Category Archives: Critical Thinking & the Bible

Who is “Israel”? What Jews and Christians Need to Know (Part 1)

WHO IS “ISRAEL”?  This is not just a random, general question for me, but it lies at the very heart of the calling that God has placed upon my life.  By the time you finish this article, I think you will know what I mean.  I have a personal stake in fully understanding this question as I will explain.  But it’s not only important to me, it should be important to every Jew and Christian in the world since it lies at the heart of who we are, our identities in God.

MY OWN PERSONAL STRUGGLE

I did not grow up a Torah-centered life, nor did I grow up in a Jewish home, but in a very conservative Christian home.  I grew up attending a small Pentecostal church on the south side of Lansing, Michigan, and then when I was twelve, my parents began attending an Assemblies of God church close to our home.  However, over the years, the Lord has called my wife and I to an “Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.” Except for our belief in Yeshua (Jesus) as the promised Messiah, by all outward evidence, we are living a Jewish life, at least to the best of our knowledge.  There are many things we still need to learn, particularly about being “Orthodox,” but these are things that God has called us to learn, and so we continue to strive to learn them.

But growing up, I remember the more I studied the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, the more I loved it.  I actually got into an argument many years ago with someone in our Sunday School class, because he tried to argue that people could not keep God’s commandments, and I disagreed with him.  I told him we could keep them, but most of the time, we choose not to do it.  I also absolutely disagree with Christians who say that God gave us His commandments just to “show us what horrible, sinful people we really are,” I don’t know what Bible they are reading, but I sure don’t see that taught or indicated in the first five books, or even in the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures.  I also was asked to leave one church, because I had just started wearing my prayer shawl that I had just bought from the Israel Connection, a Jewish bookstore, when it was still open in Scottsdale, Arizona. The pastor told me that if I wanted to wear it, I should go to the synagogue or a Messianic service, but I was not allowed to wear it there at his church.  My wife and I did not return.

God’s law is also an act of love and grace.  He did it because He wanted us to know who He was, what He is like, what He’s not like, and how we are to interact with Him and with one anther.  And nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures do we get any indication of God’s Word being “bondage,” “legalism,” or that it has been “annulled,” “set aside,” or been completely fulfilled so that we no longer have to obey it.  Yeshua (Jesus) has been the One who has called my wife and I to this life, and He is the One who is directing us to walk “the ancient paths” of His Kingdom ways, as He invited Israel to do through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:16).  Now having laid out my general background and reason why this study is so important to me, let me ask the question.

WHO IS “ISRAEL”?

This seems like it should be an easy question to answer, doesn’t it, but it’s really not since there are many different groups, other than the Jewish people, who are claiming to be “the true Israel.”  However, my only question is, “How does God define ISRAEL?”  Many people are not aware that God Himself defined “ISRAEL” in His own word; consequently, the only definition that matters is His.

WHEN DID ISRAEL BEGIN?

First of all, I think it is important for us to remember when Israel began.  Although God called Abraham into covenant with Him, and then his son, Isaac, He laid the foundation for what Israel was to become through their lives.   Technically, though, we would have to agree that there couldn’t have been any such thing as “Israel” until God actually renamed Jacob as “Israel” (Genesis 32).   In chapter 32, Jacob was really nervous about meeting his brother Esau again, because he hadn’t seen him since he pretended to be Esau and tricked his father into giving him his older brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:1-40), rather than it going to Esau.  And he was really nervous when his servants told him that Esau was coming towards him with 400 men (Genesis 32:6), so he divided his family into two companies, hoping that one of them would at least survive (Genesis 32:7-8).

Jacob then spends some time in prayer to God, asking Him to deliver him from the hand of his brother Esau (Genesis 32:9-12).  Then he selected a large number of animals, and he divided them up into at least three groups, and to each group, he gave to a servant.  He told the servants to take the animals as a present and to give them to Esau, and by doing so, he was hoping to appease him.  He also made sure to tell the servants not to go together, but to have a large space between them (Genesis 32:13-20).

JACOB WRESTLES ALL NIGHT WITH GOD

That night, as he was on guard alone, in case one of Esau’s men would try to sneak into the camp, he ends up wrestling with someone in the dark until the breaking of the day.  And when the stranger saw that he was not prevailing against Jacob at all, the Scriptures say he touched the hollow of his thigh, and by doing so, he was able to put it out of joint (Genesis 32:24-25).  Obviously, this was not any ordinary man since he was able to do this by simply touching his thigh.  At this point, the man says to let him go, but Jacob responds, “I will not let you go, except you bless me” (Genesis 32:26).  The man then asks him his name, and then when Jacob tells him, the man says,

Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince have you power with God and with men, and have prevailed.  (Genesis 32:28)

When Jacob asked him his name, he would not tell him, but he blessed Jacob there.  This scene is where Jacob is renamed as “Israel.”  From this scene, I think we can logically infer the following about Israel:

  • Although Jacob had done some unscrupulous things in his past, he had repented and he is trying to reconcile with his brother by making amends;
  • During this process of repentance, Jacob wrestles with a stranger and is given a new identity as “Israel.”  “The man” says Israel is “as a prince” has “power with God and with men,” and he has “prevailed.”

In Hosea 12, there seems to indicate that the man was God, but then there’s the indication that it was an angel:

In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his maturity he contended with God.  Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed: He wept and sought His favor.  He found Him at Bethel, and there He spoke with us.  (Hosea 12:3-4)

Consequently, based on this account, Israel is “one who wrestles with God.”  And how many of us like Jacob also wrestle with God in one way or another.

GOD CREATES ISRAEL

Then in Genesis 35, we have what seems to be God renaming Jacob as Israel all over again for a second time, but there’s more to it here than merely a renaming.  When Jacob came out of Padan-aram, God again appeared to Jacob and blessed him. (Genesis 35:9)  And God said to him:

Your name is Jacob: Your name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be your name:

“and He called his name Israel.  And God said to him,”

I am God Almighty (Heb. El Shaddai): be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of you, and kings shall come out of your loins; and the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to you I will give it, and to your seed after you will I give the land.  (Genesis 35:10-12)

First of all, in looking at what God told him after renaming him “Israel”:

  1.  God identified Himself as “El Shaddai” (God Almighty) or “the God who is more
    than enough.”
  2.  God told him to “be fruitful and multiply.”  This indicates that this is not just a renaming, but a creation account since the only two times prior to this that this phrase was used was during the initial creation account in Genesis 1 (Genesis 1:22, 28), and after Noah, his family, and all the animals came off the ark, indicating a new creation after the flood (Genesis 8:17; 9:7).

In the book of Isaiah, God says to the people and nation of Israel:

But now thus says the LORD that created you, O Jacob, and He that formed you, O Israel, fear not: for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are Mine.  (Isaiah 43: 1)

During the biblical period, the act of naming something or giving it a new name was an act of showing one’s ownership of that thing or person.  For instance, when Adam gave “Woman” the name Chavah (trans. as “Eve” in English), he was showing his ownership of her since she was his wife.  When God renames Abram into Abraham, and Sarai into Sarah, He is showing His ownership of them.  They now belonged to Him, and the same is true of Jacob here into “Israel.”

We even see this in the New Testament, when Yeshua (Jesus) renames Simon into “Peter,” He is showing His ownership of Peter as belonging to Him, and the same is true of us as modern believers, since in the epistles we are told that Yeshua (Jesus) purchased us with His blood (I Corinthians 6:20; 7:23; 2 Peter 2:1), and therefore, He is going to show His ownership of us by giving us a “new name” (Revelation 2:17), as well as give us three other names: “the name of My God,” “the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem,” and “My new name” (Revelation 3:12).  Notice that although Yeshua (Jesus) and the Father are One (John 10:30), Yeshua (Jesus) refers to Him after His resurrection as “My Father and your Father, and to My God and Your God” (John 20:17), and here in this passage, He also refers to Him as “My God,” and He’s even been given “a new name” by God, demonstrating God’s ownership of Him.  And these three names will also be given to those who overcome.

ANALYZING GOD’S DEFINITION OF ISRAEL

  • After giving him the name “Israel,” God then defines “ISRAEL” as “A NATION and A COMPANY OF NATIONS shall be of you.”  ISRAEL is then defined as –
    • A NATION (Heb. goy; Gk. ethne).  One of the interesting things I noticed when comparing the Hebrew with the Greek is that the Hebrew word goy is in the singular, and it means “a nation,” but the Greek word ethne is in the plural and means “nations,” and it’s where we get the English words “ethnic” and “ethnicity.”    This word, though, refers to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  However, in defining Israel, God doesn’t just stop there, but He adds to the definition the following element.
    • A COMPANY OF NATIONS” (Heb. q’hal goyim; Gk. sunagogai ethnon) And like the word “nation,” the Hebrew word q’hal is in the singular, and the Greek word sunagogai is in the plural.  Again, I wonder why the change from the singular to the plural.

In Hebrew, the word q’hal [H6951] can be translated to mean “assembly, company, congregation, or multitude.”  The most popular translation for this word is the word “congregation” since it is translated that way 86 times.  Now in all the online sources that I found available, the Greek word sunagogai [G4864] was translated “gatherings,” and it is the source from which we get the word “Synagogue.”

The next word is the Hebrew word “goyim” or the Greek ethnon, and in both languages, it is plural and means “nations” or “gentiles.”  Both translations are equally valid.  So then this phrase q’hal goyim in the Hebrew or sunagogai ethnon in the Greek could be translated as any of the following:

      • An assembly of nations (or gentiles);
      • a company of nations (or gentiles);
      • a congregation of nations (or gentiles);
      • a multitude of nations (or gentiles); or
      • gatherings of nations (or gentiles).

Obviously, which of these is chosen depends on the preference of the translator since any one of these could be argued as a valid choice.  What I do find interesting is that even though the Greek word sunagogai is in the plural, most English translations seem to follow the Hebrew instead, which is singular.

  • ISRAEL – A COVENANT PEOPLE WITH GOD

Throughout the Scriptures, Israel is seen as a people who are to live their lives in accordance to the covenants that God had made with them.  For example, there was the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 15, 17); the Sinai covenant (Exodus 12 – Deuteronomy); the Levitic /Priesthood covenant (Numbers 25:11-13); the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-16; I Chronicles 17:7-14); the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34); and the coming covenant of peace (Ezekiel 34:22-31; 37:15-28).  The whole history of Israel is of them being a covenant people.  And just as God has called Israel to be His covenant people, He has also called me to live my life in accordance to His covenants as well.

  • ISRAEL – GOD’S SERVANT, HIS CHOSEN PEOPLE

In the book of Isaiah, we learn the following about Israel from God:

But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend…you are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you. (Isaiah 41:8, 9b)

Israel is God’s chosen servant, who began as we saw with Jacob, whom the LORD Himself had chosen.  Israel is the descendant of Abraham, “My friend,” a covenantal term, demonstrating that Israel are God’s covenantal people.

  • ISRAEL – GOD’S FIRSTBORN SON?

Another interesting thing about “ISRAEL” is that God identifies ISRAEL as “My son, even My firstborn son.”  God is giving Moses instructions on what He is to say to the Pharaoh when he meets him, and He says,

And the LORD said unto Moses, When you go to return to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in your hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.  And you shall say to Pharaoh, Thus says the LORD, Israel is My son, even My firstborn.  (Exodus 4:21)

Now Moses has not even seen the Pharaoh yet, and here God is identifying Israel as His “son, even [His] firstborn son.”  Obviously, if God is identifying Israel as His son, then God already has an on-going relationship with Israel right here.  Then how could the covenant at Mt. Sinai be the relationship covenant since God is already in a relationship with them before Moses even goes to see the Pharaoh or before any of the plagues or before the Exodus from Egypt has even begun?

But isn’t it rather interesting that when it came time for Israel to leave Egypt under Moses’ leadership that Israel was comprised not only of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but there was also a “mixed multitude” of Gentiles that came out with them:

And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children.  And a MIXED MULTITUDE went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle. (Exodus 12:37-38)

Notice that Israel did not leave Egypt alone.  They left Egypt comprised of both the physical descendants of Israel AND the “mixed multitude” of Gentiles, just as God defined Israel in Genesis 35: “a nation and a multitude of nations.”  And after they cross the Jordan River, they continued to grow in the amount of “mixed multitude” of Gentiles that were part of Israel; for example, with Rahab and her family, Ruth, Doeg the Edomite, etc.  And more recently, me and my wife.

ISRAEL – THOSE WHOM GOD HAS CREATED, FORMED AND REDEEMED

Just as we read earlier, God created a whole new being called “Israel.”  Before God created him, Israel did not exist.  But He also formed him in that he made him from someone who already existed, Jacob.  So Israel was both “created” and “formed.” God refers to this in this verse.

