Stuff Folks Ask: New Testament

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Stuff Folks Ask: New TestamentIn the New Testament of the Biblical Story, we read about the continuing creation of a newly redeemed people of God, the church (ecclesiae), who have the same function that Isreal had as the people of God, i.e., to be the light for the world to see God. The material in this section is generally centered around questions about the New Testament. Some of them are specific to passages, others are general.

New Testament

↓ Jupiter and Saturn Alignment
↓ What was the timeframe of the death of Jesus?
↓ Questions about Jesus
↓ What is the spiritual mark Christian have that attest that they belong to Christ?
↓ What say you about signs of the Holy Ghost as to speaking in other tongues?
↓ Where can I find the Story of the Prodigal Son?
↓ What sin did Peter speak about in Acts? | Acts 2:38
↓ Does the verse in the fifteenth chapter of John aply to Scripture readers today? | John 15.7
↓ Do deacons have to be male? | 1 Tim. 3.12?
↓ How does Hebrews chapter 6 apply to us today?
↓ Will Christians be raptured?

QUESTION: Jupiter and Saturn Alignment

Astrologers report that in the year 7 BC, two planets Jupiter and Saturn came together and made a bright star in the night sky. Have you heard of this? Do you agree?

Beginning Answer

Yes, I have heard of this. It is sometimes argued in the dating of the birth of Jesus. The following two resources may help.

First, from The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is now in Public Domain.

Date of the Birth of Jesus:

Though challenged by some (Caspari, Bosanquet, Conder, etc., put it as late as 1 BC) the usual date for the death of Herod the Great, March, 4 BC (year of Rome 750), maybe assumed as correct (for grounds of this dating, see Schurer, op. cit., Div. I, Vol. I, 464-67). The birth of Je-sus was before, and apparently not very long before, this event (Mt 2). It may therefore be placed with probability in the latter part of the previous year (5 BC), the ordinary dating of the commencement of the Christian era being thus, as is generally recognized, four years too late. There is no certainty as to the month or day of the birth. The Christmas date, December 25, is first met within the West in the 4th century (the eastern date was January 6) and was then possibly borrowed from a pagan festival. December, in the winter season, seems unlikely, as unsuitable for the pasturing of flocks (Lk 2:8), though this objection is perhaps not decisive (Andrews, Conder). More probable date is a couple of months earlier. The synchronism with Quirinius (Lk 2:2) is considered in connection with the nativity. The earlier dating of 6, 7, or even 8 BC, suggested by Ramsay, Mackinlay, and others, on grounds of the assumed Roman census, astronomical phenomena, etc., appear to leave too long an interval before the death of Herod, and conflict with other data, as Lk 3:1.[9]

Second, from Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels:

5. The Date and Birth of Jesus

…there was a notable conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BC. in the constellation Pisces, and it is also true that both the Berlin Star Table and the Sippar Star Almanac indicate great interest and close study of planetary movements during 7 BC and afterward (Brown).

Modern astronomers have stressed that the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in question was not close enough to appear a single star (Boa and Proctor). E. L. Martin’s careful and detailed study argues for the year of Herod’s death as 1 BC and the star being the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter seen from August 12, 3 B.C. onward. He further urges that the Magi did not come to honor Jesus until fifteen months after his birth (on December 25, 2 BC) and that at that time Jupiter had stopped over Bethlehem in the meridian position in the constellation of the Virgin. There are, however, many assumptions made in these calculations, and most scholars would reject such a late date for Herod’s death (but cf. Thorley). Another theory appeals to the appearance of Halley’s comet, which took place in the region in 12 BC — a date too early to be correlated with Jesus’ birth.

In short, it is doubtful that natural astral phenomena can help us pinpoint the time of Jesus’ birth. There are various imponderables about the story of the Magi that make calculations al-most impossible (e.g., how long after Jesus’ birth did the Magi come and honor him?). Most scholars who consider the story of the Magi historically possible would stress that there seems to have been an interval, perhaps over a year, between the time of the birth and the coming of the Magi. Taking all the evidence together, it appears that Jesus was born in or before 4 BC.[ref]Joel B Green, Scot McKnight, I Howard Marshall, and eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL InterVarsity Press, 1992), 60-74.[/ref]

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QUESTION: What was the time frame of the death of Jesus?

What is the time frame between the death and resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) and when he came to Bethany and ate with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary (John 12:1-10) and the time frame from that date to when Jesus was put to death on the cross

Beginning Answer

There is no indication of the time frame between the story of Lazarus in John 11 and John 12.1. John 12.1 begins on Friday evening before the crucifixion of Jesus on the next Friday.

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QUESTION: Questions about Jesus

As Jesus our Savior and God hung on the cross and was about to experience the sin of the world, He said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Knowing that God cannot look upon sin, 1.) How is it that He became sin for us? 2.) Did God the Spirit leave the body of Jesus at that moment, separating body and soul? 3.) How was it that God forsook Jesus?

Beginning Answer

1. How is it that He became sin for us?

This question is not easily answered in a few sentences. So, you may need to read broader on the subject. I think you can find the beginning of an answer to this question in the article “Death of Christ” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, which you can read online by going to this link.

See: Death of Christ

2. Did God the Spirit leave the body of Jesus at that moment, separating body and soul?

Here are two ways Greek philosophy infiltrated the Christian faith early, which still has its effect on the church today.

