"THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS" What Is Our Hope, Glory, And Joy? (2:17-20) by Mark Copeland


                     What Is Our Hope, Glory, And Joy? (2:17-20)


1. Soon after the church at Thessalonica was started, Paul was forced
   to leave...
   a. Unbelieving Jews had created problems for some of the members 
      - cf. Ac 17:5-9
   b. Paul and Silas had to be sent away by night - Ac 17:10

2. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul reflects upon their abrupt
   a. How it created an eager desire to see them again - 1Th 2:17
   b. How Satan had hindered them from fulfilling that desire - 1 Th 2:18
   c. Prompting him to ask the question:  "For what is our hope, or 
      joy, or crown of rejoicing?" - 1Th 2:19

3. We do well to ask ourselves the same question...
   a. What is our hope?  For what do we long with desire and 
   b. What is our joy?  What gives us true happiness and satisfaction?
   c. What is our crown of rejoicing?  What provides the highest degree
      of joy in our lives?
   -- Is our answer the same as Paul's?  Should it be?

[As we consider what our answer should be, let's examine more closely
our text and the answer Paul gave...]


      1. He had been "taken away" from them - 1Th 2:17
         a. He is referring to his necessary departure - Ac 17:10
         b. He uses a word that implies a painful bereavement, like a 
            child taken away from his or her parents (Barnes)
      2. He had been away from their presence only "a short time" 
         - 1Th 2:17
         a. Exactly how long, we do not know
         b. Probably no more than a year, if not months
      3. He "endeavored more eagerly" to see them "with great desire" 
         - 1Th 2:17
         a. Note the repeated emphasis of his longing to see them
         b. His desire likely heightened by the manner in which he had
            to leave them

      1. He wanted to come to them "time and again" - 1Th 2:18
         a. Either from Berea or Athens
         b. But he was hindered 
      2. It was Satan who hindered him - 1Th 2:18
         a. He attributes the persecution by his fellow Jews to Satan
            1) It was the unbelieving Jews who were hounding him
            2) They were following him from place to place - Ac 17:5,13; cf. Ac 14:19
            3) They were possibly his "thorn in the flesh", "the 
               messenger of Satan" alluded to in another epistle - cf.
               2Co 12:7-10
         b. Satan was the ultimate source behind the persecution 
            suffered by the early church - cf. 1Pe 5:8-9; Re 2:10

      1. The Thessalonians were Paul's "hope", because he hoped to see
         them at the coming of the Lord - 1Th 2:19
      2. They were his "joy" or "crown of rejoicing", in anticipation
         of seeing them in the presence of Jesus - 1Th 2:19
      3. They were his "glory" and "joy" - not just in the future, but
         in the present as well - 1Th 2:20 ("you are our glory and 

[Paul's hope, glory, and joy were his brethren in Christ, especially
those he had taught and brought to the Lord.  Not just the
Thessalonians, but others as well (cf. Php 4:1).  

And it works both ways:  At the coming of Christ, Paul would be the
source of joy for those he taught (cf. 2Co 1:14).  Now let's consider
what ought to be...]


      1. Their possessions
         a. Their hope is in the acquisition of material things
         b. Their glory (pride) is in what they have obtained
         c. Their joy (happiness) is in the pleasure such things give 
         -- But such things are perishable and susceptible to theft, 
            they draw us away from God; therefore it is folly to have 
            them as our hope, glory and joy - cf. Mt 6:19-21,24; 1Jn 2:15-17
      2. Their jobs
         a. Their hope is in the advancement of their careers
         b. The glory (pride) is in how far they have come
         c. Their joy (happiness) is in the money, power, or prestige 
            they have obtained
         -- But our jobs and all that they bring can be fleeting 
            (especially in today's job market, with frequent downsizing
            and lack of company loyalty to employees); they shall one 
            day come to nought - cf. 2Pe 3:10
      3. Their families
         a. Their hope is what their families may become
         b. Their glory (pride) is what their families have become
         c. Their joy (happiness) is in the relationship they enjoy 
            with their families
         -- While certainly more noble (and rewarding) than possessions 
            or jobs, even our families are limited in the joys and 
            glory they can bring; death ends our relationship as 
            family, and if they are not Christians, what does that do 
            for our hope?  Cf. Mt 10:37; 12:46-50

      1. Our hope should be to see each other in heaven!
         a. To see each other with Jesus in the presence of the Lord at 
            His coming
         b. What a wonderful occasion, what a glorious reunion!
      2. Our glory should be seeing each other in the presence of the 
         a. Serving the Lord faithfully now
         b. Being glorified together with Jesus when He comes - cf. 
            2Th 1:10-12
      3. Our joy should be the happiness coming from our working 
         together in the Lord!
         a. The joy experienced by John when he saw others walking in 
            the truth - 2Jn 4; 3Jn 3-4
         b. The joy Paul experienced when told of the faithfulness of 
            the Thessalonians - 1Th 3:6-9


1. Our hope, glory, and joy should be in that which is eternal...
   a. Otherwise we are setting ourselves up for eventual disappointment
   b. Our possessions, jobs, even families cannot provide true hope,
      glory and joy
      1) At best, what they offer is temporary
      2) At worst, they provide much disappointment, and draw us away 
         from God

2. Since much of our hope, glory, and joy, both now and in eternity, is
   through our brethren... 
   a. It is important that we nurture and strengthen our relationships
   b. It is imperative that we seek to bring others to Christ, 
      including those in our physical families
   -- Such effort not only brings us closer to each other, but to God,
      and produces that which lasts for eternity!

And then we shall truly be able to say to each other, "For you are our
glory and joy."  Can we say that now...?

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

Baptism and the New Birth by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


