"THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS" Two Very Different Boasts (6:11-18) by Mark Copeland

                     "THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS"

                  Two Very Different Boasts (6:11-18)


1. In his epistle to the churches of Galatia, the apostle Paul...
   a. Defends his apostleship (chapters 1-2)
   b. Argues vigorously that justification is by faith in Christ
      (chapters 3-4)
   c. Exhorts Christians to use their liberty to sow to the Spirit
      instead of the flesh (chapters 5-6)

2. As he concludes his epistle, Paul intermingles personal remarks with
   final admonitions...
   a. We note his reference to the size of his letters - Ga 6:11
      1) Which some take to refer to his actual handwriting
      2) While others think it refers the length of the epistle
   b. But of particular interest to me is the contrast that Paul makes
      - Ga 6:11-16
      1) A contrast between others and himself
      2) A contrast in what they took pride

[There is something to glean from these "Two Very Different Boasts",
perhaps words of caution for us to consider.  We note first that there


      1. Such was the case of those who sought to compel circumcision
      2. Their motive was twofold - Ga 6:12-13
         a. To avoid persecution for the cross of Christ
         b. To boast in the flesh of the Gentiles
      3. They were inconsistent - Ga 6:13
         a. Those who stressed circumcision did not keep the whole Law
         b. As mentioned earlier in the epistle - Ga 2:11-14
      -- They focused on externals, for the purpose of show

      1. By being overly concerned of what others see and think?
      2. With a similar twofold motive?
         a. To avoid ridicule in our service for Christ?
         b. To take pride in what impresses others?
      3. How might we boast in a show of the flesh today? - cf. Mt 23:
         a. Through religious clothing (or costly clothing - cf. 1Ti 2:
            9-10; 1Pe 3:3-5)
         b. Through religious titles, or any title intended to impress
         c. Through building overly expensive, elaborate churches
         d. Through an emphasis on numbers (attendance, conversions)
         e. Through showcasing celebrities in evangelistic efforts
      -- Might we be guilty of boasting in a show of the flesh, for the
         sake of popularity?

[In contrast to boasting in a show of the flesh, we note that Paul
writes about...]


      1. In the crucified Messiah - Ga 6:14
         a. To some, the message of the cross was foolishness 
            - 1Co 1:23
         b. Paul made it the focus of his ministry - 1Co 2:2
         c. He was not ashamed of the gospel - Ro 1:16-17
      2. In having himself been crucified with Christ - Ga 6:14b
         a. In Christ he had been crucified to the world
         b. Of which he wrote about earlier in this epistle - Ga 2:20a
         c. In which he now lived a life of faith in Jesus - Ga 2:20b
      3. Changing his priorities in life - Ga 6:15-18
         a. Circumcision, once important to him, had become irrelevant
            - cf. Ga 1:11-17
         b. The new creation in Christ was what now mattered 
            - cf. 2 Co 5:17; Ep 4:20-24
         c. Blessing those with the same priorities (asking for
            understanding from them who had troubled him) - Ga 6:16-18
      -- Paul's boast was in the transforming power of Jesus Christ

      1. Some prefer to boast in other things, which they should not
         - cf. Jer 9:23
         a. Such as their wisdom - cf. 1Co 1:19-21; 3:19-20
         b. Such as their own strength - cf. Ps 33:16-19
         c. Such as their own wealth - cf. Ps 49:6-9; Lk 12:15-21
      2. Our boast should be in Christ and God
         a. Certainly not in men - cf. 1Co 3:21-23
         b. But in coming to know God as He really is - cf. Jer 9:24
         c. And in what Christ does for us - cf. 1Co 1:26-31
      3. Prompting us to change our priorities in life
         a. Seeking first the kingdom of God - Mt 6:33
         b. Seeking to glorify God with all our hearts, for having saved
            us - cf. Ps 86:12-13
         c. Seeking to glorify God with our bodies and spirits - 1Co 6:
         d. Seeking to glorify God with good works - Mt 5:16; 1Pe 2:
         e. Seeking to glorify God when we suffer for Christ - 1Pe 4:16
      -- We boast in Christ, by being what He created us for in Christ
         - cf. Ep 2:8-10


1. In what do we boast today...?
   a. Might we fall into the trap of boasting in a show of the flesh?
   b. Should we not rather boast in the cross of Christ?

2. Paul's final words include a plea and a prayer...
   a. A plea to no longer be troubled, perhaps by those who questioned
      his apostleship - Ga 6:17
   b. A prayer bestowing grace, for those who read this epistle 
      - Ga 6:18

Paul's plea was answered a long time ago, when he passed from this life
to be with his Lord.  His prayer will be answered for all those willing
to give careful heed to things written in this epistle.

Will the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with our spirits today?  Only
if we stand fast in the liberty in which Christ has made us free (Ga
5:1), and sow to the Spirit instead of the flesh (Ga 6:8)...!

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

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Does Genesis 4 Indicate that God Specifically Created Others Besides Adam and Eve? by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


Does Genesis 4 Indicate that God Specifically Created Others Besides Adam and Eve?

by Eric Lyons, M.Min.