But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! (Isaiah 43:1)

Here we learn that God not only redeemed Israel, but he was called by name.  Israel belongs to God; they are His people.  But not only did God call “Israel” by name, but I believe this implies that everyone who will comprise His people, Israel, He will also call by name.  We speaks more about this six verses later:

Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made.  (Isaiah 43:7)

And then, in the next chapter, we learn,

But now listen, O Jacob, My servant; And Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus says the LORD who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you, Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; and you Jeshurun whom I have chosen.  (Isaiah 44:1-2)

Again we learn that Israel is God’s servant, they have been personally chosen by God.  He made and formed each one of them, as He has the rest of us, but we should remember Paul’s description of the “unsaved Gentile world,”

remember that you were at that time separate from Christ [Messiah], excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  (Ephesians 2:12)

ISRAEL – GOD’S COVENANT PEOPLE

Throughout the Scriptures, Israel is seen as a people who are to live their lives in accordance to the covenants that God had made with them.  Each of these covenants build on one another, they do not replace any of the earlier covenants as Christianity teaches.  For example, there’s the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 15, 17); the Sinai covenant (Exodus 12 – Deuteronomy); the Levitic /Priesthood covenant (Numbers 25:11-13); the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-16; I Chronicles 17:7-14); the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34); and the coming covenant of peace (Ezekiel 34:22-31; 37:15-28).  The whole history of Israel is of them being a covenant people. And each of us, who are in Messiah, are also called to be His covenant people.  We do not keep one covenant, but in some way, we keep them all.

ISRAEL – GOD’S SERVANT, HIS CHOSEN WITNESSES

Another thing that God says about Israel is that they are God’s servant, His chosen witnesses.  “You are My Servant, Israel, in Whom I will show My glory” (Isaiah 49:3).  Six chapters earlier, God describes Israel as His witnesses:

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen.  In order that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He.  Before Me there was no God formed, and there be none after Me.  I, even I, am the LORD; and there is no savior besides Me.  It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange god among you.  So you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD.  (Isaiah 43:10-12)

God has chosen Israel to be His witnesses of who He is, what He is like, what He’s not like, and what He has required of us.  As Micah writes,

He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.  (Micah 6:8)

There is so much about God and His Word we would not know, if not for Israel and the Jewish people.

WHAT GOD HAS SAID ABOUT YOU & ME

And the same callings, responsibilities and privileges that God has given to Israel, He gives to all those who are His, because He makes us all a part of Israel.  Now does that mean I believe that the believer in Messiah has in some way replaced the Jewish people? (Replacement Theology) Absolutely not!  Nor do I believe that God has placed Israel on the “back burner,” and that God is only working through “the church,” referring to some religious entity that is different than Israel (Dispensationalism).

Instead, I believe that we are engrafted into Israel, that we are to be One (Heb. echad) like God Himself.  We are to be One (‘echad) with Him, and we are to be One (‘echad) with one another, just as Yeshua (Jesus) prayed the night before His crucifixion (John 17:22-23).  And not only is God’s desire for us all, Jew and Christian, to be One, but that  we who are not of Jewish descent partake with them (the Jewish people), as Paul wrote in Romans 11,

And if some of the branches [Jews] are broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, was GRAFTED IN AMONG THEM, and WITH THEM partake of the root and fatness of the Olive Tree [Israel].  (Romans 11:17)

ISRAEL” is the name of God’s Kingdom that He began with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God’s intention is that we would all be part of ONE FAMILY, just as Rahab and Ruth, two Gentile women, became a part of the family of ISRAEL.   Now does that mean that I completely endorse everything that the present state of Israel does?  No, but by the same taken, I also don’t endorse everything that my own country, the United States, does either.  But we need to understand what God wants ISRAEL to be, and I believe when the Messiah returns, ISRAEL will become all that He wants them – and us – to become.

WHAT GOD HAS SAID TO MY WIFE AND I

When my wife and I went to ISRAEL, and are planning on going again, we want to learn from the people there, to be their friends, just as we hope that they will also learn from us, and want to be our friends as well.  But this is our attitude not only when we go to ISRAEL, but wherever we go.  But God has told us in prayer and in revelations to us over the years that there are certain things that He expects of us.  The following is a list of many of those things of where we are now, but He didn’t with all of this.  It has accumulated over the years.

  • He has chosen us and called us by name;
  • It was He who created us and formed us;
  • It was His plan from the very beginning that we should get married to one another;
  • He was the One who called us to be His witnesses to the nations;
  • He is the One who has given us the insights and revelations about Him and His Kingdom;
  • He has saved us, redeemed us, and kept us safe many different times;
  • He told us that He wants and longs for a relationship with us to be a holy one, because He can’t live in an unholy Temple.  It is detestable to Him, and He will puke us out;
  • He told us that Paul remained a believing Pharisee all of his life, and that there’s many things that Paul has written that Christians do not properly understand because of many different things;
  • He told us that He does not believe that many Christians love Him because they do not talk about Him with others, they are more passionate about football and sports than they are about Him, and they do not keep His commandments;
  • He has told us that we are not to celebrate Christmas, Easter, Lent, or Halloween.  These were never His holidays at all;
  • He has told us that we are to observe His Shabbat;
  • He has told us that we are to observe all of His feasts;
  • He has told us to keep the purity laws;
  • He has told us that we are to eat only kosher, those foods that He said in His word His people are to eat, and we are not to eat anything that He has called unclean;
  • He told me in prayer that I am to live as closely to the life of an Orthodox Jewish man as possible without violating His Scriptures;
  • He has told me to wear tzitzit, to pray wearing a prayer shawl, and to wear a kippah;
  • He has called me ben Torah, the son of His Torah, and my wife bat Torah, the daughter of His Torah;
  • He is calling my wife and I to Israel; and
  • He has told us that we are to teach all people, Jew and non-Jew alike, to believe in Yeshua (Jesus) and to be baptized (or immersed) in water for the remission of sins, AND we are also to teach them to obey the Torah, the writings of Moses, and the rest of the Bible as well.

Many Christians have questioned whether I’ve really heard from God, but it was the LORD Yeshua (Jesus) Himself who audibly spoke to me in my bedroom early one morning.  It was He who has called us to do these things.  Many people don’t believe me when I tell them that the Lord audibly spoke to me, but it is true, and I know it is true.  So if we were not to do what He has told us to do, then we would be breaking His commands to us, and it would be sin to us.  Of that, I have no doubt.

I am also sure that Christianity is wrong when it comes to the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, and many of Paul’s ideas about the law.  God’s desire is that we would be filled with His Spirit, and that we would love living out His Torah, keeping the Sabbath and His feasts, and all of His other commandments, and that His Word, including all of His commandments, would reside within our minds and in our hearts.  He wants His words in the inside of us, in our guts.  He does not want His word sitting on a shelf collecting dust, as it does in many homes today of people.

But we are all ISRAEL, if we are physically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or whether we have been engrafted into ISRAEL when we put our faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the promised Messiah.  All of us in ISRAEL have the privilege and the responsibility to love God; to love His word, the Torah; and to love one another.  If a Jew, Paul says, does not obey God and listen to the prophet “like unto Moses” (i.e., the Messiah Yeshua), then he is in violation of the Torah.  And like the Jew, if the Christian, or any other person, does not obey God’s word, including the commandments that He gave to Moses, then he too is in violation of God’s Word.

The division we see between ISRAEL and the Church isn’t really there.  It is a man-made division.  There have always been those who said they were God’s people, but they did not live their life in obedience to Him.  This is true of people in ISRAEL and it is true of those who identify themselves as being in the church.  They didn’t love God and they didn’t keep the Torah as God instructed them to do.

WE NEED TO GET READY FOR THE COMING OF MESSIAH AND HIS KINGDOM

But if we are going to be ready for the return of the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua, and the establishment of His Kingdom here on earth, we need to begin living in obedience to all of God’s word, not just some parts we happen to decide that we like.  If we don’t, we won’t make it.

There are many people in our churches today who think that when they die or when the Lord returns that they will be going to heaven, but they are going to be sadly shocked and surprised when they discover too late that they will not be going to heaven at all, but they will be spending eternity in the lake of fire and brimstone.  The time is quickly coming to an end, and just as God shut the door of the Ark, and then destruction fell upon the earth, so the door of salvation is about to be closed, and soon, the time will come when it will be too late, and the door will be closed.  And once closed, it will not be re-opened.  Sudden destruction will fall, as it did the days of Noah and in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all who didn’t make it will be destroyed.

Think about it and make the right choice.  We know what God has called upon our lives, and we are not going to stop now.  We will continue.  We can only ask that you think about it, seek God, ask Him what you should do, and follow His directions.  If you hear a voice that directs you to violate His commandments or to go against His Word, please know that this voice that you hear is not God’s voice since God does not violate or oppose His Word.

Blessings and Shalom be to all of you.

 

 

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PRAISE – A Technique in Critical Thinking to Enhance Biblical Study

In God, whose word I PRAISE, In the LORD, whose word I PRAISE” (Psalm 56:10, NASB; emphasis mine)

STUDYING THE BIBLE – A FORM OF PRAISE?

DID YOU KNOW THAT READING AND STUDYING THE BIBLE IS A FORM OF PRAISE?  PRAISE happens when we elevate God in our lives.  It’s not just part of a church worship service, but PRAISE should be something that we live each and every day.  For example,  some ways we can PRAISE God is by telling others about Jesus, being a friend to the homeless, really listening to others, giving people a shoulder to cry on, and showing Christ’s love and compassion to those who are in need.  In all these ways, we elevate God, or PRAISE God, by being His voice, His hands, and His feet.  Another way, we can PRAISE God is by loving Him “with all of our mind,” but how do we do that?  We elevate and show Him PRAISE by reading and studying His Word.

HOW DO WE STUDY THE BIBLE?

But how do we study the Bible?  Do we just read it over and over again until we finally figure it out, or how do we do it?  And are we just to blindly accept whatever we read, or can we critically think about what we are reading?  In my two-part series, “Critical Thinking & the Bible” (Part 1 and Part 2), we discussed how God does not expect us to turn off our brains when we enter a church or read our Bibles, but we are to love God with all of our mind, and this includes our ability to engage in critical thinking.  But once we cross that hurdle, the next question that many believers have regarding the Bible is “How do I approach the Bible?  What can I do to help me understand it?”

It’s important to remember when looking at any text, not just the Bible, that not all reading materials are the same.  Some things we read for their entertainment value, like novels, short stories, poetry, etc., but there are other things we read for their instructional value, like college textbooks and the Bible.  And even among non-fictional materials, the difficulty level will vary from text to text.

SOME ERRONEOUS ASSUMPTIONS

Part of the reason why people find the Bible difficult to read and study is because they have some erroneous preconceptions about it.

The Bible is one book.  Many people erroneously view the Bible as a single book, but it’s not.  The word “Bible” comes from the Koine Greek word τὰ βιβλία (tà biblía), “the books.” The Bible is, in fact, not one book but a collection of books and epistles (a special form of letter), written over a time period of 1,500 years by 40 different authors.  In a real sense, the Bible is a portable mini-library of different types and forms of writings, and yet, in spite of that, the Bible presents a single overall narrative and perspective throughout.

The Bible is Two Separate Revelations.  There are many people who have been taught that the Bible is comprised of two separate revelations: the Old Testament and the New Testament.   However, this is not true.  What we see in the New Testament is actually God working on aspects of the Old Testament, which had not yet been addressed or completed.  Also, according to the Old Testament, there’s another covenant coming when Jesus returns, which will address other aspects and parts of the Old Testament, not to mention the 500 Messianic prophecies which have yet to be fulfilled; consequently, then, for people to say that the Old Testament has been completely fulfilled is obviously not the case.

 The Bible is Full of Stories.  Many people approach the Bible, like they would a novel, thinking that it’s the type of reading one does for entertainment, only to discover not far into it, that there are many different types of writing all mixed together.  And then they’re confused, wondering how all of these things are connected.  The fact is that the Bible was never intended to be read for entertainment, but for instruction.  Someone once said that the word BIBLE means “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” and although the concept of the Bible as containing “instructions” is correct, but a good deal of it, I would argue, is not, in fact,  “basic.”

The Bible – Our Textbook Manual?

In many ways, the Bible is “an instruction manual,” like a textbook, since it contains information that we are to learn through study and research.  In fact, the Hebrew word that’s repeatedly used throughout the Old Testament for the Scriptures is Torah (pron. “toh-rah“), which is usually translated as “law,” but it means “instruction, teaching, guidance, or directives.”  Consequently, the Bible has not been designed by God to be merely read, but to be analyzed and studied, and then incorporated into our lives.

From the beginning, God has used an educational paradigm.  He is the Teacher, we are His students (which is what the word “disciples” mean), the Bible is our textbook, and life is our classroom.  And in life, God allows us to go through various situations to “test us” to see how much of the “textbook” (the Bible) we have learned and made a part of our lives.  And just like in school, we are rewarded (blessed) when we do well on the “tests,” but we are penalized when we don’t do well.

PRAISE – A SYSTEMATIC APPROACH

As a reading specialist for eight years and as a college English instructor for twenty-five years, I have taught the same basic approach to literally thousands of students (about 6,000 students in total) on how to study various forms of writing in order to help them heighten their understanding of any topic, issue, or idea.  And I apply many of these ideas to my own study of the Bible, and I want to share them with you here, in the hopes that it will help you in your study of the Scriptures.  As students of His Word —

we want to RAISE our knowledge of the material,
we want to RAISE our understanding,
we want to RAISE our ability to discern truth from fiction/deception, and
we want to RAISE our effectiveness in communicating God’s Word to others.

And because we are studying the Bible, we should begin with prayer; therefore, when we add the “P” to “RAISE,” we get the acronym that I like to use for this approach, PRAISE.

P – PRAY.

We should always begin our study of the Word with prayer.  Unlike other books, we have the privilege to ask the author personally to guide us in our reading and understanding of the text as we are studying His Word, “our textbook.”  In your prayer, you may want to include Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful [extraordinary, miraculous, astonishing] things from Your law [Heb. Torah],” and Psalm 119:34, “Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law [Torah], and keep it with all my heart.”