Baptism and the New Birth

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

A major cleavage within Christendom pertains to the point at which the “new birth” occurs. Most of Christendom maintains that a person is born again, and thus has sin washed away by the blood of Christ, when that person “accepts Jesus Christ as his personal savior.” By this expression, it is meant that a person must mentally and/or orally decide to embrace Christ as the Lord of his life. Hence, the new birth is seen simply as a determination of the will—a moment in time when the person accepts Christ in his mind and couples that decision with an oral confession.
The passage in the New Testament that alludes specifically to being born again pertains to a conversation that Jesus had with a high-ranking Jewish official:
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’ ” (John 3:1-7, emp. added).
In an effort to avoid identifying “water” (vs. 5) as water baptism, many within Christendom in the last half century have proposed a variety of novel interpretations. For example, some have proposed that “water” is a reference to the Holy Spirit. While it certainly is true that John uses the word “water” symbolically to represent the Spirit later in his book (7:38-39), that fact had to be explained by the inspired writer. However, in chapter three, the normal, literal meaning is clearly in view, not only because water baptism throughout the New Testament is consistently associated with the salvation event (e.g., Acts 2:38; 8:12-13,36-38; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:15,33; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 3:21), but even in this context, eighteen verses later, the term clearly has a literal meaning: “Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there” (John 3:23). Additionally, if “water” in John 3:5 is an allusion to the Holy Spirit, the result would be nonsensical: “unless one is born of the Spirit and the Spirit.”
Another quibble offered in an effort to avoid the clear import of John 3:5 is that “water” is a symbol for the blood of Jesus. Of course, no rationale exists for making such a connection. Elsewhere John refers explicitly to water and blood, but clearly distinguishes them from each other in their import (1 John 5:6).
Perhaps the most popular notion, advanced only in recent years, is that “water” is a reference to a pregnant woman’s “water”—i.e., the amniotic fluid that accompanies the physical birth of a child. However, this suggestion likewise fails to fit the context of Jesus’ remarks. In fact, Nicodemus himself thought that Jesus was referring to physical birth (“mother’s womb”). But Jesus corrected his misconception, and contrasted such thinking with the intended meaning of “water and Spirit.” Indeed, Jesus would not have told Nicodemus that he needed to be born physically (“water”). He would not have included the act of physical birth in His listing of prerequisites to entering the kingdom. That would make Jesus say that before a person can enter the kingdom he or she must first be a person! What would be the point of stating such a thing? [Would it perhaps be to ensure that everyone understands that non-humans (i.e., animals) cannot enter the kingdom?!] Later in the same chapter, did John baptize near Salim “because there was much amniotic fluid there”?
If one cares to consult the rest of the New Testament in order to allow the Bible to be its own best interpreter, and in order to allow the Bible to harmonize with itself, additional passages shed light on the meaning of John 3:5. According to the rest of the New Testament, spiritual conception occurs when the Gospel (i.e., the seed of the Holy Spirit—Luke 8:11) is implanted in the human heart and mind (James 1:18; 1 Corinthians 4:15; Ephesians 6:17; 1 Peter 1:23). The Word of God, in turn, generates penitent faith in the human heart (Romans 10:17) that leads the individual to obey the Gospel by being baptized in water (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Hebrews 10:22). The resulting condition of the individual is that he or she is now a child of God, a citizen of the kingdom, and member of the church of Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; Galatians 3:26-27; Romans 6:4).
Additional verses in the New Testament clarify and cinch this meaning of John 3:5, pinpointing the “new birth,” while also allowing us to understand the activity of the Holy Spirit in the act of conversion. Consider the following chart (Jackson, 1988):
John 3:5 Spirit Water Kingdom
1 Corinthians 12:13 Spirit Baptized Body
Ephesians 5:26 Word Washing/Water Cleansed Church
Titus 3:5 Renewal of Spirit Washing of Regeneration Saved by Mercy
These verses demonstrate that God achieves conversion through the Gospel message authored by the Holy Spirit. When a person comes to an understanding (Acts 8:30) of the that inspired message, his penitent faith leads him to submit to water immersion for the remission of sins (Acts 8:36,38; 10:47). The result of his obedient response to the Gospel is that he is saved and cleansed from past sin and instantaneously placed into the kingdom of Christ.
Notice that submission to the divine plan of salvation does not mean that humans save themselves by effecting their own salvation. Their obedience does not earn or merit their forgiveness. Rather, the terms or conditions of salvation are stipulated by God—not by humans—and are a manifestation of His mercy! When people submit to the terms of entrance into the kingdom of Christ, they are saved by the blood of Jesus and the grace of God—not their own effort! Water immersion is not to be viewed as a “work of righteousness which we have done” (Titus 3:5). When we submit to baptism, we are being saved by “the kindness and love of God our Savior” (Titus 3:4). We are being saved “according to His mercy” (Titus 3:5).


Jackson, Wayne (1988), “The New Birth: What is It?,” Christian Courier, 24:14, August.

Are There Modern-Day Apostles? by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


Are There Modern-Day Apostles?

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

The incredible diversity of viewpoint that exists in religion today is startling and disconcerting. We are witnessing a breakdown of respect for authority in American culture, as well as a tremendous increase in personal opinion and feelings as the standard of authority. Consequently, we now have a veritable smorgasbord of doctrinal variety in religion. Such is the nature of pluralism. One is likely to see anything and everything perpetrated in the name of religion and/or Christianity. The only solution to such a situation is to reaffirm the inspiration and authority of the Bible. The Bible is the only written document on this planet that is the standard of authority in life and in religion (see Miller, 1996, pp. 430-446,462-471).


Such being the case, we must go to the Bible to determine God’s will with regard to modern-day apostles. When we do so, we first learn that the word “apostle” comes from the Greek word apostolos, which means “one sent from or forth, a messenger, delegate” (Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, p. 99; Thayer, 1901, p. 68). The term is used in the New Testament in two distinct senses. It can refer to an individual who is sent by other humans to accomplish a particular mission or task. The term is so used to refer, for example, to Barnabas (Acts 14:14). He was an “apostle” in the sense that he accompanied Paul on an evangelistic trip. Jesus is said to be our “Apostle” in the sense that He was sent to atone for our sins (Hebrews 3:1).
The term “apostle” also is used in a second sense—what we might call an official sense. That is, “apostle” can refer to individuals who were officially and divinely selected to serve as Jesus’ original representatives—“ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Jesus handpicked the original twelve apostles (Matthew 10:1-5; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; 9:1-2). Of these original twelve, Judas betrayed the Lord as predicted by the Old Testament (Psalm 41:9; John 13:18-19; 18:1-5). Instead of repenting, he cinched his apostasy by committing suicide (Matthew 27:3-5; John 17:12). Consequently, a successor to Judas was selected by divine decree (Acts 1:16-26).
Only one other apostle in the official sense is alluded to in the New Testament—Paul. His appointment to apostleship was unique and unparalleled in that he was chosen for a specific first century task (Acts 9:15; 22:14-15; 26:16-18; 1 Corinthians 15:8-9; Galatians 1:11-12,15-16). Christ selected him to introduce the message of Christianity to the Gentile world (Romans 11:13; 15:16; Galatians 2:8; Ephesians 3:8). Paul was careful to document the fact that his apostleship was by divine appointment (e.g., Romans 1:5; 1 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1,16).


When one assembles all the relevant New Testament data, at least three qualifications emerge as prerequisite to one becoming an apostle in the official sense (Hayden, 1894, p. 33, expands these credentials to seven in number). First, an apostle had to have seen the Lord and been an eyewitness of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:22; 22:14; 1 Corinthians 9:1). Second, an apostle had to be specifically selected by the Lord or the Holy Spirit (Matthew 10:5; Mark 3:13-14; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:26; 9:15; 22:14-15,21; 26:16). Third, an apostle was invested with miraculous power to the extent that he could perform miracles. The power to perform miracles included the capability to confer the ability to work miracles to other individuals through the laying on of his hands (Mark 3:15; 16:17-20; Luke 9:1-2; John 14:12,26; 15:24-27; 16:13; Acts 2:43; 4:29-31,33; 5:12,15-16; 6:6; 8:14-18; 19:6; 2 Timothy 1:6; Romans 1:11; Hebrews 2:3-4). Jesus referred to His bestowal of miraculous capability upon the apostles when He promised they would be “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).


