Can We Understand the Bible? by Trevor Bowen


Can We Understand the Bible?

Why this article?

Have you ever opened your Bible, studied it, meditated upon it, and walked away more puzzled than you started? Have you ever entered a discussion with a fellow believer, at first convicted within yourself, and yet walked away after hours of joint study, wondering if the Bible can be understood by anyone, much less alike? Such experiences can be discouraging, can they not? How should we react to these trying cases that test our faith? Sadly, a sense of doubt and despair may creep into our thoughts, which manifests itself as a subtle reluctance to seriously study the Bible for ourselves. More frequently it appears as an extreme reluctance to engage anyone else with substantially differing beliefs. Even if such studies are stiffly accepted, they often begin with an unspoken, foregone conclusion that the effort will be futile. Instead of hopeful determination, impatient prejudice tragically races through such studies, longing only for the predetermined end, while fulfilling its own prophecy. Did God intend us to have this negative reluctance to engage God’s Word and study our differences? Or, did He expect us to study the Bible with the bright expectation of understanding it and even growing in unity? In this article, we will consult God’s Word to learn His expectations rather than reacting to our own experiences and trusting in our own wisdom.

“Who Has Made Man?”

Central to this discussion is a question of faith: Are we abandoned children trying to decipher a forgotten text that has long outlived its original design? Or, did God foresee our current predicament and leave us with the tools necessary to complete our task? We often do not realize all the logical consequences of our initial efforts, but in our push to regard the Bible as an unduly complicated text, possibly incapable of being understood, we are ultimately kicking at God and doubting His ability to communicate. The harder we work to shift the blame from us, the more we shift the blame onto God! Dear reader, you may not have previously considered this perspective, but please understand that we are not the first people to make this mistake. Consider the occasion when Moses sought to escape his responsibility by diminishing his ability to complete God’s work for him:
Then Moses said to the LORD, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” So the LORD said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.” (Exodus 4:10-12)
Did you notice God’s response? He took Moses’s doubt personally, as a direct reflection on His ability to equip Moses! Although Moses was reluctant because of his limitations, God saw his reservation as mistrust of God’s empowering command. Likewise, when God tells us to study, read, understand, and engage, but we reject His command with “I cannot,” do we not reflect the same disbelief in God, whether consciously or unconsciously?
“But, Moses was inspired!”, some might say. Yes, Moses was ultimately blessed with direct inspiration that God described as “being with his mouth” and “teaching him what to say”, but is that the only method of communication available to God? Is there no other way He could teach us? If he wanted to communicate with us in some other way, would He not be capable? Who made our brains? Who made our ears? Who made our hearts? Who made the Bible? The same underlying logic still stands. Dare we doubt His design?
Moreover, please notice this encouragement that the Lord offered to Joshua before the Israelite conquest of Canaan:
“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5-9)
This rich, encouraging passage contains a small jewel. Among the many reasons that God offered to bolster Joshua’s courage, He observed that His command is sufficient for full trust! Please stop and let that sink into our hearts. If God has commanded us, we can depend on having whatever is necessary to complete the task! If God commands us, then we can do it! Now, He may provide some or almost all of the ability, but however the contribution is divided, we can be confident that we already possess or can obtain what we need to proceed, to “be strong and of good courage”!
Like Peter who believed he could walk on water if only the Lord would command him, we can confidently trust in God’s foresight, love, and design to enable whatever He wills and commands:
And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:28-31)
How many words of encouragement would you need to trust in the Lord and fulfill His command? Peter only needed one - one word! How admirable! How exemplary! My friends, this is ultimately a question of faith, whether we realize it at first or not. Like Peter, we may begin well, stepping onto the water, walking on it by faith. And, like Peter, the “boisterous winds” of scorn, scoffing, and despair may cause us to be afraid and likewise “begin to sink”. If that occurs, then we need to awaken and recognize our inexcusably weak faith and strengthen it by focusing on Jesus, feeding on God’s Word, and trusting in His promises, because there is no sustaining reason for our doubt (“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”).
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
All people are commanded to “Come ... learn from Me”. Does that not necessarily imply that we can indeed learn about Jesus, which necessarily implies that the Bible is understandable? Since there is no other way given to “learn” of Jesus, we must conclude that the one given way is effective; otherwise, God has commanded us to do what is impossible to do. Furthermore, if we could not read and understand, if we could not come and learn, how could His “yoke be easy” or His “burden be light”?

“When You Read, You Can Understand”

If God has promised that we can understand His written Word, then to deny that possibility is to question the ability of God! This naturally raises the question, “Has God promised us that we can understand His Word?” Or, did He encode His message so dimly that we can never come to a confident understanding of it?
... how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. (Ephesians 3:3-7)
Paul flatly says that when we read what he wrote as an apostle, we can understand! Is this true? Do we believe it? Or, has doubt consumed us? Paul also stated that the gospel represents the “effective working of His power” (see also, Romans 1:16). If we cannot read and understand, then how is it effective in any meaningful way? Dear friend, when we challenge the ability to read and understand God’s Word, we necessarily challenge God’s Word and Him, because He said that we can!
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
Clearly, whatever God designed His Word to accomplish it not only can, but it will accomplish. Therefore, if we insist that it cannot be understood, please take warning. It may be that it already has succeeded in us but not in the way we would anticipate or overtly want (Matthew 13:9-16; James 4:6-8)!

“Is Profitable”

Thus far, we have shown that God expects us to read and understand His Word, but to what extent? Yes, God revealed His will that we may thereby “read and understand”, but did He limit what was revealed? Is our understanding limited by His design? Did He omit something that we need to know? We have already seen that it is “effective ... that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ”, so we know it is sufficient unto salvation for all, but can we use it to identify His will for us beyond conversion? Can we use it to resolve spiritual questions between each other?
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. (II Timothy 3:16-17)
Again, the inspired apostle directly informs us that the Scripture is sufficient for “doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness”. This means it is not only sufficient for our own understanding, growth, and salvation, but it is also effective and good for teaching others, thereby “indoctrinating” them! What if one of us is in error? Then, “all Scripture” is good for “reproof”, meaning to prove, rebuke, and convict! (This is the same intense Greek word required of elders, “be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict, Titus 1:9.) What if one of us has grown discouraged or drifted away? Then, “all Scripture” is good for “correction”, meaning to restore to a state of uprightness. And, what if one of us is failing in some other category? Then, “all Scripture” is good for “instruction in righteousness”, providing development and training of our whole character! What more could we ask of God’s Word to provide? What question, concern, or disagreement could we not settle without “doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness”? Therefore, if Scripture “is profitable” for these needs, and we have no spiritual need beyond these, then it is sufficient for every need in fully understanding God’s Word alike!
Insistent, we might doubt that it contains everything we need to know, but again the inspired apostle states that by this revelation, we may “be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. Whatever we need to grow to maturity, whatever good deed may need to be performed, God’s Word can equip us to do it! Do we believe it?
Obviously, the Bible does not contain everything that man might like to know about every topic in the world, but it does contain all we need to know:
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (II Peter 1:2-4)
Does our question, concern, or disagreement “pertain to life and godliness”? If so, then we are again assured that it has been been given to us! Even to the extent that we “may be partakers of the divine nature, it has been given to us. What more do we need? If you become “partaker of the divine nature, and if I become “partaker of the divine nature ... “through the knowledge of Him”, will we have not only understood God’s Word but also alike? If the Bible “is profitable” for this level of maturity among many brethren, then it must be understandable and by all alike.