R – READ.

Once we pray, we should read our selected passage the first time just to get a feel for the text.  Then once we read it, we should write down a couple of thoughts about what we read.  Then as we’re reading it the second and third time, we need to ANNOTATE the text.

What does it mean to “ANNOTATE” the text?   To annotate means to “add your own notes and comments in the margins of the text.”  The more we can actively interact with a text, the easier it is to not only understand the text, but also the easier it is to remember it.  Now there are two types of annotations: CLOSE READING and ACTIVE READING.

CLOSE READING.   In CLOSE READING, the goal is to try and understand what the author is saying.  This isn’t the time yet to interject our own feelings and thoughts, but just to understand the view point of the writer.  So in this first step, we want to write down what the author is saying in our own words (called a summary).
Also,  you may want to write down anything that sticks out for you or that you consider “memorable.”  And finally, you might also note any vocabulary you don’t know, any interesting wording or poetical language, or any particular themes you see within the text.

ACTIVE READING.  In ACTIVE READING, you want to directly and actively interact with the text, so now is the time you want to write down your own thoughts, comments, questions, arguments and any connections you may feel with the text.

The more you can connect with the text and interact with it, the easier it is to learn it and to memorize it.  Consequently, these are very helpful steps to take.

A – ANALYZE

What is “ANALYSIS“?  ANALYSIS is the process of breaking down a topic, chapter, or passage into its smaller parts to gain a better understanding of it.  And this process involves the following four steps:

Break something down into its smaller component  parts.  (Dissecting)  The easiest way to learn something is to break it down into smaller “chunks.”  The idea of analysis isn’t just to gain a surface level knowledge of something, but to go deeper, beyond the surface, to a much more intimate knowledge of the text.

Examine, identify, and understand each of the parts.  Once you’ve broken it down into its smaller “chunks,” the first thing you want to do is to examine, identify and understand each of the parts.  Who wrote this particular book?  Who was the intended audience?  What was going on at the time?  What was the author trying to accomplish in and through this piece of writing?  What does this particular part say?  What do the words mean in English?  What do they mean in the Hebrew or the Greek?

Examine, identify, and understand how the parts relate to one another.  Once you have done this to each particular part, then examine, identify and understand how the parts relate to one another.  What’s the relationship between part A and part B?  By putting these parts together the way that the author did, what is the author trying to say?  What does their relationship imply or suggest?

Examine, identify, and understand how the parts work together to formulate the whole.  Finally, examine, identify and understand how all the parts work together to formulate the overall message of the text.

As we can see, analysis involves much more than just a passive knowledge of the text.

I –  INTERPRET.

An assumed part of the process of analysis is “INTERPRETATION.”  To INTERPRET means to ascribe (or give) meaning, purpose, or significance to something.    It answers questions like –

  • What does this mean?
  • What is the meaning and/or significance of the this idea, phrase, image, or symbol to the overall piece?
  • What purpose does it serve in the text, chapter, or passage?
  • Why did the writer use this idea, phrase, image or symbol?  What was he or she trying to say by doing so?
  • What assumption(s) can be inferred (or logically drawn) from its use?
  • Do most people understand this item in the same way?  Why or why not?

So as we go through the process of analysis, we also provide our interpretation.  Obviously, the more we learn about the text, the more accurate our interpretation becomes.  In addition, we begin to see things implied and suggested in and through the text that the casual reader completely overlooks.

S – SYNTHESIZE.

What do we mean by “SYNTHESIZE“?  To SYNTHESIZE means to recombine the separate elements that we’ve now learned through the ANALYSIS and INTERPRETATION into a complete whole using our new understanding as a guide.  In essence, in ANALYSIS and INTERPRETATION we took things apart, but in SYNTHESIS, we are putting together again. but we are using our new understanding that we’ve gained as we do so.

E – EVALUATE.

The final step in this process is EVALUATION.  What do we mean by “EVALUATE“?  After going through this process, let’s now bring what we’ve learned forward to our day and time to our own lives and to our world today.  For example, as students of the Word, we want to EVALUATE our conformity (or lack of conformity) to the Word.  In what areas of our life are we conforming to what the Bible teaches?  And in what areas are we not conforming?  What do we need to continue to work on?

“BUT ISN’T THE BIBLE SUPPOSE TO BE EASY TO UNDERSTAND?”

There are many pastors, ministers and Bible teachers who have continued to teach the half-truth that “the Bible is so easy a child could understand it.”  And there are some parts that are easy on the surface to understand, but there are also other parts where this is far from the truth.  For example, I’ve yet to see a child read the book of Leviticus, Ezekiel’s visions,  Zechariah, or even Revelation and be able to sit down with me and give a comprehensive overview of the text.  And God designed His Word that way.  Some parts are for us when we are a spiritual baby, and then as we begin to grow spiritually, other parts of the Bible begin to open up to us and make sense.  Not all of the Bible is “milk” (the basics; I Peter 2:2); there are the parts that make up the “meat”(advanced level studies; I Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:12-14; ), and these parts are not digestible until we’ve “cut” our “spiritual teeth.”

PRAISE – OUR GOAL AS GOD’S PEOPLE

So as God’s people we are to live our lives in PRAISE of Him, and using this approach, we can gain a deeper understanding of God and His Word by this method of PRAISE.  So let’s not PRAISE Him in word only on Sunday mornings, or during our worship services, but let us PRAISE Him every day of our lives by how we live, by how we interact with others, by how we share Him, His Kingdom, and our “Kingdom Manual” with others and, of course, let us PRAISE Him in how we approach and study His Word.

 

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Was Jesus and His Family “Tzaddik Nazarites”?

I am asking this question due to Eusebius’ description of James (actually “Jacob”) in his book on early church history.  Eusebius (260-340 C.E.), who was born in Palestine and was the bishop of Caesarea, is commonly known as “The Father of Church History,” since he was the first to trace the rise of the early Christian church in its first three centuries.

In his book, he quotes an earlier historian, Hegesippus, whose writings have been largely lost to history.  But in his history, Hegesippus, provides us with this description of “James the just.”

James, the brother of the Lord, who, as there were many of this name, was surnamed the Just by all, from the days of our Lord until now, received the government of the church with the apostles.  This apostle was concentrated from his mother’s womb.  He drank neither wine nor fermented liquors, and abstained from animal food.  A razor never came upon his head, he never anointed with oil, and never used a bath.  He alone was allowed to enter the sanctuary.  He never wore woolen, but linen garments.  He was in the habit of entering the temple alone and was often found upon his bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people, so that his knees became as hard as camel’s, in consequence of his habitual supplication and kneeling before God. And indeed, on account of his exceeding great piety, he was called the Just, and Oblias (or Zaddick and Ozleam) which signifies justice and protection of the people; as the prophets declare concerning him. (Book 2, chapter 23, lines 4-7)

Now according to this description, James was a Nazarite from birth, just like the Samson, Samuel the prophet, and John the Baptist.  In addition, he was a vegetarian, since he didn’t eat meat.  Now when he writes that he “never used a bath,” I’m wondering if he meant that he never used any of the “public baths,” which were associated with Greek and Roman idols?

Now if James was called “the Just” because of all this, could it be that Joseph was the same way?  In the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph is also called “Just” (Matthew 1:19).  And, of course, the ultimate in “Just” men is the Lord Jesus Himself.  So is it possible that all the men in Jesus’ family were not only “Nazarites,” but also “Tzaddiks” who were “just”?

A Tzaddik is a technical term that “carries the meaning of doing what is correct and just” (“What is a Tzaddik?” Chabad.org)  He goes to great pains to make sure that everything is done exactly the way that God commanded, even if it jeopardizes his own life.  For example, in the Scriptures, we learn that Jesus’ family went down from Nazareth to Jerusalem for Passover every single year.  Not only was this journey expensive, it was extremely dangerous since there were thieves waiting to rob unsuspecting travelers (remember, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan?)  Most people made it down at least once in a lifetime, or perhaps, a few times more.  But for jesus’ family, it was an annual journey!

Another interesting thing about Jesus’ family was that Mary was the political activist in the family; whereas, Joseph was more religiously wired.  When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, he talked to her about political things: Her Son, Jesus, would be given “the throne of His father David,” and He would “reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His Kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33), but when the same angel, Gabriel, goes to Joseph, he doesn’t say any of these things to him.  Instead, he gives him a spiritual reason why he is to name the baby “Jesus:” “and you shall call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Can you imagine the scene?  The family gathering of an Orthodox Jewish family, and perhaps by the standards of the day, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family of Tzaddik, Nazarite men, the daughters we’re really aren’t told anything about them, but then there’s this political activist mother in the midst of them all.  For her, who probably expected so much from Jesus, “a liberated homeland for her people,” based on what the angel had told her, the crucifixion of Jesus would’ve indeed been “a sword piercing her heart” (Luke 2:35).

And if this was the character and nature of Joseph and his household, then I can’t think of a single Jesus film that’s been made that comes even close to representing this view of Jesus and His family.  what about you?  Can you think of a film that comes close?

Of course, all of this is speculation based on what information is provided in the Bible and in the writings of Eusebius.  But what are your thoughts on this?  Do you also see this as a possibility, or do you disagree?  I’m curious to hear your ideas on this.  Because the better we understand Jesus and His family, His home life, I think we have a deeper insight into the person of Jesus, and the character and nature of His original movement.

 

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“HAS PAUL REPLACED JESUS AS HEAD OF THE CHURCH?”

IS PAUL NOW THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH?  According to a growing number of Christians, pastors, ministers, and Bible teachers, this is the case. Not only do these “Christians” believe that they are to follow the leadership of Paul, instead of Jesus, but they also believe that Paul’s gospel is the one that saves, and not the gospel proclaimed and taught by Jesus Himself!  But how could people so distort and pervert the Bible that they’ve ended up excommunicated Jesus and His gospel from His own church?

This deception and error is predicated on three basic building blocks: (1) the cross is the dividing line between the Old and New Testament; (2) Christians are not under the Old Testament; and since (3) Jesus’ life and ministry is under the Old Testament, Christians are not under Jesus’ life and teachings.  As I am going to show, each of these three building blocks is a direct contradiction to the teachings of the Bible.

THE CROSS – THE GREAT DIVIDING LINE?

First of all, it is commonly being taught that the cross is the great dividing line between the Old and New Testament; however, this is NOT true.  Jesus clearly taught that the end of the Old Testament was JOHN THE BAPTIST, NOT THE CROSS:

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.  For ALL THE PROPHETS AND THE LAW PROPHESIED UNTIL JOHN.  (Matthew 11:12-13; Emphasis Mine)

THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS WERE UNTIL JOHN: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presses into it.   (Luke 16:16; Emphasis Mine)

In both of these passages, Jesus makes it clear that the PROPHETIC ASPECT of the Old Testament ended with John the Baptist, he being THE LAST OLD TESTAMENT PROPHET, but the Old Testament itself has NOT ended!  It did NOT end with the cross! What many Christians don’t understand is that the word “New” in “New Testament” or “New Covenant” means “to renew” – NOT “to replace.”  And if you actually go back and read the prophecy of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34, what God changes is NOT the covenant, but the LOCATION of the covenant, and by doing so, He changes us!  Since the problem was not with the covenant – but with us!

The Old Testament could NOT have ended at the cross, because not everything in the Old Testament has been fulfilled.  There’s a great many prophecies that still await fulfillment, including the final restoration of Israel and the rule and reign of Messiah on the Davidic throne.  In fact, there are 800 Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, and Jesus fulfilled 300 of those in His first coming; therefore, there are still 500 Messianic prophecies left to be fulfilled when He returns.  So if there are that many Messianic prophecies left to be fulfilled, how could the Old Testament have ended at the cross?

In fact, there are more prophecies and information given in the Old Testament regarding the last days, including those ahead for us than there are in the New Testament.  Also, there’s still yet to come another covenant, according to the prophets, called “the Covenant of Peace” (Ezekiel 34:23-31; Ezekiel 37:15-28), which does not deal with changing people’s hearts, moving the location of the covenant, or the forgiveness of sins as is in the New Covenant/Testament (Jeremiah 31:31-34); instead, it deals with the final restoration of Israel, physical peace, safety and security, and God’s blessings, not at all the same issues.  The “Covenant of Peace” is a perfect covenant for the 1,000 year Millennial reign of Messiah!  All of which is still future, so again, how could the Old Testament have ended at the cross?

Their assumption that it did is based on two erroneous interpretations:

  1.  JESUS SAID, “IT IS FINISHED!” Many Christians think that this statement and the one made in the Sermon on the Mount, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, TILL ALL BE FULFILLED” (Matthew 5:17; Emphasis Mine] are connected.  Many conclude that since Jesus said the Law and the Prophets would continue until “ALL BE FULFILLED,” and on the cross, He said, “IT IS FINISHED!” Then the Law and the Prophets are now over.  However, this is NOT the case.   These are two different statements made in two different contexts and are NOT interlinked.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that not one single jot or tittle will pass from the Law or the prophets UNTIL HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY.  Why?  Because the HEAVEN AND EARTH are the two witnesses that God called to witness the covenant that He made with Israel at Mt. Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:26-31; 30:19).  So as long as the two witnesses exist, God cannot delete anything from His Word, because the moment He does, then HEAVEN AND EARTH, the two witnesses will bear witness against God Himself!   Therefore, when HEAVEN AND EARTH pass away (Revelation 21), as Jesus says, THEN God will be able to delete material from His covenants, but NOT until then!