First, There was a brand of a belief that impregnated the church called Gnosticism, which was a form of belief that was most dangerous at the close of the second century. It most likely began much earlier than this date. There had been a tremendous influx of Gentiles into the early church. This influx brought with it several elements of the Greek philosophical mindset. The basic presupposition of this philosophy was dualism. This dualism says that spirit is good and material is evil. Salvation was an escape from the realm of matter to spirit via knowledge. This conflict became most acute in the understanding of the person of Jesus. The gnostic asked the question, “How could infinite pure spirit have anything to do with an evil material body?” There were two solutions to this dilemma.

A view called Docetism suggested that “Jesus was not really human — he only appeared to be.” The concept of Docetism came from the Greek word dekeo, which can be defined as “to seem.” Docetism suggested that Jesus was a ghost, an illusion; he seemed to be a man but had no real existence.

Jesus’ spirit did not inhabit his body until his baptism and his spirit left before his death. This was called Cerinthianism, from its leader, Cerinthus. This made Jesus a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde; one did not know when Jesus was human or when he was divine. The dualism of good and evil may be the background for what Jude says in v. 4a, i.e., …who changed the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.[ref] Winn Griffin, Jude: How to Keep Yourself from Error (Woodinville, WA: Harmon Press, 1997), 21. [/ref]

Here are some additional thoughts on the often misconception derived from Platonic philosophy that we have a body and a soul. This information may help you in rethinking how you have asked the question.

Got Soul: A Platonic Theory or Biblical TheologyRead this article here.

Christianese

Like any other group of people, Christians have their own language system. It has often been called Christianese. With that language, we describe what has occurred to a new Jesus follower as “God saving a soul.” This betrays a definite Greek thought-form, which has become the foundation for our use of the soul language. The idea of getting souls saved is the language of Jonathan Edwards in the First Great Awakening in the 18th century. It has carried down to the present as good evangelical language, usually based on the verse in 1 Peter 1.9, “…for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (NIV). As is most usual, it is a doctrine by verse quoting and a fragment of a sentence.  As I have said elsewhere, quoting a part of a sentence makes God look like he can’t have a complete thought.

We have prayed and taught our kids to pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my soul, to keep….” This is not Christian theology but Greek philosophy unless the soul is taken with its Hebraic concept of wholeness as we will discuss below. Plato (see here) developed the distinction between body and soul. Scripture does not indicate anywhere that man has a soul but rather that man is a soul. Body and spirit would be two different ways or perspectives in Scripture by which the soul is viewed.

The Hebrew word which we translate soul is nepesh, which refers to a human being. It appears in the Hebrew Bible 750 times and is translated soul 119 times. No other Hebrew word is translated as soul. All the other instances are rendered by English words such as life, being, self, etc. The New Testament term is psyche and essentially has the same meaning as nepesh. In Scripture, a soul is a complete person.

God shaped a lifeless form and breathed into him the breath of life (Gen. 2.7). The human became a living being. Our anthropology of man has suffered greatly by the translation of this verse in KJV as a “living soul.” The first human creation of God became a complete being not body and soul. The concept of humankind as being made up of body, soul, and spirit is Platonic philosophy, not Biblical theology. Man is a whole viewed from two perspectives, body and spirit. This composite nature of a human being does not by itself set humankind apart from the animal kingdom. Both are identified as living beings (Gen. 1.20, 2.19) and both are designated as having the breath of life (Gen. 6.17; 7.22). What we can say is that the word picture suggests that humans have received special attention from God. His relationship with humans is immediate and personal.

Dr. George Ladd presents us with a more natural view of the soul in his book A Theology of the New Testament (Revised Edition).

“Soul (nepesh) is not a higher part of a human person standing over against the body, but designates the vitality of life principle in man. God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul (Gen. 2.7). The “body” and the divine breath together make the vital, active soul. The word is then extended from the life principle to include the feelings, passions, will, and even the mentality of the individual. It then comes to be used as a synonym for humanity itself.[ref] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Revised Edition) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 500.[/ref]

Psyche (often translated soul) and pneuma (translated spirit) are not strictly interchangeable but refer to man’s inner life viewed from two points of view. Pneuma is man’s inner self viewed in terms of man’s relationship to God and to other men; psyche is man as a living being, as a human personality…Paul never speaks of the salvation of the soul, nor is there any intimation of the pre-existence of the soul.”[ref]Ladd., 502.[/ref]

The soul designates the vitality of life in man. It is the summation of his personality. It is equivalent to the meaning of I myself or yourself.

A way to understand this is to comprehend the following equation: Soul = Body (the outward part of man) and Spirit (the inward part of man). If we choose to use the terminology that God wants to save our souls, we need to be Hebraic instead of Greek. Yes, God does want to save our soul, i.e., the salvation of the body and the spirit, the salvation of the complete person.

Worship serves as a good example of this total person view because worship encompasses the total person. Remember, the Hebrew saw man as a unity with outer and inner dimensions. Humankind was for the Hebrew not divided into three parts, even though the Western rational interpretations of First Thessalonians 5.23 would try to so persuade us. Paul was using Platonic language in this passage, but with Hebraic insight. Man is not made of three parts any more than he is divided into four parts (Mark 12.30). We must be constantly reminded that although the New Testament is written in the Greek language, the concepts behind the language are rooted in Hebraic thought.

