words, what is the immediate context of these directions?
I will give the company credit for adding the ellipsis to the quote denoting that there is more to the verse, and when you look it up, you can see why it was left out. The rest of the verse reads: “During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it” (Ez. 4:9b). Weird, right? This unusual request should be your first clue that perhaps you should back up a bit, but for humor’s sake, let us finish Gods command:
“And your food that you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from day to day you shall eat it. And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin; from day to day you shall drink. And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.” And the Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations where I will drive them” (vv. 10-13, emphasis added).
Dear Lord, I hope the Food For Life Baking Company does not take a literal approach to interpreting the Scriptures!
Alright, now that I have disturbed you and hopefully made you snicker it is time to look a little closer at this passage. Ezekiel opens in a very particular time and location (1:1-2) and places Ezekiel in exile in Babylon “on the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin” (v. 2b). This information corresponds with 2 Kings 24:11-12, when “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon . . . The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign”.
Babylonian Chronicle 5 which accounts the early years of Nebuchadnezzar II, also gives an account of Jehoiachin’s capture and records it as occurring in the “seventh year” and “on the second day of the month of Adar” (Grayson 102), which places this event on March 16th of 597 B.C. Jerusalem was finally demolished in 586 B.C., so Ezekiel’s vision of God occurred about six years before the final fall of Jerusalem.
Chapter 1 of Ezekiel continues in describing a highly symbolic vision of God. Chapters 2 and 3 recount Ezekiel’s commission as a Prophet and God’s command for him to go and speak to the rebellious people of Israel (2:1-5) to warn them to turn from their wicked ways (3:17-21).
Chapter 4 is the bread chapter. It is part of a warning that Jerusalem will be sieged as punishment for their rebelliousness. The instructions given to Ezekiel (4:1-5:17) are meant to symbolically and dramatically represent this onslaught. Ezekiel is first instructed to take a brick, write “Jerusalem” on it, and essentially create a diorama of the city under siege (vv. 1-3). Ezekiel is then instructed to put on a dramatic performance where he is told to lay on his left side for 390 days to represent the number of years Israel will be punished, and 40 days on his right side to denote the punishment of Judah (vv. 4-8). While he is on his left side is when he is to eat this bread (v. 9).
Interestingly the wheat, barley, millet, and emmer were common gains and part of the diet of all peoples of the ancient Near East (Walton 693). Beans and lentils are not typical of bread, and given the immediate context of the instructions, many scholars believe it to represent a siege bread. Daniel Block writes that during a siege “food will be so scarce that it will be impossible to get enough flour and vegetable meal together of any one kind to make even one loaf of bread except by ‘scraping the bottom of each of the storage barrels'” (184).
When Nebuchadnezzar’s forces laid siege to Jerusalem, they built a siege wall around the city (2 Ki. 25:1). This wall not only kept supplies out but kept the people trapped within, which quickly brought famine and pestilence. Archeological excavations of toilets inside Jerusalem reveal that “residents of the city were starving, reduced to eating dandelions or uncooked meat, wich resulted in tapeworms and other intestinal parasites” (Beitzel 192).
To further demonstrate that this is a siege bread Ezekiel’s food is rationed to the weight of twenty shekels a day (Eze. 4:10). A shekel weighs about 11 grams, so Ezekiel’s food would be restricted about 220 grams, about 8 ounces, a day. If we translate that to Ezekiel 4:9 Bread’s nutrition label which claims that each slice of bread is 34g this would render Ezekiel’s intake to about 6 1/2 slices a day, that is a total of only 520 calories daily. That is all he is to eat for over a year!
Ezekiel’s bread is not a happy bread meant to epitomize wholesome nutrition, nor is Ezekiel being called to a religious fast as some recipe sites claim; this is a loaf of starvation and desperation to show the Israelites their punishment.
God even claims this is because He “will break the supply of bread in Jerusalem. They shall eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay. I will do this that they may lack bread and water, and look at one another in dismay, and rot away because of their punishment” (vv. 16-17).
