"THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW" The Danger Of An Empty Home (12:43-45) by Mark Copeland

                        "THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW"

                 The Danger Of An Empty Home (12:43-45)


1. In the text for our study (Mt 12:43-45), Jesus was describing the
   spiritual condition of the generation of His day...
   a. One already described as "evil and adulterous" - cf. Mt 12:38-39
   b. One that would be condemned by the Ninevites and the Queen of
      Sheba in the day of judgment - cf. Mt 12:41-42
   c. One He now described as "this wicked generation" - Mt 12:45

2. Using the example of demon possession, Jesus warned it is not enough
   to go through an initial period of repentance and removal of sin
   a. Unless reformation continues and something positive is put in
   b. The end might prove worse than the beginning!

3. Such had been the case with the Jews of Jesus' day...
   a. Many had repented at the preaching of John the Baptist - Mt 3:5-6
   b. Yet they eventually rejected Jesus and called for His crucifixion
      - Mt 27:20-26
   -- For them "the last state" was truly "worse than the first" -
         Mt 12:45

[There is an important lesson to be gleaned that applies to Christians
as well.  From what we learn here and elsewhere in the Scriptures, we
need to be aware of...]


      1. In it can reside things that produce much harm - cf. Mt 15:19
      2. But it can also be the source for much good - cf. Mt 12:35a

      1. For our heart is cleansed - cf. He 10:22; Ac 15:8-9
      2. Our conscience is purged from dead works to serve God - He 9:

      1. Indeed, God gives us His Spirit to dwell in our hearts -
         Ga 4:6
      2. Through faith Christ Himself is to dwell in our hearts - cf. 
         Ep 3:17
      3. God's peace and grace are to fill our hearts - Col 3:15-16
      4. Even God's law is to be written in our hearts - He 8:10

      1. Remember the maxim:  "Nature abhors a vacuum"
         a. If we do not make the effort to fill our home with good 
         b. Then evil things are likely to return, and with a 
      2. Consider the example of the Corinthians
         a. They had been washed, sanctified, and justified - 1Co 6:11
         b. Yet later they were engaged in sinful conduct once again 
            - 2Co 12:20-21
      3. Consider the example of the false teachers mentioned by 
         a. They had been bought by the Lord, and escaped the 
            pollutions of the world through Jesus Christ - 2Pe 2:1,20
         b. But they had become entangled again - 2Pe 2:20
         c. For them, "the latter end is worse for them than the 
            beginning" - 2Pe 2:20-22

      1. In the case of the false teachers, they had...
         a. Forsaken the right way - 2Pe 2:15
         b. Eyes full of adultery, hearts trained in covetousness 
            - 2Pe 2:14
         c. Become "cursed children", "brute beasts" - 2Pe 2:14,13
         d. Even denied the Lord who bought them - 2Pe 2:1
      2. In our case...
         a. Our hearts can become "hardened" - cf. He 3:12-13
            1) Before, the gospel had touched our hearts, moving us to
            2) But once hardened, our hearts might not be willing to
               listen - cf. Mt 13:15
         b. We can become so hardened through willful sin that we...
            1) Trample the Son of God underfoot
            2) Count the blood of the covenant a common thing
            3) Insult the Spirit of grace - cf. He 10:26-29
         c. We can even reach the point...
            1) Where it become impossible to be renewed again to 
            2) Where we are crucifying again the Son of God and putting
               Him to open shame - cf. He 6:4-6
         -- In such a case, how true the statement: "The last state of
            that man is worse than the first"!

[How important it is, then, that we do not let the home of our heart
remain empty and thus invite worldly things to take up residence.  To 
avoid this, here are some thoughts on...]


      1. Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts - 1Pe 3:15
         a. The word "sanctify" means to "set apart"
         b. Set a special place in your heart for God as the Ruler of
            your life
      2. Be selective as to what goes into your mind
         a. Set your mind on things above - Col 3:1-2
         b. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly - Col 3:16
         c. Follow the example of David - cf. Ps 101:3-4
         d. Think upon things that are good and wholesome - Php 4:8
      -- Remember, transformation of character begins with renewing the
         mind - Ro 12:1-2

      1. Utilize every opportunity to study God's word - cf. 1Pe 2:1-2
         a. Attend all services of the church
         b. Participate in the Bible study programs that are offered
         c. Read your Bible daily - Ps 1:1-6
      2. Fill your heart with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs...
         a. For this is how you:
            1) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly - Col 3:16
            2) Allow yourself to be filled with the Spirit - Ep 5:18-19
         b. Sing at church, at home, in the car; sing alone and with
      3. Let your mind dwell on things that are worthy of praise and
         virtue - cf. Php 4:8
         a. Be selective about what you watch on television and in the
         b. Choose your books, periodicals, magazines, etc., carefully
      4. Choose your friends carefully - cf. 1Co 15:33
         a. They will either help you to be strong or hinder your 
            efforts - Pr 13:20
         b. We cannot have communion with darkness and expect the light
            of God to dwell in us! - cf. 2Co 6:14-7:1


1. What is the condition of your "home" (heart)?
   a. Are you are filling your "home" things that are good?
   b. If not, then your heart becomes an abode for every evil thing
   ...and the condition of your heart may become seven times worse than

2. Have you experienced the initial cleansing of your "home" (heart)?
   a. Have you been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, so that you are 
      washed, justified, and sanctified?
   b. If so, wonderful; but don't be deceived into thinking that you do
      not need to be concerned about filling that dwelling with the 
      presence of God and all that is good!
   ...or it may one day be said of you: "the last state of that man is
      worse than the first"

If you have never been cleansed by the blood of Christ, then may these
words spoken to Paul at his conversion move you to respond:

   "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash
   away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Ac 22:16)

"THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW" Condemned By Others (12:41-42) by Mark Copeland

                        "THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW"

                     Condemned By Others (12:41-42)


1. On the day of Judgment, we will all be judged by Jesus Christ...
   a. It is before Him that we must appear - 2Co 5:10
   b. It is by His words that we shall be condemned - Jn 12:48

2. But Jesus also spoke of some rising at the judgment and condemning 
   a. The men of Nineveh condemning the generation of Jews in Jesus' 
      day - Mt 12:41
   b. Likewise the Queen of the South - Mt 12:42

3. This makes me wonder...
   a. Will there be some who will rise at the judgment to condemn us?
   b. What would the men of Nineveh and the Queen of the South say
      about us?

[Perhaps from Jesus' words in Mt 12:41-42 we can glean some points that
ought to make us think soberly about our service to God, and whether we
too will be "Condemned By Others".

Let's first notice what is said about...]