With this in mind, look at John 4.24, which says, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Jesus was responding to the woman at the well’s assertion that worship happened in Samaria and Jerusalem according to her belief and the belief of the Jews. Jesus told her that the realm of worship, not the location of worship, was the issue. To worship in spirit and truth was the spiritual realm or the realm of spiritual activity that worship would naturally occur within. Therefore, to worship in spirit was to respond to the Holy Spirit with the inner man. To worship in truth meant to have genuine, truthful, honest worship. Truth is the knowledge of God, which comes through Jesus. Knowledge is a part of the physical perspective of humankind. As so often interpreted, truth does not mean philosophical correctness or even the Word of God (Bible) in this passage.

So biblical worship brings together the inner and outer man in response to God. It is an outward expression from an inner response, which God expects as we worship him. When we sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul…,” we are blessing God with our total being, not some Platonic part of our being.

We should always be willing to let our popular understanding of biblical ideas be formed by Scripture and not try to insert our popular understanding into the text of Scripture and thereby make God say something he never said. The good news is: you don’t have a soul, you are one! God created you as a complete person. He sent Jesus to deliver you as a complete person. Rejoice and accept his work in your total person. Got Soul? Nope, you are a soul!

3. How was it that God forsook Jesus?

It may well be that Jesus was simply quoting the first verse of Psalm 22, which is a Psalm of victory, to his mother, John, and others who were watching this awesome gift occur right in front of their eyes.

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QUESTION: What is the spiritual mark Christians have to attest to their belonging to Christ? Is it something the spiritual world can see on our bodies or faces?

Beginning Answer

At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples to make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching. The mark of a disciple is his or her changed lifestyle that lives in accordance with what Jesus taught. Matthew’s Gospel is a compendium of what he taught. Jesus taught his disciples to do the works of the Kingdom (heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, etc.) and live the words of the Kingdom (these teachings of Jesus are found in five places in the Gospel of Matthew, 5.1-7.27; 10.5-42, 13.3-52, 18.1-35, and 24.4-25.46). In addition, in the letters of Paul, we are told that we should live as new people of God in this present world. He tells his readers that they are to “put to death” the habits of life of this present age (Col. 3.5-11) and “clothe” themselves with the life of the age to come (Col. 3.12-14).

The marks of an authentic disciple of Jesus can be seen, but they are not physical marks like a tattoo would be.

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Question: What say you about signs of the Holy Ghost as to speaking in other tongues?

First, I was wondering about the filling of the Holy Spirit. I have been informed that the filling is evidenced by the speaking of tongues. This theology calls this the baptism in the Holy Ghost and I am confused. I believe that the filling is not the baptism. It is filling. And to be filled you do not have to speak in tongues. Also, I believe that the Book of Acts is not speaking of everyone’s baptism in the spirit as coming at a later date. Now I believe once we are saved you immediately receive that baptism. The Bible says you are baptized with water and of the spirit. To be filled, do you always have to speak in tongues? I have always understood this as just a gift. And the least of all gifts at that.

Second, do tongues present themselves as Baptism in the Spirit? Is this the only evidence of Baptism? Or, is Baptism in the Spirit the salvation experience? Also, do all people get all gifts? Why do people say everyone can speak in tongues when half the population of our churches can’t? Are tongues for a message from God? Or, are tongues something we can just use at will without the Spirit’s unction? I am so confused!!! I have been in Charismatic churches where this gift is exalted and is high and lifted up and seems to be an earmark of Christian supremacy and ultimate maturity.

Beginning Answer

The idea of being filled with the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues is a belief system developed at the beginning of the last century (the 1900s). It is the “cardinal” doctrine of such denominational bodies as the Assemblies of God.

I have written about this in my Spiritual Gifts booklet called Spiritual Gifts for Boneheads. The following is an excerpt:

Tongues, Kinds of (gene glosson): 1 Cor. 12.10, 28

[A working definition of tongues is:]The supernatural speaking in a language not learned by the speaker. It is spoken to God in a public gathering and needs to be accompanied by the Gift of Interpretation for the edification of the group.

Interpretation of Tongues (ermeneia glosson): 1 Cor. 12.10, 30

[A working definition of tongues is:] The supernatural ability to say in the listener’s language what has been spoken to God with the Gift of Tongues resulting in the edification of the group.

Remember, Paul and Luke were partners on their church planting missions. Both of these New Testament authors write about tongues. First Corinthians comes from the pen of Paul and Acts comes from the pen of Luke. The following is some basic information about these two writers.

Luke was a theologian and is often called the theologian of the Holy Spirit. Part two of Luke’s writings, the Book of Acts, is theological history. It is not a history as we understand history, to provide a document of facts about the past. It is a history with a theological purpose in which not everything that happened to the early church is recorded. Paul was also a theological writer. He wrote to a historical situation concerning tongues in 1 Corinthians. He wrote 1 Corinthians before Luke wrote Acts, and, therefore, it has priority. It is very probable that Luke was influenced by Paul.

Some similarities between Luke and Paul are:

  • Tongues originated with the Spirit (Acts 2.4; 1 Cor. 12.8, 14.2)
  • The same term (latein glossai) is used by both authors for speaking in tongues (Acts 10.46; 19.1-6; 1 Cor. 12-14).
  • When one speaks in tongues before unbelievers, the result may lead to accusations (Acts 2.5ff.; 1 Cor. 14.23ff.).
  • Speaking in tongues is directed toward God (Acts 2.11; 10.46; 1 Cor. 14.2; 14-17).
  • Prophecy and tongues are different (Acts 19.6; 1 Cor. 12).
  • Unity and diversity can be seen (Acts 2.2-4; 1 Cor. 12.14-26).
  • Both Paul and Luke see the Spirit as the source of power to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Acts 1.8; 1 Cor. 12-14; Eph. 4.11).
    There are some ideas, which are only Luke’s:
  • The first record of speaking in tongues occurs in Acts at the birth of the Church (Acts 2.4).
  • It is surrounded by symbolic language (Acts 2.2-3: sound like the wind; tongues like fire).