“Hard to Understand”

Thus far, we have seen that all we need to know for salvation, godly life, correction, and even rebuke is contained in God’s revealed and inspired Word. We have also been assured that when we read, we can understand. But, how quickly may we understand? Are all passages equal in ready comprehension? No, Peter clearly tells us by inspiration that some passages are harder to understand:
... consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation — as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (II Peter 3:15-18)
Yes, some passages are “hard to understand”. Both our own experience and Scripture tells us this! However, does this release us from striving to understanding? Does this release us from ultimately understanding? Should these “hard to understand” passages always loom before us as unconquerable conundrums? May we never accept it so! Beyond Peter’s admission, he also forewarns that some people will “twist” these “hard to understand” passages “to their own destruction. Therefore, God does not give us a free pass on these “hard to understand” passages. He expects us to put forth the effort required to ultimately understand them, warning that failure may result in our “destruction”!
Does God demand of us what we cannot do? Does God punish where there is no ability or reasonable expectation? Only a cruel and capricious God would punish His creation for performing exactly as it was designed - for His failure! Therefore, if our eternal salvation may hang on our understanding of any passage, we can know that we can ultimately grasp it, regardless of whatever difficulty it may initially present.
Furthermore, those who so “twist to their own destruction” these passages will not rest with perverting the “hard to understand” passages. Eventually, they will wrest the “rest of the Scriptures” as their depravity spirals downward. Please be forewarned as we each look first to himself and then to his brother (Ezra 7:10)!
What is the answer? What is the solution? How are we to obtain what we so desperately need? How will we avoid “being led away with the error of the wicked”? Instead of despairing, we are to take advance notice and prepare ourselves, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”. And, how do we grow in such knowledge without turning to the source of such promised knowledge, God’s Word, the Bible (II Timothy 3:16-17; Ephesians 3:3-5)? The more we know about God through His Word, the more difficult it becomes to be deceived.
Beyond our separate individual interaction with God through the Bible, the joint spiritual education and instruction of the church is a central component of the church’s mission, to help each other grow to avoid such errors and their destruction:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
One of the greatest tools that God has provided me and you beyond His inspired sufficient Word are you and me! We are all supposed to help each other grow into this marvelous picture, “ the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”! This is God’s design. This is His purpose in both His Word and His church! Do we believe it? Are we being diligent to see it fulfilled? If we are, then as move closer to that complete maturity, we move away from susceptible “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting”. The key lessons to learn are to first recognize the real danger and to second undertake the measures required to circumvent the danger - to work together to grow in the knowledge of Jesus through His sufficient Word!

“Have You Not Read?”

As if the previous verses were not sufficient, many have openly doubted if the Bible can be used to truly prove any truth. Beyond the empty cries, “You can prove anything by Scripture!”, the cry has arisen that even after careful handling the Bible is insufficient to prove God’s will for us. The lament has been heard that there are too many competing confusing passages, which provide too much unresolvable “tension”. But, is this case? Or, can we use the Bible to determine God’s will accurately? Can we really use the Bible to persuade and convict each other of the truth? What was His expectation? Logically, it has already been shown that we can prove truth from the Scripture, simply because God insisted that we can and should. However, how did Jesus and His apostles use the Scriptures? What was their expectation? What can we learn from their examples?
The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.” Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. (Matthew 22:23-33)
Notice the reaction of the listening crowd. Clearly, Jesus’ grasp of Scripture was extraordinary and astonishing, although that should be no wonder to us. In a few sentences, with one observation and one passage He definitively proved that there must be a resurrection as “spoken by God”. Elsewhere we examined the precise use of logic employed by Jesus here, so please focus here on His expectation, “Have you not read?”. Although Jesus’ power of observation is demonstrated in a staggering fashion in this context, He still expected them to have noticed and concluded the same! What Jesus did that day was not removed from those Sadducees. If the hypocritical, wicked Sadducees who would ultimately participate in the crucifixion of Jesus were expected to understand God’s Word, why would we expect God’s expectation for us, who desire God’s mind, to be less?
Some may argue that this application is overblown, that there are multitude of passages that prove the resurrection, and that Jesus did not really prove His point by this one verse. What does the Scripture say?
But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ (Luke 20:37)
“But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. “You are therefore greatly mistaken.” (Mark 12:26-27)
Although there may be many passages in Old Testament Scripture, which imply a resurrection, Jesus flatly stated that the “burning bush passage ... showed the point! What greater justification can we find of rightful “proof-texting” than Jesus’ demonstration? Can “proof-texting” be abused? Yes, too frequently it is, but the abuse by some - maybe even by most - does not eliminate its need and place any more than the failing of any “Christian” discredits Christianity or Christ! This is one of the key areas where we help each other, by challenging each other’s usage of Scripture. Is it any wonder we fail to understand, when we place ourselves beyond such confrontation and openess to challenge?
Again, although stunning we must not stagger at Jesus’ feat, because this ability is also expected of us, lest we also be “therefore greatly mistaken”. God has issued us a challenge and expectation? Why do we doubt Him?
(For more demonstrations of Jesus and inspired writers wielding Scripture with remarkable precision, while leading us by example, please see: Do Silence of Scriptures Prohibit or Permit?, An Introduction to Bible Silence, and The Sin and Danger of Presumption.)

“That Your Joy May Be Full”

Do you want to have fellowship with God, the Father? Do you want to have fellowship with His Son, Jesus, the source of eternal life? I sure do! Like the Ehtiopian we may ask, “What hinders me?” (Acts 8:35-36).
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us — that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. (I John 1:1-4)
Disappointingly, we do not have direct fellowship with God and His Son. That is, we cannot directly experience Jesus through our senses. We cannot see Him, gaze steadfastly upon Him, or touch Him. However, His apostles serve as witnesses for us. They experienced Jesus in a close proximity that excites the jealousy of any fervent Christian. Their writings, the Scriptures, reveal that we can still have fellowship with God and His Son through them, specifically through their writings! My dear friends, if we desire to ultimately enjoy eternal life in that heavenly abode with our perfect Father, His Son, and the Spirit, we must “fellowship” Jesus’s apostles and prophets, which we must do through their writings. If we reject the that the Scriptures are sufficient to “make our joy full”, then we leave ourselves in hopeless, hapless misery without any recourse or opportunity for fellowship with God! When we dismantle our confidence in understanding God’s Word upon any topic, we dismantle it on every topic, including those that bring confidence, joy, and comfort!
Therefore comfort one another with these words. (I Thessalonians 4:18)


In years gone by, “The Sufficiency of Scripture” was a common sermon title, but it seems less popular in our post-modern liberal age, which wants to deny any absolute truth, except that there is no absolute truth. It seems to this writer that worldly faithless thinking has continued to press upon the Lord’s people and crept into the minds, speech, teaching, and agenda of some. Maybe it is high time to dust off some of those old sermons? Please be on guard and beware those who want to throw just enough dust in the air - who want to muddy the waters just enough to eliminate any hope of confidently understanding Scripture. With whatever doubt they employ to blur the lines of fellowship to embrace a few, they will inevitably embrace all, because such is the unprincipled end of compromise. It is just a matter of time. But, God will not compromise:
If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. (II Timothy 2:12-16)
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (I Corinthians 1:10)
We have been given a charge to keep, which comes with a promise of empowerment. Do we believe it? Will we keep it? Or, will we despair? The prospects can be frightening, intimidating, and almost unbelievable. Experiences, scoffing, and sin may discourage us. But, if we keep our eye fixed on Jesus and the hope of His empowering command, “when we read, we can understand”. Are you ready to step out of the boat onto the water and go to Jesus? He commands you, “Come.”
Trevor Bowen

