"THE BOOK OF DANIEL" The Most High Rules In Kingdom Of Men (4:1-37) INTRODUCTION 1. In Dan 2, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had a dream... a. Involving a large image with head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron with feet of iron mixed with clay - Dan 2:36-43 1) Representing four world empires 2) I.e., Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome b. In which the image was destroyed by a small stone made without hands - Dan 2:44-45 1) Representing the establishment of a kingdom by the God of heaven 2) A kingdom that would never be destroyed, and would consume the other kingdoms -- Prompting the king to praise the God of Daniel - Dan 2:47 2. In Dan 3, Nebuchadnezzar made a large image of gold... a. He required all to worship it, under threat of death - Dan 3:4-6 b. Three young men did not, yet survived the fiery furnace - Dan 3: 23-27 -- Prompting the king to bless the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego - Dan 3:28-29 3. From Dan 4, it appears that Nebuchadnezzar had more to learn about God... a. He knew that God was Lord of kings and a revealer of secrets - Dan 2:47 b. He knew that God can deliver His servants - Dan 3:28-29 -- But now it was time for him to learn that God, the Most High and King of heaven, rules in the kingdoms of men, including his own! [It was through a second dream and succeeding events that led Nebuchadnezzar to this conclusion. In his own words, the king of Babylon relates how it happened...] I. THE DREAM, INTERPRETATION, AND FULFILLMENT A. NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S FOREWORD... 1. Addressed to all who dwell on the earth - Dan 4:1 2. To declare the signs and wonders of the Most High God - Dan 4: 2-3a 3. Proclaiming God's kingdom to be everlasting, His dominion from generation to generation - Dan 4:3b B. NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S DREAM... 1. A dream which troubled him and made him afraid - Dan 4:4-5 2. His dissatisfaction with the wise men of Babylon - Dan 4:6-7 3. The dream is told to Daniel... a. The king's confidence in Daniel - Dan 4:8-9 b. Elements of the dream - Dan 4:10-17 1) A tree in the middle of the earth, its height reaching to the heavens 2) The decree of a holy one, a "watcher", concerning the tree a) To be cut down, leaving only the stump and roots b) Bound with a band of iron and bronze c) Wet with the dew of heaven d) To graze with the beasts of the earth e) His heart changed from that of a man to an animal f) And let seven times (years?) pass over him 3) The purpose of the decree is for the living to know: a) The Most High rules in the kingdom of men b) Who gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men c. The king repeats his confidence in Daniel to interpret the dream - Dan 4:18 C. DANIEL'S INTERPRETATION... 1. Daniel is astonished and troubled by the dream - Dan 4:19 a. Yet the king reassures Daniel to tell the interpretation b. Daniel wished the dream pertained to the king's enemies 2. Elements of Daniel's interpretation - Dan 4:20-26 a. The tree which became strong and tall represents Nebuchadnezzar b. The king shall be driven from men, dwell among beasts and eat grass like oxen 1) Seven times (years?) will pass over him 2) Till he knew that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, giving it to whomever He chooses c. The kingdom shall be returned to Nebuchadnezzar 1) Indicated by the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree 2) Once he comes to know that Heaven rules 3. Daniel's counsel for the king to be righteous and show mercy - Dan 4:27 D. THE DREAM'S FULFILLMENT... 1. It came to pass at the end of twelve months - Dan 4:28-29 2. As the king was boasting about his power and majesty - Dan 4: 30-32 3. That very hour he was driven from men - Dan 4:33 a. He ate grass like oxen b. His body was wet with the dew of heaven c. His hair grew like eagle's feathers, his nails like birds' claws 4. And the end of the time, understanding returned to the king - Dan 4:34-35 a. Prompting him to bless and praise the Most High, who lives forever b. Acknowledging His everlasting dominion and kingdom c. Who does according to His will in the army of heaven and among inhabitants of the earth, and none can restrain or say "What have You done?" 5. Nebuchadnezzar restored - Dan 4:36-37 a. His reason, honor, and splendor returned, his counselor and nobles resorted to him b. But now he praises and honors the King of heaven for His truth and justice, Who is able to humble those who walk in pride E. THE MAIN POINT OF THE DREAM AND ITS FULFILLMENT... 1. Stated several times in this chapter a. In the dream itself - Dan 4:17 b. By Daniel, in providing the interpretation - Dan 4:25-26 c. As spoken from Heaven when the dream came to pass - Dan 4: 32 d. By Nebuchadnezzar when he returned to his senses - Dan 4: 34-35 2. To learn that "The Most High Rules In The Kingdom Of Men" a. Which Daniel acknowledged from Nebuchadnezzar's first dream - Dan 2:20-21 b. And now does the king, from his second dream! [The main point is simple enough, but do we acknowledge that it is still true? Do we appreciate that the Most High still rules in the kingdom of men, only now through His Son? Lest we forget, let's review what the New Testament teaches about...] II. THE RULE OF GOD IN THE KINGDOMS OF MEN A. CHRIST NOW REIGNS AS SOVEREIGN... 1. As claimed before His ascension to heaven - Mt 28:18 2. As proclaimed after His ascension - Re 2:26-27; 3:21 3. As taught by His apostles - Ep 1:20-22; 1Co 15:24-28; 1 Pe 3:22 [So He has the authority, but does He exercise it? Consider the next point...] B. CHRIST NOW REIGNS IN THE KINGDOM OF MEN... 1. As foretold by the prophets a. In Psalms 2, which speaks of: 1) The attempt of the nations to reject Christ - Ps 2:1-3 2) The coronation of Christ despite their efforts - Ps 2: 4-6 3) The exercise of Christ's rule over the nations - Ps 2: 7-9 4) The importance of kings and judges serving the Lord - Ps 2:10-12 -- Ac 4:23-28 confirms that this passage refers to Jesus! b. In Psalms 110, which tells of: 1) The rule of Christ in the midst of His enemies - Psa 110:1-2 2) The voluntary service of His people (the church), and the priestly service of their King - Ps 110:3-4 3) The exercise of judgment among the nations - Ps 110:5-7 -- Ac 2:32-36 confirms that this passage refers to Jesus! 2. As taught by the apostles a. Governing authorities exist as appointed by God, to serve as ministers of God - Ro 13:1-4 b. Why pray for kings and those in authority, that peace may prevail, unless God through Christ can do something about it? - cf. 1Ti 2:1-2 c. Jesus is the "ruler over the kings of the earth" - Re 1:5 1) He exercised that rule in the destruction of Jerusalem, foretold in Mt 24 2) He exercised that rule in destroying the beast of Revelation (the Roman empire) and all his forces - cf. Re 17:14 -- Truly Jesus is "King of kings, and Lord of lords"! - cf. Rev 19:16; 1Ti 6:15 3. We may not always be able to see how it is so a. If Christ rules in the kingdom of men, why do evil men and evil empires exist? b. This was a problem that perplexed Habakkuk... 1) Who bewailed the wickedness in Israel - Hab 1:2-4 2) Who was amazed that God would punish Israel by a nation more evil than it - Hab 1:12-13 3) Who placed his trust in God, no matter the circumstances - Hab 3:17-19 c. It helps to understand the nature of Christ's rule 1) He rules "in the midst of His enemies" - Ps 110:2 2) He must reign "till He has put all enemies under His feet" - 1Co 15:25-26 -- Until He comes again, Jesus exercises His authority over the nations in ways we may not always comprehend CONCLUSION 1. To know that "the Most High rules" must have been comforting to Daniel... a. For at that time he and the nation of Israel were in captivity b. Their temple was destroyed, the land plundered and filled with transplanted foreigners c. Yet Daniel knew the prophecy of Jeremiah, that after seventy years they would return - cf. Dan 9:1-2 -- Knowing that God rules, even when wicked men seem to prevail, gave him hope 2. We can take comfort in knowing that "the Most High rules" today... a. That He who rules in the kingdom of men is Jesus! b. Who is our Savior, Priest, and Friend! -- Therefore we can look forward to the future with hope, not apprehension 3. But this is true only if we give Jesus sovereign rule in our personal lives... a. He must be "our" Lord, the King of "our" lives! b. We must be "volunteers" in the day of His power - cf. Ps 110:3 Have we submitted in obedience to Him who is both Lord and Christ (cf. Ac 2:36-38)? Remember the admonition of the Psalmist... "Serve the LORD with fear, And rejoice with trembling. "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. "Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. (Ps 2:11-12) Are you putting your trust in Jesus, the Son of God?