There are some ideas, which are only Paul’s:

  • These gifts are temporary; when Jesus returns they will cease to operate (1 Cor. 13.8).
  • Tongues need to be lubricated with love (according to my mentor and friend Dr. Russ Spittler) (1 Cor. 13).

According to 1 Corinthians, the purposes of tongues are:

  • A means of supernaturally inspired communication to God (14.2).
  • Edification of the speaker, even if others are not edified (14.4).
  • To bring edification to the Body. When tongues are properly interpreted, edification is the result. (Tongues plus interpretation equals prophecy in edification value: 14.5).
  • To serve as a sign to the unbeliever (14.22). In this passage, Paul used a first-century hermeneutic (a way to interpret) to say that tongues improperly used (i.e., without interpretation) should be understood as a judgment for the unbeliever who would leave the meeting of the church and possibly never return because he believed that those practicing such activities were mad (v. 23). By leaving and never returning, they judge themselves by not making available the life of the Spirit to bring them new birth.

Tongues

Paul is clear that tongues can be utilized in private to pray and sing to God. In this case, there is no need for interpretation, because no one is there to hear except the speaker (14.14-15).

Praying in Tongues is sometimes called Praying in the Spirit in today’s church. The curious question to ask is: Did Jesus pray in the Spirit, i.e., pray in tongues? There is no clear evidence in the Gospels to support the theorization that Jesus spoke in tongues. However, there are some places, which sug-gest the possibility. In the story in Mark 7.34, Jesus is working a miracle. The text declares that Jesus gave a deep sigh. In 8.12, Mark records that he sighed deeply. The word, which translates sigh, is the same word as groan in Romans 8.22-23, 26. The word was a technical term in the Hellenistic world of the day for prayer that did not involve the mind but was caused by a spirit.

In the first reference, the term sighing (stenazein) is used along with the word ephata. Ephata was an expression in a strange language, which, according to numerous parallels in the Hellenistic world, was often used in connection with healing the sick and casting out demons. These are not conclusive to say that Jesus spoke in tongues but should give our thinking some elasticity.

Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 14.15 that there is a kind of charismatic music, which includes singing in tongues, which he calls with the spirit and singing with intelligible words, which he calls with the mind. The singing, which is referred to happened spontaneously when the church came together. This spontaneous singing mentioned is found in public use in 14.26. This passage may have a parallel in Ephesians 5.19 and Colossians 3.16. In these passages, Paul wrote about three forums of singing: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. In these passages, he may have had in mind what today is called singing in the Spirit.

This conclusion can be drawn from two factors:

  1. Being continually filled with the Spirit is the context of this passage. Paul contrasts the impulse of the Spirit to what occurs when the stimulus is wine.
  2. Both passages use the word spiritual to characterize that the music is prompted by the Spirit. The text is not clear and may not be referring to three different kinds of music mentioned. The word spiritual is an adjective and could probably be translated as psalms, hymns, and songs, which the Spirit inspires. Dunn points out that even if the word spiritual belongs to songs, the distinction between psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is not between established liturgical forms and spontaneous songs. It would be a contrast between spontaneous singing of intelligible words and spontaneous singing in tongues (Dunn. Jesus and the Spirit. 238-289).

Interpretation of Tongues

Every coin has two sides. The last four gifts in this small list have two sides. Prophecy should be accompanied by the discerning of spirits and tongues must be accompanied by the interpretation of tongues. So closely are they connected in the mind of Paul that one is not thought about without the other when the church comes together (1 Cor. 14.5, 23, 27ff.). As with all of the gracelets, these two gifts are for the common good of the church when it comes together (1 Cor. 12.7). When glossolalia is a gracelet, it is a service to the church and is completed by its companion, interpretation.

The following information should be noted about this gracelet:

  • It is not an independent gift; it is used as the completion of the gracelet of tongues (1 Cor. 12.10).
  • It provides edification for the believer when the church comes together and the gracelet of tongues is spoken. It causes the unlearned to understand (1 Cor. 14.5).
  • When the gift of tongues is spoken in a public service of the church gathered, believers should pray to interpret (1 Cor. 14.13). Here is an overlooked stipulation of the use of these gifts: if there is no one present to interpret and the one speaking in tongues has not interpret-ed, he should keep silent and speak to himself and to God (1 Cor. 14.28).
  • This gracelet is not a natural talent to translate another language into the language of the hearer; it is a supernatural enabling.
  • Together both of these gifts should be operative with order (1 Cor. 14.37-40).

Remember, the God of the Bible is a speaking God. He loves to speak to us and through us. The result of the speaking gifts is to be built-up in the church. Don’t resist the opportunity to let the God of the universe speak through you.[ref] Winn Griffin, Spiritual Gifts for Boneheads (Woodinville, WA: Harmon Press, 1999), 38-41. The material above is now updated and found in my book  Gracelets.[/ref]

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QUESTION: Where can I find the Story of the Prodigal Son?

I’m looking to find the story of the “Protocol Son” (Prodigal). A son who wants his father’s inheritance before his father dies. After getting it and spending it, he comes back to his father as a slave. Where can I find this story at?