      1. This refers to the Ninevites in Jonah's day - Mt 12:41
         a. To whom Jonah was sent with a message of destruction 
            - Jonah 3:1-4
         b. Who were quick to repent at the preaching of Jonah -
            Jonah 3:5-10
      2. They will rise to condemn the Jews of Jesus' day
         a. Because the Ninevites repented....
            1) And they were only given 40 days
            2) While the Jews were given about 40 years (before the
               destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70)
         b. Because the Jews had one greater than Jonah preach to 
            1) Jonah was a reluctant prophet, who became angry when God
               relented of the destruction to come upon Nineveh -
               Jonah 1:1-3; 3:10-4:3
            2) Jesus was a compassionate prophet, who lamented over His
               people Israel - cf. Mt 23:37-38; Lk 19:41-44

      1. This refers to the Queen of Sheba - Mt 12:42
         a. Who traveled great distances ("from the ends of the earth")
            to see Solomon - 1Ki 10:1
         b. She brought a great caravan of spices, gold, and precious
            stones - 1Ki 10:2
         c. Who praised God for the wisdom given to Solomon - 1Ki 10:
         d. Who honored Solomon with great gifts - 1Ki 10:10
      2. She will rise to condemn the Jews of Jesus' day
         a. Because the Queen was willing to travel...
            1) A great distance to see Solomon
            2) While many Jews were unwilling to follow Jesus
         b. Because the Jews had one greater than Solomon teach them...
            1) Solomon certainly was the wisest man of his day -
               1 Kin 4:29-34
            2) But Jesus possessed "all the treasures of wisdom and 
               knowledge" - Col 2:3

[The Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba will judge the Jews of Jesus' day
because they showed less interest and willingness to heed even though
they had a much greater opportunity.  Again, this makes me wonder...]


      1. They were quick to repent after hearing the one message of
         a. How many sermons have we heard, yet failed to repent?
         b. They were given but forty days, how many years has God
            given us to repent?
      2. They repented when all they had was a simple message...
         a. We have God's full and final revelation, written and 
            preserved for us
         b. We have God's word, revealed through His Son and His 
         c. We have likely had the blessing of parents, teachers, 
            preachers, and many other Christians encouraging us to live
            for God
      -- If we do not heed the message of Jesus Christ, don't you think
         the Ninevites will consider us foolish on the day of judgment?

      1. She was willing to travel a great distance to hear Solomon...
         a. Have we been unwilling to travel a short distance to hear
            the words of Christ proclaimed?
         b. She traveled on camels through desert for months at great
            risk, yet some won't travel in air-conditioned cars for an
            hour or less when there is only minimal risk
      2. She highly valued Solomon's wisdom, giving great gifts to 
         a. Do we value the wisdom of the Son of God?
         b. Are we willing to offer the gifts of our time and energy to
            learn the wisdom of Christ as revealed in His word?
      -- If we are unwilling to learn the will of Christ for us today,
         will not the Queen of Sheba consider us foolish on the day of

      1. Think of those in the nineteenth century...
         a. Who often traveled by wagon or horseback for hours to hear
            God's word
         b. Who sat on logs, in brush arbors or under tents
      2. Think of those in the first half of the twentieth century...
         a. Who sat in hot, un-airconditioned buildings
         b. Who went to protracted meetings every night, often for
            three or more weeks
      3. Think of those who struggled to come out of Denominationalism
         a. Studying God's Word carefully to learn the simplicity of
            New Testament Christianity
         b. Often making the difficult decision to leave family and 
            friends to follow the way of Christ
      -- If we balk at attending services regularly, taking advantages
         of gospel meetings and Bible studies offered in nice, 
         comfortable buildings, will not those who preceded us think us
         foolish on the day of judgment?


1. As Jesus said to His disciples on another occasion: "But blessed are
   your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly,
   I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see
   what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and
   did not hear it." (Mt 13:17)

2. Indeed, we are richly blessed...
   a. We have the message of salvation offered by One greater than
   b. We have the wisdom of God taught by One greater than Solomon
   -- Don't you think that the Ninevites and the Queen of the South
      would have loved to have what we enjoy today?

3. Don't forget the maxim: "For everyone to whom much is given, from
   him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of
   him they will ask the more." (Lk 12:48)

Unless we wish to be "Condemned By Others" on the day of judgment, let
us utilize the blessings given to us through Christ, and expend 
whatever effort necessary to learn and heed His wonderful message!

Is the New Testament a Product of the Church? by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


Is the New Testament a Product of the Church?

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Sometimes Christians forget that when the church of Christ was first established on Pentecost, it did not possess the New Testament as we have it today. The church’s “Bible” was the Old Testament. It had been completed about 425 B.C., and was the Bible Jesus and others often quoted in their teachings. The church’s new teachings were based on the authority Christ gave the apostles (John 14:26; 16:13). Inspired men soon put in writing new divine regulations (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:35) that were collected and read regularly in the assemblies not long after they were written. The New Testament canon gradually took shape so that within roughly 150 years of Pentecost, the New Testament books already had been collected. [NOTE: Near the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr wrote that on Sundays in the Christian worship “memoirs of the apostles” were read together with “writings of the prophets” (The First Apology, 67).]
Sometimes people claim that “the New Testament is simply a product of church.” Such a statement usually is made in order to imply that the Bible is merely a product of the early church councils that met to discuss which books should be included in the New Testament canon. Critics thus belittle the idea that the New Testament we have today actually originated with God.
How does one respond to the question, “Is the New Testament a product of the church?” First, a book’s authenticity depended upon its authority (i.e., did it come from God?), and when it was accepted as canonical, it was accepted because of its inherent authority. The 27 books of the New Testament made their way into the Bible much like the books of the Old Testament. Books were included because: (a) they were known to have come from God—i.e., they contained the commandments of God; (b) they were written by an apostle or prophet of God—like Peter or Paul who could perform miracles to confirm what they were teaching; (c) they could be proven to be genuine—such as the book of Luke, written by Luke; and (d) they were used by Christians.
Second, church councils could not make the books of the Bible authoritative. The books either were inherently authoritative or they were not. Consider the 13-month-old boy who calls his father “daddy” for the first time. Is that the very moment when the man actually becomes his father, or was this man his daddy long before the child started calling him such? The fact is, this man was the father when the child was conceived; he was his father when the baby was born; and he was already the father when the child first called him daddy. Just because he never had called the man his daddy until he was 13 months old does not mean he was not already his father. Similarly, just because hundreds of years ago certain groups of men held meetings to decide which books they thought belonged in the Bible, does not mean that they produced the Bible. These men no more gave us the 27 books of the New Testament than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity. God gave us gravity via His work of creation; similarly, He gave us the New Testament canon by inspiring the individual books that compose it. Newton did not create gravity, but he did recognize it. Likewise, early church councils did not produce the New Testament; rather, they simply recognized which books God had inspired. Thus, God wrote the books of the Bible; men simply put them together.