If Adam and Eve were the only human beings that God miraculously created, where did all of the people come from who were of great concern to Cain? After God sentenced the murderous Cain to be “a fugitive and a vagabond” on the Earth (Genesis 4:12), recall that Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear” (4:13). Cain then said: “Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me” (4:14, emp. added). God then responded to Cain, saying, “Therefore, whoeverkills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him seven-fold.” So, “the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him” (4:15, emp. added). Do the references to “anyone” and “whoever” in these verses suggest that God specially created others besides Adam and Eve?
Before answering these questions, one must keep in mind that Genesis chapters 1-11 cover approximately the first 2,000-plus years of human history (Butt, 2002; cf. Lyons, 2002). The following 1,178 chapters of the Bible tell us about the next 2,000 years. Although the first 11 chapters of Genesis are undeniably literal, historical language (cf. Thompson, 2001), God chose to reveal to man only a few important facts about the first 2,000-plus years of man’s existence—and most of this revelation is about Creation, the Fall, and the Flood. What’s more, Genesis chapters 4-5 likely cover a period of more than 1,400 years. Thus, a lot of time can pass between events without the text specifically expressing exactly how many decades or centuries elapsed.
How much time elapsed in Genesis 4:2? Immediately following the announcement of Cain and Abel’s births (4:1-2), the text says, “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground” (4:2). Most likely, at least 20 years had passed by this time, and it could be that several more decades had expired before Cain and Abel finally settled on their respective vocations. (How many people today do not settle on a profession until they are 35 or 40 years old?)
How much time transpired when the Bible says, “And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord” (4:3, emp. added)? How long was Cain angry with Abel before God spoke to Cain about his anger (4:6)? How long was it before Cain spoke with Abel (4:8)? (Have you ever known people, even family members, to hold-in feelings of resentment for years or decades?) Genesis 4:8 says, “It came to pass when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (emp. added). Again, we cannot know exactly how much time transpired between the conversation that Cain had with Abel and the day that he actually murdered Abel (4:8).
The fact is, Cain could have been 100 years old or more by the time he killed his brother. [Keep in mind that since the patriarchs often lived to be several hundred years old (e.g., Adam died at the age of 930), being 100 in that day, was somewhat comparable to being 20 today.] What’s more, Adam and Eve may have had 50 children or more by the time Cain killed Abel (cf. Genesis 5:4). They may have had 300 grandchildren by then. There could have been three or four generations of Adam’s descendants on Earth by the time God sentenced Cain to be “a fugitive and a vagabond.”
How many children, and possibly grandchildren, did Adam and Eve have when God said, “Whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold”? How many people had descended from Adam by the time God “set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him”? Who were the “whoever” and “anyone” that both God and Cain mentioned? They were the dozens, hundreds, or possibly thousands of people on Earth by that time—all of whom were descendants of Adam, “the first man” (1 Corinthians 15:45) and Eve, “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). In no way does reason or inspired revelation forbid a literal interpretation of Genesis; on the contrary, it demands such.


Butt, Kyle (2002), “The Bible Says the Earth is Young,” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=9&article=885.
Lyons, Eric (2002), “When Did Terah Beget Abraham?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=624.
Thompson, Bert (2001), “Genesis 1 thru 11—Mythical or Historical?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=11&article=451.

God, Design, and Natural Selection by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


God, Design, and Natural Selection

by Eric Lyons, M.Min.

In a September 2016 New Scientist article titled “Can We Ever Know If God Exists?”1 Executive Editor Graham Lawton insisted that “the only coherent and rational position is agnosticism.”2 Allegedly, there is not enough legitimate evidence to come to the rational conclusion that “God exists.” For example, Lawton called the design argument for God’s existence a “superficially persuasive argument” that is “very refutable.”3 And how is it supposedly refuted? What evidence did Lawton offer in contradiction to the design argument? He presented only one statement: “Evolution by natural selection, working over vast lengths of time, is all you need.”4
Sadly, many people will naively take Lawton at his word and assume, “He must be right. I guess we can’t prove that God exists.” The simple fact is, however, his “refutation” of the design argument is nothing of the sort. First, the design argument for God’s existence is an actual logical argument.
Premise 1: Anything that exhibits complex, functional design demands an intelligent designer.
Premise 2: The Universe exhibits complex, functional design.
Conclusion: Therefore, the Universe must have an intelligent Designer.
This argument for God is logically sound and observationally true. Even atheists frequently testify to the “design” in nature. For example, Australian atheistic astrophysicist Paul Davies has admitted that the Universe is “uniquely hospitable,” “remarkable,” and “ordered in an intelligible way.” He even confessed to the “fine-tuned properties” of the Universe.5 The simple fact is, to deny either premise of the design argument is to deny reality, while to deny the conclusion is to deny logic.
Second, “Evolution by natural selection, working over vast lengths of time, is [not!]6 all you need.” Certainly the fit adapt and survive, and pass along their advantageous genetic traits [example: longer legs in some animals] to their offspring, but such processes (1) cannot createcomplex, functional design from nothing, (2) cannot change non-design into design, and (3) do not (and cannot) change one kind of animal into another. The simple fact is, natural selectiondoes not design anything. As evolutionist Hugo de Vries admitted long ago, “Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest.”7 It cannot explain the arrival of the perfectly designed “bomb-producing” bombardier beetle anymore than it can rationally explain the communication skills of the “sophisticated,” “intelligent,” “tailor-made,” color-changing Cuttlefish.8
Atheistic evolution is simply inept to deal with the reasonable arguments for the existence of God, including the logically sound design argument. To say that the design argument has “turned out to be very refutable” is simply false. And to act as if natural selection over long periods of time is the answer to the design observed in nature is equally fallacious. Such talk may sound nice in theoretical circles, but the evidence on a real observational and philosophically sound level still points to design that demands a designer. In truth, regardless of what Lawton and New Scientistsay, we can know that God exists.9


1 Graham Lawton (2016), “Can We Ever Know If God Exists?” New Scientist, 231[3089]:39, September 3.
2 An agnostic is “a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable”—Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary (2016), http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agnostic, emp. added.
3 Lawton, p. 39, emp. added.
4 Ibid.
5 Paul Davies (2007), “Laying Down the Laws,” New Scientist, 194[2610]:30,34, June 30.
6 Parenthetical comment added.
7 Hugo De Vries (1905), Species and Varieties: Their Origin by Mutation, ed. Daniel Trembly MacDougal (Chicago, IL: Open Court), pp. 825-826, emp. added.
8 Eric Lyons (2008), “The Cause of the Cuttlefish,” Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=9&article=2505&topic=328.
9 See the Existence of God section of ApologeticsPress.org for a plethora of articles on this subject: http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=12.

What was the "Firmament" of Genesis 1? by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.


What was the "Firmament" of Genesis 1?

by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.