Beginning Answer

The story of the often called Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-32). One might notice that the word prodigal does not appear in the text. The story is misnamed. The story is about the Father who is “rashly or wastefully extravagant,” not the son. The story should be named “The Extravagant Father.” (See: The Waiting Father) by Helmut Thielicke.

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QUESTION: What sin did Peter speak about in Acts? | Acts 2:38

Beginning Answer

The text of Acts 2.38 reads: “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

The call for repentance was a common call for the Jews to heed. The word “repent” meant to turn around form what you were doing and move back toward God. It meant to give up the way you thought you could get to God and follow a different way. It was not a specific “sin” that Peter or Luke, the writer of Acts, had in mind.

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QUESTION: Does the verse in the fifteenth chapter of John apply to Scripture readers today? | John 15.7

Beginning Answer

Again Barclay’s Commentary on John series has a great historical background for this question.

[Begin Barclay Quote]

Chapter 15

The Vine And The Branches (John 15:1-10)

I am the real vine and my Father is the vine-dresser. He destroys every branch in me which does not bear fruit; and he cleanses every branch which does bear fruit, so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean through the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me even as I abide in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit in its own strength, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The man who abides in me, and in whom I abide, bear much fruit because without me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he will be cast out like a withered branch. And they gather such branches and throw them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask what you will, and it will be given to you. It is by the fact that you bear much fruit, and that you show yourselves to be my disciples, that my Father is glorified. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love. As I have kept my Father’s commandments, so I abide in his love.

Jesus, as so often, is working in this passage with pictures and ideas which were part of the religious heritage of the Jewish nation. Over and over again in the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God. “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel” (Isaiah 5:1-7). “Yet I planted you a choice vine” is God’s message to Israel through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:21). Ezekiel 15:1-8 likens Israel to the vine, as does Ezekiel 19:10. “Israel is a luxuriant vine,” said Hosea (Hosea 10:1). “Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt,” sang the Psalmist, thinking of God’s deliverance of his people from bondage (Psalms 80:8). The vine had actually become the symbol of the nation of Israel. It was the emblem on the coins of the Macca-bees. One of the glories of the Temple was the great golden vine upon the front of the Holy Place. Many a great man had counted it an honor to give gold to mold a new bunch of grapes or even a new grape on to that vine. The vine was part and parcel of Jewish imagery and the very symbol of Israel.

Jesus calls himself the true vine. The point of that word alethinos (Greek #228), true, real, genuine, is this. It is a curious fact that the symbol of the vine is never used in the Old Testament apart from the idea of de-generation. The point of Isaiah’s picture is that the vineyard has run wild. Jeremiah complains that the nation has turned into “degenerate and become a wild vine.” It is as if Jesus said: “You think that because you belong to the nation of Israel you are a branch of the true vine of God. But the nation it is; a degenerate vine, as all your prophets saw. It is I who am the true vine. The fact that you are a Jew will not save you. The only thing that can save you is to have an intimate living fellowship with me, for I am the vine of God and you must be branched joined to me.” Jesus was laying it down that not Jewish blood but faith in him was the way to God’s salvation. No external qualification can set a man right with God; only the friendship of Jesus Christ can do that.

When Jesus drew his picture of the vine he knew what he was talking about. The vine was grown all over Palestine as it still is. It is a plant that needs a great deal of attention if the best fruit is to be got out of it. It is grown commonly on terraces. The ground has to be perfectly clean. It is sometimes trained on trellises; it is sometimes allowed to creep over the ground upheld by low forked sticks; it sometimes even grows round the doors of the cottages; but wherever it grows careful preparation of the soil is essential. It grows luxuriantly and drastic pruning is necessary. So luxuriant is it that the slips are set in the ground at least twelve feet apart, for it will creep over the ground at speed. A young vine is not allowed to fruit for the first three years and each year is cut drastically back to develop and conserve its life and energy. When mature, it is pruned in December and January. It bears two kinds of branches, one that bears fruit and one that does not; and the branches that do not bear fruit are drastically pruned back so that they will drain away none of the plant’s strength. The vine can not produce the crop of which it is capable without drastic pruning–and Jesus knew that.

Further, the wood of the vine has the curious characteristic that it is good for nothing. It is too soft for any purpose. At certain times of the year, it was laid down by the law, the people must bring offerings of wood to the Temple for the altar fires. But the wood of the vine must not be brought. The only thing that could be done with the wood pruned out of a vine was to make a bonfire of it and destroy it. This adds to the picture Jesus draws.

He says that his followers are like that. Some of them are lovely fruit-bearing branches of himself; others are useless because they bear no fruit. Who was Jesus thinking of when he spoke of the fruitless branches? There are two answers. First, he was thinking of the Jews. They were branches of God’s vine. Was not that the picture that prophet after the prophet had drawn? But they refused to listen to him; they refused to accept him; therefore they were withered and useless branches. Second, he was thinking of something more general. He was thinking of Christians whose Christianity consisted of the profession without practice, words with-out deeds; he was thinking of Christians who were useless branches, all leaves and no fruit. And he was thinking of Christians who became apostates, who heard the message and accepted it and then fell away, becoming traitors to the Master they had once pledged themselves to serve.

So then there are three ways in which we can be useless branches. We can refuse to listen to Jesus Christ at all. We can listen to him, and then render him a lip service unsupported by any deeds. We can accept him as Master, and then, in face of the difficulties of the way or the desire to do as we like, abandon him. One thing we must remember. It is the first principle of the New Testament that uselessness invites disaster. The fruitless branch is on the way to destruction.