However perhaps even more disturbing, both to Ezekiel and us, is how he is to bake the bread, “on human dung” (v. 12b). Now, just to be clear, Ezekiel in fact, does not bake his bread on human waste, even this is too much for him to handle. He objects to this request and claims that he has never “defiled” himself by eating unclean foods (v. 14), and God complies allowing Ezekiel to bake his bread on cow feces instead (v. 15). I still very much hope the Food For Life Baking Company does not employ this biblical method in their food production. However, to Ezekiel this practice quite common in the ancient Near East. Trees in such areas were too valuable to be cut and used for fuel, and therefore dried animal dung was used instead (Walton 693). During a siege, animals would have been eaten first, as they would have required too many limited resources to keep alive. Once the animal waste was used up the only source left would be human, which would demonstrate their desperation since based on Deuteronomy 23:12-14 and Ezekiel’s reaction, would lead to ritual defilement.
Why would Food For Life use this verse which is unquestionably not intended to represent a healthy fast and wholesome nutrition?
I sent a message to the company asking if they were a Christian or Jewish based company and why they used this particular verse. I wanted to understand if the angle to which they approached the Scripture, and I left the question short as I did not want to lead their answer.
They responded to the second part by copy and pasting the website information about the recipe being inspired by the “Holy Scriptures.” However, they ignored the first piece of the question which leads me to believe that they are not a Judeo-Christian company. Usually, such companies take pride in their Scriptural basis and will gladly answer in the affirmative.
Unsatisfied with their response, I wrote again asking how they reconcile a the context of Ezekiel pointing to a bread of starvation and desperation cooked on human dung to their product? I got a rather pleasant response with a brief exegesis of Ezekiel 1-4. Unfortunately, like the previous message they ignored part of the question and focused on the issue of defilement. Food for Life recognizes that the bread was not cooked over human feces and therefore it was undefiled. However, it seems that they interpret this as meaning that therefore Ezekiel ‘s bread presents a positive message. They claim that Ezekiel’s food and water rations were “to show the good things that God gave Israel and how far they had fallen. How do we know this? Answer: by Ezekiel 4:15 – 16”, and that “the Undefiled Ezekiel 4:9 bread was to be eaten together with water with amazement! (Ezekiel 4:16)”. Here is where I have to disagree. I believe they are reading too much into the text to justify a nutritious loaf.
Nowhere in the verses that Food for Life uses as proof does the bread represent a good and amazing thing. In fact, just the opposite is stated in verse 17! The people are not to look at Ezekiel in amazement, but to look at each other in dismay!
What I thought was a simple case of ignoring the context, is now a matter of eisegesis, that is, reading an idea into the text as opposed to taking an idea out (exegesis). I can overlook some context violations as resulting from carelessness, ignorance, and apathy. Usually the reader did not know the verse was part of a larger body of text, and probably did not care what the larger body says. They get what they want out of the passage and move on before they discover caveats.
However, the deliberate manipulation of eisegesis is dangerous. It can force the text to say something that it never said, nor intended to say. This is one of the methods cults employ to “prove” their validity.
God’s allowing Ezekiel to use a clean fuel source to bake his bread was a compromise for Ezekiel’s sake and did not change the overall message to Jerusalem. There is no indication that since Ezekiel is eating his bread clean therefore the people will also eat their bread clean.
Ezekiel is still to ration his food and water, just like the people in Jerusalem would. Jerusalem will still be sieged, and Ezekiel is still to display this warning. The people of Israel had already turned their backs on the good things from God, and this message is not a reminder to fondly call them back, it is a final warning of what will happen if they do not turn back. It’s like your mom counting to three, and you better do what she asks before she finishes saying “two”!
I honestly feel that the name is merely a marketing gimmick to get people to think their bread is nourishing to both body and soul. I could understand if the founder ignoring the context decided to try the recipe and was pleased with how it turned out. But if that is the case, just admit it. Twisting the Scripture to fit your agenda is unethical.
Beitzel, Barry J. The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009.
Block, Daniel I. The Book of Ezekiel. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997.
English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007.
Grayson, Albert Kirk. Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. Vol. 5. Eisenbrauns, 1975.
Walton, John H, Victor H. Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, Victor Matthews, and Dr. M. W. Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012.