"THE EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS" The Christian's Apparel (3:12-17) by Mark Copeland

                     "THE EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS"

                    The Christian's Apparel (3:12-17)


1. In the first part of the third chapter of the Epistle to the
   Colossians, we have noticed several admonitions for living the full
   life in Jesus Christ:
   a. "Seek The Heavenly" (3:1-4)
   b. "Slay The Earthly" (3:5-9)
   c. "Strengthen The Christly" (3:10-11)

2. Beginning in verses 8-10, Paul uses the metaphor of "putting off"
   and "putting on" to describe what is necessary to grow as Christians

3. He continues this metaphor in verse 12, as he expands upon the
   things Christians are to "put on"

4. As we examine verses 12-17, we shall do so from the perspective of
   what constitutes "The Christian's Apparel"; that is, those things
   we must "put on" to be properly adorned as disciples of Jesus Christ

[Observe from verses 12-14, then, how we must adorn ourselves with...]


      1. Two describe HOW WE ARE TO TREAT OTHERS
         a. Tender mercies (bowels of mercies, KJV)
            1) Grk., splagchnon {splangkh'-non} oiktirmos {oyk-tir-mos'}
            2) The first word literally means "bowels...for the bowels
               were regarded by the Hebrews as the  seat of the tenderer
               affections, esp. kindness, benevolence, compassion"
            3) The second word describes "compassion, pity, mercy"
            4) Thus we are to have "bowels in which compassion resides",
               or as we might say today, a heart of compassion
         b. Kindness
            1) Grk., chrestotes {khray-stot'-ace}
            2) Benignity, kindness
         a. Humility (humbleness of mind, KJV)
            1) Grk., tapeinophrosune {tap-i-nof-ros-oo'-nay}
            2) The having a humble opinion of one's self; a deep sense
               of one's (moral) littleness; modesty, humility, lowliness
               of mind
         b. Meekness
            1) Grk., praotes {prah-ot'-ace}
            2) Gentleness, mildness, meekness
      3. Three virtues relate to HOW WE SHOULD ACT WHEN MISTREATED
         a. Longsuffering
            1) Grk., makrothumia {mak-roth-oo-mee'-ah}
            2) Patience, forbearance, longsuffering, slowness in
               avenging wrongs
         b. Bearing with one another
            1) The word "bearing" (forbearing, KJV) is anechomai
            2) To sustain, to bear, to endure
         c. Forgiving one another
            1) The word "forgiving" is charizomai {khar-id'-zom-ahee}
            2) Meaning "to do something pleasant or agreeable (to one),
               to do a favor to, gratify; to grant forgiveness, to
            3) Forgiving others is demanded, because we have been
               forgiven by Christ!
      4. The final virtue mentioned is LOVE
         a. The Grk. word is agape {ag-ah'-pay}, meaning good will,
         b. It is described by Paul as "the bond of perfection"
            1) I.e., "the perfect tie that binds" the other virtues
               together (like a belt binds pieces of clothing)
            2) Without love, none of the other virtues can last; with
               it, the others can be easily maintained

      1. Are they not the qualities of Jesus that endear us to Him?
      2. If we adorn these virtues, then, we will be adorning ourselves
         with the "character of Christ"!
      3. Is this not the very idea of Col 3:10?

[Wouldn't it be wonderful, if we could be more successful in "putting
on" the character of Christ?

   *  Think of the churches that could have been spared divisions and

   *  Think of the families that could have been saved, if more
      Christians had so adorned themselves!

Remember, it begins with "seeking the heavenly" (3:1-4) and "slaying
the earthly" (3:5-9).

At this point, I am stretching Paul's metaphor of "putting on" further
than he did, but to "the character of Christ" we must also adorn
ourselves with...]


      1. Why?  Because we were called to be at peace in one body (the
         a. Jesus died on the cross to make peace! - Ep 2:14-18
         b. If we disrupt the peace of the body (church), we disrupt the
            work of Christ on the cross!
         c. Thus, we must be diligent to "keep the unity of The Spirit
            in the bond of peace" - Ep 4:3
      2. Generally, where there is contention and strife, it is among
         members of the body who are not letting the peace of God rule
         in THEIR hearts
      3. Peace in the body (the church) begins with peace ruling in our

      1. It must start with our setting our minds on things above
         a. Remember, this passage assumes that we are to carry out the
           admonition in Col 3:1-2
         b. Only a mind that is "spiritual" can enjoy peace from God
            - cf. Ro 8:5-6
      2. It is experienced as we engage in thankful prayer
         a. Paul tells us to be thankful in Col 3:15
         b. But he makes the connection between thankful prayer and the
            peace of God more clearly in Php 4:6-7
      3. And it comes as we follow the teachings and example of the
         apostles, like Paul - cf. Php 4:9

[Again, how wonderful it would be for churches and families if all
professing Christians would adorn themselves with such qualities as
"the character of Christ" and "the peace of God"!

But there is more we need to add to our "wardrobe"...]


      1. That is, the Word is to live, to abide, to have free course in
         our lives
      2. This is possible only through a serious effort to learn it (via
         self-study, Bible classes, sermons, etc.)
      3. But learning is only the FIRST step!
         a. For the Word to truly "dwell" in us, we must OBEY it!
         b. Sadly, many who study never make the application, and remain
            "hearers only" - cf. Jm 1:22-25

      1. This happens when we add to our "study" of the Word of God the
         element of "song"
         a. This truth we glean as we notice HOW Paul says we are to let
            the Word dwell in us richly...
         b. I.e., by "teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and
      2. Does this not make sense?  For if the Word is to dwell in us
         a. It must not only involve the MIND through study
         b. It must also involve the HEART (emotions) through song!

      1. It is the means through which the Word of Christ dwells in us
      2. For this to happen, of course, we must sing properly
         a. We must understand what we are singing (otherwise, we are
            not taught and admonished)
         b. Our heart (emotions) must be involved, otherwise we are not
            singing "with grace in our hearts"
         c. Fortunately, this does not require formal voice training,
            for the emphasis is not on how it sounds to the ear, but how
            it touches the heart!
         d. Thus, ALL can and should sing (in the heart at least, if
            unable to do so with the mouth)
      3. For those who have not learned the "joy of singing", they are
         depriving themselves of the means God intended for the Word to
         dwell in us "richly"!

[Through singing, then, we can add to "The Christian's Apparel" the
"Word of Christ".

Finally, the "The Christian's Apparel" must also include...}


      1. For if we say or do ALL "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (that
         is, by His authority)
      2. Then it is evident that we have really "put on" the LORD Jesus
         Christ in our lives!