In this passage, there is much about abiding in Christ. What is meant by that? It is true that there is a mystical sense in which the Christian is in Christ and Christ is in the Christian. But there are many–maybe they are in the majority–who never have this mystical experience. If we are like that, we must not blame ourselves. There is a much simpler way of looking at this and of experiencing it, a way open to anyone.

Let us take a human analogy. All analogies are imperfect but we must work with the ideas which we possess. Suppose a person is weak. He has fallen to temptation; he has made a mess of things; he is on the way down to degeneracy of mind and heart and mental fiber. Now suppose that he has a friend of a strong and lovely and loving nature, who rescues him from his degraded situation. There is only one way in which he can retain his reformation and keep himself in the right way. He must keep in contact with his friend If he loses that contact; all the chances are that his weakness will overcome him; the old temptations will rear their heads again, and he will fall. His salvation lies in continual contact with the strength of his friend.

Many a time a down-and-out has been taken to live with someone fine. So long as he continued in that fine home and that fine presence he was safe. But when he kicked over the traces and went off on his own, he fell. We must keep in contact with the fine thing in order to defeat the evil thing. Robertson of Brighton was one of the great preachers. There was a tradesman who had a little shop; in the back room, he kept a photograph of Robertson, for he was his hero and his inspiration. Whenever he was tempted to carry out a bit of sharp practice, he would rush into the back room and look at the photograph, and the temptation was de-feated. When Kingsley was asked the secret of his life, referring to F. D. Maurice he said: “I had a friend.” The contact with loveliness made him lovely.

Abiding in Christ means something like that. The secret of the life of Jesus was his contact with God; again and again, he withdrew into a solitary place to meet him. We must keep in contact with Jesus. We cannot do that unless we deliberately take steps to do it. To take but one example–to pray in the morning, if it is for only a few moments, is to have an antiseptic for the whole day; for we cannot come out of the presence of Christ to touch the evil things. For some few of us, abiding in Christ will be a mystical experience that is beyond words to express. For most of us, it will mean constant contact with him. It will mean arranging life, arranging prayer, arranging silence in such a way that there is never a day when we give ourselves a chance to forget him.

Finally, we must note that here there are two things laid down about the good disciple. First, he enriches his own life; his contact makes him a fruitful branch. Second, he brings glory to God; the sight of his life turns men’s thoughts to the God who made him like that. God is glorified when we bear much fruit and show ourselves to be disciples of Jesus. The greatest glory of the Christian life is that by our life and conduct we can bring glory to God.

[End Barclay Quote]

 

The John 15.7 passage is in the context of abiding. Prayer that is effective is based on the one who is praying, abiding in Jesus so that the words and works of Jesus control the minds in such a way that we pray in conformity to the will of God. We can ask for anything that is in the will of God for us and he is faithful to answer. The Contemporary English Version gives us this translation of 15.7: Stay joined to me and let my teachings become part of you. Then you can pray for whatever you want, and your prayer will be answered. The emphasis of the passage is on staying joined with Jesus, i.e., living in his story, not on asking and receiving. The asking and receiving are conditioned by staying joined with Jesus. What we think maybe his will may not. What God wants is not always in line with what we want. The story of the blind man that Jesus healed is an example that things happen in life so that God gets the glory that he determines will best suit his overall plan for the redemption of the world. To heal or not to heal is his prerogative and not our ability to muster enough faith or belief to control his choices. We must remember that Christianity is about our worshiping God so that we can get from him some answer to make our life easier. It is all about him, not about us.

As long as we live in this Present Evil Age, it is our job to continue to live out the Rule (Kingdom) of God into it. The war over healing has already been won in the event of the life of Jesus (birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension). However, as we remain here between the ages (the kingdom come and coming) we will suffer losses and even lose battles. But sitting in heaven, (Rev. 4) is God on his throne, victor overall circumstances. What often appears to us as defeat is so that God can work good for his eternal purposes and calls us to our knees to sing with the angels in heaven:

“Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come.”

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will, they were created
and have their being.”

↑ Back to Questions

QUESTION: Do deacons have to be male? | 1 Tim. 3.12?

In 1 Tim. 3.12, Paul writes, “Let the deacon be the husband of one wife….” This will lead some to believe and teach that Paul is saying that a deacon has to be a man, and cannot be a woman. What do you believe?

Beginning Answer

A short answer would be that the problem Paul was trying to get Tim to solve in the Ephesian church centered around men who were deacons having more than one wife, not women who were deacons having more than one husband.

The local context, the author’s intent, and the listener’s ability to understand, all control the meaning of the text. The text can only mean what it first meant. As you know, verses are useless for anything but finding some bit of content and quoted as proof texts, they are downright dangerous.

↑ Back to Questions

QUESTION: How does Hebrews chapter 6 apply to us today?

Beginning Answer

In the midst of the author’s exposition about the high priesthood of Jesus, he interrupts one exhortation to begin another exhortation (5.11-6.8). This section begins with a rebuke, which is rather severe. The author wants to say more about the priesthood of Jesus (5.11-12) but needs to prepare his audience to be able to understand and appreciate what he has to say to them. These Jewish believers were content with what they had learned and were ready to settle for the status quo. To progress further would be to place a greater distance between them and their Jewish roots for which they were already suffering. For the writer, spiritual stagnation is dangerous. We grow and we are fed solid food as we are taught and we are protected by spiritual and ethical discernment.