Early in the book of Genesis, the text states: “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven” (1:6-8). What was the “firmament”? I have heard it said by critics of the Bible that the ancient Hebrews believed there was some kind of solid “dome” or “vault” above the sky. Does the Bible actually teach such scientifically erroneous concepts?


Several words within the Genesis creation narrative have caused considerable controversy through the years. On the one hand, unbelievers—who continually seek grist for their ever-grinding mills—have suggested that Moses’ writings are flavored with certain terms that document beyond reasonable doubt the Hebrews’ dependence upon, and belief in, “pre-scientific” (read that as “unscientific”) concepts. On the other hand, liberal theologians have argued that Moses instilled into the Genesis record ancient, mythological teachings and ideas whose presence militates against the possibility of Genesis being accepted at face value as a literal, historical account of God’s creative activity.
One such word is the “firmament” mentioned in Genesis 1:6ff. Unbelievers have seized upon this singular term in order to depict Genesis as unworthy of acceptance by modern, well-informed, “intelligent” people. For example, the late atheist Isaac Asimov frequently (and vehemently) expressed his views on the “scientific absurdity” of the Mosaic record of origins. In volume one (on the Old Testament) of his two-volume set, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, he denied that Moses wrote the Pentateuch and opted instead for the position known in theological circles as the Documentary Hypothesis (often referred to as the Graf-Wellhausen theory), which suggests that editors (called “redactors”—designated individually as J,D, E, and P) produced the Pentateuch. [For an up-to-date explanation and refutation of the various aspects of the Documentary Hypothesis, see McDowell, 1999, pp. 402-477.] Asimov wrote:
The first book was named “Genesis,” which means, literally, “coming into being.” It implies a concern with births and beginnings, which is appropriate for a book that begins with the creation of heaven and earth. By ancient tradition, the first five books of the Bible were written by Moses, the folk hero who, according to the account given in the second through fifth books, rescued the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. Modern scholars are convinced that this theory of authorship is not tenable and that the early books of the Bible are not the single work of any man. Rather, they are the combined and carefully edited version of a number of sources (1968, p. 17).
He repeated, and expanded, this viewpoint in his book, In the Beginning (1981, p. 5), and then commented:
First comes the creation of the firmament. The first syllable of the word “firmament” is “firm,” and that gives an accurate idea of what the writers of the P-document had in mind. The firmament is the semi-spherical arc of the sky (it looks flattened on top and rather semi-ellipsoidal, but that is an optical illusion), and it was considered a hard and firm covering of the flat earth. It was considered very much like the lid of a pot and was assumed to be of much the same material as an ordinary lid would be.... From the scientific view, however, there is no firmament; no sky to be viewed as a material dome (1981, p. 33, parenthetical comment in orig.).
Robert Schadewald, an atheistic science writer, not only accused the Bible writers of harboring an incorrect view regarding the firmament, but also of believing in a flat Earth. He phrased his arguments against the Bible as follows.
The ancient Hebrews, like their older and more powerful neighbors...were flat-earthers. The Hebrew cosmology is never actually spelled out in the Bible but, even without knowledge of the Babylonian system upon which it is patterned, it can be read between the lines of the Old Testament. The Genesis creation story itself suggests the relative size and importance of the earth and the celestial bodies by specifying their order of creation. The earth was created on the first day, and it was “without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). On the second day a vault—the “firmament” of the King James Bible—was created to divide the waters, some above, and some being below the vault....
Other passages complete the picture. God “sits throned on the vaulted roof of earth, whose inhabitants are like grasshoppers” (Isaiah 40:21-22). He also “walks to and fro on the vault of heaven” (Job 22:14), which vault is “hard as a mirror of cast metal” (Job 37:18). The roof of the sky has “windows” (Genesis 7:12) that God can open to let the waters above fall to the surface as rain. The topography...isn’t specified, but Daniel “saw a tree of great height at the centre of the earth...reaching with its top to the sky and visible to the earth’s farthest bounds” (Daniel 4:10-11). Such visibility would not be possible on a spherical earth, but might be expected if the earth were flat (1983, p. 290, emp. added).
Even prominent Hollywood stars have joined the attack upon Moses and his fellow writers. Well-known comedian Steve Allen once hosted both the NBC Tonight Show and his own Steve Allen Comedy Hour. He also happens to be an accomplished composer who has written more than 4,000 songs. In other circles, however, he is equally well known as a devout humanist who is one of the Bible’s severest critics. Two of his books, Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion & Morality (1990) and More Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, & Morality (1993), are frontal assaults upon the Good Book. As it turns out, Mr. Allen was reared a Roman Catholic, but in his early thirties was excommunicated from that religious group because of a second marriage. He claims, though, that in his mid-twenties he began to have doubts about Catholicism/Christianity—doubts that eventually led him to flee into the waiting arms of humanism, and then to write his two scathing attacks upon the Bible.
In both of his tomes, Allen has parroted the same hackneyed charges against the Genesis record of creation as his atheistic colleagues. For example, he wrote disapprovingly of “the scientific nonsense with which the first chapters of Genesis abound—as, for example, the view that the firmament is a solid platform in space containing reservoirs of water, the valves of which open to produce rain” (1990, p. 92). He then went on to state: “There can be no serious question, surely, that the original author(s) firmly believed the view of the natural universe just as they explained it” (p. 93).
Modern-day liberalism frequently has employed this same type of argument as an indicator of the Bible writers’ alleged “unscientific view” of the Universe. In their withering critique of the biblical doctrine of origins, Creationism and Evolution, Murray and Buffaloe suggested:
When consistently applied, the literalist approach to Biblical interpretation leads to a maze of difficulties. One of the best ways to demonstrate this is to examine the “blueprint,” or “model,” of the universe that is found in Genesis 1 and throughout the Bible. This concept of how the universe is built was common to all ancient peoples and was simply taken for granted by the Hebrews, who undoubtedly adopted it from their Middle Eastern cultural environment. In fact, it was the standard way of viewing the universe in Western culture until Copernicus and Galileo challenged it in the 16th century. It is quite clearly outlined in verses 6-10 of Chapter 1....