"THE BOOK OF DANIEL" Faith In The Face Of Fire (3:1-30) INTRODUCTION 1. In Dan 1, we were introduced to three companions of Daniel: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego... a. Like Daniel, they were young men taken from Judah into captivity and trained to serve before the king - Dan 1:6-7 b. Like Daniel, they were blessed by God and impressed the king after their period of training - Dan 1:17-20 2. Dan 3 reveals more about the character of these three young men... a. In recounting an incident that has fascinated many, both young and old b. Like Dan 1, it illustrates the power of a strong faith in those who are young [This inspiring story, which I like to call "Faith In The Face Of Fire", begins by describing...] I. THEIR TRIAL A. THE EVENTS LEADING UP TO IT... 1. Nebuchadnezzar's image, and his command to worship it - Dan 3: 1-7 2. The accusation against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego - Dan 3:8-12 3. The king's threat of the fiery furnace - Dan 3:13-15 B. THE NATURE OF THEIR TRIAL... 1. To save their situation a. They had been promoted over the affairs of Babylon - Dan 3:12 b. They would lose their position as well as their lives 2. To sacrifice their conscience a. All they needed to do was to conform outwardly b. Of course, that would have meant disobedience to God - Exo 20:4-5 C. WE MAY FACE SIMILAR TRIALS TODAY... 1. To save our situation, such as: a. Our popularity at school, by doing things our peers or teacher do not see wrong b. Our position at work, by doing that which our boss or company requires which may be illegal, unethical or immoral 2. To sacrifice our conscience a. It would be easy to conform outwardly, to "go along with the crowd" b. But our conscience would condemn us, and so would God [Likely we all have been tempted in some way like this. How did we react? How should we have reacted? How did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego react? Let's consider...] II. THEIR TESTIMONY A. THEY DEMONSTRATED FAITH... 1. In the power of God - Dan 3:16-17 a. That God was able to deliver them from the fiery furnace b. If it was His will 2. In the will of God - Dan 3:18 a. If it was God's will not to deliver it, so be it! b. They would still not worship other gods, nor the gold image! B. THEY DETERMINED TO SERVE GOD NO MATTER WHAT... 1. Like Job in the midst of his affliction - Job 1:20-21; 13:15 2. Like Habakkuk who would praise God even in suffering - Hab 3: 17-19 3. Like the apostles who rejoiced to suffer in His name - Ac 5: 27-29 4. Like Polycarp who offered this prayer as he was being burned at the stake: "O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers and of all creation and of the whole race of the righteous, who live in Thy presence; "I bless Thee for that Thou hast granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of Thy Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. "May I be received among these in Thy presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as Thou didst prepare and reveal it beforehand, and hast accomplished it, Thou that art the faithful and true God. "For this cause, yea and for all things, I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, through whom with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now and for the ages to come. Amen.' - From The Martyrdom Of Polycarp [Such examples are truly "Faith In The Face Of Fire"! This is what it means to have faith, trust, and commitment to the Lord. What about our own personal trials at school or work? Have we been true to God, no matter the cost? Finally, consider...] III. THEIR TRIUMPH A. THE REST OF THE CHAPTER REVEALS... 1. How they were saved in the fiery furnace - Dan 3:19-25 2. How Nebuchadnezzar was led to bless the true God - Dan 3:26-39 B. CONSIDER WHAT THEIR TRIALS BROUGHT THEM... 1. A new sense of freedom! a. They entered bound, but were soon seen "loose, walking" - Dan 3:23-25 b. The very thing presumed to destroy them, enabled them to walk freely! c. So our own trials can be used to set us truly free! - Jm 1: 2-4; Ro 5:3-5 2. A new source of fellowship! a. Note: There was a fourth person in the fire! - Dan 3:25 b. The identity of this fourth person is not certain 1) Some think it was an angel 2) Others believe it was a Christophany (a preincarnate appearance of Christ) c. Whichever, it suggested a closer communion and fellowship with God! d. So our trials can bring us closer to God 1) As explained by the author of Hebrews - He 12:5-11 2) As promised by Jesus Himself - Re 3:12,21; 7:13-17 3. A new opportunity for service! a. They were promoted to even higher positions! - Dan 3:30 b. Just as Joseph, who in his trials went: 1) From slave to steward 2) From prisoner to Pharaoh's second hand man! c. So our faithfulness in trials will lead to greater things! - Mt 25:21; Re 2:25-27 CONCLUSION 1. What a wonderful example of faith in these three young men! a. Committed to serving God, no matter the consequence b. Believing that God can bring deliverance, willing to accept death if He doesn't c. Demonstrating that faith in the face of fire can lead to greater things 2. Let's not overlook perhaps the most important outcome of this incident: glory to God! a. Note the praise rendered by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon - Dan 3:28-29 b. So our faith (and works) should be to the praise of God - Mt 5:16 3. What kind of faith do we have? Is it like a.... a. Spare tire, used only in the case of an emergency? b. Wheelbarrow, easily upset and must be pushed? c. Bus, ridden only when it goes our way? May our faith be like that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, committed to serving the Lord and demonstrating "Faith In The Face Of Fire"!
What is the Jewish Talmud?
“Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”—’then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, teaching as doctrine the traditions of men’ ” (Matthew 15:3-9).In interpreting the Law of Moses, the Pharisees overstepped their bounds by inserting the traditions of their fathers in place of God’s holy law, and were summarily condemned by the Lord for their actions. Though Jesus preached against this Pharisaical traditionalism throughout His earthly ministry, the Judaism practiced today is based almost exclusively upon it. What Jesus called the “traditions of men” is now known as “rabbinicalism,” and is grounded firmly in the extrabiblical writings of the Talmud.
The Jews believe that two laws were given to Moses—the written and the oral. Both were given to Moses by God at Sinai: the written was engraved on stone tablets, and penned by Moses shortly before his death (Deuteronomy 31:9-13), while the oral was revealed in the conversation between God and the great Lawgiver on the mountain. This second body of law was passed from Moses to Joshua, from Joshua to the Israelite elders, and then from generation to generation as the ages passed. Each generation of teachers “expanded” on this law, which eventually became quite extensive, and added much unnecessary legislation to God’s already adequate laws. It was this orally transmitted law that was advanced and defended by many of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day (Matthew 15:1-2), and then used in their attempts to restrict Him from certain activities on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). The Jews found justification for the oral law in Exodus 20:1 (“And God spoke all these words…”), although this interpretation of the passage is contrived at best.