God, Atheism, and the True Meaning of Life by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


God, Atheism, and the True Meaning of Life

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

I wonder how many casual atheists (and agnostics who teeter on the brink of atheism) have actually thought through the fact that atheism implies that life ultimately is meaningless. One of the world’s most celebrated atheistic, evolutionary writers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Dr. Richard Dawkins, confessed in a 1995 Scientific American article, “The Universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom…no purpose…nothing but pitiless indifference.”1 More recently, in September 2016, Graham Lawton, Executive Editor of New Scientist magazine, penned a one-page article titled, “What is the Meaning of Life?” What answer did this leading evolutionary agnostic give? Here was his heavy-hitting first line: “The harsh answer is ‘it has none.’”2 “Your life may feel like a big deal to you,” he wrote, “but it’s actually a random blip of matter and energy in an uncaring and impersonal universe.”3 Other than subjective feelings of meaning and importance, unbelief implies “we will never get objective data on the matter.”4 Atheism and agnosticism simply fail “to capture a ‘true’ or ‘higher’ meaning.”5
In light of such valid, but depressing, confessions about unbelief, I would simply like to point out two beautiful truths about theism, and specifically biblical theism. First, a person can logically come to know that the God of the Bible exists.6 If matter demands a Maker; if life on Earth demands a life Giver; if complex, functional design in the Universe demands a Designer; and if the supernatural attributes of the Bible demand a Supernatural Author; then the evidence demands this verdict: the God of the Bible exists. Second, the Word of God gives mankind the meaning and purpose that he inherently longs for. Please understand, rational Christians do not come to believe in God and in the Bible as His inspired Word simply because we want some objective meaning to our life on Earth. Rather, once we see the evidence for God and His Word and commit our lives to the Lord in obedience to the Gospel of Christ (Romans 6:1-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9), our admittedly innate but formerly uninformed desire for a “higher meaning” is at that moment made complete by the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). In fact, God gave His inspired Word so that “the man of God may be complete” (2 Timothy 3:17). No doubt, part of this Divinely given, God-revealed “perfection” or “completeness” is one’s realization that the human life actually has real, objective meaning.
The best atheism can do is to ask people to choose for themselves what the meaning of human life is. But such meaning is entirely subjective. One person could just as easily conclude that the meaning of life is to reduce the population of human beings on Earth by any means possible in order to “save mother Earth,”7 as he could decide that the meaning of life is “to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones,”8 including having sexual relations with anyone, at anytime, anywhere.9 On the other hand, Christianity offers the world real, objective meaning. The Creator of mankind has informed us that we exist on Earth for the purpose of choosing (by the grace of God) where we want to live eternally (Matthew 7:13-14). As we prepare to meet our Maker (Ecclesiastes 12:7), He has instructed us to “[f]ear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).


1 Richard Dawkins (1995), “God’s Utility Function,” Scientific American, 273[5]:85, November, emp. added.
2 Graham Lawton (2016), “What is the Meaning of Life?” New Scientist, 231[3089]:33, September 3.
3 Ibid., emp. added.
4 Ibid., emp. added.
5 Ibid.
6 See Eric Lyons and Kyle Butt (2014), “7 Reasons to Believe in God,” Apologetics Press, https://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=12&article=5045&topic=93. For even more evidence, visit the “Existence of God” section of ApologeticsPress.org.
7 See Eric Lyons (2010), “Save the Planet! Kill the People!” Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=9&article=3586&topic=94.
8 Charles Darwin (1958), The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, ed. Nora Barlow (New York: W.W. Norton).
9 Regardless of whether the person is willing. Cf. Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer (2000), A Natural History of Rape (Cambridge: MIT Press).

Does The Word "Perfect" Really Mean "Perfect”? by Kyle Butt, M.Div.


Does The Word "Perfect" Really Mean "Perfect”?

by  Kyle Butt, M.Div.

Nailing down accurate definitions to words remains one of the major problems in communicating any message to another person. It has been said that, in an argument, the person or party who defines the terms always wins. When it comes to the Bible, and claims of its alleged errancy, skeptics often employ the tactic of assigning certain meanings to the biblical language that the original words do not necessarily have. In many instances, the skeptic will take words, and impose upon them a twenty-first-century meaning that was not intended in the original text. Then they will demand an answer to this “obvious contradiction.”
To illustrate, consider Dan Barker’s book, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist. He claims that a biblical contradiction exists between Romans 3:23 and Job 1:1 (1992, p. 171). He argues that Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (NKJV). But in Job 1:1, the man from Uz named Job was described as a man who “was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and turned away from evil.” Forcing the word “perfect” in Job 1:1 to mean what most twenty-first-century Americans take it to mean, Barker insists that a person cannot be “perfect” (defining the word as sinless, morally without error) and at the same time be sinful.
Granted, if the word translated “perfect” in Job 1:1 means “absolute sinlessness,” then Barker has a solid point. But a brief study of the original word quickly shows that the Hebrew and Greek words that frequently are translated “perfect” in our English Bibles do not always mean sinlessness. In their monumental work, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Harris, Archer, and Waltke addressed specifically the word used in Job 1:1. The Hebrew word tōm, translated in Job 1:1 as perfect, has a number of different usages. The word, or one of its derivatives, is used in Genesis 17:1 where God told Abraham to “be perfect.” And all Israel was instructed to “be perfect” in verses such as Deuteronomy 18:13, 2 Samuel 22:33, and Psalm 101:2,6. After listing these uses in their wordbook, the authors quote the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible as saying, “the words which are rendered in English by ‘perfect’ and ‘perfection’ denoted originally something other and less than ideal perfection” (1980, p. 974, emp. added). In another authoritative Hebrew word study, Gesenius observed that the word translated as “perfect” can mean “integrity of mind” or “innocence.” He further commented that the word is used of “simplicity of mind, which is opposed to mischief and ill design” (1979, p. 866). Obviously, then, the Hebrew word in Job 1:1 that is translated “perfect” did not mean “sinlessness,” but was used instead to describe a person who was attempting to follow God’s commandments to the best of his or her ability.
It is inexcusable for any person to demand that a contradiction exists between two Bible passages, when he or she will not even take a few minutes to look up the actual meanings of the words in question. Such poor “scholarship” is lazy at best, and dishonest at worst. Whenever a word in the Bible seems to contradict another thought listed therein, one of the most common ways to reconcile the two is to look up the definitions of the original word. If Dan Barker had done that, he would have known that we are not instructed to be “perfect”—in the sense of sinless in 2 Corinthians 13:11. Nor are we to “hate” our family in the twenty-first-century American sense of despising, loathing, and abhorring (see Butt, 2003).
Furthermore, the fact that language changes, and the meanings of words must be studied, can be seen by observing different translations. For instance, when Paul explained to the Thessalonians what is going to happen when Jesus returns, he stated that the Christians who “are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:15, KJV, emp. added). If we do not examine the meaning of this word, it seems to suggest that the Christians who are alive when Christ returns will not stop those that “are asleep.” That, however, is not what the Greek word phthano means. Other translations show that the this word, translated “prevent” in the King James Version, simply means, “precede” or “go before.”
Before any person presumes to point out an alleged discrepancy in the Bible, the very least that person could do is to study the meaning (in the original language) of the words in question. If such a study were carried out in an honest and forthright fashion, countless pages would be removed from the skeptics’ Web sites and books. Let us all, therefore, strive to be “perfect” in this area.