Here we see plainly set forth the basic structure of the pre-scientific view of the universe: the earth is essentially a flat plain, partly covered by water, and over the earth is a great dome, the sky or “heavens.” The Genesis account explains that there is a vast reservoir of water collected above the dome (“firmament”), which of course is how ancient people accounted for rainfall. This picture of the universe is presupposed throughout the Bible....
The ancient Biblical picture of the world is commonly termed the “three-story” or “three-tiered” view of the universe.... According to this model, the universe consists essentially of the sky-dome or “heavens” above; the flat earth stretched out beneath; and the underworld, pictured something like underground caverns. The ancients envisioned this whole world-structure, finally, as floating in a vast ocean. An added touch was that the heavenly bodies—sun, moon, and stars—rolled across the underside of the sky-dome, being attached to it in some fashion (1981, pp. 12-15).
What response should the Bible believer offer to such accusations? Does the Bible imbibe ancient mythological misrepresentations? Is its information on origins “unscientific”? What is the truth of the matter?
The Hebrew raqia (the “firmament” of the KJV, ASV, RSV, et al.) means an “expanse” (Davidson, 1963, p. DCXCII; Wilson, n.d., p. 166), or “something stretched, spread or beaten out” (Maunder, 1939, p. 315; Speiser, 1964, p. 6). Keil and Delitzsch offered this definition in their monumental commentary on the Pentateuch: “to stretch, to spread out, then beat or tread out...the spreading out of air, which surrounds the earth as an atmosphere” (1980, 1:52).
In an article discussing the “firmament” of Genesis 1:6-8, Gary Workman observed that this word is an “unfortunate translation” because it “not only is inaccurate but also has fostered unjust criticism that the Bible erroneously and naively pictures the sky above the earth as a solid dome” (1991, 11[4]:14). Strictly speaking, of course, “firmament” is not actually a translation of raqiaat all, but rather, more accurately, a transliteration (i.e., the substitution of a letter in one language for the equivalent letter in another language) of an “unfortunate translation.” Allow me to explain.
The Septuagint (a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek produced by Jewish scholars in the third century B.C. at the behest of the powerful Egyptian pharaoh, Ptolemy Philadelphus, for inclusion in his world-famous library in Alexandria) translated raqia into the Greek as stereoma, which connotes a “solid structure” (Arndt and Gingrich, 1967, p. 774). Apparently, the translators of the Septuagint were influenced by the then-popular Egyptian view of cosmology and astronomy [they were, after all, doing their translating in Egypt for an Egyptian pharaoh] that embraced the notion of the heavens being a stone vault. Unfortunately, those Hebrew scholars therefore chose to render raqia via the Greek word stereoma—in order to suggest a firm, solid structure. The Greek connotation thus influenced Jerome to the extent that, when he produced his Latin Vulgate, he used the word firmamentum (meaning a strong or steadfast support—from which the word “firmament” is transliterated) to reflect this pagan concept (McKechinie, 1978, p. 691).
In his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words , Old Testament language scholar W.E. Vine stressed:
While this English word is derived from the Latin firmamentum which signifies firmness or strengthening,...the Hebrew word, raqia, has no such meaning, but denoted the “expanse,” that which was stretched out. Certainly the sky was not regarded as a hard vault in which the heavenly orbs were fixed.... There is therefore nothing in the language of the original to suggest that the writers [of the Old Testament—BT] were influenced by the imaginative ideas of heathen nations (1981, p. 67).
Raqia denotes simply an expanse, not a solid structure (see Harris, et al., 1980, 2:2218). Furthermore, the actual substance of the expanse is not inherent in the word. For example, Numbers 16:38 juxtaposes raqia and pahim (plates), suggesting literally an “expanse of plates.” Here, “plates” specifies the actual material involved in the expansion. In Genesis, “heavens,” not solid matter, is given as the nature of the expanse (Genesis 1:8,14,15,17,20). The original context in which raqia is used does not imply any kind of solid dome above the Earth.
The Bible equates “firmament” with the “heavens” (Psalm 19:1), using even the compound “firmament of heaven” (Genesis 1:14,15,17). God provided the correct definition of the word on the second day of creation when He “called the firmament Heaven” (Genesis 1:8). It was described further when Isaiah said that the Lord “stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in” (Isaiah 40:22). “Heavens” always is dual in the Hebrew and, in general, refers to the “heights” above the Earth. As such, there are three particular applications of the word in Scripture. There are the atmospheric heavens (Jeremiah 4:25), the sidereal heavens (outer space) where the planetary bodies reside (Isaiah 13:10), and the heaven of God’s own dwelling place (Hebrews 9:24). As the context requires, “firmament” may be used in reference to any one of these three places. Birds are said to fly in “the open firmament of heaven” (the atmospheric heavens, Genesis 1:20). The Sun, Moon, and stars are set in “the firmament of heaven” (the sidereal heavens, Genesis 1:17). And the psalmist spoke of God’s “sanctuary” as being “in the firmament” (Psalm 150:1).
R.K. Harrison, writing on the word “firmament” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, observed:
The relationship of the firmament to the concept of heaven can be clarified if the firmament is identified with the troposphere, and then by thinking of the celestial heavens either as a topographic dimension beyond the firmament itself, or as the designated abode of God (1982, 2:307).
The context of Genesis 1:6-8,14-22 makes it clear that Moses intended his readers to understand the raqia simply as the sky, atmosphere, or expanse above the Earth.
Critics who speak of “the scientific nonsense with which the first chapters of Genesis abound” (to quote Steve Allen) ignore the meaning of the word “firmament” within the context in which it is used by the writers, and instead impose a meaning on the word that is in no way implied by the context. In fact, there is evidence to this effect in their own writings. Schadewald, for example, admitted that he had to “read between the lines” to discern the particular Hebrew cosmology that he was attacking. Such an admission no doubt revealed more than he intended, as it placed him in the unenviable position of having to “write between the lines” the cosmology that he wanted to depict the Bible as reflecting. Then, he took passages that obviously were written in figurative language (such as Daniel 4:10-11, wherein the prophet “saw a tree of great height at the center of the earth...reaching with its top to the sky and visible to the earth’s farthest bounds”) and interpreted them in a strictly literal fashion—something no fair reviewer ever would do. Such underhanded chicanery is analogous to impeaching a man’s honesty merely because he remarks that during his lifetime he has traveled “to the four corners of the Earth.”