After the destruction of Jerusalem and the Bar-Kokhba rebellion in the first century A.D., the rabbis who were familiar with the oral law were few in number, and it was feared that there would not be enough Jews left to pass on the great traditions. To remedy this potential problem, Rabbi Judah the Prince set out to organize and record the oral law into a formal body of written law in A.D. 166 (Telushkin, 1991). The oral law, now called the Mishna, was methodically organized. Formerly, if a question arose about the Sabbath, a search would be made in all five books of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), and scattered references would be collected. This was time-consuming and impractical during the time when books were rare, and so Rabbi Judah organized and grouped all related passages into topical sections, along with the interpretations, opinions, and precedents that characterized the oral traditions. Thus the Mishnah, the codified oral law, consists of 63 “tractates” relating to every aspect of Jewish life.
To illustrate the differences in the two types of law, contrast these passages from the Torah and the Mishna. The Torah declares: “Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day.” This was practiced in a literal fashion for centuries (with the Jews probably sitting around in the cold and dark from Friday night until Saturday evening), until the scribes and Pharisees came along with their new interpretation. These learned men declared that it was acceptable to have lights on the Sabbath, so long as they were kindled before the Sabbath began, and not touched until after the Sabbath ended. This interpretation led to all sorts of little regulations to guard people from accidentally touching the lamp on the Sabbath. One of these was the Mishna regulation “one shall not read by the lamplight”—the reason being, if one were reading by the lamp, one might be tempted to adjust the light, and thereby violate the original commandment (see Browne, 1933, pp. 181ff.).
As the Jewish teachers continued to study and debate the fine points of the Mishna, a body of scholarly commentary grew, which subsequently was called the Gemara. This commentary was combined with the Mishna, and referred to as the Talmud. There are two works that fall under this appellation, labeled by their place of origin: the Babylonian Talmud, and the Jerusalem Talmud. The latter is less intact, and was completed c. A.D. 350, while the former and more respected of the two was completed c. A.D. 550. Today, only one manuscript survives: the Munish manuscript of 1342. These books are of tremendous size, comprising about 6,000 pages in today’s modern print. Alfred Edersheim, noted Jewish scholar, defined the Talmud in this way:
If we imagine something combining law reports, a Rabbinical “Hansard,” and notes of a theological debating club—all thoroughly Oriental, full of digressions, anecdotes, quaint sayings, fancies, legends, and too often of what, from its profanity, superstition, and even obscenity, could scarcely be quoted, we may form some general idea of what the Talmud is (1972, p. 103).The Talmud is intended to do more than simply restate the law; the material is meant to connect the laws to everyday life, and to give practical instruction. The Talmud presents the opinions of the scholars, and presents their debates over each topic, no matter how mundane or inane. Its purpose was to complement the Torah, but it came to supplement (if not displace) it. Note the tediousness and absurdity of the following rabbinic debate:
Rabbah [a Babylonian scholar] said [that one should not read by the lamplight] even if it be placed [far out of reach, say] the height from the ground of two men, or two stories, or even on top of ten houses, one above the other.And so it goes, on and on…
[That is] “one may not read.” But it does not say two may not read together, [for then one can guard the other against snuffing the wick]. Against this supposition, however, there is a tradition that “neither one nor two together” [may read].
Said Rabbi Elazar: “There is no contradiction here. The Mishna allows [two people to read together] so long as they read the same subject. But the tradition [forbids it only if] they are reading different subjects…” (Browne, 1933, pp. 182-183, emp. in orig.).
Such Socratic, rambling dialogue is common in the Talmud, and many examples could be cited. Strong and McClintock remarked:
Abounding, moreover, in fantastic trifles and Rabbinical reveries, it must appear almost incredible that any sane man could exhibit such acumen and such ardor in the invention of those unintelligible comments, in those nice scrupulosities, and those ludicrous chimeras which the rabbins have solemnly published to the world… (1970, 10:168).Underlying the Talmud is the assumption of the perfection of the Mishna, giving this book of human origin a sanctity almost equal to that of the Bible (Douglas, 1991, p. 808). This became necessary for the survival of Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, since much of the Old Law revolved around the Temple. After the House of God was destroyed and the Jews scattered, Judaism essentially had to be rewritten. Observe in this excerpt the great respect given to the traditions, compared to the law in the Talmud:
The spirit of the Talmudic process is expressed in a tale in tractate Baba Meziah. Rabbi Eliezer, a proponent of unchanging tradition—“a well-lined cistern that doesnt lose a drop,” as his teacher characterized him—was engaged in a legal disputation with his colleagues. “He brought all the reasons in the world,” but the majority would not accept his view. Said Rabbi Eliezer, “If the law is as I hold it to be, let this tree prove it,” and the tree uprooted itself a hundred amma, but they said, “Proof cannot be brought from a tree.” Rabbi Eliezer persisted, saying, “Let these waters determine it,” and the waters began to flow backwards, but his colleagues responded that waters cannot determine the law. Once again Rabbi Eliezer tried, asking the walls of the study house to support him. They began to totter, whereupon the spokesman for the majority, Rabbi Joshua, admonished them, “when rabbis are engaged in legal discussion what right have ye to interfere!” So the walls did not fall in respect for Rabbi Joshua, nor did they return to their upright position, in respect for Rabbi Eliezer-and “they remain thus to this day!” But Rabbi Eliezer would not surrender and cried out: “Let Heaven decide.” A voice was heard from Heaven saying: “Why do ye dispute with Rabbi Eliezer; the law is always as he says it to be.” Whereupon Rabbi Joshua arose and proclaimed, quoting Scripture, “It is not in Heaven!” Rabbi Jeremiah explained, “The Law was given at Sinai and we no longer give heed to heavenly voices, for in that Law it is stated: ‘One follows the majority.’ ” God’s truth, divine law, is not determined by miracles or heavenly voices, but by the collegium of rabbis, men learned in the law, committed to the law and expert in its application to the life of the pious community (“The Talmud,” 2003).Despite the tedious legalese illustrated above, the Talmud does offer pieces of wisdom and learning. “Be thou the cursed, not he who curses.” “The soldiers fight, and the kings are called the heroes.” “The passions are not all evil, for were it not for them, no one would build a house, marry a wife, beget children, or do any work.” One third of the book consists of “clever fables and quaint legends and amusing proverbs” like those mentioned above, and is the essential source for all Jewish culture.
Today, Jews accept the Talmud in many different ways. An old joke says that if you put ten Jews in a room together you’ll get eleven different opinions on it. The Orthodox Jews basically accept the Talmud as authoritative, while the more liberal Reformed Jews reject most of the legislation. Conservatives fall somewhere in between. Nonetheless, it is accepted by all Jews as an important body of tradition and lore.
The Christian can learn a great lesson from this discussion about the dangers of adding to God’s Word. In the case of the Jews, what began as small footnotes to the Word became a body of literature all its own—a body that now possess as much authority in some minds as the written law of God. While there is always a place for scholarly examination and reference in personal Bible study, we must be careful never to accept “as doctrine the commandments of men.”