The apostolic office was unquestionably a temporary office for the early church (though apostolic appointment was for life). Its essential purpose was twofold. First, apostles were commissioned by Jesus to launch the Christian religion (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-48). This purpose was achieved by means of the initial presentation of the Gospel to the whole world (Colossians 1:23), and the establishment of the church of Christ (Acts 2). Second, apostles were largely responsible for making the New Testament available—first in oral form and, more specifically, in written form (1 Corinthians 14:37; Galatians 1:12; Ephesians 3:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:14; 1 Peter 1:12; 2 Peter 1:12-21; 3:15-16).
These two central tasks are set forth clearly in the New Testament. In Matthew 16, Jesus declared that He would build His church after His resurrection from hades (vs. 18). He then explained that it would be the apostles who would instigate initial entrance into Christ’s church (hence the significance of “keys”—vs. 19). This commencement of the Christian religion and the church of Christ would be achieved by means of the apostles “binding” and “loosing” the doctrinal tenets and principles of Christianity that Heaven had previously bound or loosed [the Greek uses the perfect passive and should be translated “will have been bound/loosed in Heaven” as in the NASB (cf. Matthew 18:18-20; John 20:22-23)]. Peter and the apostles articulated the terms of entrance into the kingdom of Christ for the first time on the Pentecost that followed Christ’s resurrection (Acts 2:14ff.).
In Ephesians 4, after summarizing Christianity in terms of seven core concepts (vss. 1-6), Paul described the initial sequence of events that recounted the advent of Christianity (vss. 7-16). Paul noted that: (1) after His crucifixion, Jesus descended into the Hadean realm; (2) He then was resurrected; (3) He ascended back to Heaven; (4) upon His ascension, He dispensed gifts; (5) the apostolic office was included in the reception of these miraculous capabilities; (6) the purpose of these gifts was to equip and edify the church; (7) the preparation provided to the infant church by these gifts was temporary (“till” is an adverb of time connoting when the miraculous gifts were to terminate), in that the same preparation soon would be available through the completed revelation, i.e., “the faith.” [By “completed revelation” we do not mean completed canon. We mean that all of God’s communication to humanity would have been revealed. See the New Testament discussion contrasting “mystery” with “made known” (Romans 16:25-26; 1 Corinthians 2:7-10; Ephesians 3:1-11). In the meantime, the process of producing copies of the various New Testament documents and circulating them far and wide would have been occurring rapidly and extensively from the very moment of their production by the inspired writers (cf. Colossians 4:16, 1 Timothy 5:18, where Luke 10:7 is already known and classified as “Scripture,” and 2 Peter 3:15-16, where Paul’s epistles are already circulated and recognized as “Scriptures”). Further, the reference to “the faith” in Ephesians 4:13 cannot refer to a time when all people or all Christians will achieve unity in faith. Such a circumstance will never occur. Paul was referring to the time when all people would have access to all of God’s communication to man, thus giving them the potential for attaining spiritual maturity (“a perfect man” vs. “children“). See Miller, 2003].
Once all of the information necessary to the promotion of the Christian religion was revealed to the early church (through oral means made possible by the distribution of the gifts), the church would have the means available to grow and mature in Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13). While prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers [the words “pastors and teachers” share the same article in the Greek, and so should likely be construed to mean “pastor-teachers,” i.e., a single function in which pastors (those selected by the local congregation to serve as elders or shepherds) were endowed with the miraculous ability to teach inspired information not yet made available in written form] were part of this early development of Christianity (Ephesians 4:11), the office of an apostle was the primary means by which Christ accomplished the inauguration of His religion.
The apostles had the sole responsibility of executing the will of the Son of God in founding, organizing, and fully equipping the church of Christ on Earth, that she might fulfill her heaven-borne mission, until Jesus comes again (Hayden, p. 22). That is why Paul could say two chapters earlier that the household of God (i.e., the church) was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20; cf. 3:5; Revelation 21:14). That is why he informed the Corinthian Christians:
God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30).
The apostles are said to be “first” in the significance and criticality of their divinely appointed role. The apostles specifically described their unique role in the early church as entailing giving themselves to “the word of God” and “the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2,4).


Once the church of Christ was established and Christianity was given its initial presentation (cf. Colossians 1:23), the apostolic office faded from the scene along with the age of miracles. As an eyewitness of Christ’s resurrection, Paul referred to himself in relation to the other apostles as “last of all” (1 Corinthians 15:8). Neither apostles nor miraculous gifts was needed any longer. They had served their temporary purpose (Mark 16:20; Acts 4:29-31; 13:12; 14:3; Romans 15:18-19; Hebrews 2:3-4; cf. Exodus 4:30). Miraculous gifts functioned as scaffolding while the church was under initial construction, and were removed once the structure had been completed (1 Corinthians 3:10; 13:11; Ephesians 4:13-14). The book we call the Bible is the totality of God’s written revelation to the human race. Consequently, people now have access to everything they need (2 Peter 1:3) to enter into a right relationship with God via Christianity and the church of Christ. The apostles “had no official successors. From the nature of their duties, there could be no succession” (Hayden, pp. 20-21). Apostles, quite simply, are no longer needed!


Unfortunately, several groups that claim affiliation with the Christian religion allege to have apostles among them, including Catholicism, Mormonism, and some pentecostal groups. This claim is unbiblical. No person living today can meet the qualifications given in Scripture for being an apostle. No one living today has been an eyewitness of Christ’s resurrection. Christ has selected no one living today for the apostolic role. No one living today possesses the miraculous capabilities of an apostle. We should not be surprised that people would falsely claim to be apostles. Jesus warned that false prophets would come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they would be ravening wolves (Matthew 7:15). Paul described some of his opponents in these words:
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Further warning was issued to the Galatian churches: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Anyone claiming to be an apostle today who teaches anything in addition to the New Testament is clearly not an apostle of Christ!
Peter added his voice on the same subject: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1). No wonder John admonished: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1; cf. Matthew 24:11,24). In the Revelation, the church at Ephesus was commended because they “tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (Revelation 2:2).
Catholicism maintains that Peter was the supreme bishop, even over the other apostles, and that every pope since Peter is an apostolic successor to Peter. The pope is selected after literally hours and days of deliberation by cardinals in the Vatican. The only apostle in the Bible that was not handpicked by Christ in person was Matthias. Yet he was not selected by mere men deliberating and debating his potential. He was selected by the casting of lots—which was simply another way for Jesus to do the selecting (Acts 1:26; cf. Proverbs 16:33).
It is incredible to think that any human beings living today would presume to appoint apostles. In pinpointing the credentials of an apostle, Luke (Acts 1) made it abundantly evident that to qualify as an apostle a person would have to have seen the Lord and been an eyewitness of His resurrection. That is why Paul was careful to state: “Am I not an apostle? …Have I not seen the Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1, emp. added). In recounting his conversion, he quoted Ananias as having said, “The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14-15, emp. added). What alleged modern-day apostle could make such a claim?
The New Testament also makes clear the fact that an essential characteristic of an apostle was that he had been selected by Deity. When Jesus was on Earth, He handpicked the first twelve apostles. After His departure from Earth, the disciples cast lots to select a successor to Judas. Their method allowed no input from mere humans—except in the recognition that two men possessed all the qualifications necessary to be an apostle. Casting lots allowed God to do the selecting. Divine control in the selection process by casting lots was common in Old Testament history (see Leviticus 16:8; Numbers 26:55; 33:54; 34:13; Joshua 14:2; 18:6,10; 19:51; cf. Acts 13:19; 1 Samuel 14:42; Nehemiah 10:34; Psalm 16:5). Solomon claimed: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). Indeed, Peter’s prayer on the occasion shows that the decision already had been made by the Lord before the actual casting of lots: “…show which of these two You have chosen” (Acts 1:24, emp. added). The summary statement regarding Matthias—“he was numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:26; cf. Matthew 28:16; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:33)—gives way to a return to the expression “the twelve” (Acts 6:2; cf. Acts 2:14). The text states: “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship” (Acts 1:24-25). Paul also was handpicked by Jesus—to be a “chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15). No human being on Earth today can claim he has been personally singled out and chosen by Jesus to be an apostle.
A third proof that no apostles exist on Earth today is the fact that New Testament apostles were empowered by God—not only to perform miracles—but also to convey miraculous power to other people who then could work miracles themselves. This characteristic is demonstrated in detailed fashion in Acts: “Now when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money” (Acts 8:18). The issue of modern-day apostles may be settled very quickly! To authenticate their claim to be apostles, they must be able both to perform miracles as well as confer miraculous power to others. The apostles of Jesus in the New Testament demonstrated their apostolic status without hesitation. Anyone today who claims to be an apostle should be willing to do the same. No such ability exists today.