When Steve Allen accuses the Hebrews of propagating the idea that “the firmament is a solid platform in space,” or when Isaac Asimov accuses them of believing that the firmament was “very much like the lid of a pot and was assumed to be of much the same material as an ordinary lid would be,” it is obvious that neither critic has researched the matter adequately, or is willing to treat the text fairly. As Harrison noted in regard to the firmament:
Although in classical Greek the latter denoted something solid, or a firm structure such as a foundation, its LXX [Septuagint—BT] usage was of the open sky, or the expanse stretching above the earth. This curious divergence of meaning is matched by the difficulty in translating the original Hebrew term raqia. It is a cognate of the verb rq, to “spread out” (Ps. 136:6; Isa. 42:5; 44:24), or “beat out” (Ex. 39:3; Nu. 17:4), the former usage referring to the expanse of the heavens at creation, and the latter to the beating out of metal into thin plates or sheets (1982, 2:306).
When a word has more than one meaning (as firmament obviously does), the context in which the word is used in the passage under consideration is critical to a proper understanding of the meaning of the word. Steve Allen suggested: “There can be no serious question, surely, that the original author(s) firmly believed the view of the natural universe just as they explained it.” I could not agree more! The context in which “firmament” is employed in Genesis explains quite clearly that view, as Harrison went on to point out:
In Genesis 1:6 the firmament comprised an expanse that penetrated the mass of water vapor covering the earth and divided it into lower (or terrestrial) and upper (or atmospheric) levels. The expanse that was formed by the lifting of the water vapor constituted the atmosphere, which stretched around the earth and made possible the existence of subsequent plant and animal life. In Genesis 1:8, the expanse was given the name “heaven” (samayim), a better translation of which would be “sky” (cf. Ps. 85:11; Prov. 30:19) [1982, 2:307].
If Asimov, Schadewald, and Allen had done a bit of comparative study to see how the word was used—not only in Genesis but elsewhere throughout the Scriptures—they surely would have noticed that the context dictates the definition of the word. They also might have realized that the specific context of Genesis does not imply the definitions that are being used to make the Bible look ridiculous. Furthermore, the accusation of Murray and Buffaloe that “this concept of how the universe is built was common to all ancient peoples and was simply taken for granted by the Hebrews, who undoubtedly adopted it from their Middle Eastern cultural environment” is a mere assertion that is without any foundation in fact. William White commented on the fallacious nature of such a claim when he wrote:
Numerous authors have assumed that the use of this term indicated a specific system of cosmology involving a hollow concavity of the celestial sphere. There is no evidence for this in the literature of the Near East or in the occurrences of this rare term (1976, 2:540, emp. added).
Harrison concluded that
...some writers have assumed the existence of a primitive cosmology in which the universe was formed as a hollow, beaten-out sphere, using the analogy of the “brassy heaven” of Homer. A concept of this kind was never part of Greek cosmology, however... (1982, 2:306).
And lastly, the suggestion that the Bible writers thought the Earth to be flat hardly deserves comment. Rather than teaching a flat Earth, those writers actually depicted our planet as a circular sphere. Isaiah said, in speaking of God, “It is He who sitteth upon the circle [Hebrew chuwg ] of the Earth” (40:22). William Wilson suggested these meanings for the word chuwg: “circle, sphere, the arch or vault of the heavens; the circle of the earth, orbis terrarum ” (n.d., p. 77). All of these renderings share a common thought—that of roundness, not flatness. The charge that the Bible gives credence to the concept of a flat Earth is baseless, and represents little more than wishful thinking on the part of the Good Book’s critics.
Those who have set their face against God have railed against the Bible for generations. King Jehoiakim took his penknife, slashed the Old Testament Scriptures to pieces, and tossed them into a fire (Jeremiah 36:22-23). During the Middle Ages, attempts were made to keep the Bible from the man on the street. In fact, those caught translating or distributing the Scriptures often were subjected to imprisonment, torture, and even death. Centuries later, the famous French skeptic Voltaire boasted that “within fifty years, the Bible no longer will be discussed by educated people.” His braggadocio notwithstanding, the Bible still is being discussed among educated people, while the name of Voltaire languishes in relative obscurity amidst the relic heaps of the past.
In the late 1800s, American infidel Robert Ingersoll claimed regarding the Bible: “In fifteen years, I will have this book in the morgue.” But, as history records, Ingersoll died in 1899. Thus, he was the one who ended up in the morgue, while the Bible lives on in the hearts and lives of men in civilizations around the globe. Like the blacksmith’s anvil—which wears out many hammers but itself remains unaffected—the Bible wears out the skeptics’ innocuous charges, all the while remaining unscathed. John Clifford (1836-1923), a Baptist minister and social reformer, once wrote:
Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door,
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
Then looking, I saw upon the floor,
Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.
“How many anvils have you had,” said I,
“To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
“Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye;
“The anvil wears the hammers out, ye know.”
And so, thought I, the anvil of God’s Word,
For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
Yet though the noise of falling blows was heard
The anvil is unharmed...the hammers gone.
Jesus warned that “heaven and earth shall pass away” (Matthew 24:35), but went on to note that “my words shall not pass away.” Isaiah wrote: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand forever” (40:8). I think it is appropriate that we end this discussion with the following assessment from Kenny Barfield in his book, Why the Bible is Number 1.
Humbly, without a dissenting voice, these writers gave credit to a superior being. One of their favorite phrases was: “This is the Word of God.” They sensed a far-greater intelligence behind this universe than that of any mortal. They stood in awe before that wisdom and power. They even wrote words on their papyri and scrolls that made little earthly sense: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” It was the only answer they ever gave.
It is the thesis of this study that one must simply look at the trademark, the signature of authorship.... Unless we can devise a more suitable explanation, it seems reasonable to believe that the seemingly incongruous wisdom was placed in the Bible by an intelligence far greater than that of man. That intelligence is God’s alone (1988, pp. 184-185).