      1. What they do, they do by their own authority, "in the name of
         personal preference"
         a. They worship in whatever way pleases them, rather than seek
            out in the Word of God what pleases the Lord
         b. They make the church "in their own image", adding the
            traditions of men to the commands of God!
      2. But in view of what the Lord taught, we should remember...
         a. There is a such a thing as "vain worship"! - Mt 15:7-9
         b. Many religious people will still be lost, because they did
            not submit to the "will of the Father" - Mt 7:21-23
            1) Instead, they practiced "lawlessness"
            2) Grk., anomia {an-om-ee'-ah}, the condition of without
               law, because ignorant of it, or because of violating it
      3. Therefore, "...whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the
         name of the LORD Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through
         Him." - Col 3:17


1. We have suggested that four things make up "The Christian's Apparel"
   a. The Character of Christ
   b. The Peace of God
   c. The Word of Christ
   d. The Authority of Christ

2. Certainly the world (and many churches) would be a much better place
   if all who profess Jesus to be Lord so adorned themselves

3. But what other motives might there be to do so?  Four are given in
   this passage...
   a. We are "God's elect" (His chosen ones) - Col 3:12
   b. We are "holy" (set apart for a sacred purpose) - Col 3:12
   c. We are "beloved by God" - Col 3:12
   d. We have been "forgiven by Christ" - Col 3:13

Are not these reasons sufficient to put on "The Christian's Apparel"?

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

Who Hardened Pharaoh's Heart? by Dave Miller, Ph.D. Kyle Butt, M.Div.


Who Hardened Pharaoh's Heart?

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.
Kyle Butt, M.Div.

In their perpetual quest to find discrepancies in the Bible, to undermine biblical ethics, and to find fault with the actions of God, skeptics have charged that God mistreated Pharaoh by overriding his free will and forcing him to resist the demand of Moses to allow the Israelites to exit Egypt. The skeptics focus on the verses about Pharaoh’s heart, demanding that the God of the Bible is an unjust, cruel being. Steve Wells, the well-known skeptic writer, said: “God begins the process of ‘hardening Pharaoh’s heart’ (see also Exodus 7:3,13, 9:12, 10:1, 20,27, 11:10, 14:4,8), thus making it impossible for any of the plagues that God sends to have any beneficial effect. But according to 1 Samuel 6:6, God didn’t harden the Pharaoh’s heart; the Pharaoh did it himself” (Wells, 2001). Kendall Hobbs, in an essay titled “Why I Am No Longer a Christian,” added Pharaoh’s story to a list of alleged atrocities committed by the God of the Bible. “There are plenty of other atrocities committed by God or at his command,” Hobbs comments, then lists “the Exodus story when the Egyptian Pharaoh was repeatedly ready and willing to let Moses and his people go, until God hardened his heart, and then God punished him for his hardened heart by sending plagues or killing children throughout all of Egypt” (Hobbs, 2003).
The Protestant Calvinist response to the skeptic is simply to say that God can do what He chooses to do, and that humans have no right to question God. To him, the answer is “not to retract the sovereignty of God’s election, or to try to give a rational explanation to doubting men” (Palmer, 1972, p. 33). Since Calvinism has largely dominated the Protestant landscape for the last five centuries, most skeptics have dismissed Christianity as absurd, and have turned away in utter disgust in order to embrace atheism. The smug Calvinist declares, “So be it! You have the problem!”
But why would many otherwise right-thinking people reject the Calvinistic brand of Christianity? Must their rejection necessarily be due to a desire to be free from the moral and social restraints that come with the acceptance of the Christian religion? Must the unbeliever’s unbelief inevitably be the result of an unwillingness to accept truth? While it is true that most human beings in history have rejected the correct pathway in life due to stubborn pride, selfishness, and a desire to gratify fleshly desires (cf. Matthew 7:13-14; 1 John 2:15-17), there are exceptions. Some people reject Christianity because they have been presented with pseudo-Christianity—a Catholic or Protestant version of it—what Paul called “a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6), that is, a diluted, distorted form, rather than pure, New Testament Christianity.
The reason rational, honest people would reject Calvinism’s claim that God arbitrarily (i.e., for His own sovereign reasons) rejects some people, or overrides their free will, is because they recognize that a perfect God, i.e., One Who is infinite in all of His attributes (including justice, fairness, and impartiality), would not do so. God cannot be just, while unjustly rejecting some people. God cannot be God, and yet conduct Himself in an ungodly manner. Even the biggest sinner, who has violated his conscience repeatedly, and has dulled his spiritual sensibilities, has enough sense to comprehend the principle of being fair—even if he chooses not to treat people fairly.
Turning to the book of Exodus, most Bible readers must admit that they were at least slightly startled the first time they read about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, and then His punishing Pharaoh for that same hard-heartedness. In dealing with these allegations, three distinct declarations are made with regard to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. First, the text states that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (7:3; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8), and the hearts of the Egyptians (14:17). Second, it is said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (8:15,32; 9:34), that he refused to humble himself (10:3), and that he was stubborn (13:15). Third, the text uses the passive form to indicate that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, without giving any indication as to the source (7:13,14,22; 8:19; 9:7,35). The questions that arise from this state of affairs are: (1) did God harden Pharaoh on some occasions, while Pharaoh hardened himself on others? (2) Did God do all the hardening of Pharaoh, with the references to Pharaoh hardening himself being the result of God forcing him to do so against his own will? (3) Are all three declarations given in the text actually parallel expressions that mean the same thing? (4) Are the three declarations distinct from one another in their meaning, but all true in their own respects? Is the God of the Bible an unjust, cruel Being?
Two excellent explanations are available that account for the Exodus declarations, each perfectly plausible and sufficient to demonstrate that both the skeptic and Calvinist interpretations are incorrect. Both explanations pertain to the fact that every language has its own way of using certain types of words and phrases that might appear odd to a person not familiar with the language. For instance, suppose a person commented that his boss became angry and “bit his head off.” Would anyone think that the speaker actually had his head bitten off? Of course not! English-speaking people understand this example of figurative speech. Or suppose a person went looking for a job, and someone said that she was “hitting the streets.” She was not literally hitting the streets with her fists. Most English speakers would understand the idiom. In the same way, the biblical languages had idioms, colloquialisms, Semitisms, and word usages peculiar to them, which those familiar with the language would understand.
In his copious work on biblical figures of speech, E.W. Bullinger listed several ways that the Hebrew and Greek languages used verbs to mean something other than their strict, literal usage. He listed several verses that show that the languages “used active verbs to express the agent’s design or attempt to do anything, even though the thing was not actually done” (1898, p. 821). To illustrate, in discussing the Israelites, Deuteronomy 28:68 states: “Ye shall be sold (i.e., put up for sale) unto your enemies…and no man shall buy you.” The translators of the New King James Version recognized the idiom and rendered the verse, “you shall be offered for sale.” The text clearly indicated that they would not be sold, because there would be no buyer, yet the Hebrew active verb for “sold” was used. In the New Testament, a clear example of this type of usage is found in 1 John 1:10, which states, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him [God—KB/DM] a liar.” No one can make God a liar, but the attempt to deny sin is the equivalent of attempting to make God a liar, which is rendered with an active verb as if it actually happened. Verbs, therefore, can have idiomatic usages that may convey something other than a strict, literal meaning.
With that in mind, Bullinger’s fourth list of idiomatic verbs deals with active verbs that “were used by the Hebrews to express, not the doing of the thing, but the permission of the thing which the agent is said to do” (p. 823, emp. in orig.). To illustrate, in commenting on Exodus 4:21, Bullinger stated: “ ‘I will harden his heart (i.e., I will permit or suffer his heart to be hardened), that he shall not let the people go.’ So in all the passages which speak of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. As is clear from the common use of the same Idiom in the following passages” (1968, p. 823). He then listed Jeremiah 4:10, “ ‘Lord God, surely thou hast greatly deceived this people’: i.e., thou hast suffered this People to be greatly deceived, by the false prophets….’ ” Ezekiel 14:9 is also given as an example of this type of usage: “ ‘If the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet’: i.e., I have permitted him to deceive himself.” James MacKnight, in a lengthy section on biblical idioms, agrees with Bullinger’s assessment that in Hebrew active verbs can express permission and not direct action. This explanation unquestionably clarifies the question of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. When the text says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it means that God would permit or allow Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened.
A second equally legitimate explanation for the Exodus text is that the allusions to God hardening Pharaoh’s heart are a form of figurative speech, very closely associated with metaphor, known as “metonymy,” where one name or word is employed for another. For example, when we speak of “reading Shakespeare,” we mean that we read his writings or plays. God hardening Pharaoh’s heart would be “metonymy of the subject,” that is, the subject is announced, while some property or circumstance belonging to it is meant. Specifically, under this form of the figure, “[a]n action is sometimes said to have been accomplished, when all that is meant by it is that an occasion was given” (Dungan, 1888, p. 287; cf. Bullinger, 1898, p. 570).
The Bible is replete with examples that illustrate this figure of speech. John reported that “Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John” (John 4:1). In reality, Jesus did not personally baptize anyone (John 4:2). But His teaching and influence caused it to be done. Jesus, the subject, is mentioned, but it is the circumstance of His influence that is intended. His teaching was responsible for people being baptized. Repeatedly in the book of 1 Kings, various kings of Israel are said to have “walked in the way of Jeroboam…who had made Israel sin” (e.g., 1 Kings 16:19,26; 22:52). But Jeroboam did not force either his contemporaries or his successors to sin. Rather, he set an example that they chose to follow. Judas was said to have purchased a field with the money he obtained by betraying Christ (Acts 1:18). But, in reality, he returned the money to the chief priests and then hung himself. The blood money was then used to purchase the field (Matthew 27:5-7). By metonymy of the subject, Judas was said to have done that which his action occasioned. Paul warned Roman Christians: “Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15). What he meant was that they should not set an example that lures weaker brothers into doing what they consider to be wrong. Paul told Corinthian Christians that they were in a position to “save” their unbelieving spouses (1 Corinthians 7:16). He told Timothy that he was in a position to “save” those who listened to his teaching (1 Timothy 4:16). In both cases, Paul meant that proper teaching and a proper example could influence the recipients to obey God’s will for their lives.
Another instance of metonymy of the subject, closely aligned with the example of Pharaoh in Exodus, is the occasion of the conversion of Lydia, the businesswoman from Thyatira. The text states that the “Lord opened her heart” (Acts 16:14). However, the specific means by which God achieved this action was the preaching of Paul. God’s Word, spoken through Paul, created within her a receptive and responsive mind. In like fashion, Jesus is said to have preached to Gentiles as well as to the antediluvian population of Noah’s day (Ephesians 2:17; 1 Peter 3:19). Of course, Jesus did neither—directly. Rather, He operated through agents—through Paul in the first case and through Noah in the latter. Similarly, Nathan accused king David: “You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword” (2 Samuel 12:9). In reality, David sent a letter to his general ordering him to arrange battle positions where Uriah would be more vulnerable to enemy fire. On the basis of metonymy of the subject, David, the subject, is said to have done something that, in actuality, he simply arranged for others to do.
In the case of Pharaoh, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” in the sense that God provided the circumstances and the occasion for Pharaoh to be forced to make a decision. God sent Moses to place His demands before Pharaoh. Moses merely announced God’s instructions. God even accompanied His Word with miracles—to confirm the divine origin of the message (cf. Mark 16:20). Pharaoh made up his own mind to resist God’s demands. Of his own accord, he stubbornly refused to comply. Of course, God provided the occasion for Pharaoh to demonstrate his unyielding attitude. If God had not sent Moses, Pharaoh would not have been faced with the dilemma of whether to release the Israelites. So God was certainly the instigator and initiator. But He was not the author of Pharaoh’s defiance.
Notice that in a very real sense, all four of the following statements are true: (1) God hardened Pharaoh’s heart; (2) Moses hardened Pharaoh’s heart; (3) the words that Moses spoke hardened Pharaoh’s heart; (4) Pharaoh hardened his own heart. All four of these observations are accurate, depicting the same truth from different perspectives. In this sense, God is responsible for everything in the Universe, i.e., He has provided the occasion, the circumstances, and the environment in which all things (including people) operate. But He is not guilty of wrong in so doing. From a quick look at a simple Hebrew idiom, it is clear that God did not unjustly or directly harden Pharaoh’s heart. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), He does not act unjustly (Psalms 33:5), and He has always allowed humans to exercise their free moral agency (Deuteronomy 30:19). God, however, does use the wrong, stubborn decisions committed by rebellious sinners to further His causes (Isaiah 10:5-11). In the case of Pharaoh’s hardened heart, God can be charged with no injustice, and the Bible can be charged with no contradiction. Humans were created with free moral agency and are culpable for their own actions.