A fascinating passage in the New Testament sheds further light upon this notion of modern-day apostles. That passage is Matthew 19:28. There Jesus informed Peter and the other apostles: “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” A related passage is Luke 22:29-30 which says, “And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as my Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
These verses are Christ’s figurative declarations describing the role of the twelve apostles in the establishment of the church and the dissemination of the gospel proclamation (cf. Bales, 1957, pp. 187-223). The “regeneration” refers to the Christian era, which began at Pentecost, during which time spiritual regeneration became possible through the blood of Christ (Titus 3:5). It is an equivalent expression with the “time of reformation” (Hebrews 9:10). The throne of Christ’s glory refers to His present location at the right hand of God (Acts 2:34-36; Ephesians 1:20; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:13; 8:1; 10:12-13). The “judging” done by the apostles refers to the rule that the apostles exerted while they were on Earth, setting in place the features of New Testament Christianity (Matthew 16:19; John 20:22-23). The “twelve thrones” refers to their complete authority from Christ to implement Christ’s will until the end of time—which they presently do today through their authoritative writings—found only in the New Testament. The “twelve tribes” is a figurative way to refer to the church—the spiritual Israel (Galatians 6:16; James 1:1; cf. Romans 2:28-30; Galatians 3:29).
Neither Christ nor the original apostles needs successors or representatives on Earth today. They continue to rule and reign over the kingdom through the work that they achieved in the first century, and that is preserved for all in the New Testament. Christ is now on His throne ruling and reigning. The apostles also are on the thrones assigned to them by Christ. To suggest that the apostles have modern-day successors is to discount and discredit the current rule of the apostles. Neither Christ nor the apostles has abdicated their authority or their current rule to any humans on Earth.
Additionally, the fact that Jesus declared that all twelve apostles would occupy thrones in the kingdom proves that Peter had no greater authority than the other apostles. The apostles were equal in their reception and wielding of the authority delegated to them by Christ. Yet the Catholic Church claims that the immediate successors to Peter were Linus (from A.D. 67 to 79), Cletus (from A.D. 79 to 91) and Clement (from A.D. 91 to 100). They agree that the apostle John would have still been alive throughout this period (see G.C. Brewer’s discussion as quoted in Bales, pp. 208-210). The doctrine of the primacy of Peter means that the first three of the alleged successors of Peter would have exercised authority over the still-living apostle John—who had been handpicked by Christ Himself! The very John whom Jesus placed on one of the twelve thrones would have been under the authority, knowledge, and power of three popes who had not been selected to be among the original Twelve! (see also Hayden, pp. 22-33). Hayden aptly summarized the New Testament position regarding modern-day apostles:
The thirteen apostles chosen, ordained and endowed by the newly crowned Messiah faithfully and fully executed their commission. When they entered into everlasting rest, the church was established, with all needful ministries to edify, extend and perpetuate it throughout all coming centuries. Then the extraordinary, which was necessary to found a new institution, was succeeded by the ordinary, which is sufficient to teach, regulate and govern the subjects of Christ’s kingdom according to the laws that went forth from Jerusalem. The revelation of God was completed. The word of faith is henceforth nigh every believer, even in his mouth and in his heart. The apostolic office ceased, and evangelists and pastors became the permanent teachers and superintendents of the church (pp. 33-34).


Arndt, William and F.W. Gingrich (1957), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
Bales, James (1957), The Kingdom: Prophesied and Established (Austin, TX: Firm Foundation).
Hayden, W.L. (1894), Church Polity (Kansas City, MO: Old Paths Book Club).
Miller, Dave (1996), Piloting the Strait (Pulaski, TN: Sain Publications).
Miller, Dave (2003), “Modern-day Miracles, Tongue-Speaking, and Holy Spirit Baptism: A Refutation—Extended Version,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2569.
Thayer, Joseph H. (1901), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977 reprint).

Are There Degrees of Punishment and Reward? by Kyle Butt, M.Div. Alden Bass Bert Thompson, Ph.D.


Are There Degrees of Punishment and Reward?

by  Kyle Butt, M.Div.
Alden Bass
Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

Will there be degrees of reward in heaven? Similarly, will there be degrees of punishment in hell?


Any topic relating to the specific nature of man’s ultimate, eternal abode should be of great interest to all accountable people, since every human eventually will inhabit eternity (see Thompson, 2000a, pp. 33-39; 2000b, pp. 41-47; 2000c, pp. 49-55). It is not surprising, then, that questions of what conditions will be like in the afterlife often occupy our thoughts. Whenever questions of spiritual import are under consideration—as they are when discussing the destiny of the soul—the only reliable source of information must by necessity be the One Who is the Originator and Sustainer of the soul. God, as Creator of all things physical and spiritual (Genesis 1:1ff.; Exodus 20:11), and Himself a Spirit Being (John 4:24), is the ultimate wellspring of the soul (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The Bible, then, as God’s inspired Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21), must be the preeminent authority on this subject. It therefore is to Holy Writ that we must turn to answer any question about eternity.