Not every class I take involves scripture reading, and when they do it is with a restricted agenda. Ironically, in Bible college, I read more about the Bible than I do from the Bible itself. As a result of this, I often drown out God’s voice with thoughts of homework.
My journal assignment for class this week is how to avoid letting the Bible become just another textbook, and how to live in the text as opposed to above it. This topic comes at an opportune time, for I have been reflecting on the issue lately. Recently our small group did a study in Jonah, and we were asked to identify what our Tarshish is. Tarshish is the city to which Jonah fled to escape God’s calling. While I am in school pursuing God’s calling, I frequently run to homework to avoid reading the Bible or volunteering at the food pantry. I have noticed it has had an effect on me, and the time between devotional Bible study and serving the community not only gets greater, but it becomes easier to neglect. Next, it affects my prayer life, and I start talking less to God. There is a chain of events that occurs which leads a person away from God, and I can see why so many people lose faith in seminary. This is termed seminary or Bible college burnout. I feel this form of stress is more dangerous than other forms of academic burnout because it affects not only your studies but also your relationship with God, and may lead to your rejection of Him.
I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and inerrant in all that it teaches. If I thought otherwise, I wouldn’t have devoted my life to the study of it. This belief is not just an empty Creed I recite to make myself feel better; it is a belief justified by the evidence. So, why do I sometimes act like the Bible is just a book?
Jesus states that we should “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (English Standard Version, Mk. 12:30). Notice the conjunction in his statement? We are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. I think this suggests that there needs to be a balance between these areas. Academically, I am loving God with my mind, but what about the rest? I need to let my academic study build up my devotional life rather than let it build over it.
This is an area in which I have been actively working to improve. There are certain steps I have recently taken to correct this imbalance between the academic and devotional love of God. I would recommend these three steps to anyone considering pursuing academic study of the Bible.
Pray! Do not let your prayer life slip! If your prayer time begins to slide: pray for more time to pray! Pray for balance. Pray for guidance. Pray continually (1 Thess. 5:17). A good tip for if you notice that you have gone through most of the day and have forgotten to pray is to leave yourself sticky notes on your desk, or in your car to remind yourself. Schedule time and make prayer a habit.
Schedule time for devotional Bible study. It sounds simple, but it is easy to let homework deadlines, day-jobs, and family obligations push this area aside. My family and I work through a devotional Bible study together before school in the morning and before bed at night. Another area I have found time for this is on lunch at work. I use to bring homework but never accomplished much in 30 minutes. Reading the Bible for those 30 minutes, however, accomplishes so much more. This action also has the bonus of witnessing to your co-workers. I have lost count of how many discussions this has sparked, and how many other people have been inspired to read their Bible again simply because they saw me reading mine.
Try to read part of the Bible not directly related to your current homework subject. I have found that when there is an overlap, my devotional reading takes on more of an academic mindset and instead of asking how I can apply it to my life I am looking at how I can work it into my paper.
Get together with a friend, share your fears and desires, and keep each other accountable. Do something non-academic together. Recently I just ran errands with a friend of mine, and it was refreshing to be able to share that time with him.
Keep a journal. These journals for class have been fantastic for not only helping me gather my thoughts and think through issues but also making the lessons practical. I hope to continue with the journal once the class is over.
These few actions have helped me to begin to live in the Bible, rather than above it. How about you do you have any suggestions on steps one can take to avoid becoming burned out spiritually?
In the fifteenth chapter of Luke Jesus tells three parables, each to illustrate that God loves all people and desires a relationship with them, no matter where they are or what they have done. The occasion in which these parables are told is a response to the Pharisees and scribes who “grumbled” and criticized Jesus for keeping company and dining with sinners and tax collectors (English Standard Version, 15:1-2). Four particular people groups are the focus of this passage, who are essentially the righteous and the unrighteous. Understanding these groups provides insight into Jesus’ following parables.
The Pharisees and scribes are considered the righteous; they are the Jewish elite who were guaranteed to be in God’s favor. The Pharisees were a prominent and influential party in Judaism. Josephus records the “Pharisees have the multitude on their side” (Ant. 13.298), and according to Luke’s second letter they were the strictest sect (Acts 26:5). The Pharisees sought to holiness and purity from within the larger society and were concerned with the proper observance of purity regulations in the Torah (Simmons 60). Among the existent literature, there is no mention of the Pharisees involved in any ritual gathering around a common table. This absence has led some scholars to conclude that “table fellowship for the Pharisees was not a matter only of nutrition but of spiritual communion . . . [and] may well have meant acceptance before God” (61).