Allen, Steve (1990), Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion & Morality (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus).
Allen, Steve (1993), More Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion & Morality (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus).
Arndt, William and F.W. Gingrich (1967), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
Asimov, Isaac (1968), Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: Volume One—The Old Testament (New York: Avon).
Asimov, Isaac (1981), In the Beginning (New York: Crown).
Barfield, Kenny (1988), Why the Bible is Number 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Davidson, B. (1963), The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (NY: Harper & Brothers).
Harris, R. Laird, Gleason Archer, Jr. and Bruce Waltke, eds. (1980), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody).
Harrison, R.K. (1982), “Firmament,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia , ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Keil, C.F. and Franz Delitzsch (1949), Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Maunder, E.W. (1939), “Astronomy,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
McDowell, Josh (1999), The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson).
McKechinie, Jean L., ed. (1978), Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Collins World).
Murray, N. Patrick and Neal D. Buffaloe (1981), Creationism and Evolution (Little Rock, AR: The Bookmark).
Schadewald, Robert J. (1983), “The Evolution of Bible-science,” Scientists Confront Creationism, ed. Laurie R. Godfrey (New York: W.W. Norton).
Speiser, E.A. (1964),“Genesis,” The Anchor Bible Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday).
Vine, W.E. (1981), Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell).
White, William (1976), “Firmament,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Wilson, William (n.d.), Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies (McLean, VA: MacDonald).
Workman, Gary (1991), “What is the ‘Firmament’ Spoken of in the Bible?,” The Restorer, 11[4]:14, May/June.