2.  THE TEARING OF THE TEMPLE VEIL.  Because the Temple veil is torn after Jesus cries out, “It is finished!” Christians have been taught to believe that His death brought an end to the Law and the Old Testament; however, this belief is based on a logical fallacy, called “Post Hoc Ergo Proctor Hoc” (Latin, “After this, therefore because of this”).   This fallacy happens when people believe that just because two events happen together in time that the one event caused the other.  This is, in fact, where many of our superstitions came from, e.g., a mirror breaks and then someone has a bad day; therefore, they conclude that breaking a mirror will bring bad luck.  It’s the same type of logical conclusion.  But as I have previously proven in another article that throughout the Scriptures, the tearing of cloth is an act of mourning.  God had just witnessed the torture and death of His own beloved Son, and in response, God did what any normal loving Jewish father would’ve done in that situation, He took the cloth over His heart – the Temple veil – and He tore it from top to bottom to mourn the death of His Son, and by doing so, He also identified Jesus as His Son (see article: “Why did God Tear the Temple Veil in Half?  Not for the Reason You Think“).

CHRISTIANS ARE NOT UNDER THE OLD TESTAMENT?

Christians are just a “New Testament” name for Gentile (or non-Jewish) believers in God and in His chosen Anointed One (or Messiah).  Because Christians don’t take the time to study the Old Testament, what they don’t realize is that everything in the New Testament ties in to God’s promise of Israel’s Restoration.  In fact, in the book of Isaiah, God gives Jesus, the Messiah, His “mission statement”:

It is a light thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that You may be My salvation unto the end of the earth.  (Isaiah 49:6)

Did you notice that there are three parts to this:

  • To raise up the tribes of Jacob;
  • To restore the preserved of Israel; and
  • To be a light to the Gentiles.

Why?  So that He, the Messiah, “may be My salvation unto the end of the earth.”  This would include finding and restoring the descendants of the Northern Kingdom of Israel; restoring those from the southern Kingdom of Judah (the “Jews”); and also being the light of salvation to us who are Gentiles (non-Jews).  We see this also in Isaiah 42:6-7,

I the LORD have called You in righteousness,  and will hold your hand, and will keep You, and give You for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.

This is what the new covenant is really all about.

ABOUT THE EKKLESIA – ISRAEL?

Did you know that throughout the Greek translation of the Old Testament that Israel is referred to as the Ekklesia, or what is translated in the New Testament as “church.”  That’s right, the Ekklesia did not begin in the upper room in Acts 2, but in Exodus 12, with the first Passover.  And where do we see Jesus first use the word Ekklesia or “church”?  Yes, in Philippi, Caesara, right before Jesus and His disciples were going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.   In fact, in the King James Version, we read as part of Stephen’s defense the following:

This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the LORD God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me [Moses]: Him shall you hear. [Deuteronomy 18:3-4]  This is he, that was in THE CHURCH IN THE WILDERNESS with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us. (Acts 7:37-38)

If the Church was not born until Acts 2, then how was Moses in “the Church” in the wilderness?  The church, like grace, was not a New Testament revelation, but Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom, to bring Israel back to Kingdom and away from religion, to initiate the new covenant and the process of Israel’s restoration, to deal with the sin issue by His death and resurrection, and to keep His promise to Abraham by dying on Passover.  This is why Jesus came, not to begin a “new entity” called “the church.”

Consequently, what Christians have called “the church age” is really God reaching into the nations and working to restore back to Himself three groups of people: (1) those from the Northern Kingdom; (2) those from the Southern Kingdom (Jews); and those of us from the nations, or Gentiles (non-Jews).  The alleged “church age” is really been about Jesus fulfilling His mission statement given in Isaiah 49:6.

THE NEW COVENANT – ISRAEL’S RESTORATION

Throughout the Old Testament, we find almost as many Gentile (or non-Jewish) believers in it as we do in the New Testament.  In fact, all of God’s covenants were open to Jew and non-Jew, but all of them were specifically given to Israel, including the New Testament:

Behold, the days come, says the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL and THE HOUSE OF JUDAH.  (Jeremiah 31:31; Emphasis Mine)

Where in those words do you see that the LORD would “make a new covenant with the world”?  I don’t see those words anywhere here at all.  And who are “THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL” and “THE HOUSE OF JUDAH“?  The “House of Israel” is the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the “House of Judah” is the southern Kingdom of Judah.  After Solomon died, during his son’s Rehoboam’s reign, the Kingdom of Israel split into two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah.

But in the writings of the prophets, God promised one day that He would restore these two kingdoms together again into one Kingdom under one King, Messiah.  For example:

Thus says the LORD God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, wherever they’ve gone, and I will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:  And I will make them ONE NATION in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and ONE KING shall be king to them all; and they shall be NO MORE TWO NATIONS, neither shall they be divided into TWO KINGDOMS any more at all:…but I will save them out of all their dwelling places, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be My people, and I will be their God.  And David my servant [an image of Messiah] shall be king over them; and they all shall have ONE SHEPHERD; and they shall also walk in My judgments, and observe My statutes, and do them.  (Ezekiel 37:21-22, 23b, 24; Emphasis Mine)

I believe that this lies at the heart of the “gospel of the Kingdom” preached by John the Baptist, Jesus and His 82 disciples (the 12 plus the 70, see Luke 10:1, 17) preached in Israel for 3 1/2 years.  The new covenant was what God said He would use to bring His people back to Him and to bring about this re-unification of the two kingdoms.  This re-unification would not happen all at once, but over a long period of time.  Also notice, God says that when the two kingdoms are brought back under ONE KING, ONE SHEPHERD, that they would “walk in My judgments, and observe My statutes, and do them.”  Therefore, how does the new covenant replace God’s law, when it’s supposed to change our hearts so that we will keep God’s laws?

Jesus died to deal with our sin issue, to pay the penalty for our sins, to free us from the law of sin and death, but also, His death would provide the means for this re-unification of these two kingdoms to happen.  His death is, indeed, part of enacting the new covenant; and thereby, begin the process of Israel’s restoration.  This whole division between the Old and the New, and seeing it as a whole new and different program from the Old Testament, are all man-made creations.  They are not based on a whole Bible approach, but in separating the New Testament away from the rest of the Bible.

ALL COVENANTS ARE GIVEN TO ISRAEL

Paul writes in his letter to the church at Rome:

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:3-5)

Paul clearly says here, “the covenants” were given to the Israelites; this includes “the law,” “the service of God,” “the promises,” and ultimately “Christ” as well.  So where do we get the unbiblical idea that “the Old Testament was for the Jews, but the New Testament is for everyone”?  It’s just another man-made myth.

From Adam and Eve, up through to Abram and Sarah, there were no other people but Gentiles [non-Jews], but it is in the life of Abram, where we begin to see this change.  And it is not until God renames and re-creates Jacob into Israel, that Israel comes into existence, and from that moment, Jacob’s descendants became known as “Israelites,” or “the children of Israel.”  And it’s not until the Babylonian Exile, that those taken captive from the Southern Kingdom of Judah are first called “Jews.”

But throughout this history, Gentiles (or non-Jews) were able to also participate in the covenants with Abraham, with Moses and the children of Israel.  In fact, we find Gentiles (non-Jews) in and through the Old Testament, like Rahab, Ruth, Doeg, and many others, and just like the Old Testament, Gentiles (non-Jews) are allowed to participate with Israel in the new covenant as well.  Therefore, this is why I hold to the firm belief that the whole Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, is for all people for all time.

WE ARE ALL STILL PART OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT

Since the Old Testament did not end at the cross and is still continuing until the time period of the New Heavens and the New Earth, then obviously, we are still in the time frame of the Old Testament.  Part of our problem is that instead of seeing the Bible as one continuous revelation, we’ve been taught to split it into two parts, which we have entitled “Old Testament” and “New Testament.”  But in truth, if we study the Scriptures, the point of the new covenant is to change the heart of people so that they will walk in obedience to the commandments God gave to Moses.  For example,

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, that you may live…And you shall return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all His commandments which I command you this day.  (Deuteronomy 30:6, 8)

After those days, says the LORD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments, and do them.  (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

The point of the new covenant was NEVER to do away with God’s law or the Old Testament as a whole.  Instead, God is saying with the new covenant that He was going to do something to “renew” and/or “refresh” our experience with it.  This would be accomplished by God giving us “a new heart,” “a new spirit,” and Him putting His own Spirit in us,” transforming our lives, and empowering us “to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments, and do them.”

In fact, we could compare the Old Testament to an original computer program, and the New Testament to its most recent update.  If you operate without the update, you miss out on the new features for the program, but if you try to operate only the update, the program will either not run or not run properly.  To have the program run the way the manufacturer desires, you need to run both the original program and the update together: the Old and New Testament as ONE REVELATION, not two.

Obviously, then, as I’ve shown, all three of the building blocks that have led people to believe that the Old Testament has ended, that Christians are not under the Old Testament, and that Jesus’s life and ministry is under the Old Testament, so therefore, Christians are not under the life and teachings of Jesus are all man-made myths based on misinterpretations and misunderstandings, due to people basing things on only what they see in the New Testament, instead of the whole Bible.

THE PROMISE OF A NEW DAY

What we need to look forward to is the return of Jesus and the establishment of His Kingdom here on earth.  There is, indeed, a new Kingdom and a new day coming!  In Isaiah 60, God gives the city of Jerusalem, Israel, this promise about its coming glory:

Arise, shine, for your light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen on you.  For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon you, and His glory shall be seen on you.  And the Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising….

And the sons of strangers [non-Jews] shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister unto you: for in My wrath I smote you, but in My favor have I had mercy on you.  Therefore your gates shall be open continually: they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto you the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought.  For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; yes, those nations shall be utterly wasted.

Violence shall no more be heard in your land, wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.  The sun shall be no more your light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light to you: but the LORD shall be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory.  The sun shall no more go down; neither shall the moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.  (Isaiah 60:1-3, 10-12, 18-20)

What a wondrous day that will be!  Amen.

 

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Four Common Deadly Deceptions Being Preached in Today’s Churches (Pt. 1)

In the church today, there’s a great abundance of wolves and dangers, not only from outside the church, but also inside the church, as well as from those behind many of the pulpits in America.  Paul warned us of times like this prior to his final arrival in Jerusalem:

For I know this, that after my departing shall GRIEVOUS WOLVES enter in among you, NOT sparing the flock.  Also of YOUR OWN SELVES shall men arise, SPEAKING PERVERSE THINGS, to draw away disciples after them.  Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of THREE YEARS I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.  (Acts 20:29-31; Emphasis Mine)

Throughout the church’s history, it has been under attack from the outside and the inside, but in these last days, the deceptions and attacks have become more acceptable by the flock, destroying the lives of many.

Yes, the church is being deceived, and my wife and I have been standing up and yelling to the flock, “BE CAREFUL!  THERE ARE DANGERS!  WATCH OUT FOR THE WOLVES AND THE TRAPS!”  Some have listened, but some have not.  “Deceptions” are defined as “half-truths,” things taken out of context and misrepresented, or just lies that are presented as truth, and if you listen to many of the popular Christian New Testament Only (NTO) ministers and Bible teachers, their “deceptions” are being widely received and embraced by many within the church.  What we need are pastors, TV ministers and Bible teachers who believe in teaching the whole Word of God from cover to cover, but unfortunately, those are becoming increasingly hard to find.  So what are these deceptions being taught?  They are the following:

(1) All it takes to get saved is to pray the “sinner’s prayer;”
(2) Jesus’ life and teachings are not required for Christians; and
(3) To be saved, we can accept Jesus as our Savior without accepting Him as “Lord”; and
(4) Salvation is an event, NOT a life-long process.

(1) ALL IT TAKE TO GET SAVED IS TO PRAY THE “SINNER’S PRAYER”

The first error that’s being commonly taught among many Christian NTO pastors and teachers is that all it takes to get saved is to pray the “sinner’s prayer.”  For example, I was speaking to a minister friend of mine who said that he was at a funeral where the man who had died had lived his life as a gang member stealing, killing and raping women, and there in the congregation were many of his friends and family members who were leading similar lifestyles.  The minister who was conducting the service said to these people that he knew that this person was in heaven, because when he was five he had gone forward to accept the Lord.  Imagine what he had just told all these people?  You can steal, kill, rape and destroy all the lives you want, and still go to heaven, as long as you go forward, say the “sinner’s prayer,” and get your free “go to heaven ticket.”

The “sinner’s prayer” has become the modern day version of “circumcision” in the New Testament.  During Paul’s time, there were those who were saying that all one had to do to get saved and go to heaven was to “get circumcised.”  A minor operation for guys, and “bam,” instant ticket to heaven.  In the world today, it’s “the sinner’s prayer.”  Just go to church, or wherever, say the “sinner’s prayer,” and “bam,” instant ticket to heaven!  In fact, I’ve heard many pastors say after leading people through the “sinner’s prayer,” “I want you all to remember that today, at 12:17pm (or whatever time it was), that you’re now a child of God!  You’ve done everything that you need to do to go to heaven.”  But what these ministers don’t think about is what this strongly suggests: that we don’t have to develop a relationship with God and His Son Jesus Christ to go to heaven; instead, all we have to do is simply say the “sinner’s prayer.”  Even though this teaching about the “sinner’s prayer” does NOT line up at all with the teachings of Jesus or the rest of the Bible!