The second group of righteous persons challenging Jesus is the scribes. As a group who had the skill set to write correspondence and copy important documents, the scribes were very close to the ruling elite. While the scribes in antiquity had a variety of roles, the scribes in the New Testament are frequently paired with the Pharisees. For this reason, it can be reasonably inferred that these scribes were the scholars of the Torah, and in the later writings the term was substituted with “prophet” (77).
The two groups which fall under the unrighteous category are the sinners and tax collectors. Tax collectors were the individuals who collected money from their people to pay tribute to Israel’s oppressors. Such foreign dominion is strictly forbidden in Deuteronomy where God states “you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community” (17:15), and collecting taxes would present as an endorsement of this foreign rule which would equate tax collectors with traitor. Also of note is that tax collectors were in frequent company with Gentiles, whom the Pharisees considered unclean (Simmons 102).
The term sinner is ambiguous and not fully defined in the New Testament. However, its pairing with prostitutes and tax collectors suggests it as an unfavorable group who were morally unprincipled, disobedient to the Torah, and thus unclean (108). In the opening of the passage in question, Luke distinguishes sinners from tax collectors (15:1); however, the Pharisees and scribes comment, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (15:2), appears to classify both groups together.
In the first two verses, there is a conflict between the righteous people and the unrighteous. The righteous people were by all outward appearance guaranteed to be in God’s favor did not feel it was appropriate for the man who was believed to be Elijah or “one of the prophets of old” (Lk. 9:19) to have table fellowship with those unworthy of God. A similar question had previously been posed by the scribes and Pharisees to which Jesus answered “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:31-32). The three parables in Luke 15, tell of the joy of God when these sinners repent.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep is the first Jesus tells. He describes a man with one hundred sheep, and how one has wandered off and gotten lost (15:4). In this parable, the shepherd leaves his flock in search of a single sheep. Alone, a sheep is in danger of predators and rough terrain. There is no reason to assume the shepherd in this story is irresponsible, especially since it is intended to represent God, perhaps meant to recount Ezekiel where God states; “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (34:11-12). It can be assured that the ninety-nine sheep are left in safety. This parable not only describes how a single sheep, or sinner, is actively sought by God, but how upon finding it He carries it home and rejoices with others (Lk. 15:5). Just so there is no misunderstanding Jesus interprets this parable for His audience and states “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v. 7).
Jesus’ second parable is The Parable of the Lost Coin, in which a woman loses one of ten silver coins and desperately searches her house to find it (v. 8-10). This woman sweeps the floor and lights a lamp to illuminate even the darkest corners of the house (v.8), and when she finds the coin, she rejoices with others (v. 9). Again, Jesus interprets this parable for His audience when he states, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v. 10).
The first two parables have illustrated the sinner’s inherent value, how God actively searches for them, and how he rejoices once they have been found. The parables have built up to the third, which not only focuses on the role of the sinner but also presents as a rebuke of the Pharisees and scribes. The Parable of the Prodigal Son (v. 11-32), tells of a second born son who rejects his family, demands his inheritance, and leaves home (v. 12-13). This son spent his entire inheritance on immoral acts (v. 13, 30) and fell into poverty (v. 14). In this parable, the son went to work with swine (v. 15) which illustrates both his disregard for the Law (Lev. 11:7) and his desperation. However, he was even neglected by his employers who fed the pigs but not him (Lk. 15:15). It is here that the son recognized this error, repented and started traveling back to his father (vv. 18-20). It is here that the parable begins to parallel the previous two in God’s searching for the lost. It reads “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (v. 20). To observe and recognize the son who was still “a long way off” indicates that the father had been watching and searching the distance, and when he spotted the son he ran to meet him. The son, having been in contact with pigs, would be ceremonially unclean, but the father embraced him anyway. The son turned around and made a choice to go home, and the father met him where he was and carried him the rest of the way. Similar to the other two parables, there is a public celebration at finding the lost (vv. 22-23).