[The Talmud can be found on-line at http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm]
REFERENCESEdersheim, Alfred (1972), The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Browne, Lewis (1933), Stranger than Fiction (New York: Macmillan).
Douglas, J.D., ed. (1991), New 20th-Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Baker).
“The Talmud” (2003), Jewish Virtual Library [On-line], URL: http://jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/loc/Talmud.html.
Telushkin, Joseph (1991), Talmud/Mishna/Gemara [Reprinted at Jewish Virtual Library], [On-line], URL: http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/Judaism/talmud_&_mishna.html.
M’Clintock, John and James Strong (1970), Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Grand Rapids: Baker).
Does It Really Matter Who Wrote the Pentateuch?
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
Since the “period of Enlightenment,” liberal scholars have been extremely critical of those who teach that Moses was the inspired human author of the first five books of the Bible. These critics teach that the Pentateuch was compiled from four original source documents—designated as J, E, D, and P—which supposedly were written at different times by a different author (or authors), and eventually were compiled as the Pentateuch by a redactor (editor) around 200 B.C. This theory, which wears various names (Graf-Wellhausen Theory, Documentary Hypothesis, JEDP Theory, etc.), has becoming increasingly popular through the years. Numerous commentaries, religious journals, and Web sites promote it. And many professors who teach religious courses espouse it. Undoubtedly, it is the champion among topics discussed in classes on a critical introduction to the Bible. In most “scholarly” circles, if one does not hold to the Documentary Hypothesis (or at least some form of it), he is considered fanatical and uneducated. In fact, we at Apologetics Press received an e-mail some time ago inquiring as to why we do not hold to this theory, since “it is accepted by almost all scholarly interpreters.” In his book The Darwin Wars, Andrew Brown mentioned an interview he had with the rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in which Dr. Sacks defended the proposition that Moses wrote or dictated the first five books of the Bible. Brown’s response was: “That is the most shocking thing I have ever heard an intellectual say” (1999, p. 167).
Since the theory that Moses did not write the Pentateuch has become so widely accepted by “intellectuals,” many Christians are “caving in” under pressure and declaring that “it doesn’t really matter who wrote the first five books of the Bible as long as we believe they are inspired.” This certainly is true of other books of the Bible, so why not the first five? We do not consider it a necessity to know whom God inspired to write the book of Job or the epistle of Hebrews. We do not draw lines of fellowship over who wrote 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles. Why, then, should the discussion of who penned the first five books of the Bible be any different? The difference is that the Bible is replete with references attributing these books to Moses.
Within the Pentateuch itself, one can read numerous times how Moses wrote the law of God.
“And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord” (Exodus 24:4). “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write these words…’ ” (Exodus 34:27).Bible writers throughout the Old Testament credited Moses with writing the Pentateuch (also known as the Torah or “the Law”). A plain statement of this commonly held conviction is expressed in Joshua 8:32: “There in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua copied on stones the law of Moses, which he [Moses—EL] had written” (NIV, emp. added). Notice also that 2 Chronicles 34:14 states: “...Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given by Moses” (emp. added; cf. Ezra 3:2; 6:18; Nehemiah 13:1; Malachi 4:4). As Josh McDowell noted in his book, More Evidence that Demands a Verdict, these verses “refer to an actual written ‘law of Moses,’ not simply an oral tradition” (1975, pp. 93-94).
“Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the Lord” (Numbers 33:2).
“So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests…” (Deuteronomy 31:9).
The New Testament writers also showed no hesitation in affirming that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. John wrote: “The law was given through Moses” (John 1:17). Luke recorded of the resurrected Jesus: “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them [His disciples—EL] in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself ” (Luke 24:27). Referring to the Jewish practice of publicly reading the Law, James affirmed Mosaic authorship: “For Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21). With this Paul concurred saying, “For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, ‘The man who does those things shall live by them’ ” (Romans 10:5, emp. added; cf. Leviticus 18:5). In 2 Corinthians 3:15 Paul also wrote: “Moses is read.” The phrase “Moses is read” is a clear example of the figure of speech known as metonymy (when authors are put for the works which they have produced). Today, we may ask someone if he has read Homer, Virgil, or Shakespeare, by which we mean to ask if he has read the writings of these men. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, one can read where Abraham spoke to the rich man concerning his five brothers saying, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). Were Moses and the Old Testament prophets still on Earth in the first century? No. The meaning is that the rich man’s brothers had the writings of Moses and the prophets.
Furthermore both Jesus’ disciples and His enemies recognized and accepted the books of Moses. After Philip was called to follow Jesus, he found his brother Nathanael and said, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45, emp. added). Notice also that New Testament Sadducees considered Moses as the author, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother” (Mark 12:19, emp. added; cf. Deuteronomy 25:5).
A final reason that one must defend the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, instead of idly sitting by and claiming that “it doesn’t really matter who wrote it,” is because Jesus Himself claimed “the Law” came from Moses. In Mark 7:10 Jesus quoted from both Exodus 20 and 21, attributing the words to Moses. Later in the gospel of Mark, we read where Jesus asked the Sadducees, “Have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ ” (12:26, emp. added). But, perhaps the most convincing passage of all is found in John 5:46-47 where Jesus said: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (emp. added; cf. Deuteronomy 18:15-18). The truth is, by claiming that Moses did not write the books of the Pentateuch, one essentially is claiming that Jesus is not God. As M.R. DeHaan explained in his book, Genesis and Evolution:
Prove that Moses did not write the books of the Pentateuch and you prove that Jesus was totally mistaken and not the infallible Son of God he claimed to be. Upon your faith in Moses as the writer of the five books attributed to him rests also your faith in Jesus as the Son of God. You cannot believe in Jesus Christ without believing what Moses wrote. You see, there is much more involved in denying the books of Moses than most people suppose (1982, p. 41).Indeed, believing that Moses wrote the Torah is very important. It is not a trivial matter that we should discuss frivolously while suggesting that “it really doesn’t matter.” It matters because the deity of Christ and the integrity of the Bible writers are at stake!
REFERENCESBrown, Andrew (1999), The Darwin Wars (New York: Simon and Schuster).
DeHaan, M.R. (1982), Genesis and Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
McDowell, Josh (1975), More Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ).
Defending the Truth on the Campus of the University of Alabama
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
On Tuesday, October 19, I was invited by the Tide for Christ campus ministry, in conjunction with the Northport church of Christ campus ministry, to be involved in a multimedia presentation refuting atheism and defending New Testament Christianity. Several days prior to the event, approximately 15 students from Heritage Christian University in Florence, Alabama, in conjunction with several of the students involved in the campus ministries, blanketed the campus, inviting students and handing out literally thousands of flyers about the event. Trae Durden, the campus minister with Tide for Christ, originally organized the event in conjunction with the AAA (Alabama Atheists and Agnostics). Trae worked with them to make sure that several atheists and agnostics on campus were in attendance so that the atheistic position would be well-represented. In all, some 150-200 people were in attendance.