Bullinger, E.W. (1898), Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1968 reprint).
Dungan, D.R. (1888), Hermeneutics (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).
Hobbs, Kendall (2003), “Why I Am No Longer a Christian: Ruminations on a Spiritual Journey out of and into the Material World,” [On-line], URL: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/kendall_hobbs/no_longer.shtml.
MacKnight, James (1954 reprint), Apostolic Epistles (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Palmer, Edwin (1972), The Five Points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Wells, Steve (2001), Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, [On-line], URL: http://www.Skepticsannotatedbible.com>.

Why did God Want to Kill Moses? by Alden Bass


Why did God Want to Kill Moses?

by  Alden Bass

Moses was eighty years old. He had just stood in awe before the bush that burned but was not consumed, and had received instructions from the Angel of the Lord to appear before the Pharaoh of Egypt and command him in the name of the Great I Am to release the Hebrews from their bondage. After some deliberation and hesitation, Moses accepted the mission, and immediately began making preparations. He obtained permission from his father-in-law to return to Egypt with his family, then packed up his wife and two sons and headed south. It seems they had not gone far, perhaps only the first day’s journey, when a peculiar circumstance arose. As they made arrangements to sleep for the night, the Lord met Moses and sought to kill him (Exodus 4:24). In response to this turn of events, Moses’ wife Zipporah circumcised their uncircumcised son and threw the foreskin at his feet, screaming, “You are a husband of blood!” After this, the Lord “let him go” (4:26).
This story is particularly difficult to understand because of its brevity, and the unusual wording of verse 24: “The Lord sought to kill Moses.” Though the phrasing of the verse may elicit dark images of God slinking about the encampment, waiting to ambush Moses, the fact that God would kill someone is not unusual in other contexts. The wicked were slain by God in the Great Flood because of their violent and ungodly actions (Genesis 6:1-7). The Lord killed Er and Onan, two of Judah’s sons, because of their overt rebellion (Genesis 38:7,10). In Moses’ later years, God would legislate the death penalty for those guilty of disobeying certain laws (Leviticus 20). In these instances and many more, God “killed” a person or persons, albeit indirectly. In Exodus 4, we can be assured that Moses was afflicted because he was guilty of some sin, since disobedience is the only act God punishes with death.
The sin of Moses is not stated explicitly, but the surrounding events give substantial clues as to the nature of Moses’ transgression. God had instructed his messenger to warn Pharaoh to free Israel, or risk losing his firstborn son (Exodus 4:21-23). Moses had been specially groomed by God for eighty years for this mission, and now the time for action had come. Moses was to lead his people out of Egypt, and to be an example to Pharaoh’s house, to the nation of Egypt, and to all the nations that heard of those happenings (Exodus 18:10-11; Joshua 2:10-11). Accordingly, Moses’ personal life had to be in order before he could direct the spiritual lives of the Hebrew people. It seems that Moses had neglected to administer the sacred rite of circumcision, the act that symbolized the Almighty’s covenant with His chosen people. Perhaps this was the result of pressure from his surrogate Midianite tribe; more likely he was persuaded by Zipporah not to circumcise his son, since she apparently found the practice revolting (4:25). This would explain her violent outburst; she felt that she had saved her husband from death by shedding the blood of her son. Whatever the cause, Moses’ outstanding sin made him unfit to serve as a spiritual leader, and the situation had to be rectified before he could carry out his mission effectively. Indeed, as soon as Zipporah performed the act, the Lord “let him go.”
Though the details of this mysterious story are absent, the underlying message is plain. Disobedience, whether by acts of omission or commission, result only in punishment and ultimately death.