First, it is important to note that every faithful follower of God eventually will receive an eternal reward. Writing in the book of Revelation, the apostle John described in striking language the destiny of the righteous when this world finally comes to an end: “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them.... He that overcometh shall inherit these things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (21:3,7, RSV). Earlier, John had encouraged his readers with these words: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). John’s coworker, the apostle Paul, referred to those who had served Jesus faithfully as “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). The writer of the book of Hebrews spoke of Christ as having become “unto all them that obey him, the author of eternal salvation” (5:9).
Second, it is equally important to realize that every saint will be rewarded “according to his deeds.” Matthew wrote: “For the son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he render unto every man according to his deeds” (16:27). Paul used practically identical words in Romans 2:5-7: “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his works.” Such a concept was taught even in Old Testament times. Solomon wrote: “If thou sayest, ‘We knew not this,’ doth not he that weigheth the heart consider it? And he that keepeth thy soul, doth he not know it? And shall not he render to every man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:12).
Parables from the mouth of the Lord similarly demonstrate that every person will be judged according to his or her deeds. The parable of the pounds, recorded in Luke 19:11-27, is a perfect example.
A certain nobleman went into a far country, to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called ten servants of his, and gave them each ten pounds, and said unto them, “Trade ye herewith till I come.” But his citizens hated him, and sent an ambassage after him, saying, “We will not that this man reign over us.” And it came to pass, when he was come back again, having received the kingdom, that he commanded these servants, unto whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading. And the first came before him, saying, “Lord, thy pound hath made ten pounds more.” And he said unto him, “Well done, thou good servant: because thou wast found faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.” And the second came, saying, “Thy pound, Lord, hath made five pounds.” And he said unto him also, “Be thou also over five cities.” And another came, saying, “Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I kept laid up in a napkin: for I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that which thou layedst not down, and reapest that which thou didst not sow.” He saith unto him, “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I am an austere man, taking up that which I laid not down, and reaping that which I did not sow; then wherefore gavest thou not my money into the bank, and I at my coming should have required it with interest?” And he said unto them that stood by, “Take from him the pound, and give it unto him that hath the ten pounds.” And they said unto him, “Lord, he hath ten pounds.” I say unto you, that unto every one that hath shall be given; but from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away from him.
After reading this parable (and the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30), it is clear that certain individuals receive—and thus are responsible for—more pounds/talents than some others. The faithful servant who soundly invested ten pounds was awarded authority over ten cities. The second servant also was recompensed in proportion to the degree with which he fulfilled his responsibility to the master. He wisely invested five pounds, and in return was given authority over five cities. There is no reason to disbelieve, then, that had the third servant been equally faithful, he, too, would have been rewarded commensurate with his investment (which likely would have been authority over one city). This parable, then, teaches the following: (1) all of God’s servants are blessed with varied abilities; (2) all who are faithful stewards of the ability with which they have been endowed will obtain a reward; and (3) God’s stewards will be rewarded based on what they accomplished with the abilities that were entrusted to them. [This is not to say, of course, that heaven is “earned” by any human works (see Thompson, 1999, pp. 47-49). Ephesians 2:8-9 states unequivocally that salvation is a free gift of God, not something bestowed because of any human merit. Rather, the works done in the here and now provide for the Christian an eternal weight of glory—a weight that differs from person to person (2 Corinthians 4:17).]
If believers are to be judged according to their works (Matthew 16:27; 25:31-46; Revelation 20:12), it logically follows that those with the greatest responsibility can expect the strictest judgment. Indeed, the Good Book teaches exactly such a principle. Jehovah charged the prophet Ezekiel:
Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: 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. Again, when a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thy hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning; and thou hast delivered thy soul (Ezekiel 3:17-21).
What an awesome and terrifying responsibility that ancient preacher and prophet was given. Millennia later, James offered this warning: “Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment” (James 3:1).
Those who suggest that God will reward every saint equally often appeal to the parable that Christ presented in Matthew 20:1-15 for support of their position. There, the Lord told of a certain landowner who was in need of workers to assist him in his vineyard. The man went to the marketplace to find laborers and, when he had located some men, agreed to pay them a denarius each. About the third hour, he went to the market again in order to seek additional laborers. He went out twice more and then, at the eleventh hour, he found still more men to help. This last group worked only one hour, and yet when the end of the day arrived and all the men lined up to be paid, those “eleventh-hour” workers received their wages first—a full denarius. The rest of the men were given equal dues. When the master finally got to the laborers he had hired first thing that morning, he gave them the same amount he had given everyone else. Those “first-hour” workers were outraged! The very idea that they—who had been hired first and worked longest—should receive the same recompense as those who worked only one hour, was more than they could handle. The text in Matthew says that “they murmured against the householder” (vs. 11). But the man who had hired them responded simply: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?” (vss. 13-15).
Those who teach that God will reward each of His faithful followers equally suggest that the denarius in this parable represents eternal life (see, for example: Wright, 1980, 122:531; Coffman, 1974, p. 307), and since every worker received a denarius, the implication is that there can be no “degrees” of reward. This, however, cannot be what the parable is teaching. In his commentary on the book of Matthew, renowned biblical scholar R.C.H. Lenski explained why.
Those who think that the denarius is eternal life, of course, regard the evening as the final judgment or the hour of death. Even in this verse this cannot be the sense, for eternal life is never earned by any man’s work. The combination of a)po/ with do/j (di/dwmi) means “give what is due.” Eternal life is never due anyone either at the time of its first bestowal in conversion or at the time of its full enjoyment when the believer enters heaven (1943, pp. 772-773, emp. added).
If this parable were speaking about final judgment, it would indeed provide a cogent argument for the equality of each person’s eternal reward. But is the parable addressing final judgment and eternal rewards? No, it is not. In Matthew 20:11 the text clearly indicates that the ones who worked all day “murmured against the householder.” In regard to those who did so, H. Leo Boles commented that “they were envious; their eyes were evil” (1952, p. 400). But the Scriptures make it clear that there will be no envy in heaven (Revelation 21:27). Lenski correctly observed: “Here, it ought to be plain, the possibility of making the denarius equal to eternal life is removed. The thought that a saint in heaven may murmur against God is appalling” (p. 775).
In addition, the master of the vineyard commanded the workers who labored in the field all day: “Take up that which is thine and go thy way” (vs. 14, emp. added). Lenski rendered the phrase, “Take up thine own and be gone,” and then observed:
This lord is done with him. And this is the climax of the parable. This u(/page [be gone] cannot mean, “Go and be content with thy wages!” It is exactly like the imperative found in 4:10, and always means to leave, cf., 8:13; 19:21.... This is a man who works in the church for what he can get out of the church. He has what he worked for—and nothing more. He is treated exactly as the hypocrites are who are mentioned in 6:2,5: “Verily, I say unto you, They have received their reward!” i.e., are paid in full.... Those who will learn nothing about divine grace even when they are working in the church will finally be left without this grace; those who are set on justice and refuse to go beyond it shall finally have justice (p. 777).
If we interpret the parable to mean that the master of the vineyard represents God, and the denarius represents eternal reward, how, then, are we to interpret the fact that those who worked all day received a denarius, but were sent away from the master of the vineyard? Can such a view be squared with Paul’s word in 1 Thessalonians 4:17—“And so shall we ever be with the Lord”?
If this parable is not discussing final judgment (and it is not), and if the denarius does not represent eternal life (and it does not), what, then, is the point of the parable? It appears that Christ was instructing His Jewish listeners about the Gentiles’ place in the Kingdom—a topic that, as we learn from later New Testament writings, became somewhat controversial among first-century Christians. The late Guy N. Woods, former editor of the Gospel Advocate, wrote concerning Christ’s discussion:
It is possible, indeed probable, in the minds of many scholars that it was delivered to show that the Gentiles, who came in at “the eleventh hour,” would enjoy in the kingdom (soon to be established when these words were uttered) the same privileges as the Jews who had been the favored and chosen people of the Lord for many centuries. Though last in point of invitation, they were to become first through their acceptance of, and dedication to, the gospel; whereas, the Jews, through their rebellion and disbelief, would be cut off (1976, p. 231, parenthetical comment in orig.).
Numerous conservative biblical commentators have suggested exactly such a view, including Adam Clarke (n.d. 5:194-197) and H. Leo Boles (1952, pp. 400-401). One writer by the name of Watts put it like this:
It is not the design of this parable to represent the final rewards of the saints at the day of judgment, but to show that the nation of the Jews, who had been called to be the people of God above a thousand years before, and had borne the burden and heat of the day, i.e., the toil and bondage of many ceremonies, should have no preference in the esteem of God above the Gentiles, who were called at the last hour, or at the end of the Jewish dispensation (as quoted in Woods, 1980, 122:532).
While the parable of the laborers established that all who are deserving (Jew or Gentile) would inherit a reward, it also emphasized God’s grace. As Lenski remarked:
The warning represented in this parable suggests our responsibility. If we close eye and heart against grace, no matter how high we stand in the church or how much we work, we shall lose life eternal (1943, p. 781).
But what of the denarius? What does it represent, if not eternal life? Lenski concluded—correctly, we believe—that the denarius represents the blessings one receives here on Earth by being a member of the Lord’s church.
The denarius paid at evening constitutes the temporal blessings connected with our Christian profession and work, and these blessings are made ours already during the entire time that we work. Every one of us gets his denarius; every one enjoys the same temporal benefits that are connected with life in the church. They come to the new convert exactly as they do to the old, to the preacher as well as to the [member], to the child as well as to the octogenarian (p. 772).