For these Jewish believers, the process of digestion was going to be painful. Each of the elementary teachings (the ABCs: 6.1-2) had a place in Judaism but had been invested with new significance in Christian teaching. The author was not going to go over these truths again. Rather, what he had in mind was the error that sought to lure them away from the faith and back to their Jewish roots. One cannot discard the basics even though they may not be all-sufficient. It is important to understand that believers need to cultivate their spiritual life by being continually fed. Knowledge often leads to deeper faith. He was ready to take them into a deeper understanding of their Christian experience.

There is a solution to their problem. He urged his audience to go beyond the elementary teaching about Jesus and go on to maturity. To continually review the fundamentals is to remain where one is, kind of like being a perpetual child.

All the matters listed in 6.1-2 were in fact the elementary truths on which the believers were wavering. Verse 3 tells his readers that pressing forward toward maturity is his intended goal as God per-mitted.

There is an alternative to progress. It is tragic. Choosing not to advance was in fact a retreat that held a gloomy result.

There are four ways this passage has been handled by interpreters. 1) A believer can be in danger of losing his salvation. This is often refuted because of other biblical assurances that salvation is a work of God that cannot be reversed; 2) The warning is against only a profession of faith which fell short of “real salvation,” tasting but not partaking of salvation. (This view is seen in the New Scofield Reference Bible) 3) A warning that a believer could lose his salvation in which case there is no provision for further repentance (This view is seen in the Ryrie Study Bible); 4) This is a warning given of the danger of a Christian moving from a position of the true faith and life to the extent of becoming disqualified for further service in the church.

We must remember that the background of Hebrews was the persecution of those Jewish people who had chosen to follow Jesus over against Judaism. In any such time, apostasy is the supreme sin. When a man can save himself by denying Jesus, it is a hard blow to the church because this person has counted his life and person more valuable than the life of Jesus and his church. This is the condemnation of a person who loves his own comfort of life more than he loves Jesus. It was not the author’s intent to erect a doctrine that there is no forgiveness of post-baptismal sin. What is meant to be understood by those first hearers was the terrible seriousness of choosing personal existence in-stead of loyalty to Jesus.

In that light, this may be possible that some who live in our culture may often choose the pleasant-ness of their comfortable lifestyle over the claims of Jesus on their lifestyle. What we might ask ourselves is what are we doing in our lifestyle that suggests to those looking on and wondering about Christianity about who we are really loyal to? Finally, in a similar time and space of persecution in which you could be called to forfeit your own life, which would you choose? To know, one should continue reading the rest of Hebrews to see what one needs to know and give him or herself to in order to make the correct choice if that proposition should ever arise in our culture. On a lesser note, it can arise in our relationship with our employers, family, politics, etc. Will we have the integrity to stand unwaveringly against the things we know are wrong and harmful; to do that, we may be called to do so in our jobs, etc? Or, will we turn the other direction, choosing to keep the comforts of life and denounce our loyalty to Jesus?

↑ Back to Questions

QUESTION: Will Christians be raptured?

QUESTION:: Will Christians be raptured after three and one-half years into the great tribulation…what does the Nazarene church believe?

Beginning Answer

There are several beliefs about the rapture of the church. The most popular one (The Left Behind Series) is a theological product that came from England in the middle 1800s. It is not a historic belief of the church. This group takes the position that there are two parts to Jesus’ second coming. Part A to rapture the church *before* the tribulation* and Part B the second coming. There are not many current scholars who support a mid-tribulation rapture of the church. However, I do not find the arguments for this position nor the fiction of The Left Behind Series persuasive.

As for what the Nazarene church believes, I found this on their website under their Articles of Belief. These are the beliefs Nazarenes hold to be true:

Nazarene Beliefs

  • We believe in one God-the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe that the Old and New Testament Scriptures, given by plenary inspiration, contain all truth necessary to faith and Christian living.
  • We believe that man is born with a fallen nature, and is, therefore, inclined to evil, and that continually.
  • We believe that the finally impenitent are hopelessly and eternally lost.
  • We believe that the atonement through Jesus Christ is for the whole human race and that whosoever repents and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ is justified and regenerated and saved from the dominion of sin.
  • We believe that believers are to be sanctified wholly, subsequent to regeneration, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • We believe that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the new birth, and also to the entire sanctification of believers.
  • We believe that our Lord will return, the dead will be raised, and the final judgment will take place.

When I originally wrote this answer (2012), the Nazarene website had the following information:

XV. Second Coming of Christ

19. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will come again; that we who are alive at His coming shall not precede them that are asleep in Christ Jesus; but that, if we are abiding in Him, we shall be caught up with the risen saints to meet the Lord in the air, so that we shall ever be with the Lord. (Matthew 25:31-46; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 9:26-28; 2 Peter 3:3-15; Revelation 1:7-8; 22:7-20)

I am sure that there are varied beliefs about the tribulation within the Nazarene church as there are in all other denominations.

You can read both sides of the subject in two older books (easy to read), which will give you enough material to make a clear decision for yourself: The Blessed Hope by George Ladd. This book was Ladd’s departure from classic dispensational theology published in 1956 and The Rapture Question by John Walvoord in 1957). This was Walvoord’s response to Ladd in 1957. Walvoord was a classic dispensational theologian.