Will Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel Be Lost? by Bert Thompson, Ph.D. Jim Estabrook


Will Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel Be Lost?

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.
Jim Estabrook

We live on a planet populated by approximately six billion people. Six billion! And most of those, it probably would be safe to say, never have been afforded the opportunity of hearing the gospel message about the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. Therefore, obviously, they cannot respond in obedience to that saving message—even though they might be willing to do so if presented with the prospect. What will happen to these people? Will they be lost eternally? Or will God make some kind of “special allowance” so that they can be saved and thereby enjoy eternity in heaven with Him and His Son?
As we examine these kinds of questions, it is vitally important that we remember two points. First, “the Judge of all the Earth” will “do right” (Genesis 18:25). God is every bit as infinite in His mercy and His grace (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13) as He is in His justice and His severity (Hebrews 10:31). Second, since it is the Word of God that instructs us regarding man’s eternal destiny, and since all men eventually will be judged by that Word (John 12:48), it is to God’s Word that we must go to find answers to inquiries concerning mankind’s ultimate destiny. Fortunately, in His wisdom, God has not left us to our own devices concerning matters that relate to our salvation. As Jeremiah wisely observed: “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (10:23).


There are those who suggest that surely God would not banish from His presence for eternity those who never had an opportunity to hear and obey the gospel message in the first place. Consider the following examples. In his 1909 volume, Systematic Theology, A.H. Strong wrote:
Since Christ is the Word of God and the Truth of God, he may be received even by those who have not heard of his manifestation in the flesh.... We have, therefore, the hope that even among the heathen there may be some...who under the guidance of the Holy Spirit working through the truth of nature and conscience, have found the way to life and salvation (p. 843, emp. added).
Approximately fifty years later, popular evangelical theologian Karl Barth defended such a concept via what he called his “biblical universalism.” He wrote: “We have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the lovingkindness of God” (as quoted in Dyrness, 1983, p. 105). In commenting on Barth’s viewpoint, apologist Cornelius Van Til wrote:
For Barth, man, as sinner, is, to be sure, under the wrath of God, but this wrath is, itself, a form of the all-overreaching grace of God. There is no eternal punishment for those who are in Christ [because] there are no men who are not in Christ (1965, p. 38, emp. added).
Another modern-day evangelical, Neil Punt, invoked Barthian ideas in his book, Unconditional Good News, wherein he rejected the idea that sinners actually must believe and obey the gospel in order to be saved because “It is an error to think that there is anything that must be done to inherit eternal life” (1980, p. 135, emp. added). In What the Bible Says about Salvation, Virgil Warren wrote:
Even some two thousand years after the Great Commission, more people in the world have not heard the gospel than have heard it. The secret things do belong to God, but Christians and non-Christians alike cannot help wondering about the justice as well as the compassion of a God who assigns to eternal torment people who, for reasons beyond their control, never heard about fellowship with him through Jesus Christ.... Our opinion is that scripture does not automatically assign the unevangelized to endless hell (1982, pp. 104-105, first emp. in orig., last emp. added).
In their book, Answers to Tough Questions, Josh McDowell and Don Stewart stated:
Although the Scriptures never explicitly teach that someone who has never heard of Jesus can be saved, we do not believe that it infers [sic] this. We do believe that every person will have an opportunity to repent, and that God will not exclude anyone because he happened to be born at the wrong place and at the wrong time (1993, p. 137).
Statements such as these certainly could cause some to conclude that God simply will not judge the lost, but instead will deem them worthy of eternal salvation merely (or solely!) because they never had an opportunity in their lifetimes to hear the “good news” made available to humankind through the gospel of Christ. While at first glance such a notion may appear comforting, and may appease our human sensitivities, the truth of the matter is that it has monstrous theological and spiritual implications. Consider these facts.