Lending credence to the idea that Jesus’ parable in Matthew 20 is not discussing equality of eternal rewards is the fact that the Bible plainly depicts certain people being awarded a unique and distinguished position in heaven. Revelation 15:3 notes that in heaven “they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” Surely none of us would be so bold as to suggest that the hosts of heaven will sing a song about us as they do about Moses. Furthermore, in Revelation 21:14 John wrote that “the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” While we recognize the somewhat figurative nature of certain terms employed by John, the principle nevertheless remains: the apostles ultimately will occupy a place of greater preeminence in the heavenly abode. Also, Luke 16 portrays Abraham as having more prominence and authority in the afterlife than Lazarus. Consider also Mark 10:40, wherein James and John asked the Lord to allow them to sit next to Him in glory—one on His right side and one on His left. Jesus replied: “To sit on my right hand or on my left hand is not mine to give; but it is for them for whom it hath been prepared.” Some glorified beings (whether angelic or human) will occupy a place of distinction beside the Savior—a unique and special place reserved solely for them.
Some have argued against the idea of differing rewards by claiming that heaven will be perfect, and that something perfect can be neither improved nor diminished. However, Jesus observed that “even so there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more [joy] than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, emp. added). In at least some sense, then, joy in heaven can differ in degrees. The principle of degrees of heavenly reward—which is taught quite plainly in Scripture—should motivate every Christian to “work while it is yet day, for the night cometh when no man can work” (John 9:4).


But if there are degrees of reward in heaven, will there likewise be degrees of punishment in hell? Yes indeed. On several occasions, when speaking of eternal torment, the Bible mentions those who will suffer to a lesser or greater degree. And each time such a reference occurs, the punishment is proportionate to the opportunities missed. Those who are blessed with numerous opportunities to obey the gospel and still reject it will receive greater condemnation than those who have little or no occasion to accept Christ. Jesus echoed this sentiment in His rebuke to the inhabitants of the cities of Bethsaida and Chorazin.
Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? thou shalt go down unto Hades: for if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in thee, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee (Matthew 11:21-24, emp. added).
Jesus offered this censure to those Jewish cities where He had done much of His preaching, and where, on occasion, He even had performed miracles. The citizens of those towns had more opportunity to accept the Messiah than many others living around them, yet they persisted in their rejection of Him. On the other hand, the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon—renowned for their wickedness—would receive a lesser punishment at the Day of Judgment for the simple reason that they had been deprived of direct exposure to Christ’s message and miracles. All were to endure punishment, for all had rejected God’s law. But it would not be equal punishment. The writer of Hebrews further emphasized this point when he addressed the “sorer punishment” that was to befall those who had “trodden underfoot the Son of God” (10:29). Notice also Peter’s stinging statement regarding the terrible fate that awaits unfaithful, backsliding Christians:
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first (2 Peter 2:20-21, emp. added).
If Peter’s statement teaches anything, it teaches degrees of punishment.
But perhaps the most convincing argument for the concept of degrees of punishment derives from Jesus’ parable of the wicked servant, as recorded in Luke 12:42-48.
And the Lord said, “Who, then, is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall set over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath. But if that servant shall say in his heart, ‘My lord delayeth his coming,’ and shall begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the unfaithful. And that servant, who knew his lord’s will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more” (emp. added).
The meaning of the last section of this parable is inescapable. All the wicked will be punished; however, those limited in their opportunities to learn about Christ will be punished “with fewer stripes” than those who knew the truth and obeyed it not.
Does the Bible teach degrees of reward in heaven? Yes, it does. Does it also teach degrees of punishment in hell? Yes, it does. The good news, of course, is that heaven’s offer of salvation is open to everyone (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). No one has to go to hell. When Christ was ransomed on our behalf (1 Timothy 2:4), He paid a debt He did not owe, and a debt we could not pay—so that we could live forever in the presence of our Creator (Matthew 25:46). God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). Nor should we. As one writer put it: “No one who has been snatched from the burning himself can feel anything but compassion and concern for the lost” (Woodson, 1973, p. 32). As we discover the hideous nature of our sin, we not only should desire to save ourselves “from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40), but we also should be passionate about warning the wicked of their impending doom (Ezekiel 3:17-19).


Boles, H. Leo (1952), A Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Clarke, Adam (no date), Clarke’s Commentary (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury).
Coffman, Burton (1974), Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Abilene, Texas: ACU Press).
Kurfees, M.C., ed. (1921), Questions and Answers by Lipscomb and Sewell (Nashville, TN: McQuiddy).
Lenski, R.C.H. (1943), The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg).
Thompson, Bert (1999), My Sovereign, My Sin, My Salvation (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Thompson, Bert (2000a), “The Origin, Nature, and Destiny of the Soul—Part III,” Reason and Revelation, 20:33-39, May.
Thompson, Bert (2000b), “The Origin, Nature, and Destiny of the Soul—Part IV,” Reason and Revelation, 20:41-47, June.
Thompson, Bert (2000c), “The Origin, Nature, and Destiny of the Soul—Part V,” Reason and Revelation, 20:49-55, July.
Woods, Guy N. (1976), Questions and Answers (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University).
Woods, Guy N. (1980), “Editorial Note” accompanying an article by Cecil N. Wright, “Are There Degrees of Reward and Punishment in Eternity,” Gospel Advocate, 122:531-532, August 21.
Woodson, Leslie (1973), Hell and Salvation (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell).
Wright, Cecil N. (1980), “Are There Degrees of Reward and Punishment in Eternity,” Gospel Advocate, 122:531-532, August 21.

Are the Genealogies of the Bible Useful Chronologies? by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.


Are the Genealogies of the Bible Useful Chronologies?

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.