Trae originally wanted to set up a debate with Sam Harris (one of the nation’s leading atheistic writers and speakers), but Harris required $50,000, making his presence cost prohibitive. Instead, several video clips were shown of the world’s most well known atheists expressing their atheistic points of view. I then responded to the assertions, and presented evidence confirming Christian theism. Questions from the audience were then taken. Several students from the AAA and the school’s philosophy department attended, and asked questions or made statements regarding their beliefs. The question and answer session lasted over an hour. The questions raised were mostly from the atheistic point of view. Each question was answered with solid biblical, historical, and scientific information. The truth was defended, God was glorified, and atheism was refuted.
In addition, the Northport church of Christ and the Central church of Christ contributed $500 dollars so that a host of books and materials could be given away free to all those in attendance. Those who attended and received the books seemed extremely grateful, and it was exciting to be able to see atheists and agnostics leave the event with materials that could potentially save their souls. It was also thrilling to be able to review the plan of salvation, knowing that it may have been the first, and possibly only, time that some had heard, or will ever hear, the truth on the subject. I was thrilled to be a part of God’s activities on the campus of the University of Alabama. We pray that many more such events will take place across the country and that the borders of God’s Kingdom will continue to spread. Please visit our Facebook page for pictures of the event.
Cut Violent Passages Out of the Scriptures?
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
Rarely does the magazine Nature write articles about the Bible. Heidi Ledford’s article titled “Scriptural Violence Can Foster Aggression” is an exception. In the article, Ledford cites studies that suggest that the violent passages in the Bible could lead readers to act more aggressively if the readers believe that God sanctioned the violence exhibited in the passages. Ledford quotes from various theologians, sociologists, and psychologists in an attempt to confirm the idea that “when scriptural violence is used to promote hostility, it is extremely effective” (2007, 446:115).
In the concluding paragraphs of the article, Ledford quotes from Hector Avalos, a theologian from Iowa State University in Ames. Avalos’ solution to the problem is simple—“cut the violent passages out of the scripture” (Ledford, 446:115). Avalos admits that such is a wildly controversial suggestion, but he says it ought not to be. Practically speaking, religious leaders generally avoid reading the passages that contain violence such as genocide anyway. So, according to Avalos, these passages should simply be removed from the text.
Several points need to be made concerning Ledford’s article. First, Nature is infamous for its support of Darwinian evolution. According to evolution, the sole purpose of an organism is to pass on its genes to the next generation. Who cares if it does this in a violent or passive way? Even the most cursory look into the natural verifies the fact that many animals are extremely violent. Furthermore, since humans are nothing more than higher forms of animals, and their purpose is to pass on their genes as well, why would aggression or violence be a negative characteristic? Why not glorify the violence as an adaptive trait that helps the fittest humans survive?
Second, even though some leaders might attempt to use the Bible to support modern-day violent acts of genocide or murder, such would be a heinous misinterpretation of the biblical message. This type of loose and improper handling of the Scripture fails to acknowledge that the crucial message of the Bible which is applicable today is summed up in such passages as Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Any person can misinterpret any literary text and misapply their self-imposed message.
Finally, attempts to destroy the Word of God by removing those parts that contradict a person’s chosen worldview have been legion throughout human history. During the life of Jeremiah the prophet, Jehoiakim reigned as king in Judah. Due to Jehoiakim’s sinful activities, the Lord instructed Jeremiah to produce a scroll containing the judgment that would come upon Judah and her wicked king. One of the king’s servants read the scroll and its divine judgments in the presence of Jehoiakim. Upon hearing the message, the evil king took a scribe’s knife, slashed the scroll to pieces, and tossed it into the fire burning in the hearth (Jeremiah 36:11-26). In a literal or figurative sense, humans have consistently attempted to do away with parts of God’s Word that they reject.
Instead of attempting to destroy the parts of God’s Word, we should be trying our best to rightly divide the Word of truth, since God’s Word will judge all people on the Day of Judgment (John 12:48). We should take heed to the inspired principle spoken by John pertaining to the book of Revelation:
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19, emp. added).
The Miracles of Jesus
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
In John 20:31, we learn why Jesus performed miracles—so “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” The miracles of Christ recorded in the Gospels proved that Jesus had been given all power in Heaven and on Earth. Trustworthy men documented that He had power over the human body and could heal sickness and disease with the touch of His hand (Matthew 8:1-4). On other occasions, He proved that He had power over the spiritual world by forgiving sins (Luke 5:20-24) and casting out demons (Luke 6:18). He also had power to control the physical world by calming storms and walking on water (Matthew 14:25-43). And His power over death was shown through His glorious resurrection three days after His crucifixion (John 20:24-29).
Jesus’ miracles were designed to prove that He was the Son of God. Even the Pharisees, His worst enemies, admitted: “This man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him” (John 11:47-48). Yet they steadfastly refused to believe that He was God’s Son. Many of them even saw Him raise Lazarus from the dead, heal the sick, and cause the blind to see. Yet they would not admit to His deity.
Why should it be any different today? Anyone who takes an honest look at the evidence should see that this world must have had a Creator. The Bible is inspired by that Creator, and informs us that Jesus performed miracles to prove He was the Son of God. Yet many people will brush aside all the evidence—just as the Pharisees did—and deny Christ’s divinity. The Judgment Day will find those people hearing the words of Christ: “Woe unto you!… For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21).
CONCLUSIONMiracles are only impossible in a world with no God. Throughout history, God has used miracles to create the Universe, to add credibility to the men who had been entrusted with His message, and to accomplish His divine purposes. Jesus of Nazareth repeatedly performed miraculous deeds in order to prove to His followers (and to His enemies!) that He was indeed the Son of God. Sadly, many people during Christ’s day refused to believe in Him as God’s Son. And, just as sadly, many today stubbornly refuse to believe in the Sonship of Christ. As Christ told the unbelieving Pharisees of His day, so will He tell the modern-day disbelievers, “Woe unto you!"
Another Antiquated Dinosaur Engraving
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
Last week we posted our most recent Reason & Revelation article, in which we examined various dinosaur carvings from around the world (see Butt and Lyons, 2008). We highlighted a Stegosaurus from the Ta Prohm temple near Siem Reap, Cambodia, an Apatosaurus-like dinosaur from Natural Bridges National Monument in southeastern Utah, and a dinosaur-like figure from the Havasupai Canyon in northern Arizona. Another interesting dinosaur-like engraving lies in the floor of the Carlisle Cathedral in Carlisle, England.
Founded in the 12th century, the Carlisle Cathedral has served as a meeting place for the people of northwest England for 900 years. One of the bishops of Carlisle in the 15th century was Richard Bell. He served in this position for 17 years, resigned in 1495, and died one year later (see Pryde, et al., 1996, p. 236). Bell’s body was then laid to rest in a tomb along a main aisle inside the cathedral. His tomb is inlaid with brass and currently is covered by a protective rug in order to preserve the brass engravings as much as possible. In 2002, the Canon Warden of the cathedral removed the rug in order for United Kingdom resident Philip Bell (apparently no relation to Richard Bell) to examine the tomb. According to Bell,
The brass shows Bishop Richard Bell (1.44 m or 4 ft 8½ inches long) under a Gothic canopy (2.9 m or 9 ft 5 in long), dressed in his full vestments, with his mitre (bishop’s cap) and crosier (hooked staff).
Most remarkable, however, is an engraving of two animals with long necks and long tails. Although some of the brass engraving is worn due to 500 years of wear and tear, these curious creatures are clearly of some extinct animal. In truth, more than any other creature, they resemble the sauropod dinosaurs that once roamed the Earth.