First—in light of the commands inherent in the Great Commission given by the Lord Himself prior to His ascension back into heaven—how can we entertain any suggestion that the “unevangelized” will be saved? Christ’s instructions were crystal clear: “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you...” (Matthew 28:19-20). If the view is correct that the unevangelized peoples of the world will be redeemed without ever having been exposed to (and obeying) the gospel, then potentially we could be doing them great harm if we carry out the Lord’s command and teach them the truth. By introducing them to the gospel, we might well be condemning those who otherwise would have been saved. When R.C. Sproul wrote his book, Reason to Believe, he expended considerable effort in explaining why such a position is unscriptural. He prefaced his discussion with the following statements:
The unspoken assumption at this point is that the only damnable offense against God is the rejection of Christ. Since the native is not guilty of this, we ought to let him alone. In fact, letting him alone would be the most helpful thing we could do for him. If we go to the native and inform him of Christ, we place his soul in eternal jeopardy. For now he knows of Christ, and if he refuses to respond to Him, he can no longer claim ignorance as an excuse. Hence, the best service we can render is silence (1981, p. 50).
Ponder the situation of a person who never has the opportunity to hear the gospel. If the ideas expressed in some of the above quotations are correct, then that person will be saved necessarily. But what about the person to whom we present the gospel message, and who then, of his or her own personal volition, chooses (for whatever reason) to reject it? Having spurned God’s offer of salvation through His Son, can such a one then be saved? Not according to God’s Word!
The writer of the book of Hebrews noted: “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins” (10:26). In Luke 13:34-35, Christ Himself lamented the rejection of the gospel message by His own Jewish brethren (who had been presented with the gospel message, but had rebuffed it repeatedly).
Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem,...how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her own brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until ye shall say, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:34-35, emp. added).
Consider, too, the important spiritual principle set forth in Hebrews 6:4-6, which, although admittedly speaking about people who once had accepted Christ as their Savior and then had abandoned their faith in Him, nevertheless mentions those who at one time were “enlightened” about Who He was and the salvation He offered—only to reject both Him and that salvation. Would it not, then (if the views discussed above are correct), be better simply to keep the Word of God “a secret” from the heathen and the unevangelized so that they—as a result of their ignorance—can be saved and not be put in the position of knowing the gospel message and possibly rejecting it? In their book, I’m Glad You Asked, authors Kenneth Boa and Larry Moody correctly observed:
Those who have heard the Gospel and rejected it are doubly guilty—they have rejected not only the Father but also the Son. And the Scriptures are clear about the judgment which awaits those who have refused God’s offer of salvation. The wrath of God abides on them (John 3:36; cf. Heb. 2:3; 10:26-31) [1982, p. 160].
Second, those who suggest that the heathen and unevangelized will be saved “as a result of their ignorance” of God’s law have failed to realize that such people are lost, not because they are ignorant of God’s law, but because they have sinned against Him. Almost all humans recognize (albeit begrudgingly, at times) that ignorance of the law does not excuse us from the law’s penalties and/or punishments. [“But officer, I didn’t know the speed limit was 15 miles per hour in the school zone.” “Yes, sir. The courthouse is open 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. You may pay the $150 speeding citation at any time during those hours. Have a nice day.”] One must distinguish between knowledge of a law and the existence of a law. If one must know the law before he can transgress the law, then there would be no such thing as a “sin of ignorance.” Yet the Bible speaks plainly of that very thing (Leviticus 4:2,22, 27; Acts 3:17; 17:30-31). Ignorance of the law is neither a legitimate excuse nor an effective guarantee of salvation.
Paul wrote in Romans 2:12: “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without the law: and as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law.” In his commentary on the book of Romans, R.C.H. Lenski discussed Paul’s statement about those who “perish without the law” when he wrote:
The only difference will be that those without the law will merely perish without the law, while those with law will be judged by means of law—two routes that lead to the same goal. Justice will be prominent in both instances; for the Judge will not apply law to those who ended as nothing but sinners without using anything like real law—that would be unfair. Nor will he need law in the case of these—they merely perish as the sinners that they are. The only fair thing in the case of others who made law their boast will be that the Judge uses this means when he pronounces judgment on them; and the fact that this judgment will be one of condemnation is plain: “they did sin” exactly as those “did sin” of whom Paul just said “they will perish” (1961, p. 158, emp. added).
When people are lost, it is due to their having sinned against God. Isaiah wrote:
Behold, Jehovah’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, so that he will not hear (59:1-2).
Boa and Moody commented:
Sin is a universal human condition (1 Kings 8:46; Ps. 51:5, Romans 3:9,23; 1 John 1:8), and it causes a breach between man and God (Isa. 59:2). Sin leads to death (Romans 6:23), and the wrath of God abides on all who are separate from Christ (John 3:18,36). All have sinned, and those who have not been “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24) are under divine condemnation (Romans 3:10-20; 5:16-19) and must stand before God in judgment, because apart from Christ we are enemies of God (Romans 5:10).... People are not lost because they have not heard. They are lost because they are sinners. We die because of disease, not because of ignorance of the proper cure (1982, p. 147, emp. added).
Man is lost as a result of being afflicted with the horrible “disease” of sin—a condition that, unless treated, always is fatal (Romans 6:23). Because God is depicted within Scripture not only as loving (2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 John 4:7-16) and merciful (James 5:11), but also as holy (Psalm 22:3) and just (Psalm 89:14; Isaiah 45:19; Revelation 16:7), He cannot (and will not!) overlook sin. It must be (and will be!) punished. But is there a remedy for this terminal disease known as “sin”? And if so, what is it?
Yes, fortunately there is a remedy for mankind’s otherwise lethal condition. He can have his sins forgiven. The great Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool, if ye be willing and obedient” (Isaiah 1:18-19). The key phrase, of course, is “willing and obedient.” But willing to do what? And obedient to what command? To be washed in the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ as God has decreed! The blood of bulls and goats never was able to take away man’s sins, no matter how unblemished the sacrificial animal(s) may have been. But the blood of Christ can (Hebrews 10:4-18). And it is the only thing that will! The Scriptures speak clearly to this fact when they state that Christ shed His blood on the cross for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3; Romans 5:8-9), and that He is the “lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Furthermore, it is only through Christ that a person can be saved from the wrath of God (cf. Romans 5:1, 8:1, and Hebrews 10:31).
The inspired writers of the New Testament placed great emphasis upon the necessity of being “in Christ.” In the American Standard Version of the Bible, the phrase “in Christ” appears 89 times in 88 verses. The New Testament makes it clear that it is only when a person is “in Christ” that he has “redemption” (Romans 3:24), “eternal life” (Romans 6:23), “every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3), “forgiveness” (Colossians 1:14), and “salvation” (2 Timothy 2:10). Those who have been baptized “into Christ” (which is how the Bible tells us we get into Christ—Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3-4) will not be condemned (Romans 8:1). What is the logical implication? Those outside of Christ will not have forgiveness, salvation, or eternal life, but will be condemned for their sins. Whether a person has never heard of Christ or whether he simply has heard of Him but not obeyed Him, that person is outside of Christ. According to the apostle Paul, any person who fits into either category will be lost eternally. He said that Jesus will render “vengeance to them that know not God” and to those who “obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). He further described these unbelievers as those “who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
While it is true that knowledge of both God’s existence and His “everlasting power and divinity” may be gleaned from the general revelation He has provided of Himself in nature (cf. Romans 1:19-20, Psalm 19:1, Acts 14:17, and Hebrews 3:4), that revelation is limited, and cannot explain to man what to do to be saved. As impressive, as powerful, and as pervasive as general revelation is, it nevertheless is deficient in and of itself. For many, nature has ceased to be a perspicuous revelation of God. It may have been so before sin entered the world, but even if it were, man’s nature now has become so polluted that he steadfastly refuses to read the divine script around him. General revelation simply is not enough. It never was intended to be. It does not afford man the reliable knowledge of the nature of God, of his sin against God, of his need for Jesus Christ as his Savior, and other important spiritual information that he absolutely must know in order to be saved. It therefore is inadequate (by itself) as the sole foundation of a person’s faith. From nature alone, man never would be able to infer the need for a personal Savior.
That fact—that from nature alone man never would be able to infer the need for a personal Savior—is critically important in the present discussion. As J.I. Packer noted: “The Bible says that God’s general revelation, even when correctly grasped, yields knowledge of creation, providence, and judgment only, not of grace that restores sinners to fellowship with God” (1973, p. 115, emp. added). This assessment is correct. If a person does not know that he stands in need of a personal Savior; if he does not know Who that Savior is; if he does not know how to be “willingly obedient” to that Savior; and if he does not know how to appropriate the salvation that comes only through that Savior, then how can he possibly know how to get rid of his sins in order to stand sanctified before God? Jesus Himself said in John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me” (emp. added). In a discussion of this verse, Gene Burgett noted:
The phrase “no one cometh unto the Father, but by me” is clearly a universal negative which states in positive terms, “all men who come to the Father, come by me.” If the only ones who come to the Father are those who come by way of Jesus Christ, then it is apparent that all who do not know Jesus will be lost. There can be no salvation in Buddha, Mohammed, Hari Krishna, or any other name other than the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12) [1993, p. 176, emp. in orig.].
If people could be saved in times past—and can be saved today—without the sacrifice of God’s Son (and they cannot—cf. Hebrews 10:4-10 and Acts 4:12), then why would God have sent Him to Earth in the first place?!
The fact of the matter is, God promised salvation only to those who hear the gospel message (Romans 10:17), believe on His Son (John 3:16), confess Christ’s name (Matthew 10:32-33), repent of their sins (Luke 13:3), have those sins remitted through baptism (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21), and remain faithful (Revelation 2:10). Subsequent to the Day of Pentecost, Peter called upon his listeners to: “Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). The word for “blotted out” derives from a Greek word meaning to “wipe out, erase, or obliterate.” The New Testament uses the word to refer to “blotting out” the old law (Colossians 2:14) and to “blotting out” a person’s name from the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5). One of the great prophetical utterances of the Old Testament was that “their sin will I remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).
There was no happy solution to the justice/mercy dilemma. There was no way that God could remain just (since justice demands that the wages of sin be paid) and yet save His Son from death. Christ was abandoned to the cross so that mercy could be extended to sinners who stood condemned (Romans 3:23; 6:23). God could not save sinners by fiat—upon the ground of mere authority alone—without violating His own attribute of divine justice. Paul discussed God’s response to this problem in Romans 3:24-26 when he stated that those who are saved are
...justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood...for the showing of his righteousness...that he might himself be just and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus.
Mankind’s salvation was no arbitrary arrangement. God did not decide merely to consider men sinners, and then determine to save them via a principle of mercy and grace. Sin had placed men in a state of antagonism toward God that was so severe, men were referred to by inspiration as God’s “enemies” (Romans 5:10). Mankind’s sin could be forgiven, and men once again could become God’s friends, only as a result of the vicarious death of God’s Son.