Barker, Dan (1992), Losing Faith In Faith—From Preacher to Atheist (Madison, WI: Freedom from Religion Foundation).
Butt, Kyle (2003), “Hate Your Parents—Or Love Them?,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/601
Gesenius, William (1847), Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), 1979 reprint.
Harris, R. Laird, Gleason Archer Jr., and Bruce Waltke, eds. (1980), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody).

Did Paul Write About Jesus as a Historical Person? by Kyle Butt, M.Div.


Did Paul Write About Jesus as a Historical Person?

by  Kyle Butt, M.Div.

In his book, The Pagan Christ, Tom Harpur claims that the story of Jesus was mythical. To bolster his assertion that there never was a real human named Jesus as depicted in the gospel accounts, Harpur alleges that the apostle Paul, whose writings were penned before the gospel accounts, never mentioned Jesus as a historical figure. Harpur wrote: “The earliest writings in the New Testament, which make up more than one-quarter of its total content, are the letters of the Apostle Paul. What is absolutely striking about them is their virtual silence on the whole subject of a historical Jesus of Nazareth” (2004, p. 166). Harpur believes this claim to be of such force that “[t]here is no question that this is the datum that ultimately stares down the proponents of historicity.... Paul never once mentions the man Jesus, in the full historical sense” (pp. 166-167).
Harpur, anticipating the fact that many who read Paul’s writings see that the apostle mentioned Jesus, wrote:
Of course, a critic will argue that Paul does occasionally speak of Jesus by name. This is quite true. But today, most Bible theologians agree that even when he does so, he is not talking about a man of flesh and blood, a historical person, any more than the Egyptians were when they spoke of Iusa millennia earlier.... Yes, Paul does talk about “this Jesus whom we have seen,” and at times he gives the impression he has an interest in an actual person, but closer examination shows that he really is speaking always of mystical visions of an exalted, spiritual being whom he calls Christ (pp. 167-168).
Is it true that Paul only mentioned Jesus “occasionally” and never referred to Him as a flesh and blood human being? Certainly not. In fact, it is amazing that Harpur could make such an outlandish, unscriptural claim and still have his book published by anyone familiar in the least with Paul’s writings.
The fact of the matter is Paul often spoke of Jesus in terms that cannot be understood correctly in any way other than as a historical, flesh-and-blood human being. Paul used the name “Jesus” 218 times in his writings (Strong, 2001, p. 453), not counting other names for Jesus like Christ or Lord. For Harpur to say Paul “occasionally” mentioned Jesus is outright dishonesty. Paul used the name Jesus five times in the first eight verses of Romans, seven times in the single-chapter book of Philemon, and 22 times in the brief, four-chapter book of Philippians. An honest account of Paul’s writings shows that they are replete with Jesus’ name, containing it an average of two and a half times per chapter.
Not only did Paul repeatedly mention Jesus, but he specifically stressed that Jesus had come in the flesh as a real human being. For instance, in 1 Timothy 2:5, Paul wrote: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” To elucidate what he meant by the word “man,” Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (emp. added).
Any attempt to turn Paul’s phrase “in the likeness of men” into some sort of spiritual, mystical appearance is doomed to failure. Furthermore, Paul more specifically mentioned that “the likeness of men” that he discussed in Philippians meant human flesh. Paul wrote to the Romans about “Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3, emp. added). The apostle further mentioned in 1 Timothy 6:13 that Jesus “witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate” (emp. added).
Harpur’s major contention is that Paul did not mention details about Jesus’ life such as His birthplace in Bethlehem, His mother’s name, or His specific miracles. Yet, if the guiding hand of God produced the New Testament documents, it makes perfect sense that such information would not be repeated in Paul’s writings, since it was so thoroughly documented in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In truth, the fact that Paul repeatedly alludes to Jesus in the flesh, but does not reiterate the various details of the gospel accounts, shows that Paul coincides with the Gospel writers, but was independent of them as well. Why would God need to record for the fifth time the various miracles and facts about Jesus’ life in the writings of Paul? Paul consistently dealt with many of the events in Jesus’ life such as His death, burial, resurrection, trial before Pilate, birth according to the seed of David, and the overarching fact that He took on the form of a human. Harpur’s complaint that Paul did not mention enough of the details that are recorded in the gospel accounts is a criterion that he and his fellow skeptics have arbitrarily chosen and that proves nothing.
Harpur’s false assertion that “Paul was a mystic, and he knew only the mystical Christos, Christ not ‘after the flesh’ but after the spirit” (p. 172) lacks scholarly integrity and biblical foundation. The obvious truth is that Paul saturated his writings with the name of Jesus and repeatedly stressed that Jesus had come in the flesh as a historical human being. The details he left out of his writings accord perfectly with what one would expect from divine inspiration, and show that, while he acknowledged the historical Jesus, his writings serve as testimony independent of the gospel accounts.


Harpur, Tom (2004), The Pagan Christ (New York: Walker).
Strong, James (2001 reprint), The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Nelson).

Chickens, Eggs, and Ultimate Origins by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


Chickens, Eggs, and Ultimate Origins

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

More than 100 news organizations recently reported how scientists have answered once-and-for-all the age-old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? According to Dr. Colin Freeman of the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, “[I]t had long been suspected that the egg came first—but now we have the scientific proof that shows that in fact the chicken came first” (as quoted in “Chicken...,” 2010). How did Freeman and the other scientists working with him come to this conclusion? They discovered that “the formation of eggs is possible only thanks to a protein found in chicken ovaries.... The protein is vital in kick-starting the crystallization process [of the egg—EL] (“Chicken...,” emp. added). Thus, “eggs have to be formed in chickens” (“Chicken...,” emp. added)—fully grown chickens with functional reproductive organs and the special protein called ovocledidin-17.
Unlike evolutionists, who, as Dr. Freeman observed, “suspected that the egg came first,” those who believe in the trustworthiness of the Bible (and its consistency with every unadulterated lesson we learn from nature) have long understood the reasonable answer to this question: God made all of His creation, including birds, fully grown (Genesis 1:20-23). From the beginning, birds were able to lay eggs and keep them warm, and then feed the chicks when they hatched. Having “momma” and “papa” bird around before baby bird, not only is biblical and scientific, it just makes sense. (As interesting as it is to read about chicken ovaries, ovocledidin-17, and the crystallization process, one cannot help but wonder how countries like the U.K. or the U.S, which are currently facing very difficult economic times, can justify spending thousands or millions of dollars on such unnecessary research!)
Sadly, all (or nearly all) of the news organizations that reported this latest research by Freeman have failed to ask the one question that the chicken/egg conundrum begs: If the chicken did come first, where did it come from? If there were no egg-laying chickens before the first chicken, from whence came the first chicken? Regardless of what alleged ancestor evolutionists propose for birds (and they strongly disagree with each other about bird origins; see Lyons, 2010), a person is still left to wonder: “Okay, so where did that supposed ‘evolutionary ancestor’ come from?” A person has two choices: (1) everything (including life itself) ultimately came from nothing; or (2) everything (including the various kinds of life on Earth) came from a supernatural, eternal Creator, Who exists outside of nature. Scripture, science, and reason all point to an eternal, omnipotent Creator (Romans 1:20; cf. Psalm 19:1-4), not to the mindless chances of evolution from nothing. Sadly, many have “refused to have God in their knowledge” (Romans 1:28, ASV).