But it is the narrow brass fillet (2.9 m or 9½ ft long), running around the edge of the tomb, that contains the items of particular interest. Owing to the passage of time (and countless thousands of tramping feet!) parts of the fillet have long since been lost, including the entire bottom section. However, in between the words of the Latin inscription, there are depictions of various...fish, an eel, a dog, a pig, a bird... (2003, 25:40).
used with permission from CreationOnTheWeb.com
used with permission from Enlightened.org.uk
It seems clear, even to skeptics, that at least one of the two curious engravings looks like a dinosaur. What is so spectacular about a dinosaur being engraved on a tomb built in 1496? Simply that the engraving is more than 300 years older than the first dinosaur fossils found in modern times. We have no evidence of humans finding dinosaur fossils and reconstructing their skeletons until the middle of the 19th century. So how did someone engrave such a convincing picture of a dinosaur in the late 15th century? The obvious, but often rejected answer, is men once lived with these creatures, and proof of their coexistence is found all over the world in the form of physical, historical, and biblical evidence (Butt and Lyons, 2008; Lyons, 2007; Lyons, 2001). Thus, evolution’s multi-million-year-dinosaur timetable is wrong.
“Bishop Bell’s Dinosaurs” (2007), Skepticwiki, June, [On-line], URL: http://skepticwiki.org/index.php/Bishop_Bell’s_Dinosaurs.
Butt, Kyle and Eric Lyons (2008), “Physical Evidence for the Coexistence of Dinosaurs and Humans—Part I,” Reason & Revelation, 28:17-23, March.
Lyons, Eric (2001), “Behemoth and Leviathan—Creatures of Controversy,” Reason & Revelation, 21:1-7, January.
Lyons, Eric (2007), “Historical Support for the Coexistence of Dinosaurs and Humans—Part I & Part II,” Reason & Revelation, 27[9-10]:65-71,73-79, September-October.
Pryde, E.B., D.E. Greenway, S. Porter, and I. Roy (1996), Handbook of British Chronology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), third edition.
Can a Gay “Christian” Rock Star Follow Jesus?
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
Because God is love (1 John 4:8), He has allowed humans to choose their own eternal destiny. Jesus Christ made this fact plain when He said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and there are many who go in by it, because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Joshua made a similar statement when He declared to ancient Israel, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). Throughout the course of human history, there have always been those who claim to be choosing God’s way, but in reality choose the exact opposite. Of course, this has never fooled God, and it should not fool His followers. The Israelites could not bow down to graven images and honestly claim that they were “choosing” Jehovah as their God. Jesus’ listeners could not continue their lives of selfishness and disobedience to God and successfully maintain that they were choosing the narrow road.
This idea of choosing sin but calling it God’s way is not new, but it is being seen in our culture in more obvious and perverse ways than ever before. Take the case of Trey Pearson, the lead singer of the contemporary Christian rock band Everyday Sunday. He recently explained to his fans that he has been gay for 20 years. He married and had children, but will no longer live a heterosexual lifestyle. He hopes that his fans will continue to follow him and buy his music. He claims that his homosexuality is perfectly in-line with Jesus and His teachings. He stated, “There is absolutely no conflict with accepting who I am and following Jesus. God wants me to be healthy, authentic, whole, integrated, and my truest self” (Weber, 2016).1
Trey Pearson is correct about one thing. God does want him to be healthy, authentic, whole, and his truest self. He is sadly mistaken in making the sinful, perverse claim that leaving his wife to fulfill his homosexual lusts is somehow the fulfillment of God’s plan for his life. Jesus and the New Testament writers absolutely did, in no uncertain terms, confine God-approved sex to a monogamous marriage between one man and one woman.2 By defining marriage as between one male and one female, Jesus condemned all other arrangements, including but not limited to, one man and two women, one woman and two men, three men and one woman, three men and three women, one man and another man, one woman and one animal, etc. You can see the overwhelming logic of such. When He defined marriage between one man and one woman, He clearly showed that such an arrangement is the only one authorized by God.
Now to the main point. Homosexuality is a sin that people can choose if they so desire. They can even claim that their behavior is completely in-line with Jesus and His teachings. But the fact that they claim this to be the case, does not make it so. In truth, Trey Pearson and all others who claim to be following Jesus, but continue to practice their sinful, unnatural, perverse sexuality outside of a God-approved marriage are just like those to whom Jesus’ said, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people drew near to Me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me’” (Matthew 15:8). Again, Jesus cut to the heart of such illogical thinking when He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
The only possible way for any of us to be true to ourselves and spiritually healthy is to repent of our sins, fall at the feet of our Lord, and obey His commands from the heart. Would to God that our culture would wake up to the reality and truth of the inspired apostle Paul’s statement, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodimites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). No adulterer, homosexual, liar, or the like is beyond the power of Jesus’ blood to forgive if that person will repent and turn from his or her sin. If our culture continues to cling to such sinful lifestyles as homosexuality, claiming that Jesus approves, then Jesus’ bold words will echo from the pages of the New Testament as a haunting reminder of God’s love and justice, “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). People can choose to practice homosexuality, but they cannot be following Jesus if they do.
1 Weber, Peter (2016), “Christian Rock Star Comes Out, Sees ‘Absolutely No Conflict’ in being gay ‘And Following Jesus,’” http://www.theweek.com/speedreads/627453/christian-rock-star-comes-sees-absolutely-no-conflict-being-gay-following-jesus.
2 Butt, Kyle (2012), “Jesus Didn’t Condemn Homosexuality,” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=7&article=1627&topic=36.
Did Jesus Break the Sabbath?by Dave Miller, Ph.D.
One common misconception regarding the behavior of Jesus is that, on occasion, in healing the sick and performing other benevolent actions, He broke the Sabbath in order to accommodate the higher law of love. This viewpoint leaves the impression that law is sometimes, if not frequently, antithetical to being loving. It implies that sometimes breaking God’s laws is necessary in order to be loving. This notion, of course, is flawed and contrary to Bible teaching. As Paul explained to the Romans: “he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments…are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10). Paul meant that when you obey the law’s directives concerning how to conduct yourself toward your neighbor, you will be engaging in loving behavior. To love, one must enact God’s laws.
The fact is the perfect Son of God obeyed all of God’s laws, never violating even one Divine precept (Hebrews 4:15). Sin is defined as violation of God’s law (1 John 3:4). Since Jesus was sinless, He never broke God’s laws. Hence, He could not have broken the Sabbath. Those who leveled such an accusation against Him were, in fact, mistaken.
the poolTake, for example, the incident in John 5, when Jesus caused a man, who suffered from a 38-year-old ailment, to rise from his bed of confinement and walk. The fact that Jesus’ action took place on the Sabbath drew the criticism of the Jews who promptly informed the man, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed” (vs. 10). Many would suppose that Jesus would not be concerned with careful conformity to the Law. They would assume that He would chide the Jews for their “nit-picky, legalistic” approach to religion, and that He would be quite willing to dismiss the requirements of the Law in order to give priority to human need in the name of compassion. But this viewpoint is fraught with error, not the least of which is its demeaning assessment of law—law which God, Himself, authored. Law, according to God, is given for human well-being (Deuteronomy 6:24; 10:13; Proverbs 29:18). God’s law is “holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12), and serves divinely intended, positive purposes (e.g., Romans 3:20). Indeed, Jesus’ handling of His critics illustrates the high regard He had for law, the necessity of carefully conforming to that law, and the critical importance of applying it accurately.