A Donkey and Her Colt by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


A Donkey and Her Colt

by Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Although most Christians would rather not concern themselves with some of the more minute details of Jesus’ life reported in the New Testament, when challenged to defend the inerrancy of The Book that reports the beautiful story of Jesus, there are times when such details require our attention. Such is the case with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem during the final week of His life. People who wear the name of Christ enjoy reading of the crowd’s cries of “Hosanna!,” and meditating upon the fact that Jesus went to Jerusalem to bring salvation to the world. Skeptics, on the other hand, read of this event and cry, “Contradiction!” Allegedly, Matthew misunderstood Zechariah’s prophecy, and thus contradicted what Mark, Luke, and John wrote regarding Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem (see van den Heuvel, 2003). Matthew recorded the following:
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:1-9, emp. added).
Skeptics are quick to point out that the other gospel writers mention only “one colt,” which the disciples acquired, and upon which Jesus rode. Mark recorded that Jesus told the two disciples that they would find “a colt tied, on which no one has sat” (11:2). The disciples then “went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it…. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it” (Mark 11:4,7, emp. added; cf. Luke 19:29-38; John 12:12-16). Purportedly, “[t]he author of Matthew contradicts the author of Mark on the number of animals Jesus is riding into Jerusalem” (“Bible Contradictions,” 2003). Can these accounts be reconciled, or is this a legitimate contradiction?
First, notice that Mark, Luke, and John did not say that only one donkey was obtained for Jesus, or that only one donkey traveled up to Jerusalem with Jesus. The writers simply mentioned one donkey (the colt). They never denied that another donkey (the mother of the colt) was present. The fact that Mark, Luke, and John mention one young donkey does not mean there were not two. If you had two friends named Joe and Bob who came to your house on Thursday night, but the next day while at work you mention to a fellow employee that Joe was at your house Thursday night (and you excluded Bob from the conversation for whatever reason), would you be lying? Of course not. You simply stated the fact that Joe was at your house. Similarly, when Mark, Luke, and John stated that a donkey was present, Matthew merely supplemented what the other writers recorded.
Consider the other parts of the story that have been supplemented by one or more of the synoptic writers.
  • Whereas Matthew mentioned how Jesus and His disciples went to Bethphage, Mark and Luke mentioned both Bethphage and Bethany.
  • Mark and Luke indicated that the colt they acquired for Christ never had been ridden. Matthew omitted this piece of information.
  • Matthew was the only gospel writer to include Zechariah’s prophecy.
  • Mark and Luke included the question that the owners of the colt asked the disciples when they went to get the donkey for Jesus. Matthew excluded this information in his account.
As one can see, throughout this story (and the rest of the gospel accounts for that matter), the writers consistently supplemented each other’s accounts. Such supplementation should be expected only from independent sources—some of whom were eyewitnesses. It is very possible that Matthew was specific in his numbering of the donkeys, due to the likelihood that he was an eyewitness of Jesus’ final entrance into Jerusalem. (Bear in mind, Matthew was one of the twelve apostles; Mark and Luke were not.)
Second, regarding the accusation that Matthew wrote of two donkeys, instead of just one, because he allegedly misunderstood Zechariah’s prophecy, it first must be noted that Zechariah’s prophecy actually mentions two donkeys (even though only one is stated as transporting the King to Jerusalem). The prophet wrote: “Behold, your King is coming to you…lowly and riding on a donkey [male], a colt, the foal of a donkey [female]” (Zechariah 9:9). In this verse, Zechariah used Hebrew poetic parallelism (the balancing of thought in successive lines of poetry). The terms male donkeycolt, and foal all designate the same animal—the young donkey upon which the King (Jesus) would ride into Jerusalem (Mark 11:7). Interestingly, even though the colt was the animal of primary importance, Zechariah also mentioned that this donkey was the foal of a female donkey. One might assume that Zechariah merely was stating the obvious when mentioning the mother’s existence. However, when Matthew’s gospel is taken into account, the elusive female donkey of Zechariah 9:9 is brought to light. Both the foal and the female donkey were brought to Christ at Mount Olivet, and both made the trip to Jerusalem. Since the colt never had been ridden, or even sat upon (as stated by Mark and Luke), its dependence upon its mother is very understandable (as implied by Matthew). The journey to Jerusalem, with multitudes of people in front of and behind Jesus and the donkeys (Matthew 21:8-9), obviously would have been much easier for the colt if the mother donkey were led nearby down the same road.
The focal point of the skeptic’s proposed problem to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is how He could have ridden on two donkeys at once. Since Matthew 21:7 states, “They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them” (NKJV), some have concluded that Matthew intended for his reader to understand Jesus as being some kind of stunt rider—proceeding to Jerusalem as more of a clown than a king. Such reasoning is preposterous. Matthew could have meant that Jesus rode the colt while the other donkey walked along with them. Instead of saying, “He rode one donkey and brought the other with Him,” the writer simply wrote that He rode “them” into Jerusalem. If a horse-owner came home to his wife and informed her that he had just ridden the horses home a few minutes ago from a nearby town, no one would accuse him of literally riding both horses at once. He merely was indicating to his wife that he literally rode one horse home, while the other one trotted alongside or behind him.
A second possible solution to this “problem” is that Jesus did ride both donkeys, but He did so at different times. However unlikely this possibility might seem to some, nothing in Zechariah’s prophecy or the gospel accounts forbids such. Perhaps the colt found the triumphant procession that began on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives near the towns of Bethphage and Bethany (about 1¾ miles from Jerusalem—Pfeiffer, 1979, p. 197) too strenuous. Zechariah prophesied that Jesus would ride upon a colt (9:9), which Jesus did. He also easily could have ridden on the colt’s mother part of the way.
Perhaps a more likely answer to the question, “How could Jesus sit ‘on them’ (donkeys) during His march to Jerusalem?,” is that the second “them” of Matthew 21:7 may not be referring to the donkeys at all. Greek scholar A.T. Robertson believed that the second “them” (Greek αυτων) refers to the garments that the disciples laid on the donkeys, and not to the donkeys themselves. In commenting on Matthew 21:7 he stated: “The garments thrown on the animals were the outer garments (himatia), Jesus ‘took his seat’ (epekathisen) upon the garments” (1930, 1:167). Skeptics do not want to allow for such an interpretation. When they read of “them” at the end of Matthew 21:7 (in the New King James Version), skeptics feel that the antecedent of this “them” must be the previous “them” (the donkeys). Critics like John Kesler (2003) also appeal to the other synoptic accounts (where Jesus is said to have sat upon “it”—the colt), and conclude that Matthew, like Mark and Luke, surely meant that Jesus sat upon the donkeys, and not just the disciples’ clothes (which were on the donkeys). What critics like Kesler fail to acknowledge, however, is that in the Greek, Matthew’s word order is different than that of Mark and Luke. Whereas Mark and Luke indicated that the disciples put their clothes on the donkey, Matthew’s word order reads: “they put on the donkeys clothes.” The American Standard Version, among others (KJV, RSV, and NASB) is more literal in its translation of this verse than is the NKJV. It indicates that the disciples “brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their garments; and he sat thereon” (Matthew 21:7, ASV; cf. RSV, KJV, NASB). When Matthew wrote that Jesus sat “on them,” he easily could have intended for his readers to understand this “them” to refer to the clothes, and not to the donkeys. If the disciples’ clothes were placed on both donkeys (as Matthew indicated), and then Jesus mounted the colt, one logically could conclude that Jesus sat on the clothes (which were placed upon the colt).
One of the fundamental principles of nearly any study or investigation is that of being “innocent until proven guilty.” Any person or historical document is to be presumed internally consistent until it can be shown conclusively that it is contradictory. This approach has been accepted throughout literary history, and still is accepted today in most venues. The accepted way to critique any ancient writing is to assume innocence, not guilt. If we believe the Bible is innocent until proven guilty, then any possible answer should be good enough to nullify the charge of error. (This principle does not allow for just any answer, but any possible answer.) When a person studies the Bible and comes across passages that may seem contradictory at first glance (like the verses explained in this article—Matthew 21:1-9, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:29-38), he does not necessarily have to pin down the exact solution in order to show their truthfulness. The Bible student need only show the possibility of a harmonization among passages that appear to conflict, in order to negate the force of the charge that a Bible contradiction really exists. We act by this principle in the courtroom, in our treatment of various historical books, as well as in everyday-life situations. It is only fair, then, that we show the Bible the same courtesy by exhausting the search for possible harmony among passages before pronouncing one or more accounts false.
Finally, in an attempt to leave no allegation unanswered regarding the passages discussed in this article, one more point must be made. Although Jesus and His disciples have been accused of stealing the donkeys used in the procession to Jerusalem (see Barker, 1992, pp. 165-166), the text never indicates such thievery. Jesus may well have prearranged for the use of the animals. However, since the donkeys’ owners did not know who the disciples were, there was a need to tell the owners what Jesus said to them. It was after the disciples stated, “The Lord has need of them,” that the owners let the disciples take the donkeys (Matthew 21:1-7; cf. Luke 19:32-35). It was voluntary. Jesus certainly did not advocate stealing on this occasion, or any other (Matthew 19:18; 1 Peter 2:22; cf. Exodus 20:15). Remember, we are not told all of the facts in the story—the Bible is not obligated to fill in every detail of every event. If it did, “I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).


Barker, Dan (1992), Losing Faith In Faith—From Preacher to Atheist (Madison, WI: Freedom from Religion Foundation).
“Bible Contradictions,” Capella’s Guide to Atheism, [On-line], URL: http://web2.iadfw.net/capella/aguide/contrad.htm#num%20animals%20Jesus%20rode.
Kesler, John (2003), “Jesus Had Two Asses,” [On-line], URL: http://exposed.faithweb.com/kesler2.html.
Pfeiffer, Charles (1979), Baker’s Bible Atlas (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House), revised edition.
Robertson, A.T. (1930), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
van den Heuvel, Curt (2003), “Matthew Misunderstood an Old Testament Prophecy,” New Testament Problems, [On-line], URL: http://www.2think.org/hundredsheep/bible/ntprob.shtml.

Did Jesus Condone Law-breaking? by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


Did Jesus Condone Law-breaking?

by Eric Lyons, M.Min.