End of Session
 

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Read Me First

 

Throughout these sessions, I have used the word ecclesia (singular) for the usual word church and ecclesiae (plural) to indicate a church in a particular geographic place, i.e., the ecclesiae at Corinth, meaning the whole of the many smaller ecclesia that met in homes in Corinth. This is to distinguish between the Institutional Church model (IC) and ecclesia that meet in cities and towns around the world. The ecclesiae written about by the authors of the Second Testament were not the same as what the “church” has become over the years of its existence. Usually, but not always, folks think of a church as a place where they go to a building and set in rows of pews and listen to music and sometimes sing and listen to sermons by a pastor or senior pastor. The ecclesiae of the Second Testament time did not invoke this model.

 

I have discovered over the years that if you want to try and change minds about something special, you have to venture out and reword it in order to grasp a foothold for a new refreshed understanding of the idea presented by the word. Such is the case between "church" and "ecclesia."

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Second

 

Referenced verses in the text of this study are not used to prove some point of view. They are merely markers where the subject matter is referenced by other books and authors. To gain a larger view of each quote, a serious student of the Holy Writ would take the time to view the reference and see what the background is. The background provides tracks on which the meaning of a text rides. So knowing the context of a referenced passage would help the reader to gain a more thorough understanding of an author than just the words quoted and marked by a verse number that was not a part of the original author's text, which as you might remember was performed on the text in a random fashion many years later.

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Third

 

The verses that are referenced in these sessions are not meant to prove a point. They are simply pointers to where the idea being written about may have a correlation. In order to see if they accomplish the thesis presented by the original author, a student should read, at a minimum, the chapter in which the verse is found as well as trying to ascertain what the original author may have meant to say to the original audience.

 

Of course, this is a lot of work but it is beneficial work. If one does not understand what the author meant when it was written and the audience could not have understood by what was written, then the words on the page can mean anything that a present reader may assign as a meaning, thus distorting what God was inspiring for the original writer to write to the original audience to hear.

A great and recent book by N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird entitled The New Testament in Its World would be a wonderful addition to your reading helps.

 

Happy Reading!

Jesus Followers

 

There are many synonyms to use for the word believer, which is the most common word for a person who has "converted" to follow Jesus. I have chosen "Jesus follower(s) or follower(s) of Jesus instead of the word believer in these presentations to allow the reader an opportunity to move away from the idea of believer which conjures up the possible thought of "ascent" to a set of doctrines that have been assembled by different groups over the centuries and show up in this day and age as a set of statements posted on web sites and other written material. These sets of beliefs are suggested by many as the ones that one should ascent to so that upon death the one who assents can go to heaven, i.e., just believe and you are good to go. Jesus followers/followers of Jesus suggest an action that one should take. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Yes, belief is important, but one must move beyond belief to action.

 

(See "Discipleship" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 182-188.)

Read Me First

 

Throughout these sessions, I have used the word ecclesia (singular) for the usual word church and ecclesiae (plural) to indicate a church in a particular geographic place, i.e., the ecclesiae at Corinth, meaning the whole of the many smaller ecclesia that met in homes in Corinth. This is to distinguish between the Institutional Church model (IC) and ecclesia that meet in cities and towns around the world. The ecclesiae written about by the authors of the Second Testament were not the same as what the “church” has become over the years of its existence. Usually, but not always, folks think of a church as a place where they go to a building and set in rows of pews and listen to music and sometimes sing and listen to sermons by a pastor or senior pastor. The ecclesiae of the Second Testament time did not invoke this model.

 

I have discovered over the years that if you want to try and change minds about something special, you have to venture out and reword it in order to grasp a foothold for a new refreshed understanding of the idea presented by the word. Such is the case between "church" and "ecclesia."

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Second

 

Referenced verses in the text of this study are not used to prove some point of view. They are merely markers where the subject matter is referenced by other books and authors. To gain a larger view of each quote, a serious student of the Holy Writ would take the time to view the reference and see what the background is. The background provides tracks on which the meaning of a text rides. So knowing the context of a referenced passage would help the reader to gain a more thorough understanding of an author than just the words quoted and marked by a verse number that was not a part of the original author's text, which as you might remember was performed on the text in a random fashion many years later.

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Third

 

The verses that are referenced in these sessions are not meant to prove a point. They are simply pointers to where the idea being written about may have a correlation. In order to see if they accomplish the thesis presented by the original author, a student should read, at a minimum, the chapter in which the verse is found as well as trying to ascertain what the original author may have meant to say to the original audience.

 

Of course, this is a lot of work but it is beneficial work. If one does not understand what the author meant when it was written and the audience could not have understood by what was written, then the words on the page can mean anything that a present reader may assign as a meaning, thus distorting what God was inspiring for the original writer to write to the original audience to hear.

A great and recent book by N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird entitled The New Testament in Its World would be a wonderful addition to your reading helps.

 

Happy Reading!

Jesus Followers

 

There are many synonyms to use for the word believer, which is the most common word for a person who has "converted" to follow Jesus. I have chosen "Jesus follower(s) or follower(s) of Jesus instead of the word believer in these presentations to allow the reader an opportunity to move away from the idea of believer which conjures up the possible thought of "ascent" to a set of doctrines that have been assembled by different groups over the centuries and show up in this day and age as a set of statements posted on web sites and other written material. These sets of beliefs are suggested by many as the ones that one should ascent to so that upon death the one who assents can go to heaven, i.e., just believe and you are good to go. Jesus followers/followers of Jesus suggest an action that one should take. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Yes, belief is important, but one must move beyond belief to action.

 

(See "Discipleship" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 182-188.)