“Chicken-and-Egg Mystery Finally Cracked” (2010), July 14, http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/07/14/chicken-egg-mystery-finally-cracked/?test=latestnews.
Lyons, Eric (2010), “Evolutionary Theory Changes Its Tune Again,” http://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=9&article=3484.

Gambling, the Military, and Christian Ethics by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


Gambling, the Military, and Christian Ethics

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

Aaron Walsh had a bright and promising future. A Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army and a decorated Apache helicopter pilot, he had a lovely wife and two young children. When he joined the Army, however, he developed an addiction to gambling due to the presence of slot machines on overseas military posts. (The Department of Defense uses slot machine revenues to fund military recreation programs). In 2005, he went AWOL, only to be found sitting in front of a video slot machine on a military post in Seoul, South Korea. Unable to break his addiction, young Walsh lost his family and his career in the Army, and spent time homeless on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada. In 2006, he returned to Maine in hopes of reconnecting with his wife and children, but his gambling addiction only continued. Sadly, on September 26, 2006, at the age of 34, Walsh went to Baxter State Park and killed himself with a gunshot to the head (Griffin, 2007). “[T]he way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15, ASV).
American civilization has declined to such an extent that most citizens today would be surprised to learn that, from the very beginning of our nation until about 50 years ago, the majority of Americans viewed gambling as immoral. In fact, the Founding Fathers forthrightly addressed the issue of gambling. The Continental Congress passed a resolution on October 12, 1778, declaring their condemnation of gambling:
Whereas true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness: Resolved, That it be, and it is hereby earnestly recommended to the several states, to take the most effectual measures for the encouragement thereof, and for the suppressing theatrical entertainments, horse racing, gaming, and such other diversions as are productive of idleness, dissipation, and a general depravity of principles and manners (Journals..., 1823, 3:85, emp. added).
The laws of Connecticut included a prohibition against gambling:
Gaming is an amusement, the propensity of which is deeply implanted in human nature. Mankind in the most unpolished state of barbarism and in the most refined periods of luxury and dissipation, are attached to this practice with an unaccountable ardor and fondness. To describe the pernicious consequences of it, the ruin and desolation of private families, and the promotion of idleness and dissipation, belong to a treatise on ethics (as quoted in Swift, 1796, 2:351).
In a letter to Martha Jefferson in 1787, Thomas Jefferson commented on the degrading influence of gambling:
In a world which furnishes so many employments which are useful, so many which are amusing, it is our own fault if we ever know what ennui is, or if we are ever driven to the miserable resources of gaming, which corrupts our dispositions, and teaches us a habit of hostility against all mankind (as quoted in Forman, 1900, p. 266).
In his proposal for a revision of the laws in his home state of Virginia, Jefferson offered the following “Bill to Prevent Gaming,” which restricted the holding of public office to non-gamblers:
Any person who shall bet or play for money, or other goods, or who shall bet on the hands or sides of those who play at any game in a tavern, racefield, or other place of public resort, shall be deemed an infamous gambler, and shall not be eligible to any office of trust or honor within this state (1950, 2:306).
Ironically, as Commander-in-Chief of all U.S. military forces, George Washington frequently addressed the deleterious effect of gambling on the soldiers of the Continental Army he commanded. In General Orders issued on February 26, 1776, Washington admonished:
All officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers are positively forbid [sic] playing at cards, and other games of chance. At this time of public distress, men may find enough to do in the service of their God, and their Country, without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality (1931, 4:347, emp. added).
Courtesy Library of Congress: www.loc.gov
The majority view of America and its Founders from day one has been that gambling in its various forms is a vice that is destructive of the moral fabric of society—a view they gleaned from the Bible (see Miller and Butt, 2003). With uncanny anticipation, George Washington declared to his troops on May 8, 1777: “As few vices are attended with more pernicious consequences, in civil life; so there are none more fatal in a military one, than that of Gaming; which often brings disgrace and ruin upon officers, and injury and punishment upon the Soldiery” (8:28, emp. added). The death of Aaron Walsh is a tragic testimony to the truth of Washington’s declaration. If the military’s morality protocol from the beginning of our nation was still in effect, Aaron Walsh likely still would be alive, and his family would still have a father and husband. Even more tragically, if the Continental Congress was correct in its claim that “true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness,” then America is moving swiftly down a road that will result in “a general depravity of principles and manners” and the dissolution of “public liberty and happiness.”


Forman, S.E. (1900), The Life and Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Indianapolis, IN: Bowen-Merrill).
Griffin, Drew (2007), “Bill Would Ban Military Slot Machines,” CNN News, [On-line], URL: http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/15/military.gambling/index.html.
Jefferson, Thomas (1950), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
Journals of the American Congress: From 1774 to 1788 (1823), (Washington, D.C.: Way and Gideon).
Miller, Dave and Kyle Butt (2003), “Christians, Gambling, and the Lottery,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2301.
Swift, Zephaniah (1796), A System of Laws of the State of Connecticut (Windham, CT: John Byrne).
Washington, George (1931), The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office).