However, unlike the other parables, the story of the Prodigal Son does not end with the celebration. Jesus continues with a reaction of the older brother. As first born, this son was guaranteed a double portion of the inheritance (Deut. 21:17), his younger brother taking his portion or returning had no effect on his inheritance. However, this son was jealous (v. 30), took offense to the celebration and refused to go (v. 28). Similar to how the Pharisees and scribes separated themselves and criticized Jesus for dining with sinners (v. 2). And just like the father came to the younger son, he also came to the firstborn (v. 28) and explained that a celebration was in order (v. 31), for to be lost is to be dead, but to be with God is to be alive (vv. 24, 32).
How far are you from God? These parables demonstrate that no matter where you are God is actively searching for you. That light shining is for you to see, you just need to turn around and look to it. Like the younger son, we must recognize that we have strayed too far, and seek to return to God. Just as in the parables God will come for you, and no matter what you have done He will embrace you and celebrate your return to life!
Or are you like the scribes and Pharisees? Do you know the Bible inside and out and go to church every Sunday, but think that the church is no place for “those people”? Do you distance yourselves from certain people groups? The question is how does their salvation affect yours? The Father is still with you, and like the older son, it is fitting that you turn back to the house and celebrate with Him, lest you stray away from the sheepfold.
English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007.
Josephus, Flavius. “The Antiquities of the Jews, 13.298.” Lexundria.com. Trans. William Whiston. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.
Simmons, William A. Peoples of the New Testament World. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub. ,2008.
Three people in my life have committed suicide; my best friend when I was in 8th grade, my wife’s 13-year-old cousin, and my brother-in-law. All tragic, and all left scars that will never fade. Every person has left behind unanswered questions and feelings of guilt and self-blame. These emotions are strong; I still ask the “what if” questions of 27 years ago, but this guilt is misplaced. I read something recently that I found helpful and personal experience has allowed me to expound on this idea, to help to resolve some of these emotions.
Jesus traveled to Bethany to visit his sick friend, Lazarus. When Jesus arrives, He discovers that his friend has already died. Martha and Mary approached Jesus and stated: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (English Standard Version, Jn. 11:21, 32). Pastors Warren and David Wiersbe focus on the first two words; “Lord” and “if,” and note that of these two words one heals and the other hurts (200).
If is a natural question, it comes from our grief; it is a response that understands that something is not right in the world. If only I had called him. If only I had recognized the signs. If hurts. The problem with if is that it is good at asking questions but never gives answers.
If looks backward: It diverts our attention to a past we cannot change, and to alternate outcomes which will never exist.
If is our ego: It suggests that we are in control of everything, including the actions of others.
If dethrones God: It places blame on God suggesting either He allowed it to happen or even He could not prevent it.
Which leads to the healing word; Lord. Even in their grief Martha and Mary recognized Jesus as Lord. Martha states, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (v. 27). In this chapter, Jesus did the miraculous and raised Lazarus from the dead, but the purpose of this miracle was to glorify God and show that it was He who sent Jesus (vv. 4, 40, 42). God didn’t send Jesus to change past events, He used those past events to His glory and brought many to faith in Him (v. 45). Jesus states; “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (v. 25-26). Looking to the Lord, looks to the future, a time of healing when He will “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
God is not responsible for our poor choices, just as we are not liable for the freely made decisions of others. Part of free will is that, either good or bad, all actions have consequences. However, having to endure with the consequences does not mean that God is apathetic. God introduces Himself to Moses and states that he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). In John’s Gospel it is mentioned three times how Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters (11:3, 5, 36), it was out of love that He came to them and out of love that he wept (v. 35). So, where was God when the one we love has died? The same place he was 2000 years ago when His only begotten Son died; on His throne. God experienced the same emotions and same repercussions of loss. He cannot only sympathize with us; He can empathize with us. Our loved ones who have passed were also His children!
Which of these two words are you taking for yourself? Is it the one that hurts or the one that heals? Grieving is normal, but know you are never alone. God is with you grieving, but He is pointing you to a future of healing. Understand that no matter where you are in life, or what you have done you are never too far away to look to Him.