In John 7, calling attention to the miracle He performed in chapter 5, Jesus offered a logical rebuttal to the allegation that He violated the Sabbath. Here is that argument placed in syllogistic form:
Premise 1: If the Law of Moses requires the circumcision of a male infant on the 8th day after birth—even when the 8th day falls on the Sabbath—then healing a man on the Sabbath is equally legal.
Premise 2: The Law of Moses requires the circumcision of a male infant on the 8th day after birth—even when the 8th day fell on the Sabbath.
Conclusion: Therefore, healing a man on the Sabbath is equally legal.Jesus then offered a concluding admonition that cinched the validity of His argument: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (vs. 24). Making application of God’s laws based on “appearance” refers to doing so based on how things seem or look to the person making the judgment, i.e., forming an opinion based on inadequate evidence. To the contrary, to “judge with righteous judgment” means to make accurate assessments by drawing only warranted conclusions from the evidence, i.e., thinking and acting rationally. One must be very careful that he is “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB) and not “handling the word of God deceitfully” (2 Corinthians 4:2).
The SynagogueAnother instance in which Jesus was falsely accused of breaking the Sabbath is seen on the occasion when Jesus entered the synagogue and encountered a man who had a deformed hand (Matthew 12:9-13). This circumstance prompted His enemies to ask Him a question in hopes of being able to accuse Him of breaking the Law. They asked: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Of course, they had pre-decided that the answer to the question was “no,” and that, in fact, the Law would naturally forbid such an action.
Unfortunately, the prevailing interpretation of the Law of Moses at the time, at least among the Jewish leaders, was that the Sabbath law enjoined total inactivity—as if everyone was to sit down for 24 hours and do absolutely nothing. This view was a distortion of God’s Law on the matter. The Law gave the right, even the obligation, to engage in several activities (that could rightly be designated “work”) that did not constitute violation of the Sabbath regulation. On this occasion, Jesus pinpointed one such instance: “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?” (vs. 11). Jesus was recalling a directive from the Law of Moses:
You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray, and hide yourself from them; you shall certainly bring them back to your brother. And if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until your brother seeks it; then you shall restore it to him. You shall do the same with his donkey, and so shall you do with his garment; with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he has lost and you have found, you shall do likewise; you must not hide yourself. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fall down along the road, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely help him lift them up again (Deuteronomy 22:1-4; cf. Exodus 23:4-5).Such passages give insight into the nature of God and provide tremendous assistance in making proper application of God’s laws to everyday circumstances.
Observe that God’s laws never contradict or countermand each other. Unlike manmade laws which often manifest inconsistency and contradiction, God’s laws function in perfect harmony with each other. The Mosaic passage to which Jesus alluded demonstrates that the general principle of the cessation of usual work on the Sabbath did not conflict with any number of specific circumstances in which benevolence and compassion were to be expressed. In an agriculturally based society, a family’s survival depends on its farm animals. If a sheep, ox, or donkey were to break out of its stall, flee the premises, and then fall into a pit from which it would be unable to extricate itself, the animal would most likely die or become seriously ill if left in its predicament for 24 hours. To expend the necessary effort (i.e., “work”) to retrieve the animal from danger was not considered by God to be included in the Sabbath prohibition. Hence, Jesus stated the logical conclusion: “Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?” (vs. 12). If action could be exerted to see to the well-being of a dumb animal, then obviously, God would approve of action taken to see to the physical care of a human being! Here, once again, is Jesus’ argument placed in syllogistic form:
Premise 1: If the Law of Moses requires a person to manifest care, concern, and physical effort to recover a neighbor’s escaped, endangered farm animal—even when the incident occurs on the Sabbath—then healing a man on the Sabbath is equally legal.The logic is penetrating and decisive. Indeed, “they could not answer Him regarding these things” (Luke 14:6; see also Luke 6:6-11). Far from suggesting that law is unimportant and may be ignored under the guise of “human need,” or implying that humans can break the “letter of the law” in order to keep the “spirit of the law” (see Miller, 2003), Jesus demonstrated that inherently built into God’s laws are all concerns deemed by Deity to be necessary. The benevolent, loving thing to do will always harmonize with God’s laws, since “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10), i.e., every truly loving action has already been defined by God in His legal admonitions.
Premise 2: The Law of Moses requires a person to manifest care, concern, and physical effort to recover a neighbor’s escaped, endangered farm animal—even when the incident occurs on the Sabbath.
Conclusion: Therefore, healing a man on the Sabbath is equally legal.
The Grain FieldA final instance in which Jesus was accused of breaking the Sabbath is seen in the grain field incident (Matthew 12:1-8). Many commentators automatically assume that the charge leveled against Jesus’ disciples by the Pharisees was a scripturally valid charge. However, when the disciples picked and consumed a few heads of grain from a neighbor’s field, they were doing that which was perfectly lawful (Deuteronomy 23:25). Working would have been a violation of the Sabbath law. If they had pulled out a sickle and begun harvesting the grain, they would have been violating the Sabbath law. However, they were picking strictly for the purpose of eating immediately—an action that was in complete harmony with Mosaic legislation (“but that which everyone must eat”—Exodus 12:16). A modern equivalent might be reaching for a box of cereal on the pantry shelf, pouring it in a bowl, retrieving the milk from the refrigerator, pouring it on the cereal, and eating it. The Pharisees’ charge that the disciples were doing something “not lawful” on the Sabbath was simply an erroneous charge (cf. Matthew 15:2).
Jesus commenced to counter their accusation with masterful, penetrating logic, advancing successive rebuttals. Before He presented specific scriptural refutation of their charge, He first employed a rational device designated by logicians as argumentum ad hominem (literally “argument to the man”). He used the “circumstantial” form of this argument, which enabled Him to “point out a contrast between the opponent’s lifestyle and his expressed opinions, thereby suggesting that the opponent and his statements can be dismissed as hypocritical” (Baum, 1975, p. 470, emp. added). This variety of argumentation spotlights the opponent’s inconsistency, and “charges the adversary with being so prejudiced that his alleged reasons are mere rationalizations of conclusions dictated by self-interest” (Copi, 1972, p. 76).
Observe carefully the technical sophistication inherent in Jesus’ strategy. He called attention to the case of David (vss. 3-4). When David was in exile, literally running for his life to escape the jealous, irrational rage of Saul, he and his companions arrived in Nob, tired and hungry (1 Samuel 21). He lied to the priest and conned him into giving to his traveling companions the showbread, or “bread of the Presence” (12 flat cakes arranged in two rows on the table within the Tabernacle [Exodus 25:23-30; Leviticus 24:5-6])—bread that legally was reserved only for the priests (Leviticus 24:8-9; cf. Exodus 29:31-34; Leviticus 8:31; 22:10ff.). David clearly violated the law. Did the Pharisees condemn him? Absolutely not! They revered David. They held him in high regard. In fact, nearly a thousand years after his passing, his tomb was still being tended (Acts 2:29; cf. 1 Kings 2:10; Nehemiah 3:16; Josephus, 1974a, 13.8.4; 16.7.1; Josephus, 1974b, 1.2.5). On the one hand, they condemned the disciples of Jesus, who were innocent, but on the other hand, they upheld and revered David, who was guilty. Their inconsistency betrayed both their insincerity as well as their ineligibility to bring a charge against the disciples.