Jacob's Journey to Egypt by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


Jacob's Journey to Egypt

by Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Three times in the Old Testament, it is stated that seventy people from the house of Jacob went down into Egypt. According to Genesis 46:27, “All the persons of the house of Jacob who went to Egypt were seventy.” In the first few verses of the book of Exodus, Jacob’s sons are named, and then again we are told, “All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy persons” (Exodus 1:1,5). The third Old Testament reference to this number is found in Deuteronomy 10:22, where Moses spoke to the Israelites about the “great and awesome things” that God had done for them (10:21). He then reminded the children of Israel of how their “fathers went down to Egypt with seventy persons,” which Jehovah made “as the stars of heaven in multitude” (Deuteronomy 10:22). The difficulty that Christians are challenged to resolve is how these verses can be understood in light of Stephen’s statement recorded in Acts 7:12-14. Being “full of the Holy Spirit” (7:55) with a “face as the face of an angel” (6:15), Stephen reminded the Jews of their history, saying, “When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to the Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people” (Acts 7:12-14, emp. added). Skeptics, as well as concerned Christians who seek to back their faith with reasonable answers, desire to know why Acts 7:14 mentions “seventy-five people,” while Genesis 46:27, Exodus 1:5, and Deuteronomy 10:22 mention only “seventy persons.” Exactly how many of Jacob’s household went to Egypt?
Similar to how a person truthfully can give different degrees for the boiling point of water (100° Celsius or 212° Fahrenheit), different figures are given in the Bible for the number of Jacob’s family members who traveled into Egypt. Stephen (in Acts 7:14) did not contradict the Old Testament passages where the number seventy is used; he merely computed the number differently. Precisely how Stephen calculated this number is a matter of speculation. Consider the following:
  • In Genesis 46:27, neither Jacob’s wife (cf. 35:19) nor his concubines is included in the seventy figure.
  • Despite the mention of Jacob’s “daughters and his son’s daughters” (46:7), it seems that the only daughter included in the “seventy” was Dinah (vs. 15), and the only granddaughter was Serah (vs. 17).
  • The wives of Jacob’s sons are not included in the seventy (46:26).
  • Finally, whereas only two descendants of Joseph are mentioned in Genesis 46 in the Masoretic text of the Old Testament, in the Septuagint, Joseph’s descendants are calculated as being nine.
Taking into consideration how many individuals were omitted from “the seventy persons” mentioned in the Old Testament, at least two possible solutions to this alleged contradiction may be offered. First, it is possible that Stephen included Jacob’s daughters-in-law in his calculation of seventy-five. Jacob’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren amounted to sixty-six (Genesis 46:8-26). If Jacob, Joseph, and Joseph’s two sons are added, then the total number is seventy (46:27). If, however, to the sixty-six Stephen added the wives of Jacob’s sons’, he could have legitimately reckoned Jacob’s household as numbering seventy-five, instead of seventy. [NOTE: Jacob is listed by Stephen individually.] Yet, someone might ask how sixty-six plus “twelve” equals seventy-five. Simple—not all of the wives were included. Joseph’s wife obviously would not have been calculated into this figure, if Joseph himself were not. And, at least two of the eleven remaining wives may have been deceased by the time the family journeyed to Egypt. We know for sure that Judah’s wife had already died by this time (Genesis 38:12), and it is reasonable to conclude that another of the wives had passed away as well. (In all likelihood, Simeon’s wife had already died—cf. Genesis 46:10.) Thus, when Stephen stated that “Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people” (Acts 7:14), realistically he could have included the living wives of Joseph’s brothers to get a different (though not a contradictory) number.
A second possible solution to this alleged contradiction is that Stephen quoted from the Septuagint. Although Deuteronomy 10:22 reads the same in both the Masoretic text and the Septuagint (“seventy”), Genesis 46:27 and Exodus 1:5 differ in the two texts. Whereas the Masoretic text says “seventy” in both passages, the Septuagint says “seventy-five.” As R.C.H. Lenski concluded, however: “This is a mere matter of counting” (1961, p. 270).
The descendants of Jacob that went to Egypt were sixty-six in number (Gen. 46:26), but counting Joseph and his two sons and Jacob himself (Gen. 46:27), the number is seventy. In the LXX [Septuagint—EL] all the sons of Joseph who he got in Egypt were counted, “nine souls,” which, with the sixty-six, made seventy-five (Lenski, p. 270).
Thus, instead of adding the nine living wives of Joseph’s brothers (as proposed in the aforementioned solution), this scenario suggests that the number seventy-five is the result following the reading from the Septuagint—which includes the grandchildren of Joseph (cf. 1 Chronicles 7:14-21). [NOTE: The Septuagint and the Masoretic text may differ, but they do not contradict each other—the former simply mentions some of Joseph’s descendants who are not recorded by the latter.] In Albert Barnes’ comments concerning these differences, he appropriately noted:
Why the Septuagint inserted these [Joseph’s descendants—EL], it may not be easy to see. But such was evidently the fact; and the fact accords accurately with the historic record, though Moses did not insert their names. The solution of difficulties in regard to chronology is always difficult; and what might be entirely apparent to a Jew in the time of Stephen, may be wholly inexplicable to us (1949, p. 123, emp. added).
One of the more “inexplicable” things regarding the 70 (or 75) “of the house of Jacob who went to Egypt,” revolves around the mention of some of Jacob’s descendants who apparently were not born until sometime after the journey to Egypt was completed. If one accepts the Septuagint’s tally of 75, including the grandchildren of Joseph, he also must conclude that Manasseh and Ephraim (Joseph’s sons) fathered these children sometime after Jacob’s migration to Egypt, and possibly before Jacob’s death seventeen years later (since Ephraim and Manasseh still were very young when the house of Jacob moved to Egypt). If one excludes the Septuagint from this discussion, there still are at least two possible indications in Genesis 46 that not all “seventy” were born before Jacob’s family arrived in Egypt. First, Hezron and Hamul (the sons of Perez) are included in the “seventy” (46:12), yet the evidence strongly leans toward these great-grandsons of Jacob not being born until after the migration. Considering that Judah, the grandfather of Hezron and Hamul, was only about forty-three when the migration to Egypt took place, and that the events recorded in Genesis 38 (involving his family) occurred over a number of years, it seems logical to conclude, as did Steven Mathewson in his “Exegetical Study of Genesis 38,” that “Judah’s sons Perez and Zerah were quite young, perhaps just a few months old, when they traveled to Egypt. Therefore it would have been impossible for Perez to have fathered Hezron and Hamul, his two sons mentioned in Genesis 46:12, before the journey into Egypt” (1989, 146:383). He went on to note:
A close look, however, at Genesis 46:12 reveals a variation in the mention of Hezron and Hamul. The end of the verse reads: “And the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul.” Yet throughout Genesis 46, the listing of descendants was done without the use of a verbal form. For example, verse 12a reads, “And the sons of Judah: Er and Onan and Shelah and Perez and Zerah” (146:383).
Hebrew scholar Umberto Cassuto commented on this “special phraseology,” saying, “This external variation creates the impression that the Bible wished to give us here some special information that was different from what it desired to impart relative to the other descendants of Israel” (1929, 1:34). Cassuto also explained what he thought was the intention behind this special use of the verb “were.”
It intended to inform us thereby that the sons of Perez were not among those who went down to Egypt, but are mentioned here for some other reason. This is corroborated by the fact that Joseph’s sons were also not of those who immigrated into Egypt, and they, too, are mentioned by a different formula (1:35).
A second indication that all “seventy” were likely not born before Jacob’s family migrated to Egypt is that ten “sons” (descendants) of Benjamin are listed (46:21). If Joseph was thirty-nine at the time of this migration (cf. 41:46), one can figure (roughly) the age of Benjamin by calculating the amount of time that passed between their births. It was after Joseph’s birth that his father, Jacob, worked his final six years for Laban in Padan Aram (30:25; 31:38,41). We know that Benjamin was more than six years younger than Joseph, because he was not born until sometime after Jacob discontinued working for Laban. In fact, Benjamin was not born until after Jacob: (1) departed Padan Aram (31:18); (2) crossed over the river (Euphrates—31:21); (3) met with his brother, Esau, near Penuel (32:22,31; 33:2); (4) built a house in Succoth (33:17); (5) pitched his tent in Shechem (33:18); and (6) built an altar to God at Bethel (35:1-19). Obviously, a considerable amount of time passed between Jacob’s separation from Laban in Padan Aram, and the birth of Benjamin near Bethlehem. Albert Barnes conservatively estimated that Benjamin was thirteen years younger than Joseph (1997). Biblical commentator John T. Willis said Benjamin was likely about fourteen years younger than Joseph (1984, p. 433). Also, considering Benjamin was referred to as “lad” (“boy”—NIV) eight times in Genesis chapters 43 and 44, which record events directly preceding Jacob’s move to Egypt, one would not expect Benjamin to be any more than 25 or 26 years of age at the time of the migration. What is somewhat perplexing to the Bible reader is that even though Benjamin was by far the youngest son of Jacob, more of his descendants are named in Genesis 46 than any other son of Jacob. In fact, some of these descendants of Benjamin apparently were his grandsons (cf. Numbers 26:38-40; 1 Chronicles 8:1-5).
But how is it that ten of Benjamin’s descendants, along with Hezron and Hamul, legitimately could appear in a list with those who traveled to Egypt, when all indications are that at least some were yet to be born? Answer: Because some of the names are brought in by prolepsis (or anticipation). Although they might not have been born by the time Jacob left for Egypt, they were in his loins—they “came from his body” (Genesis 46:26). Renowned Old Testament commentators Keil and Delitzsch stated: “From all this it necessarily follows, that in the list before us grandsons and great-grandsons of Jacob are named who were born afterwards in Egypt, and who, therefore, according to a view which we frequently meet with in the Old Testament, though strange to our modes of thought, came into Egypt in lumbis patrum” (1996). Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown agreed, saying:
The natural impression conveyed by these words [“these are the names of the children of Israel which came into Egypt”—EL] is, that the genealogy which follows contains a list of all the members of Jacob’s family, of whatever age, whether arrived at manhood or carried in their mother’s arms, who, having been born in Canaan, actually removed along with him to Egypt…. A closer examination, however, will show sufficient grounds for concluding that the genealogy was constructed on a very different principle—not that of naming only those members of Jacob’s family who were natives of Canaan, but of enumerating those who at the time of the immigration into Egypt, and during the patriarch’s life-time, were the recognized heads of families, in Israel, though some of them, born after the departure from Canaan, could be said to have “come into Egypt” only in the persons of their fathers (1997, emp. added).
While all seventy mentioned in Genesis 46 may not have literally traveled down to Egypt, Moses, writing this account more than 215 years later (see Bass, et. al., 2001), easily could have used a figure a speech known as prolepsis to include those who would be born shortly thereafter, and who eventually (by the time of Moses) would have been “the recognized heads of families.”
Barnes, Albert (1949), Notes on the Old and New Testaments: Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Barnes, Albert (1997), Notes on the Old and New Testaments (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Bass, Alden, Bert Thompson, and Kyle Butt (2001), “Questions and Answers,” Reason & Revelation, 21:49-53, July.
Cassuto, Umberto (1929), Biblical and Oriental Studies (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1973 reprint).
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1996), Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament (Electronic Database: Biblesoft), new updated edition.
Lenski, R.C.H. (1961), The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg).
Mathewson, Steven D. (1989), “An Exegetical Study of Genesis 38,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 146:373-392, October.
Willis, John T. (1984), Genesis (Abilene, TX: ACU Press), orig. published in 1979 by Sweet Publishing Company, Austin, Texas.