If you are reading this and contemplating suicide talk to someone, seek help. You may not see it right now, but your life has value. If you don’t feel that there is someone you can confide in, then call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800) 273-8255. As someone who has lost loved ones to suicide, I can tell you that there are people who care about you. Your life is not a burden.
English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007.
Wiersbe, Warren W, and David Wiersbe. Ministering to the Mourning: A Practical Guide for Pastors, Church Leaders, and Other Caregivers. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006. Print.
I started a new class this term; Second Temple Jewish Backgrounds which focuses on the environment in which Jesus was raised and ministered, which is considerably different from that of the Old Testament. This culture shift seems obvious when considering the 400 years which passed between the writing of Malachi, the last book of the Protestant canon, and Matthew, the first book of the New Testament. In that time the Jewish people were not in a state of stasis, and neither were the surrounding political powers. So, while Jesus was rooted in the Law and Prophets, he was planted in a world very different. To quote one of our texts:
Jesus did not come as a cultureless, amorphous, genderless human being. He came as a first-century Jewish man, with unique chromosomes and physical features, just as each of the rest of us is unique. His cultural specificity does not mean that he was not for all of us; it means instead that he could better identify with all of us as a particular person (28).
I find this quote to be true, and as you start to read the background information, it becomes clear that it is. In our first discussion board interaction pertaining to the statement that the Old Testament is not the immediate background of Jesus, one of my classmates made an astute observation. He mentioned that as much as the war for American independence is a part of our story, the events September 11, 2001, and the war on terrorism form a more direct role in defining our present setting. Strikingly, the timeframe of these events is only about half that of which passed during the intertestamental period!
Having taken Historical Geography of Ancient Israel as well as Ancient Near Eastern Backgrounds of the Old Testament, I strongly believe studying the background of the Bible is of utmost importance. One area in which this background has been helpful is in understanding how the Jewish people could be so blind to Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah. And why on earth would they choose to release Barabbas, a murderer (English Standard Version, Mk. 15:6-15) and a robber (Jn. 18:40), as opposed to Jesus who never killed anyone? However, understanding that the common messianic expectation was that of a warrior-king who would rebel against Roman oppression and free the Jewish people helps to clarify this scenario. Also of note is the recognition of a variety of forms of anti-government social banditry. The most common term in the Greek sources for this type of active resistance is lestes (Blasi 255). Josephus employs this term to describe a “band of robbers” executed by Herod (Ant. 14.9.2), an action which brought cries of protest from the people which caught the attention of the Hasmonean king of Judea. Josephus writes “Hyrcanus was so moved by these complaints, that he summoned Herod to come to his trial for what was charged upon him” (14.9.4). While this event may be related merely to disdain for Herod, it is also equally likely an indication of popular support for a group opposing foreign rule. The term lestes is used to describe Barabbas in the New Testament (John 18:40). If John’s use of the word lestes carries the indication of social banditry and active government resistance it is understandable how the crowds would choose to release him (Jn. 18:39-40) over Jesus. Barabbas was an active rebel who got immediate results, while Jesus endorsed paying taxes to Rome (Lk. 20:25).
I do believe a person can study the Bible without the background and still come to a saving faith and understanding of the text. However, learning the background lends a further dimension to understanding. It is akin to studying the text in its original language. Because, Of course, culture is a language, and ours is very different to theirs. So, to accurately translate one must have a clear understanding of both languages.
As much as I see the value in studying the background of the Bible, I do have one reservation and one fear. I am a Christian; I see the Bible as authoritative, inspired, and inerrant. My reservation is in using background sources, how much value do I place on them? Are there areas of conflict which would compromise my view of the integrity of the Bible?
My fear can perhaps be related to the effect of raising secondary sources above the Bible. I look at people like Bart Ehrman, and Raza Aslan and am terrified of becoming like them! Now, in full disclosure I have not read Aslan’s work Zealot, but I have read enough critical reviews to understand how his presuppositions have tailored his conclusions. Ehrman, on the other hand, is a different story. He studied the Bible and concluded that there were too many variants for it to be reliable, and is now an agnostic atheist. To top it off he started at Moody Bible Institute! My fear is that I would become like him, again. I was raised without actually knowing Jesus and turned to Wicca with my mom in 1996, and about eight years later I moved into a hostile form of atheism. I know what it is like to live in darkness masquerading as light. A part of me knows that I would never return, but another part of me is terrified that I could. I recognize the fact that I fear it suggests that it will not happen, for if I didn’t have the Spirit, I would probably be ambivalent to the risk, so in that sense it is an irrational fear.