I have heard it said that biblical genealogies are so filled with gaps that they are “useless” in matters of chronology. Is this true, or do the genealogies provide accurate chronological information as well? Can these genealogies be trusted in matters of chronology?


Through the years, religionists who have become enamored with (and who have ardently defended) pseudoscientific attempts to date the Earth in evolutionary terms of billions of years, have stated that the biblical genealogies must not be used for chronological purposes because they allegedly contain “huge gaps” that render them ineffective for that purpose. In so commenting, most writers reference the classic work of William H. Green (1890) in this area. The work of Green on Old Testament genealogies usually is highly acclaimed, and accepted uncritically, by those who wish to place “gaps” (of whatever size) in the biblical genealogies. The argument usually goes something like this (to quote one writer): “Unfortunately for those who wish to attach a precise date on some historical events by using genealogies, their attempts are thwarted.” Thus, we are asked to believe that the genealogies are relatively useless in matters of chronology.
However, these same writers usually evince a complete omission of more recent work in this area—work which has shown that much of what Green had to say is at best incomplete, and at worst, irrelevant. When one discusses the genealogies, he does his audience (or reader) a disservice if he omits a discussion of Luke’s genealogy. Some are quick to talk about Genesis 5 and 11, but rarely do you see a discussion of Luke’s material (often it is conspicuously missing from any such discussions on genealogical materials). One performs a further disservice if he does not point out two very important points that come to bear on this whole discussion. First, to use the words of Arthur C. Custance:
We are told again and again that some of these genealogies contain gaps: but what is never pointed out by those who lay the emphasis on these gaps, is that they only know of the existence of these gaps because the Bible elsewhere fills them in. How otherwise could one know of them? But if they are filled in, they are not gaps at all! Thus, in the final analysis the argument is completely without foundation (1967, p 3).
If anyone should want to find “gaps” in the genealogies, it certainly would be a man like Custance, who spent his life desperately searching for ways to allow the Bible to contain an “old Earth” scenario. Yet even he admitted that the argument that the genealogies contain sizable gaps is ill-founded.
Second, and this point cannot be overemphasized, even if there were gaps in the genealogies, there would not necessarily be gaps in the chronologies therein recorded. The question of chronology is not the same as that of genealogy! This is a major point overlooked by those who accuse the genealogies of being “useless” in matters of chronology. The “more recent work” alluded to above, which sheds additional light on the accuracy of the genealogies, comes from James B. Jordan’s timely articles (1979, 1980). Jordan has done an extensive review of the work of Green, and has shown Green’s arguments to be untrustworthy in several important respects. To quote Jordan:
Gaps in genealogies, however, do not prove gaps in chronologies. The known gaps all occur in non-chronological genealogies. Moreover, even if there were gaps in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11, this would not affect the chronological information therein recorded, for even if Enosh were the great-grandson of Seth, it would still be the case that Seth was 105 years old when Enosh was born, according to a simple reading of the text. Thus, genealogy and chronology are distinct problems with distinct characteristics. They ought not to be confused (p. 12).
Much recent material has confused these two issues. For example, one writer stated: “Obviously, abridgment of the genealogies has taken place and these genealogies cannot be chronologies,” when exactly the opposite is true, as Jordan’s work accurately documents. Matthew, for example, was at liberty to arrange his genealogy of Christ in three groups of 14 (making some “omissions”) because his genealogy was derived from complete lists found in the Old Testament. In the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11, remember also that the inclusion of the father’s age at the time of his son’s birth is wholly without meaning unless chronology is intended! Else why would the Holy Spirit provide such “irrelevant” information?
There can be little doubt that some have painted a distorted picture for audiences and readers when suggesting to them that substantial “gaps” occur in the biblical genealogies. Such distortion occurs, for example, when it is suggested that genealogy and chronology are one and the same, for they most certainly are not.
In addition, there are other major points that should be made available on these topics. Observe the following information in chart form. Speaking in round figures, from the present to Jesus is 2,000 years—a matter of historical record that no one doubts. From Jesus to Abraham is 2,000 years; that, too, is a matter of historical record which is well known. Each of those figures is extractable from secular history.
Present to Jesus 2,000 years
Jesus to Abraham 2,000 years
Abraham to Adam ? years
The only figure now lacking is that representing the date from Abraham to Adam. Since we know that Adam was the first man (1 Corinthians 15:45), and since we know that man has been on the Earth “from the beginning of the creation” (Mark 10:6, the Lord speaking; Romans 1:20-21, Paul speaking), if it were possible to obtain the figures showing how long it has been from Abraham to Adam, we would have chronological information giving us the relative age of the Earth (since we know that the Earth is only five days older than man—Exodus 20:11; 31:17; Genesis 1-2).
The figure for the time span between Abraham and Adam, of course, is not obtainable from secular history, since those records were destroyed in the Great Flood. Fortunately, however, we are not dependent on the records of secular history for such information; the biblical record provides that material for us. Note the following (and this is why Luke’s genealogy is so critically important in this discussion). In Luke’s genealogy, he listed 55 generations between Jesus and Abraham. We know from secular history (as documented by archaeology—see Kitchen and Douglas, 1982, p. 189) that this time frame covered only about 2,000 years. Between Abraham and Adam, Luke listed only twenty generations. And no one doubts that from the present to Jesus has been about 2,000 years. So, our chart now looks like this:
Present to Jesus 2,000 years
Jesus to Abraham 2,000 years (55 generations)
Abraham to Adam ? years (20 generations)
From this chronological information it is an easy matter to use the 20 generations from Abraham to Adam to determine the approximate number of years contained therein. In round numbers, the figure is 2,000. That completes the chart, which then appears as follows:
Present to Jesus 2,000 years
Jesus to Abraham 2,000 years (55 generations)
Abraham to Adam 2,000 years (20 generations)
Of course, some have argued that there are “gaps” in the genealogies. But where, exactly, would those gaps be placed, and how would they help? Observe the following: No one can put any usable gaps between the present and the Lord’s birth; secular history records that age-information for us. No one can put any usable gaps between the Lord and Abraham; secular history also records that age-information for us. The only place one could try to place any “usable” gaps (viz., usable in regard to extending the age of the Earth) would be in the 20 generations represented between Abraham and Adam. Yet note that actually there are not 20 generations available for inserting “gaps,” because Jude (14) noted that “Enoch was the seventh from Adam.” Examining the Old Testament genealogies establishes exactly that. Enoch was the seventh, beginning from Adam, which then provides us divinely inspired testimony (from Jude) on the accuracy of the first seven of the names. That leaves only 13 generations remaining into which any “gaps” could be placed. Wayne Jackson has observed that in order to get the Earth back only to the time of the evolutionary age of man (approximately 3.6 million years as suggested by the late Mary Leakey and her present-day colleagues), one would have to place 291,125 years in between each of the remaining 13 generations (1978). It does not take an overdose of either biblical knowledge or common sense to see that this quickly becomes ludicrous to the extreme for two reasons. First, who could believe (knowing anything about proper exegesis and hermeneutics) that the first seven of these generations could be so exact, and the last thirteen be so inexact? Second, what good would all of this time do anyone? All it would accomplish is the establishment of a 3.6-million-year-old Earth; evolutionists, theistic evolutionists, and progressive creationists need a 4.6-billion-year-old Earth. So, in effect, all of this inserting of “gaps” into the biblical text is much ado about nothing!
And therein lies the point. While it may be true on the one hand to say that a precise age of the Earth is unobtainable from the genealogies, at the same time let us hasten to point out that using the best information available to us from Scripture, the genealogies hardly can be extended (via “gaps”) to anything much beyond 6,000 to 7,000 years. For someone to leave the impression (even if inadvertently) that the genealogies do not contain legitimate chronological information, or that the genealogies are full of “gaps” that render them impotent, is to misrepresent the case and distort the facts.