What are Spiritual Disciplines? by Roy Davison


What are Spiritual Disciplines?
The Scriptures do not mention ‘spiritual disciplines’. The word ‘discipline’ does occur in the Bible, but with a different meaning.

Biblical discipline

Discipline is chastisement to discourage improper behavior. Parents discipline their children and God disciplines His children: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Proverbs 13:24); “You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastens you” (Deuteronomy 8:5); “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6; see verses 5-11); “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

One can discipline himself: “When I wept and chastened my soul with fasting, that became my reproach” (Psalm 69:10); “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

A religious standard of conduct

The word ‘discipline’ in the expression ‘spiritual disciplines’ refers to a religious standard of conduct. This usage originates, not from the Bible, but from eastern religions and Roman Catholic mysticism.

The Buddhist ‘Vinaya’ can be translated as the Buddhist ‘Discipline’. A Buddhist monk must observe 227 training rules. A regular Buddhist has five rules.

Hindu and Catholic monasteries also have their ‘disciplines’ consisting of training rules, prohibitions, allowances and regulations that govern daily conduct.

In this sense, a discipline is a regimentation involving a technique or methodology intended to accomplish greater spirituality and closeness to God.

Mysticism involves spiritual ‘exercises’ that supposedly bring one closer to God in a direct personal ‘better felt than told’ way.

Disciplines almost always involve an hierarchy. One has a ‘spiritual director’ or ‘spiritual mentor’ who is supposedly more advanced and closer to God who helps one with his ‘spiritual formation’. This violates the command of Christ: “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ” (Matthew 23:8-10). No one but Jesus is qualified to be our spiritual director or spiritual mentor. Anyone who sets himself up as such is a usurper.

Disciplines are usually elitist. Those who practice the disciplines consider themselves ‘more spiritual’ and ‘closer to God’ than others who do not practice them.

Disciplines are attractive to many people because they promise increased spirituality and communion with God.
By studying and applying the Scriptures we can accomplish these worthy goals. We can exercise ourselves toward godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). We can “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Disciplines, however, promise increased spirituality by means of humanly devised practices. Disciplines usually make reference to certain portions of Scripture, sometimes validly but often accompanied by misinterpretation. In substance, however, they are human formulations.
What did Jesus say about this approach to religion? “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. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:7-9).

Disciplines have an appearance of wisdom but are worthless

In the first century some who were “vainly puffed up by their fleshly mind” (Colossians 2:18) were trying to impose their rules and regulations on Christians. Paul responded: “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations -- ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using -- according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23).

What is the source of these ideas?

In the Catholic church, each order has its own discipline. You can take your pick: Augustinians (several different kinds), Carmelites (two kinds: with bare feet in sandals or with shoes and socks), Franciscans (several different kinds), Dominicans, Carthusians, Hieronymites, Cistercians, Trappists (the strictest branch of the Cistercians), Baladites, Benedictines, Basilians.
Non-Catholics in general have claimed that the whole Bible is their ‘rule of conduct’ not a set of man-made rules of devotion.

Certain groups, however, such as the Quakers are mystic religions with man-made rules and regulations (‘The Discipline of the Society of Friends’) intended to increase morality and communion with God. Quakers have periods of silence in their assemblies when they ‘wait for The Inward Teacher to speak to them’. They call this ‘expectant waiting’. When someone ‘gets a message’ they (men or women) stand up and pass the message on to the others. This message is viewed as coming from God.

The concept of ‘the Spiritual Disciplines’ was promoted by the Quaker, Richard J. Foster in his 1978 book, ‘Celebration of Discipline, the Path to Spiritual Growth’. He praised Medieval Catholic mystics who, according to him, had a closeness to God that we cannot attain unless we use similar techniques. Since ‘the Spiritual Disciplines’ do not come from the Bible, each proponent has his own list. Foster sub-divided them into ‘inward, outward and corporate’. Dallas Willard sub-divides his list into ‘Disciplines of Abstinence’ and ‘Disciplines of Engagement’. Another influential writer is Donald Whitney with his book ‘Disciplines for the Christian Life’ (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991). Existential mysticism is advocated by some: develop your own set of practices that work for you.