But still, I pray that I keep the word of God first and foremost and not elevate other works above it. I think that as long as I continue to study the Scripture and maintain and open relationship with God through Christ that I truly have nothing to fear.
Blasi, Anthony J., Paul-André Turcotte, and Jean Duhaime. Handbook of Early Christianity: Social Science Approaches. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2002.
English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007.
Josephus. “Antiquities of the Jews.” Internet Sacred Text Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2017.
Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2014.
One of the earliest known creation myths is the Enuma Elish; a Mesopotamian account which contains the origin of the world, the gods, and mankind, as well as presents the supremacy of the Babylonian god Marduk (Mark). Written in cuneiform on seven clay tablets, copies of which were discovered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries A.D. (Heidel 1), and has been dated from the tenth to the fifteenth century B.C (13). The Enuma Elish parallels the Genesis creation account on many levels, of interest herein is how Marduk’s relationship to Babylon compares to Yahweh’s relation to Jerusalem.
Babylon is mentioned a total of four times in the Enuma Elish, the first mention of the city occurs in line 129 of Tablet V, it states; “I shall call its name ‘Babylon’, “The Homes of the Great Gods” (Mark). Previously Marduk was made the king of the gods (Lines 109-110), and he states he will rule the land from a chamber in the house where his shrine is established (Lines 122-124), giving reference to an ancient Near Eastern temple where deity came to earth and resided (Walton 113). Temples were built as a place of rest for a god, meaning that he had defeated chaos and established order and stability (114), it was in the innermost chamber of the temple where an idol was kept, which acted as the physical embodiment of the deity in the temple (116). The idol was worshiped and fed as acts to ensure that order was kept and promote the success of the worshiper’s endeavors (128). Which is illustrated in the next reference to Babylon and reads “In Babylon, as you have named it, put our [resting place] for ever. [ . . . . . . . . . ] let them our bring regular offerings” (Tablet V, Line 137-139).
Tablet VI of the Enuma Elish contains the next two references to Babylon, and refer to the actual building of the temple. After Marduk created mankind and gave them the work the Anuakki gods thereby setting them free (Lines 33-34), these gods proposed the building of the temple in appreciation for their freedom. Upon hearing this Marduk “beamed as brightly as the light of day, ‘Build Babylon, the task you have sought. Let bricks for it be moulded, and raise the shrine!'” (Lines 56-58). The Anuakki spent a year fashioning the bricks and constructed the temple as a replica of Apsû (Line 62), the male deity representing the cosmic waters (Mark). Next to the temple they “built the lofty temple tower of the Apsû” (Line 63). This tower, or ziggurat, was a feature of Mesopotamian temples and acted as a stairway by which the gods traveled to the earthly realm (Walton 122). The next reference to Babylon is after the temple is completed and acts as a dedication, it reads;
Be-l [Marduk] seated the gods, his fathers, at the banquet. In the lofty shrine which they had built for his dwelling, (Saying,) “This is Babylon, your fixed dwelling, Take your pleasure here! Sit down in joy!” The great gods sat down, Beer-mugs were set out and they sat at the banquet. After they had enjoyed themselves inside They held a service in awesome Esagil [temple]. The regulations and all the rules were confirmed” (Lines 70-78).
Temples in the ancient Near East were considered to be the cosmic, moral, and economic center of the cosmos (Walton 128), the temple being established in Babylon then indicates that Babylon is, therefore, the control center of the cosmos. This and similar myths served to reassure the inhabitants that their city was greater than all others because it is the city which housed the greater god (Kaiser 917).