I think many people forget that through most of the history of the church, there were no altar calls, nor was there a “sinner’s prayer.”  Instead, when people wanted to publicly proclaim their allegiance and loyalty to Jesus Christ, they got baptized in water.  This is the pattern we see throughout the New Testament.  In fact, Jesus, Peter, Ananias, and Paul taught water baptism is an important part of repentance (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:12-16; and Romans 6:3-4).  Nor did the water baptism have to happen in church.  For example, Philip shared Christ with the Ethiopian Eunuch and then baptized him, as they were traveling along their journey and came across some water in Acts 8:26-40.

Also, Paul makes it quite clear in Romans 6 that we are not to live our lives any longer in sin.  In fact, Romans 6-8 is Paul’s argument about the fact that since we have died with Christ and been buried with Him in baptism, then we are no longer to live in submission to the control and power of sin.  And then in Romans 8, Paul writes that to be “carnally-minded,” to have your mind on fleshly desires and pleasures (e.g., sex, sensual pleasure, money and material wealth, pride, greed, coveting) “is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is ENMITY [HOSTILE, IN OPPOSITION AGAINST] God; for it is NOT subject to THE LAW OF GOD, neither indeed can be.  So then they that are in the FLESH CANNOT PLEASE GOD”  (Romans 8:5-8; Emphasis Mine).  And yet, somehow, according to these NTO preachers and teachers, you can go to heaven by simply saying a prayer, even when you continue to live a lifestyle that’s offensive and not pleasing to God.

By these people teaching this, they are discrediting the power of the cross to transform lives from a sinful, me-oriented life to a holy, God-oriented life.  Obviously, if these people continue in sin, even though they prayed the “sinner’s prayer,” then their continued disobedience only proves to others the weakness of the cross – NOT the power of the cross!   Jesus died to free us from the power and control of sin, so we could live a life of holiness before God, not so we could get our free ticket to heaven, while continuing to live in sin.

(2) JESUS’ LIFE AND TEACHINGS ARE NOT REQUIRED FOR CHRISTIANS.

Another error that’s being taught is that Jesus’ life and teachings isn’t for Christians, but it was ONLY for the Jews.  This bogus argument is based on the idea that the great dividing line between the Old and New Testament is the cross.  Therefore, since Jesus’ life and teachings were BEFORE the cross, they don’t apply to Christians.

Consider what this is actually saying:  They are saying that the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer, His parables, His description of eternal life, His warnings against Hell – NONE of this, according to them, is for Christians.  They say that the ONLY part of the New Testament that’s for Christians is from the cross on, or the last 32% of the Bible, which makes up less than 1/3!

But did Jesus ever say that He was part of the “Old Testament” as these pastors and teachers say?  No, He didn’t.  In fact, in Matthew 12, Jesus says in regard to John the Baptist,

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is GREATER than he.  And from the days of John the Baptist UNTIL NOW the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.  For ALL THE PROPHETS AND THE LAW prophesied UNTIL JOHN. (Matthew 11: 11-13)

This means that according to Jesus, Malachi is NOT the last Old Testament prophet, but instead, the last one was John the Baptist. Therefore, in contrast to these NTO pastors and teachers who again say the cross is the dividing line between Old and New Testament, JESUS HIMSELF said the dividing line was not the cross, but John the Baptist.  So who are we going to believe: Jesus or these NTO preachers and teachers?

I’ve seen these NTO preachers and teachers draw a line between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and then quote 2 Timothy 2:15 to justify their act.

Be diligent [and study] to present yourselves approved to God as a workman who does not need to to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.

However, when Paul wrote this verse, there wasn’t any New Testament.  Paul’s epistles had been written and the book of Matthew, but that was about it.  But they weren’t in any one collection; instead, they were being circulated around to the different churches.  The rest of the New Testament had not been written yet.  Therefore, the idea that when Paul wrote the words that have been translated as “handling accurately the word of truth” (NASB) or in the King James Version, “rightly dividing the word of truth” to mean to divide the Old and New Testament when there wasn’t yet a New Testament cannot possibly be right.

This is an example of them reading into the text – a mishandling of the text – instead of placing the text back into its proper context and understand it from that context.  You see, when we look at the original Hebrew and Greek documents – rather than our modern English translations – we would see in the original documents, no periods, no commas, no paragraphing, and no chapter breaks, so in order to properly know where one idea ends and another one begins, you have to be able to accurately know where to “divide the word of truth,” not just in one place, but every time there’s a change of an idea.

This is much more likely what Paul meant by this statement than this idea about dividing the Old and New Testament.  Their interpretation again only demonstrates that the NTO people who teach this are imposing their own denominational beliefs into the text, rather than placing the text back into its original historical, social, cultural and linguistic contexts.  Therefore, by doing this, they are clearly misusing Scripture, not properly teaching it.

But in looking at their messed-up doctrine, even though they say that what’s for Christians is from the cross on, they ignore Romans 8, and 2 Corinthians 16-17 and other passages like these, which contradict their teaching that salvation is acquired by only saying “the sinner’s prayer.”  So apparently, the part of the Bible they follow is even smaller than 32%.  And when you figure in that 80% of the New Testament is made up of quotes, references or allusions to the Old Testament, which according to them is not for today, then their Bible is down to maybe 15-18%.

But hey, if these ministers and teachers are right (I’m saying this sarcastically), then why not just send everyone in the world a card with the “sinner’s prayer” on it, and say, “Just pray this prayer, and you’ll receive eternal life and a home in heaven!  Nothing else required.”  Think about how much money and expenses churches could save not having to support missionaries at all, right?

But if that was all that it took, why would Jesus commission us to go DISCIPLE ALL THE NATIONS?  Notice, He didn’t say, “Go and make “saved people” or “religious people,” but to DISCIPLE people; therefore, it only seems logical to say that there is no real salvation apart from discipleship to Jesus Christ.  Therefore, we need missionaries, and we need to do all we can to support them.  Because as far as Jesus is concerned, if you are NOT one of His disciples, then you are NOT truly saved.  It’s really that simple.

In part 2, which will come out tomorrow, Friday, March 15, 2019, I’ll discuss the last two deceptions being preached.

 

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Does God Oppose the Celebration of Christmas?

DOES GOD OPPOSE THE CELEBRATION OF CHRISTMAS?  This may sound like a strange question to ask, but especially over the last couple of years, it has become much more significant to my wife and I.   For many people, Christmas represents family, love, a celebration with friends, partying, giving to others, and for Christians, the birth of Jesus Christ; after all, they say, He’s “The Reason for the Season.” So some may wonder, why would God be opposed to any of these things, especially the birth of His own Son?  But the hard truth is that God is, in fact, opposed to people connecting Him to the celebration of Christmas because of the pagan idolatrous origins of Christmas, as well as the celebration of it as Christ’s [Messiah’s] birthday, which is a lie and a deception, it also violates His Word, and it profanes the holiness of God.

CHRISTMAS – A DECEPTION?

First of all, before getting into the heart of the Christmas deception, here are two clear errors that churches teach about the birth of Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] that are not biblically true: the arrival of the wise men and the time of His birth.

The Arrival of the Wise Men

For example, Christians often teach that the wise men came to the manger to view the baby Jesus.  According to the Scriptures, the wise men did not even come to the manger, but to a house:

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  And when they were come into THE HOUSE, they saw THE YOUNG CHILD with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.  And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. (Matthew 2:10-12)

Notice that it was not in “a manger” they saw Christ [Messiah], but in “the house,” and He was not “an infant” but “a young child.”

Herod’s Inquiry & Killing of the Infants

Another proof that Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] was not an infant, but probably a toddler by the time the wise men saw Him is the conversation that Herod has with the wise men.  Once Herod had discovered where Messiah [Christ] was to be born [in Bethlehem], he privately called the wise men to speak with him:

Then Herod, when he had privately called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. (Matthew 2:7)

Then once Herod discovered later that the wise men had not come back to report to him where they had found the Messiah, he then became extremely angry and sent his troops to kill all the children that were two years or younger:

Then Herod when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent forth, and killed all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, FROM TWO YEARS OLD AND UNDER, ACCORDING TO THE TIME WHICH HE HAD DILIGENTLY INQUIRED OF THE WISE MEN.  (Matthew 2:16; Emphasis Mine)

If Jesus [Yeshua] had been an infant when the wise men came to see Him, Herod would have only had the soldiers kill all the newborn babies, but that is not what he did.  He specifically told them to kill all those “TWO YEARS AND UNDER,” based on the time given to him by the wise men.  This means that the wise men had told Herod that they had been traveling about 1 1/2 to 2 years, and therefore, the reasoning for Herod specifying the age of “two years and under.”

Mary’s Temple Sacrifices

Another proof that the wise men did not see Jesus at his birth is the animal sacrifice that Mary offered at the Temple.  According to Luke 2,

And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord.  (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. (Luke 2: 22-24)

How long, according to the Scriptures, was Mary to wait for her days of “purification” to be completed?  According to Leviticus 12:4, Mary would have had to have waited for 33 days before she could enter the Temple and offer her animal sacrifice to the Lord.  And a few verses later in the book of Leviticus, we read the following:

And when the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting [Temple in Mary’s time], a one year old lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering.  Then he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood.  This is the law for her who bears a child, whether a male or a female.  But if SHE CANNOT AFFORD A LAMB, then she shall take TWO TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.  (Leviticus 12:6-8)

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Mary brought “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” which is the sacrifice a woman would bring who COULD NOT AFFORD a lamb.  Now if the wise men had, in fact, arrived during the time of Christ’s [Messiah’s] birth and given Him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, then she would have presented a lamb for her sacrifice, as opposed to the sacrifice of a poor woman who could not afford the lamb.

So Why Do People Teach that the Wise Men Did Come to His Birth?

During the Middle Ages when the population could not read or write, there needed to be a way to tell the story of Christ’s [Messiah’s] birth in a way that the people could see and understand.  According to historians, the first nativity scene was created by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 A.D.  In Rachel Nuwer’s article “The First Nativity Scene was Created in 1223,” for the Smithsonian.com website, she writes,

The only historical account we have of Francis’ nativity scene comes from The Life of St. Francis of Assisi by St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan monk who was born five years before Francis’ death.

According to Bonaventure’s biography, St. Francis got permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals—an ox and an ass—in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio. He then invited the villagers to come gaze upon the scene while he preached about “the babe of Bethlehem.” (Francis was supposedly so overcome by emotion that he couldn’t say “Jesus.”) Bonaventure also claims that the hay used by Francis miraculously acquired the power to cure local cattle diseases and pestilences.

Within a couple of centuries, nativity scenes had spread throughout Europe. We don’t know if people actually played Mary and Joseph during Francis’ time, or whether they just imagined those figures’ presence. We do know that later scenes began incorporating dioramas and life actors, and the cast of characters gradually expanded beyond Mary, Joseph and sweet baby Jesus, to sometimes include an entire village. (December 14, 2012)

The Date of Christ’s [Messiah’s] Birth

Although many people argue that there is no way for certain to know the date of Christ’s [Messiah’s] birth, there are clues given in the Scriptures to figure it out.  Although there are many articles out there that argue one method or another for calculating the time of His birth, I would like to offer a simplistic approach.  According to researchers and traditional Christian teaching, based upon examining the Gospels and the feasts discussed in them, Christians state that Jesus [Yeshua] was 33 1/2 years old when He was crucified.

So let’s just take that information and use some logic here.  If Jesus [Yeshua] died when He was 33 1/2 years old, or 33 years 6 months, then He would have had His 33rd birthday 6 months before His death.  However, there’s no way you can get 6 months between December and March, the month of Passover that year.  However, if you count back 6 months from the month of March, you will arrive at the month of September.  This would mean that Jesus [Yeshua] was born in the Fall, not in the Winter.   This also supports my own personal opinion, based on the clues in Scripture, that Jesus [Yeshua] was born during the feast of Tabernacles (5 days after Yom Kippur on our calendars].

Some people argue that it would’ve had to have been in the Spring because the shepherds were out with the sheep, which normally happens in the Spring.  However, these were not regular shepherds.  These were shepherds who worked for King Herod, and they were raising sheep owned by him for the purpose of them being offered up as a sacrifice.  Since Herod was highly despised, it is not far-fetched to believe that some may try to kill his flocks, if left unattended, so that he would not be able to worship God in the Temple.  Thereby, bringing God’s wrath down upon him.  That being the case, I believe, particularly around the Fall feasts when sacrifices were expected to be given that Herod would have had shepherds out with the sheep every night during this time.

THE PAGAN ORIGINS OF CHRISTMAS

Now let’s get to the heart of the Christmas deception.  Originally, what we call the “Christmas Season” was known as two Roman pagan idolatrous feasts: the “Roman Saturnalia” and “Sol Invictus.”

There are many credible sources that demonstrate that the origin and roots of Christmas are derived from the Roman Saturnalia, such as the decorating of the tree, the exchanging of gifts, singing songs from house to house, eating baked goods [such as cookies] shaped like people, feasting, merrymaking, partying, and getting drunk.  In fact, the roots of the Christmas Tree go back even further than the Roman Saturnalia.  For example, in Jeremiah 10, God states through the prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dimayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.  For the customs of the people are vain [empty, worthless]: for one cuts a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.  They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.  They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs to be borne [or carried], because they cannot go.  Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. (Jeremiah 10:2-5)

Although people may not view the “Christmas Tree” as an actual god anymore, that does not deny the fact that its roots go back into ancient pagan idol worship.