The Pharisees certainly did not think that the Son of God was beyond reproach. Following Jesus’ feeding of the four thousand, they came “testing” Him, asking Him to show them a sign from heaven (Matthew 16:1). Later in the gospel of Matthew (19:3ff.), the writer recorded how “the Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’ ” It was their aim on this occasion, as on numerous other occasions, to entangle Jesus in His teachings by asking Him a potentially entrapping question—one that, if answered in a way that the Pharisees had anticipated, might bring upon Jesus the wrath of Herod Antipas (cf. Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29) and/or some of His fellow Jews (e.g., the school of Hillel, or the school of Shammai). A third time the Pharisees sought to “entangle Him in His talk” (Matthew 22:15) as they asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (22:17). The jealous and hypocritical Pharisees were so relentless in their efforts to destroy the Lord’s influence that on one occasion they even accused Jesus’ disciples of breaking the law as they “went through the grainfields on the Sabbath…were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat” (Matthew 12:1ff.). [NOTE: “Their knowledge of so trifling an incident shows how minutely they observed all his deeds” (Coffman, 1984, p. 165). The microscopic scrutiny under which Jesus lived, likely was even more relentless than what some “stars” experience today. In one sense, the Pharisees could be considered the “paparazzi” of Jesus’ day.] Allegedly, what the disciples were doing on this particular Sabbath was considered “work,” which the Law of Moses forbade (Matthew 12:2; cf. Exodus 20:9-10; 34:21).
Jesus responded to the criticism of the Pharisees by giving the truth of the matter, and at the same time revealing the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. As was somewhat customary for Jesus when being tested by His enemies (cf. Matthew 12:11-12; 15:3; 21:24-25; etc.), He responded to the Pharisees’ accusation with two questions. First, He asked: “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?” (12:3-4). Jesus reminded the Pharisees of an event in the life of David (recorded in 1 Samuel 21:1ff.), where he and others, while fleeing from king Saul, ate of the showbread, which divine law restricted to the priests (Leviticus 24:5-9). Some commentators have unjustifiably concluded that Jesus was implying innocence on the part of David (and that God’s laws are subservient to human needs—cf. Zerr, 1952, 5:41; Dummelow, 1937, p. 666), and thus He was defending His disciples “lawless” actions with the same reasoning. Actually, however, just the opposite is true. Jesus explicitly stated that what David did was wrong (“not lawful”—12:4), and that what His disciples did was right—they were “guiltless” (12:7). Furthermore, as J.W. McGarvey observed: “If Christians may violate law when its observance would involve hardship or suffering, then there is an end to suffering for the name of Christ, and an end even of self-denial” (1875, p. 104). The disciples were not permitted by Jesus to break the law on this occasion (or any other) just because it was convenient (cf. Matthew 5:17-19). The Pharisees simply were wrong in their accusations. The only “law” Jesus’ disciples broke was the Pharisaical interpretation of the law (which seems to have been more sacred to the Pharisees than the law itself). In response to such hyper-legalism, Burton Coffman forcefully stated:
In the Pharisees’ view, the disciples were guilty of threshing wheat! Such pedantry, nit-picking, and magnification of trifles would also have made them guilty of irrigating land, if they had chanced to knock off a few drops of dew while passing through the fields! The Pharisees were out to “get” Jesus; and any charge was better than none (1984, p. 165, emp. added).
Jesus used the instruction of 1 Samuel 21 to get the Pharisees to recognize their insincerity, and to justify His disciples. David, a man about whom the Jews ever boasted, blatantly violated God’s law by eating the showbread, and yet the Pharisees justified him. On the other hand, Jesus’ disciples merely plucked some grain on the Sabbath while walking through a field, an act that the law did not forbid, and yet the Pharisees condemned them. Had the Pharisees not approved of David’s conduct, they could have responded by saying, “You judge yourself. You’re all sinners.” Their reaction to Jesus’ question, however, was that of hypocrites who had been exposed—silence.
Jesus then asked a second question, saying, “Have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?” (Matthew 12:5). Here, Jesus wanted the Pharisees to acknowledge that even the law itself condoned some work on the Sabbath day. Although the Pharisees acted as if all work was banned on this day, it was actually the busiest day of the week for priests.
They baked and changed the showbread; they performed sabbatical sacrifices (Num. xxviii. 9), and two lambs were killed on the sabbath in addition to the daily sacrifice. This involved the killing, skinning, and cleaning of the animals, and the building of the fire to consume the sacrifice. They also trimmed the gold lamps, burned incense, and performed various other duties (McGarvey, n.d., pp. 211-212).
One of those “other duties” would have been to circumcise young baby boys when the child’s eighth day fell on a Sabbath. The purpose of Jesus citing these “profane” priestly works was to prove that the Sabbath prohibition was not unconditional. [NOTE: Jesus used the term “profane,” not because there was a real desecration of the temple by the priests as they worked, but “to express what was true according to the mistaken notions of the Pharisees as to manual works performed on the Sabbath” (Bullinger, 1898, p. 676).] The truth is, the Sabbath law “did not forbid work absolutely, but labor for worldly gain. Activity in the work of God was both allowed and commanded” (McGarvey, n.d., p. 212). Coffman thus concluded: “Just as the priests served the temple on the Sabbath day and were guiltless, his [Jesus’—EL] disciples might also serve Christ, the Greater Temple, without incurring guilt” (p. 167). Just as the priests who served God in the temple on the Sabbath were totally within the law, so likewise were Jesus’ disciples as they served the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8), Whose holiness was greater than that of the temple (12:6).


Bullinger, E.W. (1898), Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1968 reprint).
Coffman, Burton (1984), Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).
Dummelow, J.R. (1937), One Volume Commentary (New York: MacMillan).
McGarvey, J.W. (n.d.), The Fourfold Gospel (Cincinnati, OH: Standard).
McGarvey, J.W. (1875), Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Delight AR: Gospel Light).
Zerr, E.M. (1952), Bible Commentary (Raytown, MO: Reprint Publications).