Each writer has his own list of ‘the spiritual disciplines’. Prayer is included but mystic ‘prayer’ is different from Biblical prayer. A mystic thinks God speaks directly to him when he prays. Other ‘disciplines’ such as simplicity, solitude and silence are borrowed from Catholic mystics such as the Trappist Cistercians. Each of these items is mentioned in Scripture in distinctive contexts, but they are never presented as ‘spiritual disciplines’.

For the mystic, silence is not just silence. Tilden Edwards, founder of the ‘Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation’ writes: “In its fullness silence itself is participation in God’s being, which is the depth of our own being.” He quotes John of the Cross that ‘silence is God’s first language’, and Mother Teresa that ‘silence is God speaking to us’, and Meister Eckhart that ‘there is nothing so like God as silence’. He concludes: “Silence thus is living, pregnant, sacred space.” Contemplative Possibilities in Corporate Worship/Liturgy by Tilden Edwards.

‘Contemplative Spirituality’ has been promoted in various forms among churches of Christ. Lipscomb University has an ‘Institute for Christian Spirituality’ with a ‘Spiritual Direction’ program led by Associate Director Jackie L. Halstead. Their brochure states: “She holds certificates from two programs with the Shalem Institute -- ‘Spiritual Guidance’ and ‘Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats’, and is a member of the Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani Abbey.”

The web site of the latter states: “The Abbey of Gethsemani” follows “Christ under a rule and an abbot. We Trappist monks lead lives of prayer, work, and sacred reading, steeped in the heart and mystery of the Church. The Abbey is a monastery in the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO), part of the body of the Roman Catholic Church.” Notice that they follow Christ “under a rule and an abbot”. Their rule is the ‘Rule of Benedict’ which consists of 73 chapters.

Jackie “is a member of the Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani Abbey.” This is what their web site says about membership: “We welcome any Christian adult who feels called to live a lay contemplative lifestyle in the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict and the Cistercian tradition.”

The Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation states the following about their mission: “We trust that God is immediately present, and lovingly, liberatingly active and responsive in our lives. This Presence is always available to guide us toward being our deepest, truest selves in God.”

Mr. William C. Dietrich, who was Executive Director and Senior Faculty Member of the ‘Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation’ for many years, is a Quaker who is also a council officer (the treasurer) of the ‘Silver Spring Zendo One Heart Sangha’, a Buddhist congregation.

The difference between mystic prayer and Biblical prayer

Not only is the whole idea of having humanly devised rules and practices condemned by the Bible, but mystic prayer expects direct guidance from God at the time of prayer. Did you notice this in the quotation from the Shalem Institute? “God is immediately present ... This Presence is always available to guide us toward being our deepest, truest selves in God.”

Jesus taught His followers how to pray (Luke 11:1-4). Paul wrote: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Mystic prayer includes being silent and listening for what God wants to whisper to you. Another designation for ‘listening prayer’ is ‘contemplative prayer’. Often, people are encouraged to have a notepad with them when they pray to write down anything God might tell them. This is called ‘journaling’.

Stacey S. Padrick in ‘The Listening Side of Prayer’ says there are two techniques for listening to God. One is through His word. The other is by ‘journaling’. He suggests that we write out questions for God, meditate in silence, and then write down the responses that come in answer to the questions. He suggests that we should then discuss these replies with other believers to discern whether they are really from God!

Such a ridiculous idea is not found in the Scriptures. We make our requests known to God in prayer. He speaks to us through the holy Scriptures which equip the man of God for every good work. We do read about people who walk “according to the dictates of their own hearts” (Jeremiah 9:14) and prophets who “speak a vision of their own hearts” (Jeremiah 23:16, 26; Ezekiel 13:2, 17).

We must observe the warning and statement of Paul: “But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:13-17).

Beware of mystic Bible study

In connection with ‘Contemplative Spirituality’ a subjective approach to Bible study is often advocated. After reading a passage, the mystic waits and ‘opens his heart' to hear what God wants to tell him about that passage. This is promoted as being ‘God-centered Bible study’ but it is actually ‘man centered’. Certainly it is good to consider what a passage means and how it ought to be applied in one’s life. But God speaks in and through the Scriptures, not separately afterwards! If it is not in the Scriptures, it is not from God. If you long for something more than the Scriptures, you are opening up your heart, not to God, but to your own imaginations and even to satanic influences.
This approach is called ‘Transformative Bible Study’. This is how Rhonda Lowry (wife of the president of Lipscomb University) says she prepares for such study, as reported by John Mark Hicks in his blog of July 8, 2008:
“Before we can read Scripture transformatively, we must settle ourselves. We must rid ourselves of the busy-ness of life, focus on the task at hand, and seek God.
“I seek this with some meditative breathing exercises and prayer. To encounter God in the present, we need to be ‘in’ the present (rather than letting our mind wander back to the past or planning the future). I find the easiest way to do this for me is to pray the ‘Jesus prayer’ with rhythmic breathing. As I inhale I address Jesus with these words ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,’ and as I exhale I pray ‘have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I do this repeatedly until calm enters my soul, everything else is excluded from my consciousness, and I sense some focus on God’s comforting presence. It is an experience of calm. This prepares me to hear the text.”

Where in the holy Scriptures, which equip the man of God completely for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17), are we instructed to prepare for prayer or Bible study by means of breathing exercises?

Mysticism downplays doctrine
Jesus said: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 3:31, 32). John warned: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).
A mystic tends to consider doctrinal soundness unimportant because he thinks he can commune directly with God in silence without words.
Mystics of widely differing doctrinal backgrounds (even including heathen mystics) often feel a closer bond with one another than they feel with non-mystics in their own fellowship.
Referring to the ‘Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation’, which is composed of mystics from many different religious denominations, Jackie Halstead wrote in her blog on October 16, 2010: “Next leg was five days at the Shalem gathering in Maryland. How do I describe this community of believers? My faith community, soul friends, people of my heart.”
Mysticism gives false hope. Many of the people at Shalem have never been born again according to the teaching of Christ. Yet, they all think they have close communion with God! They also think they are more spiritual than others who have been “born again of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) but who do not espouse ‘contemplative spirituality’.
The Mystic Theologian Adolphe Tanquerey writes that mental prayer “is the most effective means of assuring one's salvation” (The Spiritual Life, A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology, #673).
Ritualism and mysticism enable people to feel close to God when their hearts are far from Him: “These people draw near to me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men” (Isaiah 29:13).
‘Spiritual disciplines’ are unspiritual
The Holy Spirit commands us through Peter: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). Since ‘Spiritual Disciplines’ are not in the Scriptures, they are not beneficial for spiritual growth. God condemns subjection to human disciplines and designates them as unspiritual, ‘basic principles of the world’ (Colossians 2:20-23).

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
Permission for reference use has been granted.
Published in The Old Paths Archive