Examples of sources to consult about the pagan origins and connections of Christmas are many.  For example, one could read the article “Saturnalia” at History.com, or the article “Is Christmas related to Saturnalia” at the Christian website, gotquestions.org, or even an older Christian source, Ralph Woodrow’s Babylon Mystery Religion: Ancient and Modern (1966) in his chapter on “The Winter Festival.”  And these are just a few of the sources that are out there.  In fact, according to the Christian source on gotquestions.com, during the time of the Roman empire, “the word Saturnalia became synonymous with immorality and carousing” (“Is Christmas related”).

The Christmas holiday also finds its roots in the Roman celebration of Sol Invictus (“Invincible Sun”) that celebrated the renewing of the Sun King [i.e., the sun god], Mithra, on December 25, and was linked to the winter solstice (“Is Christmas related”).

PAGAN FEASTS IN THE CHURCH?

During the time of the 4th century, A.D., there were large groups of people leaving the church to celebrate these pagan festivals to these other gods and goddesses.  In response, the Roman Catholic Church decided the best way to keep these people in the church was to create a “Christian alternative,” a mass for Christ – “Christ-mass” or “Christmas” – to these pagan festivals, much like modern churches are doing with Halloween.  In fact, the earliest mention of December 25 commemorating the birth of Christ is 354 A.D.  Obviously, then, “Christmas” did not originate with Christ or with the writings of His early disciples, and in contrast to Christian belief, Jesus is NOT “The Reason for the Season.”

The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church did eliminate some of the practices of the Saturnalia before bringing it into the church, such as people getting drunk, chasing women, going around naked as they sung songs from house to house, etc.  In addition, they changed December 25 from the renewing or birthday of the sun-god to the birthday of the Son of God, and then “Christianized” the reasoning for the other pagan-related activities, such as connecting the giving of gifts to the gifts given by the wise men.  This is likewise confirmed by the Christian site, gotquestions.com:

The early motive for celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 was the same that inspires modern churches to hold “Fall Festivals” or “Bible Costume Pasties” on October 31.  That is, to provide a spiritually positive alternative to what they perceive as a pagan celebration.  (“Is Christmas Related”)

Although this conservative Christian website readily acknowledges the pagan roots and connections of Christmas, it goes on to say,

So, Christians readily and comfortably acknowledge that the date, traditions, and long-term history of Christmas are connected to the pagan holidays of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus.  Yet, like a family celebrating a Bible Costume Party on October 31, it’s the people celebrating who decide what the celebration means.  (“Is Christmas related”)

Every pastor that I have personally spoken with about the pagan roots and connections of Christmas (as well as Lent, Easter, and obviously Halloween), they have taken the same position:  The origins of the holiday does not matter; all that matters is what is in the heart of the individual.

THE BIBLE IS NOT THE STANDARD OF WHAT WE DO?

Of course, this raises an important question: What is the basis and standard for what we do?  Is it the Bible, or is the secular world right and Truth is only relative, so that there isn’t any absolute standard of right and wrong.  It seems when it is convenient for Christians, they will say that the Bible is their only standard of faith and conduct, but when that same Bible contradicts and challenges what they are going, then it’s up to the individual.

CHRISTMAS – A VIOLATION OF SCRIPTURE?

But I question their position for a number of reasons.  First of all, I question it because the creation of “Christian alternatives” to pagan feasts is, in fact,  a violation of Scripture.  In Deuteronomy 12, God says,

When the LORD your God shall cut off the nations from before you, wherever you go to possess them, and you succeed them, and dwell in their land; take heed to yourself that you be not snared [trapped] by following them, after that they be destroyed from before you; and that you enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods?  even so will I do likewise.  You shall not do so unto the LORD your God: for every abomination to the LORD, which He hates, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.  What thing so ever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.  (Deuteronomy 12: 29-32)

This is not merely a passage forbidding child sacrifice; instead, the sacrifice of children is one example of pagan practices that He is addressing.  There are two basic principles here that are being taught within this passage:

  • Do NOT use the customs, traditions, practices, forms of worship, etc., that other nations use with their pagan gods, and use them with the LORD; and
  • Whatever God has commanded in His Word, that is what we are to do.  We are not to add to it, nor are we to subtract from it.

However, most churches get around this prohibition by teaching that the Law of God ended at the cross; therefore, this prohibition, they say, is no longer valid or relevant to them.  The other possible common response is that the Law of God is only for Israel, and it does not apply to the church, so again, this prohibition is seen as not valid or relevant to them.

“DOES THE END JUSTIFY THE MEANS?”

Another explanation offered for churches participating in these “Christian alternatives” is that by the church offering these alternatives, unsaved people come to church who normally would not and, therefore, have the opportunity to hear the gospel and get saved.  This sounds feasible and good, until you realize that “in the name of salvation,” Christians are disobeying God and His Word.

But the sad truth is that beginning back in the 4th century, A.D., and even today, people have not stopped to even ask God what He thinks about these man-made “Christian alternatives” to these pagan feasts and the church connecting His name to them.  The church has merely assumed that as long as people get saved, then God is okay with it and it is good to do.  But is this the way that God thinks and feels?

CHRISTMAS – A PROFANING OF GOD’S HOLINESS?

Even after reading this, some may argue that this is all just my opinion on the matter since no one actually knows what God really feels about these “Christian alternatives” that Christianity has brought into the church.  However, that is not so.  God has spoken to my wife, Karen, and He has also spoken to me in different ways reconfirming the fact that God is not only deeply offended by these pagan celebrations being brought into the church, but He also says that they profane His holiness.  The following is what God has spoken about this “holidays” by His Spirit:

I do not want My people dabbling in the things which I have said were unclean and unholy.  How can I, a holy God, be among the things that are unholy?  My people, you are profaning My name and causing Me to want to take you and remove you from My Holy Presence.  I cannot, and will not, I say, keep dwelling among a people who do not covet the same holy things that I covet.

Yes, I have in My commandments which I gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai, which says to not covet what is not yours, says God Almighty.  These wicked holidays that you are claiming to be yours are detestable in My eyes, says God Almighty.  How can you not see this in the Word of God that I have given you as a manual to understand the very heart of Me, says God.  I do not wish for any one of My children to have anything to do with the things of this world.  I will go farther than this, I can’t continue in a relationship with you because you are grieving the Holy Spirit that has come to be your Helper and to be your Guide.

Don’t profane My name and say you are trying to take something bad and turn it into something good for the sake of the church.  This is not true, says God.  You are doing it because you don’t care about hurting Me, says God.  If you cared about Me, you would see that I detest all the things you’re trying to push Me into.  I do not accept what you have done, and I don’t want anything more to be involved or put My name to that which is unholy and unacceptable to what My Word teaches. (“God Says: ‘My People Are Profaning My Name'”)

It seems clear that God does NOT endorse these “Christian alternatives” of pagan feasts and practices.  They offend Him to the point where He feels like spitting His people out in disgust.  The church needs to repent and to stop celebrating these pagan feasts.  I believe the question must be asked, “Why are we celebrating these ‘Christian alternatives’ to these pagan feasts and practices — Christmas, Lent, Easter, and more recently, Halloween – when God Himself has designed and given to us 7 feasts (and I personally would add Purim and Hanukkah)?  Why do we insist on setting aside what God Himself has given to us to celebrate feasts and practices whose origins and roots are pagan?  We need to repent, turn away from our sins, and begin walking in holiness and obedience to God and to His Word.

Works Cited

“Is Christmas related to Saturnalia?”  gotquestions.org.  Got Questions Ministries. 2017.  Web.  <http://www.gotquestions.org/Christmas-Saturnalia.html>

Nuwer, Rachel.  “The First Nativity Scene Was Created in 1223.”  Smithsonian.com.  Dec. 14, 2012.  Web.  <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-first-nativity-scene-was-created-in-1223-161485505>

“Saturnalia.” History.com.  n.d.  Web.  <http://www.history.com/topics/Saurnalia>

Verschage, Karen.  “God Says: ‘My People Are Profaning My Name.”  Karensshofar. wordpress.com.  June 19, 2016.  Web.  <http://karensshofar.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/god-says-my-people-are-profaning-my-name>

Woodrow, Ralph.  Babylon Mystery Religion: Ancient and Modern.  Riverside, CA.: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, Inc., 1978.  Print.
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Critical Thinking & Faith (Pt. 2): What is “Biblical Faith”?

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)

by Chris L. Verschage

In the first part of this series “Critical Thinking & Faith,” we discussed that most people have a long historical misperception of what biblical faith is.  It is NOT

  • merely the mental or verbal agreement or acknowledgment of a belief, a particular doctrine, or a set of doctrinal statements;
  • merely Calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” and Doing Good Works; or
  • “a Divine Force”

However, in this second part of this series, I would like to build on our previous study by exploring the question, “What is ‘Biblical Faith’?”

Some Basic Principles in Interpretation

Before exploring what “Biblical Faith” is, let’s establish some basic principles of interpretation.

  • When examining the Scriptures, we need to keep things in context.  To take any verse or passage out of its original context and you open the door to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.  Too many people think that just because it is the Bible, they can take all the rules of how to properly handle a text and “throw them out the window.” But you can’t.  The same rules apply.
  • When examining any biblical concept, we need to remember that we should always examine the concept first in the Tanakh (or Old Testament), and then in the New Testament.  God did not write the New Testament first and then the Tanakh/Old Testament, but the other way around.  Unfortunately, many Christians have been taught to read their Bible backwards – New Testament and then Old Testament –  which causes interpretational problems and misunderstandings when they get to the Tanakh or Old Testament.
  • To understand the basic, foundational meaning of any term, concept, or idea, you need to find where it is first mentioned or used in Scripture.  In Hermeneutics, this principle is known as “the Law of First Mention.”

Genesis 15 – It’s First Occurrence

The first occurrence of the word “faith” in its basic root form is in Genesis 15.  In Genesis 12, God calls Abram to leave his country and his father’s house, and He promises to make of Abram “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2).  Implying, of course, in that promise, is that Abram would have many children.  Abram gladly responded to this since he and his wife, Sarai, were childless.

In Genesis 15, it has now been several years, and he and Sarai still do not have any children.  It’s clear from the chapter that Abram has come to the point in his life when he has accepted that he is not going to have any children and that his servant, Eliezer of Damascus, is going to inherit everything from him (Genesis 15:2-3).  But in spite of this, God then reaffirms His promise to Abram and takes him outside to give him a visual to help build his faith:

And behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be your heir; but he that shall come forth out of your own bowels (or body) shall be your heir.  And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell (or count) the stars, if you are able to number them: and He said unto him, so shall your seed (descendants) be. (Genesis 15:4-5)

Now let’s think about this logically.  If we consider my student’s definition again from the first part of this series that “Faith is believing in something where there is no reason or evidence for it.  If there was evidence, then it wouldn’t be faith,” and so if this is true, then why did God take Abram outside to provide him with a visual to build his faith?  And what was Abram’s response to this visual that God was providing him?

And he believed in the LORD; and he counted to him as righteousness.  (Genesis 15:6; emphasis mine)

Abram “believed.”  His belief was based on the evidence of what He had heard and what He saw, and it was also based on the relationship that He had experienced so far with God. In other words, it was based on various forms of evidence.  This same verse is quoted (in full or in part) by the Apostle Paul (Heb. Rav Sha’ul Paulus; see Romans 4:3, 9, 22; Galatians 3:6) and by James (Heb. Ya’acov; see James 2:23).  Why is this verse used by both Paul (Rav Sha’ul) and James (Ya’acov)?  Because this is the first use of this concept, and as such, it establishes the foundational meaning of the term.

What Does It Mean “Believed”?

In English, the word “believed” means “mental agreement,” but in the Hebrew, the word used here is ‘aman (Strong’s #539), and it means “to trust; to believe.”  In fact, in the Greek translation of this verse, it uses the Greek word for “trust,” rather than “believe.” You see “trust” has a cost, but “belief” (or mental agreement) does not.  An example of this can be seen in the story of a man who tight-roped his way across Niagra Falls.  On the other side, there was a great crowd cheering him on.  When he reached the other side, people clapped and cheered.  He then asked them,

How many of you believe that I can make it back across to the other side?

Everyone raised their hands.  He then asked, “Who would like to get on my back?”  No one volunteered.  There was no cost to their belief, but there was a great cost to anyone who would trust him to carry them across on his back.  The same is true of biblical faith.  So one meaning of “faith” is trust.

Faith is not merely mentally accepting the concept of God, but it is trusting God with your life.

Abram was trusting God with his future, the hope that his family line would continue.  He was not merely acknowledging the possibility that God could exist, nor was he mentally agreeing with the idea that God does exist.  Instead, he was trusting God to come through and keep a specific promise that God had made to him.  He was trusting God to bring to pass the promise of children during his lifetime. And those who know the story of Abram (later Abraham) is that he ended up having eight (8) sons.

  • Ishmael from Hagar (Genesis 16)
  • Isaac from Sarah (Genesis 21), and
  • six (6) sons from Keturah: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah (Genesis 25:1-2).