Custance, Arthur (1967), The Genealogies of the Bible, (Ottawa, Canada: Doorway papers #24).
Green, William H. (1890), “Primeval Chronology,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 47:294-295, April. Reprinted in Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1972).
Jackson, Wayne (1978), “The Antiquity of Human History,” Words of Truth, 14[18]:1, April 14.
Jordan, James B. (1979) Creation Social Sciences & Humanities Quarterly, 2[2]:9-15.
Jordan, James B. (1980) Creation Social Sciences & Humanities Quarterly, 2[3]:17-26.
Kitchen, K.A. and J.D. Douglas, eds. (1982) The New Bible Dictionary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale), second edition.

Perseverance of the Saints by Trevor Bowen


Perseverance of the Saints


Although related to another article (Can Someone Fall from Grace?), in this article we will study and respond to Calvin's explanation of the "Perseverance of the Saints" . This fifth and final tenet of Calvinism teaches that Christians cannot fall from God's grace, but they will "persevere" to the end. This implies that no Christian can revert to a lost condition regardless of his or her actions.

The Real Question

What makes this topic confusing is that passages referring to the confidence and security of the Christian are often interpreted as proof that the Christian cannot change, become wicked, and be lost - the impossibility of apostasy. The Bible does teach that the diligent and honest Christian should have confidence in his or her own salvation (II Timothy 4:6-8; I John 4:17-18; Philippians 4:4-9); however, the Scriptures nowhere teaches that the disobedient or willfully ignorant Christian may enjoy the comfort of an assured home in heaven. This is the real question, not "Can a Christian give his everything to the Lord, study day and night, be faithful in prayer, be honest in all his self-evaluations and still end up lost?" The real question is, "What happens to the saint who ceases to care, returns to his former sinfulness, and dies with a heart hardened to the blessings that he once enjoyed?"
Calvinistic doctrines would answer this question as follows:
"They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit can neither totally nor finally fall away from the status of Grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved." The Confession of Faith, Chapter XVII, Section 1
Calvin taught that the Christian cannot completely fall away. He may stumble and leave the faith for a while, but eventually the Lord will always bring the elect back. This must be maintained else the doctrine concerning the election and all of Calvinism will be destroyed. This certainly harmonizes with Calvinism as a whole, but does it harmonize with Scripture?

A Real Danger of Apostasy

If according to Calvin, the Christian cannot completely fall away, then there is no real danger of the saint apostatizing. However, the Scriptures teach that there is an ever-present and threatening danger of apostasy:
"Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today', lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."  Hebrews 3:12-13
"Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.  For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? ..."  Hebrews 2:1-3
"Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  Therefore, let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall."  I Corinthians 10:11-12
Now if there is no danger in the Christian falling from grace, then what is the meaning of these warnings? These passages teach that Christians can become hardened through the deception of sin, which is that "One more time won't hurt...". They also teach that the saint may drift away and eventually fall. If these warnings are not real, then what other meaning could they rationally denote?

Examples of Apostasy

Not only does the Scriptures provide us warning to avoid apostasy, but we also have examples of those who fell away. These warnings were actually intended as warnings for us that we might not fall away (I Corinthians 10:11-12):
"... Having faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymaenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme."  I Timothy 1:19-20
These Christians had "suffered shipwreck" concerning the faith, and had even been "delivered to Satan". Were these people still in a state of grace and pleasing to the Lord? How else could God more concisely say that these people were lost at that time, and would be in danger of hell if they did not repent? Would He have to actually use the words "fallen from grace"?
Please read the following judgment that Paul issued to the Galatian Christians:
"You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace." Galatians 5:4
How more plainly can it be stated? Those who were once in a relationship with Christ have been separated from Him and fallen from grace. Now, some may desperately suggest that in spite of all this language, these people had not lost their justification and continued in their status of election and righteousness before God. If you are so inclined to think, kind reader, please consider the following passages:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ , just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love" Ephesians 1:3-4
"being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," Romans 3:24
If someone is without Christ, with whom lies all spiritual blessings, and fallen from the grace that justifies them, then how can they stand justified before God? We might have an answer, if God had promised to justify us contrary to Jesus and the Scriptures, but what kind of god makes promises inconsistent with himself? Dear friend, faith without foundation in scripture is a faith without promise and hope, which is no kind of faith at all (Romans 10:17). Will you trust in Calvin or in Christ?

"But, not 'Totally' or 'Finally'"

The Calvinist might also fairly point out that the creed only states that the saint may not 'totally' or 'finally' be lost. This implies that one may fall away for a while, but then return back to Christ. Although this may certainly happen (II Corinthians 2:6-11), the creed demands out of logical consistency that this person not lose his justification, or election. If he or she became truly lost or reprobate, then the unalterable, eternal edict of God, issued before time began, would be altered. Therefore, to be consistent, the saint may stumble but not fall. If he falls, then the eternal edict is altered.
With this in mind please revisit our last point. The Galatian Christians had "fallen from grace" and become "estranged from Christ" by which they forfeited "all blessings in Christ" and their "justification by grace". At least for that moment, they reverted to an unjustified and reprobate state before God. It does not matter whether it was total or final. They had lost their justification, altering the unalterable election of God. When God's plan was altered, absolute predestination became inaccurate, and God's election was defeated - if Calvinism be true. If Calvinism is not true, then the Galatians were simply in a dangerous state, from which they could repent and be saved, if they chose to comply with God's conditions (I John 1:9).


The question that we must answer, and whose Bible answer we must accept, is, "Can the saint willfully return to sin and be lost?" The clear warnings of Jesus' and His apostles teach that not only is the possibility of apostasy real, but it is dangerous. "Therefore, let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall." The examples of those who fell from grace show not only that it is possible for the saint to fall from grace, but some saints did fall from grace, losing their justification. In the Scripture, not only do we see Christians who lost their justification, but we also see strong and faithful Christians, who diligently struggled so that they would not fall - for example, the apostle Paul (I Corinthians 9:27). With these warnings and real examples of fallen saints and struggling Christians, how can we honestly and rationally affirm that all the saints will persevere, even if they are wicked? We must each examine our own hearts; do we seek to maintain a creed and tradition? Will we answer our questions with Scripture, or question Scripture with our answers? God knows and will judge (Hebrews 4:12-13; Matthew 7:21-23).
Next: A Personal Defense: Why I am not a Calvinist
If you have any questions or comments about this article or this series, please contact the author. Be sure to consult our FAQ on Calvinism: Responses to the Calvinist.
Trevor Bowen