Some have suggested that Christians are narrow-minded when they suggest that mankind’s salvation can be found only in Jesus Christ. Truth, however, is narrow! In addressing this point, Kurt DeHaan wrote:
Would you call a nutritionist narrow-minded if he said that a human can’t survive very long without food or water? Is an aerospace engineer pigheaded to propose that the only way to fly to the moon is by spacecraft, not by hang glider? Is it scientific bigotry to say that gasoline can burn but water cannot? Is it mathematical prejudice to claim that two plus two equals four, not three, five, or twenty-two? The issue is a matter of truth, not a matter of bigotry or prejudice (1988, p. 4).
Truth is a precious and priceless commodity—which no doubt explains why the Proverbs writer admonished: “Buy the truth, and sell it not” (23:23). Jesus Himself said: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32, emp. added).
But what about sincerity? Does it count for nothing? While sincerity certainly is important in a relationship with God, the fact of the matter is that God does not want just sincerity; He wants obedience. Saul (who later would be called Paul) was “sincere” in his persecution of Christ’s church, and even did what he did to oppose it “in all good conscience” (Acts 23:1; 22:19-20; Galatians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:9), yet God struck him blind (Acts 9:3-9). Paul later would admit in his own writings that he was sincere, but sincerely wrong. DeHaan observed:
Isn’t it enough to be sincere? No, it’s not. Sincerity is important, but it’s not an adequate substitute for knowing the truth. Sincerity doesn’t pass a college entrance exam. Sincerity doesn’t win an automobile race. Sincerity doesn’t repair a broken washing machine. Sincerity won’t bake the perfect cake. And sincerity won’t pay your rent or mortgage. Sincerity will not fill the gap when there is a lack of skill or knowledge, nor will all the sincerity in the world transform error into truth (1988, p. 8, emp. added).
While the Lord certainly wants us to be sincere, He also requires something else, which is why He instructed: “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
The truth of the Lord is narrow, as Jesus made clear in His beautiful Sermon on the Mount (read specifically Matthew 7:13-14). In fact, Christ observed: “Not everyone that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Jesus later commented on the attitude of the people of His day when He said: “This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:8-9).
Consider, for example, the account related in 2 Samuel 6 about Uzzah. God had given the Israelites explicit instructions about the construction of the Ark of the Covenant (see Exodus 25:10-22). It was to be made of acacia wood and covered with gold. It was to have two gold-covered, acacia-wood rings on each side, through which two gold-covered, acacia-wood staves could be placed in the event that it had to be moved (Exodus 37:1-5). But He also had given the Israelites explicit instructions about the transportation of the Ark. It was to be carried only by those from the priestly tribe of Levi, specifically the Kohathites (Numbers 7:9). [The Kohathites descended from Kohath, the second son of Levi; the other two groups were the Gershonites and Merarites (cf. Numbers 3:17ff.). The members of the tribe of Levi also were charged with carrying other items of religious significance, including the altars, lampstand, sanctuary vessels, etc., associated with the Tabernacle (see Numbers 3:31).] The Ark was to be moved only after it had been appropriately covered by a blue cloth. And the Israelites (even the Kohathites) were commanded—upon penalty of death—never to touch the Ark (Numbers 4:15,19-20).
King David had ignored each of God’s commands in regard to the transportation of the Ark. God had not commanded that the Ark be moved, and it certainly was not being moved in the manner prescribed by His law. The Ark had been placed on an ox cart being tended by two brothers—Uzzah and Ahio (the latter of whom, apparently, was driving the cart). The text says simply: “the oxen stumbled.” Uzzah—no doubt believing that the precious cargo was about to tumble from the cart and be dashed to bits—reached up to steady the Ark. And the moment Uzzah touched the Ark, God struck him dead!
Was Uzzah sincere in his attempt to protect one of the Israelites’ most priceless and treasured possessions? Undoubtedly he was. But his sincerity was for nought because he disobeyed. Note specifically the Bible’s statement that “God smote him there for his error” (2 Samuel 6:7). God’s commands were explicit; His truth was narrow. Uzzah ignored that truth—and died for having done so.
Will those who never have heard the gospel be lost—even though they might be “sincere”? Indeed they will be! Their separation from God throughout eternity will have been caused by two factors: (1) they sinned against God; and (2) they had not been taught—and thus were not able to take advantage of—the gospel plan of salvation that was offered to all men as the free gift of God (Romans 5:15-21; 6:23b) to restore them to a covenant relationship with Him.
For those of us who do know the truth regarding what men must do to be saved, the burden to share that truth with those who do not know it presses down with unrelenting fury. When Philip stood in the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch who had been to Jerusalem to worship, he asked: “Understandest thou what thou readest?” That Ethiopian gentleman’s response still burns in our ears over two thousand years later: “How can I, except some one shall guide me?” (Acts 8:30-31). That is the Christian’s job—to gently guide the lost into “the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). In 2 Corinthians 4:5-7, Paul wrote:
For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.... But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves.
A chapter earlier, the apostle had reminded those first-century Christians at Corinth: “Ye are...an epistle of Christ...written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in tables that are hearts of flesh” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).
What a blessed opportunity—and onerous responsibility—to be the “earthen vessel,” the “living epistle,” used by the Lord to bring another soul back into His fold. Realizing that “he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20), and knowing the “goodness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22), dare we countenance failure? No! Speaking on God’s behalf, the prophet Ezekiel warned:
I have made thee a watchman.... Therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, “Thou shalt surely die,” and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thy hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul (Ezekiel 3:17-19, emp. added).
Those who never have heard—and thus never have obeyed—the truth of the gospel message will be lost! And if we do not do our utmost to get that message to them—so will we! While the unevangelized may be lost, they do not have to remain lost. And we may be all that stands between them and an eternity of separation from God.


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Burgett, Gene (1993), “What About Those Who Have Never Heard?,” Whatever Happened to Heaven and Hell?, ed. Terry M. Hightower (San Antonio, TX: Shenandoah Church of Christ).
DeHaan, Kurt (1988), What About Those Who Have Never Heard? (Grand Rapids, MI: Radio Bible Class), [a tract].
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McDowell, Josh and Don Stewart (1993), Answers to Tough Questions (Nashville, TN: Nelson).
Packer, J.I. (1973), “Are Non-Christian Faiths Ways of Salvation?,” [Part IV of a series titled, “The Way of Salvation”], Bibliotheca Sacra, April.
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