These eight (8) sons Abraham fathered prior to his death.  Most people have heard of Ishmael and Isaac; however, there are many people who have not heard about Abraham’s other six (6) sons by Keturah.  In Leslie’s (also known as “Tikkunknitter”) blog article “Chayei Sarah: Keturah & Life Beyond Boundaries,” she writes,

My own search for Keturah turns up only bits and pieces. I am intrigued by a referencer to the “Yakult Midrash,” which suggests that each of Abraham’s three wives descended from a son of Noah: Sarah, a daughter of Shem; Hagar, a daughter of Ham; and Keturah, a
daughter of Japheth. How tidily this medieval   
midrash connects the entire family which    
  survives the Flood with the entire family of tribes
who people the 
mideast; how remarkably      
  generous, how “modern”. I suppose I am not
  surprised to find that the approach of this
  midrash is similarly employed in the roughly
  contemporaneous map of the world contained in
  the 15th-century Nuremburg Chronicle, in which Noah’s three sons support the perimeters of the (known) world. (Tikkun Knits: Knitting Together Jewish Thought, Life, and Social Action, November 1, 2007)

Although we do not know much about Keturah and her six (6) sons, we do read several references regarding the descendants of one of her sons, Midian.  For example, it was Midianite traders who pulled Joseph out of the pit his brothers had thrown him into, and then these same Midianite traders turned around and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites, who then took him into Egypt (Genesis 37:28).  Now it is possible to interpret this verse to mean that Joseph was actually sold three different times: once to the Midianites, then to the Ishmaelites, and then to Potiphar the Egyptian, rather than the one time we see in most movies about Joseph’s life.  But then after 215 years after Joseph dies, we read in Exodus 3:1 that Moses marries Zipporah, whose father is “a priest of Midian.”

These are only a couple of biblical references to the people of Midian, the descendants of Abraham and Keturah.  Did God keep His promise to Abraham during his lifetime?  Yes, He did.  What does this teach us about “faith”?  That faith is not a noun, it’s not a thing that we mentally accept to be true, but it is a verb, an action that you take based on the trust you have in someone.  In other words, faith is an action, it is something that you do.  This is why James teaches,

What does it profit, my brethren, though a man says he has faith, and has not works?  can faith save him?…Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone.  Yes, a man may say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works…But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?…For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2: 14, 17, 18, 20, 26)

How can an action be an action when there’s no action?  Obviously, it can’t.  Also, let’s logically think about this.  The Hebrew word ‘aman (trans. “believe”) also means “to trust.”  Do we normally place our trust, our confidence, in someone we don’t know anything about?  No, of course not.  If a total stranger walks up to you and asks you if he can borrow your credit cards, are you going to give them to him?  Of course not!  However, if a family member or friend you knew extremely well came to you with a need, and you knew from being around them and from the evidence of their life and choices that this person was extremely trustworthy and responsible, would you loan your credit card to them?  You are more likely to.  Why?  Because based on the evidence you saw and knew over several years, you knew that person was trustworthy and, therefore, could be trusted. Based on this, then,

Faith assumes (and is derived from) the existence of evidential proof.  And without the existence of evidential proof, there can be no faith.

Have you considered faith in this light before?  Is your faith in God based upon evidential proof?  What are the promises that you trusting God to accomplish during your lifetime? In considering your level of trust in God, have you ever considered the following: How far are you willing to trust Him?  Are you willing to put your life, your future, in His hands?  Are you willing to trust Him with all that you own?  your finances?  What about the lives of your children?  Is there a line that you are not willing to cross in your trust of God?  And if so, where is that line in your life?  These are questions that I believe each of us need to answer for ourselves.  And if you are having problems trusting or believing God, perhaps the real problem is that you haven’t seen enough evidence yet.

The Bible – Our Source of Proof?

Did you know that the Bible claims that it is a source of “proof” or “evidence”?  In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul (Rav Sha’ul) writes:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. [emphasis mine]

The word translated “rebuking” in this modern English version is translated as “reproof” in the King James Version.  In English, “reproof” literally means “to prove again,” just as “revision” literally means “to see again.” In other words, during the biblical writers, including Paul’s (Rev Sha’ul’s) lives, God proved Himself trustworthy through the situations that they experienced.  As we read and study the Scriptures, it “proves again” to us that God is worthy of our complete and total trust in Him by offering us the examples of God’s character and personality, and how He intervened in these people’s lives.

The Greek word that’s used here is elegchos, and it is a legal term, which means,

Conviction, only [used] in 2 Timothy 3:16 and Hebrews 11:1.  It implies not merely the charge on the basis of which one is convicted, but also the manifestation of the truth [or evidence] of that charge.  The results to be reaped from that charge and the acknowledgement, (if not outwardly, yet inwardly) of its truth on the part of the accused are referred to as well.  (“Lexical Aids to the New Testament” 1712)

In order to convict someone legally in a court of law, there must be evidential proof that’s offered. Without the offering of any evidential proof, there can be no conviction.  This means that Paul is telling us here that “All Scripture” – both the Old Testament and the New Testament – provides us with the evidential proof AND the manifestation of that truth seen through the lives of those discussed in the Scriptures to give us the conviction and the assurance to know that God is who He says that He is, and that He is worthy of our complete trust and faith in Him.

Personal Experience is NOT Proof?

There are those who argue that personal experiences are not evidential proof since they are usually biased and subjective.  However, this is a position of convenience, rather than one of fact.  Personal experience and personal observation are considered in any court room as evidential proof.   People have been sent to prison, and even to death row, based on the personal experience and observations of “eye-witnesses.”  To argue that personal experience and observation cannot be seen as evidential proof contradicts their use in court room trials for centuries.  It’s inconsistent.  If it is evidence in the court room, then it should be considered evidence outside the court room.

However, someone always raises the objection that a person’s experience or observation can be wrong, and people have been innocent who were sent to prison.  However, that possibility great decreases with the increased amount of eyewitnesses.  Biblically, a person should never receive the death sentence UNLESS there’s been at least two or three eyewitnesses to the crime.

If anyone kills a person, the murderer is to be put to death based on the word of witnesses.  But no one is to be put to death based on the testimony of one witness. (Numbers 35:30)

The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6)

One witness cannot establish any wrongdoing or sin against a person, whatever that person has done.  A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15)

In many cases, if biblical teaching had been followed, there’s a lot of people who would not have been erroneously placed on death row and killed since there was not “two or three witnesses” to the crime.  Instead, they should get life in prison, or whatever time period deemed appropriate for that particular crime.  This principle was so entrenched into Jewish culture that be the first century, C.E., it became a basic principle for the establishment of any truth or fact.  For example, Yeshua/Jesus taught His disciples,

If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother [back].  But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses, every fact may be established. (Matthew 18:15-16; emphasis mine)

Did you note Yeshua’s/Jesus’ quote of Deuteronomy 19:15?   He based His own teachings on the Torah given by God to Moshe (Moses).   A great many of His teachings, in fact, were based on it (see John 5:45-47).

“Faithfulness” – The Other Side of Faith?

In exploring the concept of “faith” then, we discover that “Trust” is only one side of the meaning of “faith.”  What many people do not know is that there is another side.  The other side is “faithfulness.”  Biblical faith not only means “trusting God,” but it also means “being faithful to God.”  The Hebrew word ‘emunah, the complete form of the word for “faith,” is built off of the word for “mother” (em), and is rooted in intimacy and relationship.  The first occurrence of the word ‘emunah is actually found in the book of Exodus.  The children of Israel have crossed the Red Sea, and they are about to engage in their first battle as a free people, with the Amalekites.  Joshua led the forces, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur oversaw the battle from a nearby hilltop.  The Scriptures state,

And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.  (Exodus 17:11)

Moses could only stand there for so long, holding the rod of God in his hand (Exodus 17:9), but as long as he held the rod up, Israel would prevail.  So what happened?  Did Israel end up losing?  No, Moses got some help.

But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they [Aaron and Hur] took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up [or held up] his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side, and his hands were steady [Heb. ’emunah] until the going down of the sun. (Exodus 17:12)

The Hebrew word ‘emunah is translated here into English as “steady,” it can also be translated as “firmness, steadiness;” “steadfastness” (Isaiah 33:6); and “faithfulness, trust, honesty” (Psalm 37:3; Proverbs 12:17; Isaiah 25:1).   According to the “Lexical Aids to the Old Testament”:

This word [‘emunah] has as its key idea faithfulness or certainty.  It is especially important in expressing God’s faithfulness (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 33:4; 89:49), a key divine attribute in the OT. (1599)

Faithfulness, trust, honesty, and steadiness are all terms that center around and are foundational to sustaining strong intimacy and relationship.   If someone is not faithful, honest, or steadfast in their commitment to the relationship, it will not last.  And how many times have we heard of a relationship falling apart because there was no longer any “trust” in the relationship?

Not only is ’emunah rooted in intimacy and relationship, but as I’ve mentioned earlier, it assumes the existence of evidence.  How many people will really trust someone they don’t know?  The amount of trust is dependent on how trustworthy the person is, or to put it another way, it is based on the amount of evidence they’ve demonstrated to prove that they are, in fact, trustworthy.  The same is true of “faithfulness,” “steadfastness,” and “honesty.”  We measure all these things based upon the evidence provided.  Without evidence, how can these characteristics truly be evaluated or determined?

This is one of the reasons for the Bible as discussed earlier.  It provides us with the evidence that God is ’emunah: faithful, steadfast, true, honest, and reliable. In fact, the Hebrew word ’emunah is used to describe God in Deuteronomy 7:9,

Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful [Heb. ’emunah] God, which keeps covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations.

A major attribute of God is that He is ’emunah, and He expects it to likewise be a major characteristic of our lives as well:

Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith [Heb. ’emunah].  (Habakkuk 2:4; emphasis mine)

Just as ’emunah is a characteristic of God, it should characterize the lives of “the just” as well.  We should strive to be His children and disciples,  and to imitate Him.  This is why God wants us to operate on faith, so we can learn to be imitators of Him.  In fact, the latter part of this verse –  “the just shall live by faith” – is quoted by the Apostle Paul (Heb. Rav Sha’ul) in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11, as well as by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 10:38. Interestingly, Martin Luther and others have credited this idea of “the just [living] by faith” to the Apostle Paul, even though, Paul (Rav Sha’ul) himself was, in fact, quoting the Jewish prophet Habakkuk.

Faith in the New Testament

The word translated “faith” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word pistis (#4102 in Strong’s Concordance), and literally means “to persuade” or “to be persuaded.” It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, ‘emunah (#530), and according to the concordance, as we’ve discussed, “This word has as its key idea of faithfulness or certainty.”  The term “faithfulness” refers to one’s actions or behavior, and it is easy to see why pistis “being persuaded” then would be seen to be an equivalent term to ’emunah or the idea of “certainty.”  In fact, according to the concordance, the Greek word pistis is derived from the Greek word peitho (Strong’s #3982), which means,

to entice or persuade; to seek to persuade or solicit the favor of; to prevail by persuasion;  to be persuaded.

So based on this definition, then, in order “to have faith,” one needs to be convinced or persuaded that something is true.  How does this happen if one does not have evidence? In fact, when one becomes so “fully persuaded” that it motivates that person into action, then that moment of action is what the Bible calls “faith” (Gk. pistis).   Let me give a couple of examples to illustrate this point.

The Roman Centurion

In the Gospels, a Roman Centurion comes to Yeshua/Jesus with a request, a servant of his is deathly ill and he wants Yeshua/Jesus to heal him.   It should be remembered that the relationship between the Jews and the Romans were much like Al Qaida and the United States: there were Jewish Zealots trying to kill as many Romans as possible, just as Al Qaida is trying to kill as many from the U.S. as possible.  Obviously, then, this Roman Centurion was not going to just stroll up to a group of Jews, unless he had been given guarantees from people he knew and trusted well and could assure him that Yeshua/Jesus was not a Zealot or a possible threat.

However, what amazed Yeshua/Jesus when He volunteered to go to this man’s house to heal his servant was this Centurion’s response (and it is his response we need to pay close attention to as well):

Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof: but just speak the word, and my servant shall be healed.  For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it.  When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” (Matthew 8:8-10)

Using analysis, let’s take this passage apart to understand his response, how does it illustrate what we’ve been saying about the biblical view of faith, and why did Yeshua/Jesus marvel at his response.

  • The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, was “a man under authority.”  Due to his position and experience as a Roman Centurion, he understood how authority operated.  The power of authority always flowed from the top down.  I am sure there were many times as a soldier, he operated under the command of Caesar, even though he never saw Caesar give that command personally.  And I am sure there are many soldiers today who have operated under the command given by a general that they never met.  In stating this, he was implying his understanding that Yeshua/Jesus was under, or in submission to, the authority of God.
  • The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, had authority over something.  As a Centurion, he not only operated under the authority of Caesar, but he, himself, had authority over a hundred men, plus slaves and servants.  He gives examples of his own experiences of telling people to “come” or to “go,” and they do it without him having to watch them do it.  Just as he operates under the authority of Caesar whom he has not seen, he also does not need to see his servant or one of his soldiers doing something to know that it will get done.  Why?  Because it was often a death sentence if it wasn’t done.  By him saying, “But only say the word, and my servant will be healed,” and then him following up with examples his experiences of his own authority over others, he is implying through this that Yeshua/Jesus himself has authority over sickness and disease.  What Yeshua/Jesus marvels at is the Centurion’s ability to make the connection between how authority operates and the healing ministry of Yeshua/Jesus since this was a connection that the Jews did not make; since they often needed to see Him come and place His hand on the person for them to believe the person was healed; whereas, this Roman Centurion did not.  He just needed the word spoken.
  • The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, expressed his authority by speaking.  Both the Roman Centurion and Yeshua/Jesus expressed their authority by speaking words.  The Centurion expressed this by saying, “I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:9).   And like him, Yeshua/Jesus also expresses His authority by speaking when He told the Centurion, “Go.  As you have believed, let it be done for you” (Matthew 8:13).
  • The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, did not need to see it being done to know that it was done.