After exposing their hypocrisy and inconsistency, Jesus next turned to answer the charge pertaining to violating the Sabbath. He called their attention to the priests who worked in the Temple on the Sabbath (12:5; e.g., Numbers 28:9-10). The priests were “blameless”—not guilty—of violating the Sabbath law because their work was authorized to be performed on that day. As previously noted, the Sabbath law did not imply that everyone was to sit down and do nothing. The Law gave the right, even the obligation, to engage in several activities that did not constitute violation of the Sabbath regulation. Again, examples of such authorization included eating, Temple service, circumcision (John 7:22), tending to the basic care of animals (Exodus 23:4-5; Deuteronomy 22:1-4; Matthew 12:11; Luke 13:15), and extending kindness or assistance to the needy (Matthew 12:12; Luke 13:16; 14:1-6; John 5:5-9; 7:23). The divinely authorized Sabbath activity of the priests proved that the accusation of the Pharisees brought against Jesus’ disciples was false. [The term “profane” (vs. 5) is an example of the figure of speech known as metonymy of the adjunct in which “things are spoken of according to appearance, opinions formed respecting them, or the claims made for them” (Dungan, 1888, p. 295, emp. added). By this figure, Leah was said to be the “mother” of Joseph (Genesis 37:10), Joseph was said to be the “father” of Jesus (Luke 2:48; John 6:42), God’s preached message was said to be “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:21), and angels were said to be “men” (e.g., Genesis 18:16; 19:10). Priestly activity on the Sabbath gave the appearance of violation when, in fact, it was not. Coincidentally, Bullinger classified the allusion to “profane” in this verse as an instance of catachresis, or incongruity, stating that “it expresses what was true according to the mistaken notion of the Pharisees as to manual works performed on the Sabbath” (1898, p. 676, emp. added).]
After pointing out the obvious legality of priestly effort expended on the Sabbath, Jesus stated: “But I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple” (12:6). The underlying Greek text actually has “something” instead of “One.” If priests could carry on Tabernacle/Temple service on the Sabbath, surely Jesus’ own disciples were authorized to engage in service in the presence of the Son of God! After all, service directed to the person of Jesus certainly is greater than the pre-Christianity Temple service conducted by Old Testament priests.
For all practical purposes, the discussion was over. Jesus had disproved the claim of the Pharisees. But He did not stop there. He took His methodical confrontation to yet another level. He penetrated beneath the surface argument that the Pharisees had posited and focused on their hearts: “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (12:7). In this verse, Jesus quoted from an Old Testament context (Hosea 6:6) in which the prophet of old struck a blow against the mere external, superficial, ritualistic observance of some laws, to the neglect of heartfelt, sincere, humble attention to other laws while treating people properly. The comparison is evident. The Pharisees who confronted Jesus’ disciples were not truly interested in obeying God’s law. They were masquerading under that pretense (cf. Matthew 15:1-9; 23:3). But their problem did not lie in an attitude of desiring careful compliance with God’s law. Rather, their zest for law keeping was hypocritical and unaccompanied by their own obedience and concern for others. They possessed critical hearts and were more concerned with scrutinizing and blasting people than with honest, genuine applications of God’s directives for the good of mankind.
They had neutralized the true intent of divine regulations, making void the Word of God (Matthew 15:6). They had ignored and skipped over the significant laws that enjoined justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23). Consequently, though their attention to legal detail was laudable, their misapplication of it, as well as their own neglect and rejection of some aspects of it, made them inappropriate and unqualified promulgators of God’s laws. Indeed, they simply did not fathom the teaching of Hosea 6:6 (cf. Micah 6:6-8). “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice” is a Hebraism (cf. Matthew 9:13) [McGarvey, 1875, pp. 82-83]. God was not saying that He did not want sacrifices offered under the Old Testament economy (notice the use of “more” in Hosea 6:6). Rather, He was saying that He did not want sacrifice alone. He wanted mercy with sacrifice. Internal motive and attitude are just as important to God as the external compliance with specifics.
Samuel addressed this same attitude shown by Saul: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). Samuel was not minimizing the essentiality of sacrifice as required by God. Rather, he was convicting Saul of the pretense of using one aspect of God’s requirements, i.e., alleged “sacrifice” of the best animals (1 Samuel 15:15), as a smoke screen for violating God’s instructions, i.e., failing to destroy all the animals (1 Samuel 15:3). If the Pharisees had understood these things, they would not have accused the disciples of breaking the law when the disciples, in fact, had not done so. They “would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7, emp. added).
While the disciples were guilty of violating an injunction that the Pharisees had concocted (supposing the injunction to be a genuine implication of the Sabbath regulation), the disciples were not guilty of a violation of Sabbath law. The Pharisees’ propensity for enjoining their uninspired and erroneous interpretations of Sabbath law upon others was the direct result of cold, unmerciful hearts that found a kind of sadistic glee in binding burdens upon people for burdens’ sake rather than in encouraging people to obey God genuinely.
Jesus placed closure on His exchange with the Pharisees on this occasion by asserting the accuracy of His handling of this entire affair: “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (vs. 8). In other words, Jesus affirmed His deity and, therefore, His credentials and authoritative credibility for making accurate application of the Law of Moses to the issue at hand. One can trust Jesus’ exegesis and application of Sabbath law; after all, He wrote it!
Matthew 12 does not teach that Jesus broke the Sabbath or sanctions occasional violation of His laws under extenuating circumstances. His laws are never optional, relative, or situational—even though people often find God’s will inconvenient and difficult (e.g., John 6:60; Matthew 11:6; 15:12; 19:22; Mark 6:3; 1 Corinthians 1:23). The truth of the matter is that if the heart is receptive to God’s will, His will is “easy” (Matthew 11:30), “not too hard” (Deuteronomy 30:11), nor “burdensome” (1 John 5:3). If, on the other hand, the heart resists His will and does not desire to conform to it, then God’s words are “offensive” (Matthew 15:12), “hard,” (John 6:60), “narrow” (Matthew 7:14), and like a hammer that breaks in pieces and grinds the resister into powder (Jeremiah 23:29; Matthew 21:44).
ConclusionThe religion of Christ surpasses all human religion. It is rooted in the very essence of Deity. When Jesus took on human form on Earth, He showed Himself to be the Master logician and exegete Who always conducted Himself in a rational manner and conformed His actions to divine law. May we do likewise.
[NOTE: For more on Jesus’ handling of the Sabbath, see Miller, 2004.]
REFERENCESBaum, Robert (1975), Logic (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston).
Bullinger, E.W. (1898), Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1968 reprint).
Copi, Irving (1972), Introduction To Logic (New York: Macmillan).
Dungan, D.R. (1888), Hermeneutics (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).
Josephus, Flavius (1974a reprint), Antiquities of the Jews (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Josephus, Flavius (1974b reprint), Wars of the Jews (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
McGarvey, J.W. (1875), Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).
Miller, Dave (2003), “The Spirit and Letter of the Law,” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=11&article=1225.
Miller, Dave (2004), “Situation Ethics—Extended Version,” Apologetics Press, https://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=7&article=645&topic=38.