The temple of Jerusalem is the permanent representation of the tabernacle, the place where Yahweh met with and instructed the Israelites (NASB, Ex. 25:22), also from the innermost chamber (1 Ki. 8:6). While there are many similarities between pagan temples and that of Jerusalem’s, one of the key differences is that the Holy of Holies held no idols as the Mesopotamian temples did, as Yahweh had no needs to be met (Ps. 50:8-15). The tabernacle was mobile, it moved with the Israelites, and until the Temple was built in Jerusalem, Yahweh was not grounded to a city, but to a people group (2 Sam. 7:6-7).
Second Samuel gives an account of how David seized the Canaanite city of Jerusalem, with a Jebusite fortress known as Zion:
Now the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land . . . David captured the stronghold of Zion, that is the city of David . . . So David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built all around from the Millo and inward. David became greater and greater, for the Lord God of hosts was with him (2 Sam. 5:6-10).
It is important to note that God was with David, the king of a people who were under the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. Yahweh was voluntarily grounded in the children of Israel. So, when David plans to build a temple Yahweh makes a covenant with him, promising to settle and secure the people of Israel (2 Sam. 7:10), to give David rest from his enemies and build a house for him (v. 11), and to raise a descendant of David who will establish His kingdom and build His temple (v. 12). In the future context this refers to Jesus (Mt. 21:9), in the more immediate context, it refers to Solomon, who built the temple (1 Ki. 6:1).
In many ways, Solomon’s Temple reflected a Mesopotamian temple, but as stated previously no idol was in the innermost room, and no ziggurat was required. God himself could not be contained; even Solomon remarked “But will God indeed dwell with mankind on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house which I have built” (2 Chr. 6:18). Regardless of this, God chose to dwell among his people in Jerusalem, thereby making Jerusalem the theological center of the people of Israel. In Solomon’s dedication of the temple we find a parallel from the dedication of Marduk’s temple in the Enuma Elish, “I have built You a lofty house, and a place for Your dwelling forever” (2 Chr. 6:2), indicating that Yahweh is now attached to Jerusalem. Though it is important to note that unlike Marduk, Yahweh is not attached to Jerusalem because of the Temple rather because of His covenant promise to David.
It can be seen in the poetry how the designation of Zion shifted from the Jebusite stronghold (2 Sam. 5:7) to the Temple (Ps. 2:6), and at times is used to encompass the entire city of Jerusalem (Ps. 76:1-2). It would appear that the term Zion is attached to the location where God dwells, and as His temple is in Jerusalem, the designation can be extended to the city (Ps. 135:21). Psalm 128 relates a blessing of those who revere Yahweh, “The Lord bless you from Zion, and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life” (v. 5). The Psalms exalt Zion and by extension Jerusalem as the chosen city of God.
From the Enuma Elish, another parallel can be drawn. Tablet V reads; “I will found my chamber and establish my kingship . . . This will be your resting place before the assembly” (Lines 124, 126). This text is preceding Marduk’s founding of Babylon, and can be related to Psalm 132 which reads; “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. ‘This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it’” (v. 13-14). Both of these texts refer to the divinely chosen city from which the deity will dwell and rest; however, the difference is exemplified in verse 11 “The Lord has sworn to David, a truth from which He will not turn back”. Marduk chose Babylon, but Yahweh chose David. Zion, and by extension Jerusalem, were elevated because of Yahweh’s covenant promise to David.
What does this mean for those under the New Covenant of which Jesus is the mediator (Heb. 9:15), and whose body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19)?
Enûma Eliš. Digital Image. Coffee House Apologetics. April 23, 2015. Web. March 8th, 2017. coffeehouseapologetics.wordpress.com
Heidel, Alexander. The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation. University of Chicago Press, 1963.
Kaiser, Walter. NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture. Zondervan, 2005.
Mark, Joshua J. “Enuma Elish – The Babylonian Epic of Creation,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. March 02, 2011. http://www.ancient.eu /article/225/. Accessed on November 25, 2016.
NASB – New American Standard Bible. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1979.
Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Baker Academic, 2006.
The mention of slavery in the Bible often brings up images and notions of slavery from our more recent cultural past, which presents a stumbling block for many in coming to faith in Christ. It is understandable that if God condoned the atrocities committed with the African slave trade in America, then such a God is neither great nor worthy of worship. However, a careful examination will uncover that slavery in the Bible is not the same as slavery in the American South.