In comparing the two, we can see that the Roman Centurion’s faith was based on the evidence of the testimony of those he knew (which is why he went to Yeshua/Jesus) AND upon the evidence of his own personal experiences and observations as a Centurion within the Roman army.  Consequently, his faith was based upon two different forms of evidence.  Notice also that Yeshua/Jesus does not rebuke or correct him for basing his faith on that evidence, but instead, he praises him for it.  With that being the case, how can faith be as my student defined it: “Faith is believing in something where there is no reason or evidence for it.  If there was evidence, then it wouldn’t be faith.”  Apparently, this student, and those who believe this erroneous definition, need to reconsider their definition in the light of what the Bible actually teaches.

A Woman With An Issue

In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, there is a narrative about a woman who suffered from a twelve-year problem with her menstrual cycles; she kept bleeding.  Whether the bleeding was completely ongoing (non-stop) or it stopped for a few days and then restarted, the text does not specify.  However, this problem caused her great concern, so naturally, like many women today would do, she sought medical aid:

And the woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any. (Luke 8:43)

Unfortunately, medical science did not have an answer for her.  And because of the cultural practices of the time, this problem was not only an obvious health risk, but it kept her from having a relationship with her husband (if she had one), as well as kept her from attending any worship services at the Temple.  In essence, it kept her ostracized from both her family, friends, and even from participation in any religious services.

What I want to show by the following text is that the woman came to a logical deduction based on the evidence.  And she was so convinced, so fully persuaded, by the evidence that it propelled her to act.

And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem (lit. “twisted coil”) of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.  But Jesus turned around, and when he saw her, he said, “Daughter, be of good comfort; your faith has made you whole.”  And the woman was made whole from that hour.  (Matthew 9:20-22)

I’d like to point out a couple of things regarding this narrative.  First of all, it is evident from the text that this woman had either heard Yeshua/Jesus teach and saw him heal (a primary source; personal observation) or she had heard others discuss his teachings and healings (a secondary source).  She would not take the time or the energy to seek him out in her weakened condition if one (of both) of the two had not occurred.

Secondly, why did she believe, according to the text, that if she only “touched the hem” (literally “the twisted coil”) that hung on the corners of his clothing that “she would be healed”?  On what is she basing this conclusion?  She’s actually basing it on something from the Scriptures, a written text:

But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings;…. (Malachi 4:2)

Jewish men wear what is known as a “tallith” or “prayer shawl.” On the four corners of the prayer shawl are twisted coils with five knots (the knots representing the five books of Moses), and the corner where each of these twisted coils (or in Hebrew, tzitzit) are tied is called “the wing.”  The text states that when the “Sun of righteousness” shall “arise” (or appear), there would be “healing in his wings” or in the twisted coils that hung from the corners of his prayer shawl.  And as the Greek bears out, it is to this specific location on Yeshua’s/Jesus’ garment that she was reaching.  Consequently, it can be logically concluded that she was so fully convinced, so fully persuaded by what she saw or experienced (a primary source) or what she was told by friends and family (a secondary source), as well as what the Scriptures taught (a secondary textual source), that Yeshua/Jesus was the promised “Sun of righteousness” (a term for the Messiah) that she went out looking for Him to get healed as she logically concluded from the evidence.   And it was this resulting action based upon the given evidence that the Bible calls “faith.”

Faith = Action Based on Persuasive Evidence

I mention these two narratives to reiterate my point that the Bible does not teach that “faith is believing something where there is no evidence,” but what we see from these texts is that faith is being so “fully persuaded” or “so fully convinced” that the conclusion drawn from the available evidence is correct that it motivates us into action.  “Belief,” as it is understood in English, as mentioned earlier, is defined as “mental agreement” and does not necessarily include action, but in the Bible, faith that does not include action is invalid or “dead” (Remember James?)  So again, “faith” from a biblical perspective is an action that occurs as a result of being “fully persuaded” by the evidence presented.

In fact, one New Testament writer, the Apostle John, argues that his experience that he’s sharing is based on evidence that he was able to verify with his senses:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life;…. (I John 1:1)

John says it is something that he has heard, seen with his eyes, and handled with his hands.  So how is this “faith,” as John describes the basis of his testimony, “based on no evidence at all”?  Again, it is inconsistent to argue that personal observation and experience is not evidence when it is considered evidence in our American courtrooms. Interestingly, in fact, in the beginning of the book of Acts, which was written by Luke, a Greek medical physician, he makes the following statement:

To whom also he [Jesus] showed himself alive after his passion [crucifixion and burial] by many infallible proofs, being seen of them [his followers] forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.  (Acts 1:3; emphasis added)

What’s interesting about this verse is the phrase “infallible proofs,” which is the English translation of the Greek word tekmerion (#5039).  This Greek word means “demonstrative, infallible, or convincing proof.”  So again, if faith is not based on “any evidence,” then why does this Greek physician, who fully understood the idea of medical proof, or what we now call “forensic evidence,” use this term in reference to the Messiah’s bodily resurrection?  Or to put it another way, if faith is based on “no evidence,” then why the reason for “demonstrative, infallible, or convincing proof”?

Consequently, then, faith, as it is presented in the New Testament, is not based on “no reason or no evidence,” but is a logical conclusion drawn from some form(s) of persuasive evidence.

But I don’t Believe the Bible

I have heard some try to argue that since they don’t believe in God or that the Bible is the Word of God, it is not evidence since they don’t accept it.  However, their acceptance or rejection of it is not relevant to it being evidence.  For example, several years ago I was in a slight mishap in Tennessee during a bad snow storm.  The roads were badly iced over, and pulling out of a shopping center after buying some new windshield wipers at only 10 miles per hour, I hit an ice patch and slid into this white car.  We got out of our respective cars and expected them.  Her bumper was scratched and slighted dented, and her right tail light was broken.  We exchanged insurance information and then went our way.

The following year, I was given jury duty in a court trial dealing with a woman who was allegedly hit by a man driving a semi at 50 miles an hour.  The woman took the stand and gave her testimony (her experiential evidence), as well as her lawyer offering other corroborating evidence to support her testimony.  However, in examining her evidence, I discovered something rather interesting.  She was driving the exact same type of car I had accidentally slid into the year before.  According to her, the semi driver rammed into her at 50 miles per hour, yet there was absolutely no damage to her rear fender and tail lights.  I wondered, How could a semi, going 50 mph, do less damage than I did to a similar car going only 10 mph?  I had to conclude from my own experience and observation that she did not have the better argument.

But just because I rejected her testimony does not mean that her testimony was not evidence.  It had been given as evidence in a court of law, and it was recorded in a legal document for all to examine and read later.  Just because I chose to reject it does not change that fact that it was evidence.  In much the same way, the Bible’s testimony regarding God is evidence, and whether one accepts its testimony or not does not change the fact that it is evidence.  My only question is, What are you going to do with that evidence?  Are you going to honestly consider it, to weigh it, and to evaluate its truths?  Or are going to reject it?  The choice you make is entirely yours.

The New Testament – A Book of Arguments

Therefore, since one must be “fully persuaded” from the evidence in order for “faith” to occur, the New Testament is full of various forms of argumentation.  For example, consider the following types of arguments:

  • Narrative Essays. Matthew, Mark and Luke are narrative discourses with an explicit thesis. Matthew’s thesis is found at the beginning of the book, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1); Mark’s, like Matthew’s, is also located at the beginning of the text, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;…” (1:1).  Thus, both texts were written for audiences that would accept the intended message (or are “One-Sided Arguments”).  If these texts were used in schools or by those who home school, these texts could be used to discuss the role of the thesis and how these particular texts use narration as a means to back up and support the given thesis.
  • A Narrative Essay with a Delayed Thesis. The Gospel of John, like Matthew, Mark and Luke, is a narrative discourse but unlike their’s, it has a delayed thesis (found near the end of the book in John 20:31).

But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. (NASB)

A delayed thesis implies that the designated audience was, in fact, in opposition to the intended thesis.  This is why it is “delayed,” so that by the time the audience hears it, it is too late to shut the argument down since the evidence or support for the argument would have already been presented.  In fact, historically, the Gospel of John and the epistle of I John was written in opposition to Gnostic believers and their teachings.

According to the online article in the Catholic Encyclopedia, Gnosticism was “a form of utter pessimism [that] bemoan[ed] the existence of the whole universe as a corruption and a calamity, with a feverish craving to be freed from the body of this death and a mad hope that, if we only knew, we could by some mystic words undo the cursed spell of this existence.”

These Gnostic groups, which predate Christianity by several hundred years (they were problematic for the Jewish community as well), associated itself with Christian thought and terminology and are the ones responsible for many writings that sought to displace the original movement, including the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and the Gospel of Judas.  These writings served as the basis for the novel and movie, The Da Vinci Code.  The Gnostics argued against a bodily resurrection since anything material to them was evil, so how could a holy God appear in a literal human body?  Consequently, Yeshua/Jesus only appeared to be human, they taught.  This is why the Apostle John makes the following arguments,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  (John 1:1-2)

The Gnostics would not have had a problem with this, until John got to verse 14.

And the Word became flesh and took up residence among us.  We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son of the Father.

This is why we find John continually pairing up the divinity of Messiah with His humanity.  John is presenting his argument of the Messiah being both fully God and fully a sensual man who lived, taught, and died in a real, physically material body.  This is not an argument that the Gnostics could accept.  Consequently, John continues his argument with them in his first epistle:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed, and have touched with our hands (notice the sensual evidence) concerning the Word of life – that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – what we have seen and heard we also declare to you,… (I John 1:1-3a)

From the very beginning here, John is connecting the humanness of Jesus with His divinity as the “Word of Life” and the “eternal life that was with the Father.”  He continues these pairings throughout, and then near the end, he also writes,

This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.  But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. (I John 4:2-3a)

Imagine the interesting research paper that could be written after examining these Gnostic writings, the movie The Da Vinci Code, as well as John’s two argumentative texts.

  • Definition Arguments.
    There is a definition argument presented in I Corinthians 13 regarding the nature of love that’s supported with a series of synonym phrases, and another well-known definition argument in Hebrews 11, regarding the essence of faith, that’s supported with a series of narrative examples. Both can be used to illustrate how definitions can be supported and elaborated upon within one’s research or writings.
  • Precedent Argument.
    In Acts 5:34-40, Gamaliel, a renowned teacher in Judaism, uses a precedent argument to persuade the Sanhedrin (like the Israeli Supreme Court) on how they should approach and handle the arrested followers of the Nazarene. In much the same way, President Bush used a precedent argument to persuade the congress and the American public on the approach that should be taken in response to the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, by Al Qaida terrorists.  An interesting activity would be to compare and contrast the two speeches in regard to their audiences, purpose, structure, and effectiveness.
  • “Other Forms of Argument”
    In addition to these forms of argument, there are other forms of argument that are used in the New Testament that are often not included in argumentative textbooks.  For example, one form of argument is called in Hebrew kal v’khomer (“light and heavy”; philosophers call this type of argument a fortiori, “with even greater strength”).  This form of argument states that “if X is true of Y, then how much more X must be true of Z (where Z is of greater weight than Y).”  Here are some examples:

What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  Of how much more value then is a man more than a sheep?  Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.  (Matthew 12:11-12)

Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse or barn; and God feeds them: how much more are you better than the fowls? (Luke 12:24)

But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  [How] much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath through him.  (Romans 5:8-9)

As we can see in these examples, the argument presented is signaled by the phrase “how much more.”  And sometimes, like in the final example, the word “how” is there by implication.

The point is that there are many different types of arguments used throughout the writing of the New Testament.  If, in fact, as my student stated at the beginning of this series, that “faith is believing in something when there is no evidence,” then why are all of these various forms of argumentation being used?  It seems apparent that as far as the New Testament writers were concerned, faith indeed is a logical conclusion based on reason and requiring an evidential basis.

Where is the Evidence Today?

What many people today crave is to know that God is real, that He is not something that we, as human beings, have made up or created as Freud taught, to be a “mental crutch.”  Unfortunately, for far too many churches, the power of God is no longer there within it.  They don’t believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, or in a God that continues to speak to His people prophetically.  Instead, they have made God mute and have replaced the power of God with man-made social programs that attempt to draw people into their doors.  But a silent God and man-made social programs will not feed the hunger of people.  They want to experience the reality of God.  They want to know the miraculous, healing, dead raising and demon stomping God that they see and have read about in the Scriptures.

What does the Church need today?  It needs to rediscover the God of the Bible.  They need to rediscover the awe and wonder of being in the Presence of a Holy God, and they need to experience the majesty of His miraculous power.  But until the Church admits the fallacy of replacing the Biblical God with one of their own creation, this will not likely occur.

But what the world, those outside the church?  What do they need?  Faith?  I actually do not believe that the problem with the modern world is that they lack faith since in my opinion, it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to believe in creationism. Instead, I believe that they lack the evidence they need to build their faith in God and His Word.

And so I say to the modern Church, it’s time for you to rediscover the God of the Bible and to give the world the evidence they are so hungry for.  Because when that day happens, and the world finally sees the evidence of a real miracle-working God at work inside and outside a worshipping, Bible-believing congregation, then congregations around the world will be standing room only with people pressing in to hear the Word of God both in the sanctuary and outside around the building.  May that day come quickly.  Amen.

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